Back At the Pond

By summer, everyone and everything was in flux. I believed it was the Natural state of the Universe, to be in a state of constant transition. Stability was a short-termed illusion. The Beast, the man among machines whom I’d fallen in love with, was off on an adventure of his own, and rumors around the Factory said he wasn’t coming back.

I myself was on Exile from the Factory. My boss, Ronnie, sick for over ten days during my term of employment, had finally plunged into the Deep End. It was time to move on. I petitioned my headquarters for a new security post, and one was rapidly forthcoming. I was yanked out of the Factory one Monday when it was time to move on.

The violent suddenness of the move suited me, because I had long been accustomed to abrupt transitions in the Now. Stability was a myth, brought into being by the fiction of the almighty Dollar, and fostered by politicians and bureaucrats who were the worst parents and guardians of Natural life. I chortled to think of
Ronnie’s fat bewilderment, encased as he was in his tomb of debt and retirement. I was footloose and fancy-free.

But all I could think of was my Big Love. I decided to send him a message. I knew he was in a Southern state, soaking up the sun and admiring the scantily-clad women. I could only hope that he was also online, visiting Indian Pond.

If he was there, I encouraged him so scribe a comment, which was private, because it had to be moderated by me before it ever showed up as a public document on the Indian Pond blog.

Mr. Rich, if you’re out there, reading this, hit me back, baby. It’s all between you and me.

Falling in love was great and everything, but in the month of May, security work at the Factory was so demanding I had only four days off: a Tuesday, a Saturday, and two Sundays. A small irritation on the bottom of my toe turned into a blister, which then degraded into a painfully ulcerated mess, the result of all my walking.

On my shift, four patrols were made on foot. Each patrol included the Factory itself (big as a city block), as well as the offices, outbuildings, and grounds. The distance each night came to between five and seven miles. On weekend shifts, more patrols were made, so it was more like eight or ten miles.

Because of my conviction that the Factory was a kind of hellish Paradise, foot patrols were strictly a walk in the park, when it came to the enjoyment I took from them. But I couldn’t believe how physically demanding the job was. In addition to walking, I did my share of running, leaping, climbing, and balancing. Each night when I fell into bed, I felt pounded to a pulp. I may have been tough enough for the Factory, but the Factory nearly took me down through a subtle attack on my weakest point.

It was the bottom of my little toe, right foot.

The blister there went nearly bone deep, and never seemed to heal completely.

One night, when the pain was so intense I could hardly stand it, I complained to Daniel, one of the janitors, who was signing in at the Security Office window. He was a Baptist preacher by day, and cleaned the offices at the Factory by night. I had been suffering, and Daniel was a compassionate listener.

“I have a terrible blister,” I said. “I can hardly walk.”

“Take a day off, Lady Di!” Daniel’s nut-brown face wrinkled sympathetically.

“I can’t. If I don’t work, it’ll fall on Ronnie. We’re all there is for security on days, because we’re short three officers. Know anyone who wants to do security work? It’s every weekend, though. First, second, or third shift.”

“Yeah, not good. Kinda hard finding anyone who wants to work those hours.”

“So I have this blister. From walking so much. It really hurts.” I was repeating myself miserably.

“Oh, Lady Di, I’m sorry! I’ll pray for you.”

Just then the phone rang.

It was Ronnie, my boss, the security supervisor.

“There’s a tornado watch on,” he said. “Till three in the morning. That means you gotta sit in the security office and monitor the weather. No foot patrols.”

I hung up, dumbstruck.

“There’s a tornado watch,” I told Daniel. “Know what that means? No walking! I can’t believe it! It’s a miracle.”

“That’s right,” said Daniel smugly. “I have connections, you know.”

I had never been much of a believer, but I felt blessed that night. I sat watching the roiling skies of spring out of the west window of the security office, with my foot propped up on an overturned crate, while the weather radio crackled out its litany of warnings for storms. There was something divine in the red stain of sunset spreading through black thunderheads, while the kildeer wheeled and turned on skimming wings. I had the feeling of salvation that comes to sufferers when an unexpected intervention turns fate into fortune. Once again, I felt chosen by a mysterious force.  

The next night, a second miracle occurred.

Another night janitor, Khamm, a wiry Laotian about my age, saw me limping as I went past him on foot patrol.

Khamm was always asking me about the cuts and bruises I’d acquired doing security work at the Factory, and Ronnie, my boss, had called him a “healer.” Some of the Factory workers called him a witch doctor. To me, he was simply a good friend during the long hours of second shift.

