Within the Inundation Zone of the Proposed Dam>
His posse was racing towards Firebaugh, ready to take the town by storm, five in his vehicle, eight in the company van. The fields stretched out endlessly in every direction without another human being in sight.
Hundreds of pale yellow butterflies were fluttering across the road from one field to another, many already unmoving or flopping around on the asphalt. More than once, he witnessed butterflies dipping down to fluttering comrades on the ground, as if to offer help, just before the car rushed over them. Suddenly, one slapped against the windshield, leaving a streak of transparent jell spattered with yellow powder.
"We're trying to save the world and here we are participating in a massacre," Justin thought.
Another butterfly slapped against the windshield. "What was the last thing to pass through that bug's mind?" a canvasser asked. Justin looked at him in the rearview.
"Good question," Justin replied.
"It's asshole," the canvasser deadpanned.
Justin smiled. He noticed a cropduster banking toward the road. The plane, about a hundred yards in front of them, barely cleared the telephone wires.
"You know," he said to his crew, "if a Yokut's Indian somehow time-travelled to the present, he wouldn't know where he was. Instead of grasslands with herds of antelope and elk and deer, he would find these farms. Not knowing he shouldn't trespass, he'd probably forage for food, but, of course, all he would find around here would be grapes and almonds and pasture grass and cotton--not really the bread basket of the world, now is it? He would probably become sick from the pesticides if he did eat the grapes. Then if they did catch him they'd throw him in jail for stealing and tell him that his sickness is all psychological. But if he did manage to survive undetected, he might look for water. The San Joaquin River, once a mile wide in places, is now just a trickle of polluted water. In fact, Andrew Firebaugh established a ferry over a hundred years ago so people could cross the river and that became what is now the great city of Firebaugh. Anyway, our Indian friend wouldn't find a salmon run, just a few fish belly up and a lot of trash, not knowing, of course, that most of the water from the river is being used to irrigate the fields on which the farmers are dumping voluminous amounts of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Look, there's a plane about to strafe us. Roll up yer' windows. A hazard of the job, folks."
They passed quickly through the viscous rain falling from the crop duster, the wipers smearing the drops on the windshield.
"That pilot is a good shot," Justin stated. "I guess he heard we're coming. We should remember to bring our anti-cropduster artillery next time."
Lynn smiled even though she had heard that joke before. They were nearing Firebaugh, so she turned to the back seat and stated flatly, "It's time to do some raps." Everyone took out his clipboard and soon they were talking about "The Right to Know More," a recently proposed piece of legislation that would require industries to disclose more information to the surrounding community about the pesticides they were using. When a new canvasser weakly asked for money and then just said "okay" after the first blow-off, Lynn snapped, "You've got to target high and then scale down. Don't just take the first blow-off and leave. It they're concerned at all, they can give a few dollars at least. Everyone can give a couple of dollars."
"Look, man, we're in the belly of the beast," Justin told the canvasser. "This issue affects everyone in the community. Don't be ashamed to ask for money. You're here to help these people. But we can't help them if they don't help us a little. They've got to give a little, and I mean, they've got to put their signature on your petition, they've got to write a letter to their congress person, and they've got to give you some money if you and the rest of us are going to keep doing this work. Nobody else is out here doing this for them, man. Nobody else is out there working in their interest. Don't be shy!" Justin and Lynn and the other managers had to go through a variation on the same theme practically every day since there were almost always new canvassers.
"Look out there at those fields, man. A few corporations own all of this. A few people are getting obscenely rich, but is their main concern feeding the world? They're going to turn the grapes into wine for alcoholics. They're going to put the almonds in little chocolate kisses. They're going to feed the cows the hay so that you can have your fast-food hamburger even though it takes as much water for the feeding and care of a cow as it takes to float a battleship. They're going to keep dumping defoliants on you until there's nothing left but your clothes. They're taking our water out of our river to flood irrigate crops that have no business being grown in a desert, and they just keep dumping their chemicals on everything. They just keep dumping away. And our politicians are making damn sure (no pun intended) that you and I subsidize their water and their crops with our tax dollars even though we'd get our asses shot off if we dared to walk out into those fields. You and I are paying them to pollute our water and air, and they, strangely enough, don't want anyone to know what chemicals they're using. You, man, you are out there to tell those people they have the right to know. You've got to get fired up! You can't be wimpy about mobilizing the public out here. This is the belly of the beast."