Khamm gestured me into a chair and asked me to take off my shoe and sock. I peeled off three layers of adhesive bandages, and showed him my toe. The blister was a red pustule with a hard yellow crust on top, and various stages of skin degradation all around it. It sat on the bottom of my little toe, the tenderest, most vulnerable spot on my whole body.

“Ooh, that’s some blister,” Khamm said. “Does it hurt?”

“Yeah, it hurts. I got a reprieve yesterday because of the tornado watch. We don’t do foot patrol during bad weather, you know. But it still hurts.”

Khamm cocked his head and studied the upturned toe lying across my knee, stroking his wispy goatee thoughtfully. One of his eyelids drooped under scar tissue acquired during his teenage years in the Vietnam war, and the fingers of one hand were bent and distorted, with missing fingernails. He reached into his loose pants, plucking a tiny vial from a hidden pocket. He opened it and waved it under my nose. It smelled of eucalyptus and spice and flowers.

“Put some on your hand,” Khamm said. “Then put on toe.”

He placed a gob of white cream in the palm of my hand, and I used a fingertip to gingerly dab some on the blister.

Instantly, the piercing pain that had tormented me for weeks disappeared.

“Wow, it’s taking the pain away!”

“Be careful,” said Khamm. “You could hurt yourself by walking too much.”

“Oh, I’ll be careful, all right.” I eased the adhesive bandages back onto my toe and put on my sock and shoe. I stood up and bounced, testing for pain. There was none. It was all gone.

“Thank you so much!” I said to Khamm. “You healed me!”

Khamm laughed, saying, “Is okay!” He really had the most beautiful smile, full of resplendent teeth.

I left Khamm on the second floor of the office area, where he was cleaning coffee pots, and resumed my foot patrol. I felt like singing and skipping as I paced along, pain-free. And then I went flying down a long flight of stairs like I had wings on my feet, or perhaps they were sprouting between my shoulderblades as I burst out the east exit door into a humid twilight where everything shone with gold. Behind me, in the labyrinth of cells and cubes were the men who had helped me fight back against the Factory. I believed they were holy, and this ground sacred.

If the Factory was Hell—or Paradise—we were all in it together now. 


This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Few are Chosen

Being a Security Officer was a calling, like teaching or nursing.

I had tried teaching, and found myself unsuited to it, being too impatient and sarcastic. Every word that came out of my mouth in the classroom was wry and cynically amused. I couldn’t help laughing at the college students, each of whom imagined himself—or herself—better than everyone else. How could they all be better? At best, most were mediocre. Yet because they had been reared to be powerfully self-regarding, they would never believe how ordinary they really were.

So I trained myself to shut up and wipe the smile off my face, but that didn’t help me be a better teacher. My students wrote horrible posts about me on a website that allowed teachers to be rated. My boss looked at me askance, and asked me foolish questions that indicated she thought I was wrong for the English department. I loved teaching, when it came to the one or two students every semester who loved to read and write. But I hated it the rest of the time.

I didn’t think I would like nursing, either.

Sick people made me want to cry out in exasperation. I was radiantly healthy myself, and utterly devoted to keeping myself that way. I believed that far too many Americans were sick because they allowed themselves to be manipulated and duped by food corporations and drug companies. I wanted to scream, “Snap out of it! Eat fruits and vegetables! Get sunshine and fresh air! And quit popping those pills!” Again, I found myself laughing out loud at those malingerers who complained about asthma while puffing on their tenth cigarette. My cynical amusement made me seem heartless and cold.

However, if I was all wrong for teaching and nursing, I found that security work played to my strengths. 

I was preternaturally vigilant, having been reared in a violent household headed by a career criminal. I was used to paying attention to everything in the environment at all times, in order to avoid being murdered. My powers of observation were almost supernatural, because I was habituated to a wordless existence in the Now. I was lean and muscular, having spent many long hours doing manual labor in the out-of-doors. And I was accustomed to walking, so the nightly five-mile hike around the plant seemed natural to me. 

So I roamed the Factory floor for hours, dour and taciturn at first, playing all my cards close to the vest.

There was an adage from the English department resounding in my head: “Never smile until Christmas!” But within a few days, I made a different choice. I saw so much suffering around me. Do not believe for a minute that the men (and women) working on the machining and assembly lines were alone in their misery as they toiled in the sweltering din.

The office workers, trapped all day in their hot, airless cubes, were pale as sunflowers grown under buckets. I saw them at the beginning of my shift, three o’clock in the afternoon, when the human organism undergoes a circadian low. Many of them were eating or drinking, stuffing themselves with the crap that passed for food in their office spaces. It did not help them perk up, but instead made them exude mania and anxiety from every pore. Their stink was in the air.

And here I was, bursting with vitality, striding through their aisles like a goddess from another planet. The office workers stared at me uncomprehendingly, as if I stood for something far removed from their own reality.

I felt it was my duty—no, my calling—to smile.

I had the one good job in the whole place.

It allowed me to roam the entire Factory, as well as three levels of offices, and all of the grounds outside. I had utter, perfect freedom–within the confines of my appointed rounds. On my watch, I was my own man—er, woman. My heart filled with pity as I witnessed the plight of the people trapped in their cubes and cells. I shed my self-concern, and began to think about helpfulness, another characteristic a Security Officer needed. There was little I could do to alleviate the physical suffering. But I was determined to put a smile on my face and keep it there, no matter what. It was the least I could do.

Pacing off the rounds, hour after hour, I reflected on the road I’d traveled to get to this place.

It was a rocky, winding path, running for long stretches through dark shadows and cold valleys. A few times, I’d nearly drowned in the rapids of rushing misfortune. I had been lost—so many times! Utterly and completely lost. But to my surprise, there had been a direction after all. Now I could see where I had been going all along. I felt the hand of God on my brow, branding me with a sacred fire that lit the way ahead.

Yes, many are called in this life, called to a metaphorical feast.

But few—oh, so few—are chosen.



Yes, I had been lied to and duped on my watch as a professional security officer at the Factory.

However, deceptions, evasions, and prevarications, as practiced in the postmodern industrial workplace, did not bother me, because I had a built-in bullshit detector, finely calibrated and sensitive to the tiniest shifts in stance, tone, and gaze, that told me who was true, and who off-kilter.

A little white lie from a true-blue character didn’t faze me, because what really mattered was inside. On the other hand, the truth from a fallen angel might set my bullshit detector on fire.

The first time I saw Brenton Hanover, I knew he was off-kilter.

He was a temp worker who had been placed on one of the beginners’ lines, assembling small hydraulic pumps. As I passed through the cafeteria one day, my eye was caught by the level stare of a young man who sat alone, holding his head high and his spine ramrod straight. He was handsome, with arched cheekbones, icy blue eyes, and a mop of nicely-clipped brown hair.

But the expression on his face was contemptuous as he studied me openly, like a professor examining a bug.

It was a little disconcerting, but for the hundredth time I reminded myself that what people saw when they looked at me was the uniform first, then the blonde ponytail, and finally, if I was lucky, the cool smile I habitually wore. I was used to being scrutinized. I ran my cup of water out of the cafeteria dispenser, and strolled past Hanover as if I didn’t notice his stare.

In reality, I was fully alert in a way that alway happens to me, without reason or language, when I’m in the presence of trouble with a capital T.

An alarm was going ding-ding-ding between my ears.

A few nights later, I was out on patrol in the darkened, deserted administration offices, when I caught sight of a tall, lean figure strolling down the aisle ahead. Even from the back, I recognized the excessively upright posture of Brenton Hanover. Gliding up silently behind him, I said quietly, “What’s up?”

By the jerk of his head, I knew Hanover had heard me, but to my surprise, he merely quickened his pace and did not turn to reply.

“Hey, you. What’s up?”

I strode determinedly after Hanover, and finally he turned around. His lip curled in a sneer as he said dismissively, “Just taking a walk. What’s it to you?”

Float like a butterfly, I reminded myself. Relax; don’t do it . . I had these little mantras running through my head as I kept my jaw loose and my brow smooth. I felt color rise in my cheeks, but I did not move a muscle to betray the emotion I felt. My self-control was hard-won, and zealously guarded.

“I haven’t seen you in this area before,” I said quietly. Very quietly. I spoke so low he had to lean closer to hear what I said. “That’s why I’m asking what’s up with you,” I murmured.

Hanover laughed. “Fine,” he said shortly. And with that, he turned on his heel and walked away.

Good enough.

A few minutes later, I wrote in my report that I’d found a factory worker in the office area. I didn’t know his name yet, but his sneering contempt had burned an image in my mind I wouldn’t soon forget.

Within two days, I found Hanover again in a place he had no business being—the Maintenance Garage, a huge concrete vault full of toxic waste and chemicals stored in drums.

Again, I asked him, “What’s up?”

Hanover laughed in my face. “Have you been a security officer your whole life—Diana?” He bent forward to read my name tag.


“What else have you done?”