Lynn asked the canvasser to try again. The second time he tried harder and she rewarded him with a pretend contribution. Then another new canvasser tried, butchering the rap badly.
And what had Justin accomplished? He had hoped to stop the rain of poisons, to put some water back into a dead river, to preserve the foothills and the last wetlands, to end urban sprawl. After four years, he had done a few things with the organization, stopping the effort to site massive toxic waste incinerators all over the valley, stopping the attempt to ship coal from other parts of the country into the valley for coal-fired power plants, making the oil industries down in Kern County follow the same permitting and enforcement procedures as the rest of the counties in the valley. All of that could be reversed any moment depending on the level of corruption, which was always extremely high in the valley; all of his accomplishments were nothing anyway compared with what needed to be done. His career choice had been a terrible mistake, considering all the other threatened, blackballed, and ruined political activists in the valley, and he would pay for a very long time, no doubt.
He listened to the raps. The same format over and over--I am, we are, we do, we want. The same mistakes by inexperienced canvassers over and over. Only the cleverest and most articulate, many of whom had never even gone to college, survived. He had seen graduate students wash out in a matter of days. You had to put quota, $600.00 a week, in the bag, every week, or you were back out on the street, nothing.
It was absolutely fucking poetic that his progressive organization was now being taken down by a bogus sexual harassment lawsuit tantamount to legal extortion. The woman was a total liar and didn't have a leg to stand on, but the organization was going to pay tens of thousands of dollars to make it go away, instead of going to court, which would be even more expensive, and the doors of the Fresno office were going to close forever, in a matter of weeks or months. None of the other employees knew. The same fucking enthusiasm, false and otherwise. The universe must be laughing at him.
Another butterfly slapped against the windshield. They were approaching the San Joaquin River. He gazed into the rearview mirror. He actually saw hope in the eyes of a few canvassers, or at least what he read as hope. He had crossed the river so many times, with so many different people who had had hope for their job, for their families, for the world. He could be, they could all be nothing in a few moments, in a few hours, in a few days. They were all nothing as they crossed the bridge over a trickle of polluted water that just kept flowing, the water unaware that it would never reach the ocean.
"Remember," Justin said, "I am, we are, we do, we want. I am, we are, we do, we want. Follow that basic format and you'll do fine. Don't worry, everyone's a little nervous at first." The canvasser tried again as they were driving into town. "You're doing fine," Justin said as he pulled into a Taco Bell. The canvassers had an hour to eat while the field managers cut turf, allotting about eighty houses to each canvasser. Justin cut turf with Lynn even though Justin was the program coordinator and should have stayed at the restaurant to boost morale.
Several weeks ago, Justin's supervisor had made Justin swear that he wouldn't tell anyone about the lawsuit. "Ingrid is suing the organization for sexual harassment," Justin said, as he was driving through a "boozgie" (canvasser slang for "bourgeois") neighborhood.
"What the hell?" Lynn muttered.
"She's suing Charles for sexually harassing her, and she's naming me and the canvass director and the organization for allowing the harassment to continue in the workplace."
"Charles was a lousy field manager and said some pretty stupid things, but I don't see how she could claim that he sexually harassed her. I really doubt that anyone would believe her."
"You never know. They might get you up on the stand and have you explain your relationship with me, you know, how you're having an affair with a married man. I'm sure everyone would love that."
"I didn't think of that."
"She might even say that I created an atmosphere of sexual harassment in the workplace. She could claim that I was sexually harassing you, for instance, especially since you had a boyfriend who was also working for the organization when we first got together. Imagine a lawyer asking you how I first expressed my affection for you."
"Oh, my god, and I bought pot from her on more than one occasion."
"I doubt that she'll want that to become public knowledge, but she will claim that 'party night' has helped lead to sexual harassment."
"It has been getting a bit wild on Thursday nights. Damn, Justin, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know, but she wants $200,000. She won't get that. She'll have to scale down, of course, but she could nail us for a big chunk of money, just because the organization, which is really almost broke anyway, will probably want to settle out of court to avoid the court costs. It has some insurance, but not enough to cover what she wants. This is nothing but legal extortion, but she just might get away with it. What do you know about her, Lynn? What can you tell me about her?"
She had stopped counting houses. "I really don't know anything about her. I just thought she was cool."
"She is not cool. She is very, very uncool. Don't ever think she is cool, ever again."
"Remember when Dora let us use her room that first time at the conference and Michael came looking for me? What if all that comes out?"