“I used to teach English,” I replied.

Hanover didn’t seem impressed. “Do you have a PhD?”


“Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration,” he said in a mysteriously lofty tone. “I graduated with honors and then went to Europe. I know a lot about American and international business. In fact, I’m something of an expert.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

I made my tone sound awed, so that he would identify himself easily. The dinging in my head was so loud I could barely hear myself think. Now this is a kid full of bullshit, I was thinking. He’s a temp worker on the Factory line, wandering around the building for no good reason. Trouble, capital T.

“I’m Brenton Hanover.” He said his name slowly, as if relishing the way the syllables rolled off his tongue.

“Just taking a little walk again, are you?” I asked mildly.

Again, Hanover laughed in my face. “I’m going outside for a minute,” he said, pointing at the raised overhead door at the far end of the building.

I nodded, and as soon as he had strolled out of sight, I took out my little book and wrote down his name.

The next evening, when Hanover passed the Security Office, I saw that he’d been spoken to about his presence in unauthorized areas of the Factory. He came close to the window and glared through it, staring right into my eyes. His seemed glassy with rage, and the alarm in my head started shrilling urgently. Mad, mad, madness, my mantra murmured.

At home, after I got off duty, I entered “Brenton Hanover” into my computer search engine, and sure enough, I found his name on the website of a quasi-radical urban planner whose thesis was that American industry might benefit by the presence of artists in its midst. It was typical academic bullshit to me, the kind of thinking that passes for genius in the rarefied atmosphere of the ivory tower. It had nothing to do with the dirty reality of artists working in the Factory’s screaming cells. Brenton Hanover’s comments on the website were precocious and poorly thought out, like shiny trinkets scattered on a path to fool crows.

I fell asleep that night reflecting on the nature of young men—and women—like Brenton Hanover. I recognized in him some of the same demons I’d tangled with in my own youth: restlessness, overweening self-regard, resistance to authority. But I’d had all the Trouble beaten out of me, and now, on the other side of the age divide, I was authority. It was a deeply ironic position to be in. But I had no sympathy for Hanover. He was about to take his own beating.

The following night, I was in the Security Office when Hanover appeared alone, his lunch bag slung over one arm. It was later than dinner time, so I spoke to him kindly, hoping against hope that he might turn with a friendly, forgiving smile, accepting my authority, so that I could show my respect for his decision.

“Going home early tonight, Brenton?” My tone was genuine, because I wanted no conflict.

He paused at the door with his back turned. “None of your business, Diana,” he spat out, putting heavy emphasis on my name.

Relax, I told myself. I let a moment pass, then another. Then I asked, “Excuse me?”

Hanover turned to face me. Also, he was facing the CCTV camera that was trained on the door, but he was so unobservant, he couldn’t have known he was being watched.

“None of your fucking business,” he spat.

He mouthed the expletive. Too chicken to curse out loud, I was thinking. But I said nothing. I watched him go out the door, and then he began to parade up and down on the grassy strip outside the Security Office. I watched him while I wrote him up on my report.

On the next evening, a short conversation took place between me and Hanover’s supervisor, Bryan, another young man still wet behind the ears. He lamely tried to justify Hanover’s presence in unauthorized areas. I didn’t care. I zeroed in on the real issue.

“Hanover has to show respect for the authority of the Security Officer,” I insisted. “That should go without saying. It should be a given.”

“Yeah,” Bryan agreed glumly. “I see what you mean. Well, there’ve been other problems with him, too. He never really fit in. He didn’t meet my performance measures, and the other team members don’t like him. He always acted like he was better than everyone else.”

“Imagine that,” I responded.

“Well, he’s going to be gone,” Bryan said. “The temp liasion will take care of it. They’ll let him work out his last day tomorrow, then they’ll let him go. You won’t see him again.”

For a day, I rejoiced in Brenton Hanover’s fate. I felt like the Goddess of old, disrespected by a mortal man, and in a killing mood. But ultimately, there was no glory in it. A young man had lost his job, probably the first of many he’d lose in the trajectory from youth to age. The Factory would go on without him. And I had won nothing, because I had nothing to lose. It was sad, but only for a moment.

And then my appetite for joy returned in full force, and I sought out one of the true-blue men who had been in the Factory forever, and when I met up with him on one of my rounds, we passed a couple of gleeful lies between us, like the real devils we were.    


The Factory’s slogan—“What really matters is inside”—referred to the hydraulics manufactured there, but to me, the words spoke of people, all the people, working inside the cells.

Yes, their workstations were called cells, and apparently, I was the sole observer of this ironic fact of postmodern manufacture. Caged in metal traps of screaming, steaming steel, the men—and women—of the Factory bent themselves to the conditions of their daily lives.

I thought them heroic, and wandered blind in their midst, trying to see what they saw.

The Factory was a Mount Olympus, a Peyton place, or an Indian Pond, full of human characters like a population of gods or wild things living in some jungle hell or Paradise.

I often called the factory floor a jungle, when I was summoned into a cell for some reason related to security work. It was no metaphor. Slipping sideways over grease, tangled hoses, and pallets of engine parts, I often felt that I was stalking, on the prowl. Everywhere I went, I felt the level stare of eyes watching my every move. The noise was deafening, like the shrieking of beasts. It was always dim on the Factory floor, as if the sky had been obscured by huge trees hung with vines. That was the tangled network of struts and conduit and pipe and wire strung in the rafters overhead.

Sometimes I was elevated, as when I perched on a steel deck high above the Factory floor. It was a vantage point attained as I pursued my hourly security rounds. Only those who looked up could observe me as I breathed down upon their work. One of the Kenyans spied me up there and cheerfully waved, but his fellow workers paid him no mind. There was intrigue in my job. At times, I felt godlike myself.

Ah, yes. My job. To secure the property and the people. Those seven words spelled it all out for me.

The first part I took for granted. The second part I embraced as a sacred duty.

To care for people is a calling, not something that can be bought or sold on the open market. I believed in the people, because they were so admirable in their character, strength, and endurance. They worked hard—far harder than myself. Their bodies were knotted and bunched with the demands of their work.

The young ones were heartbreaking in their beauty and grace, beating their bodies mercilessly, hour after hour. Sometimes they went bursting from the rear doors of the Factory in a group, red-faced and streaming with sweat, to suck down cigarettes in a forbidden place, ignoring me if they happened to see me at all. I watched them constantly, trying to imagine some way to make their time pass swiftly while under my care.

I saw the need to protect the property, too, because at times, a thousand individuals crashed against the Factory walls like a violently shaken cage full of seething weasels. I worked second shift, when the office people had gone home, and a rougher element was employed to do the back-breaking work. Trust no one, I told myself. I had already been lied to and duped. I had no illusions about the job behind the strict gray, black, and red uniform of the security company I worked for. I had to protect the property, first and foremost.

Still, the people! The people!

What do you imagine when you think of Factory workers? Do you picture automatons, performing mindnumbing tasks day after day, with no hope of a better future? Do you think of Marx, Karl Marx, that is, analyzing the workers’ condition? How about a Dickensian vision of coal-stained early industrial serfs? If those were your visions, you had not spent enough time in the Factory.

The workers I watched from on high were a lost tribe of the last real People on Earth, living by a simple credo I could embrace myself:

What really matters is inside.

Landscapes, environments, habitats, geographies; animal, vegetable, mineral–I had always been fascinated by nature. But what is Nature? Big N or little n? Is Nature everything in the world not touched by man–or woman? Is it the wild? Or is nature/Nature everything in the world, since everything that is, was, and ever will be, comes from Nature/nature?

I had no answers to these questions, and believed that even asking them exposed me to ridicule.

What I did know for sure was that I felt as at home in the Factory as I did in Nature.

My first venture into the vast, high-ceilinged, clamoring, stinking, hot hell of fossil-fuel engine component manufacture overwhelmed me. It was no different than being lost in a trackless wood–except that the Factory did have clearly marked paths: the “blue lanes” where I was instructed to walk.

It was a safety issue–one of many. Outside the pedestrian lane zipped propane-fueled forklifts that endlessly moved heavy pallets around the factory floor, supplying the workers with raw materials, and taking the fruits of their labor–hydraulic pumps, mainly–to the shipping area.

I followed Ronnie, the security supervisor, trying to measure my gait against his. Blue highways–those minor roads forgotten by the hellbent-for-leather driver—were a favorite with me when I wanted to drop out by getting off the beaten path. I was off the path all right–off the chain, off the hook, off the wall. Luckily, I had a guide on the Factory’s blue lanes.

I paced myself to Ronnie’s footsteps, focusing on the floor beneath my feet, trying to keep my mind only on the Now. It was a practice I had developed while walking around lost in Nature, and I found to my surprise that it worked equally well in the Factory, keeping me grounded and at peace with the wilderness of men, machines, and materials.

It was like coming home, to the world of Nature/nature that had always been there, and always would be, so long as I continued drawing breath.