"Wait a minute. Dora doesn't work for us anymore. She might not even live in Fresno anymore."
"Yeah, but they could find her and depose her and maybe even ask her to take the stand. She was a program director and she encouraged sexual misconduct."
"We're going to be sweating until this is over, aren't we?
"And it could take years."
"How much are you going to tell the regional director about us?"
"I'll tell him as little as possible, but I'll probably have to tell him everything sooner or later, I suppose, and that's going to mean the end of my job." He pulled the car over to the curb. "How many more turfs do we need?" he asked. They still had half an hour.
"Just one more," she replied. "This is the worst god-damned timing."
"You think this is all coincidence?" Justin looked at the clock. They only had ten minutes left. Lynn quietly stared out the window. "Look at all the other crap piling up on the organization. We just got an eviction notice last week for overdue late charges. Not for late rent, mind you. For overdue late charges. The Fresno Chronicle published that article claiming that the organization keeps one hundred percent of the funds that we raise, which is total bullshit. The 'Fresnoid' Chronicle has decided to publish our recruitment ad in the sales section of the classifieds, even though we are a political organization exercising our right to free speech. We've stopped a hazardous waste incinerator and coal burning power plants and have helped create a regional air quality control district. Now, we're scaring the crap out of the farmers and the pesticide companies. We have become effective and everyone is finally coming down on us."
"We've got to cut that last turf," Lynn said. She didn't say another word to Justin until after they had dropped off the other canvassers. She refused to canvass the same turf with Justin because he distracted her. Before they split up, she said that she wanted to go out after work. She was ten years younger than Justin and he wanted her to be with her friends as much as possible, so he said, "No problem."
A week later, on their way home from work, Justin said, "You know, I was going to go into teaching when I graduated from college, but I realized that schools, especially colleges, are just maintaining the status quo, churning out good little wage slaves who get way over their heads in debt by the time their twenty-five and can't do anything but try to dig themselves out of it the rest of their lives, and all the while the big corporations are stealing the last resources and poisoning us out of existence. I don't think I can do that now, but I don't know what field I'm going to go into. This was the perfect job for me, at least for the past four years, anyway. I think I'm going to take it one day at a time. I'm going to hang in there until it all falls apart, if it ever does."
Lynn gazed at him with a weak smile. "Well, I'm going to go back to school to get a degree in social work. I'm going to get out of this town. I might go to Santa Cruz."
"But isn't Michael going to Santa Cruz?"
He looked at her, waiting for her to elaborate. "Why do you just close me off? I never know what you're really feeling about the important stuff. Moving is something huge for me because my kids are here in Fresno. You're trying to tell me something, aren't you?"
"Did you ever see this as a long-term relationship? Were you ever planning to divorce your wife?" she asked flatly.
He couldn't answer for a second. "Well, I never thought of it as temporary. I left my wife, you know." He looked her over carefully. "Wait a minute." He stared at her. "You haven't seen Michael, have you?"
"Well, yeah, I did, like a week ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
She didn't say a word.
"Oh," he said. "That was the night you stayed out late." He stared. "You went to bed with him, didn't you?"
She didn't answer.
"He told me that he took acid, and when he looked at his eyes in the mirror, he saw my eyes. He said he realized then how much he loved me."
"What the hell are you saying? Did you go to bed with him or not?"
She didn't answer.
"You did, didn't you. I'm going to take your silence as a yes."
Flustered, she finally answered, "All right. I did. But the whole time I was asking myself what I was doing."
"He asked you to marry him, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did."
Justin was genuinely shocked by his own intuition as well as by her sudden willingness to confess. "And what did you say?"
"Look, you've had a long day. I really don't want to talk about this anymore."
"What did you say?"
"I said yes."
He sat down in the dark on her couch. "You know I read recently that the universe is composed of energy fields, energy fields upon energy fields. Each person is an energy field that is part of all the other energy fields. We are all part of each other, just interpenetrating energy fields, and yet we all believe that we are separate. Maybe the energy fields flow on and on, in one form or another. Why does it all turn to shit?" He started weeping. She sat down next to him and placed her arm around him. He wept for over half an hour while she sat quietly next to him. When he stopped, he said, "I better go." He got up in the darkness, turned and, without saying another word, stepped out of the door.
Open the door to a daimon.
Go to a strange room.
Take a different trail.
Meet the fellow in the Ten of Wands.