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As the new guy, you’d need to negotiate terms with each and every one, and seal the deal somehow, not in that way that women have of sealing friendships with secrets, but in ordinary ways: with a wink, a story, a little-known fact, a Twinkie from your lunch box, tossed and caught. Even with its notions and ways, this would be a pretty-good crew. Sure, there’d be a smattering of mopes and dopes and sons-of-bitches, but mostly during the busy season, mainly on the night shift, and not for long.
The best evidence of habituated life is in the miller’s shack. The miller kept a desk inside, where he transferred wall figures to ledgers. I’m told he also hand-ground a little corn meal there, but the shack was mainly a break room. It’s really just a steep-roofed shed, tacked to the south wall of the warehouse, an afterthought. You can see in old photos that it was once free-standing and oriented east-and-west. Proof of this move today is the six-foot first step out the front door. The shack was a calming place, no doubt, away from equipment noise, where a man could scarf his sardines and crackers, his butter brot, his summer-sausage or fried-egg sandwich. On cold days, it offered a warm halo around a potbelly stove, where a fella could dunk his cookies in coffee.
This room still has a certain boyishness, a cobbled-together jazz-art charm, owing mainly to the pictures glued to its walls. It’s long and narrow and skinned in car siding. It was originally single-walled and ceilingless, so it would have been hard to heat, even with bushels of cobs shoveled into the stove. Looking around, it’s easy to imagine a genesis here. Someone would have suggested, off handedly, that if they’d line the interior walls, like in a house, that would warm things up. Material suggestions would have ensued, a careful cost-benefit analysis, never mind the zero budget. Slowly, a resolving momentum would have built. The place would have sprouted potential. And one day, out of the dense lassitude of routine, someone would have tossed a bomb, which erupted in a crescendo of expectation. “Heck,” he would have said, “if we’re gonna’ do it, we oughta do it up nice. Really put the pants on it!”
So the miller’s shack has that kind of wallpaper, and it was applied in a hurry, clumsily, right over the woodwork. No seasoned hangers applied. The edge patterns don’t match. The paper itself changes every few strips. In a final flourish, someone laid down a narrow border strip of Art Deco geometry, a prairie echo off the Chrysler Building.
As the retrofit progressed, the notion of a “club” would have evolved as well. This would be an exclusive club, like the Masons or the Knights of Columbus, only without the secrets and the affordable life insurance. This would have been inevitable. Exclusivity is simply next in line, behind food and shelter and procreation.
They’d decorate the walls with what’s important, with life-affirming symbols; the full constellation of male pleasure totems. There’d be Jane Russell and other starlets, maybe Lana Turner, with her famous drug-store provenance. The starlets would lounge in coy poses, each with a come-hither grin. There’d be nothing untoward, of course, no naked babe with pubis erased to satisfy the postal inspector. Not like that girl at the CO-OP, tacked to the back of the supply room door, exuding her essence-of-new-tire perfume.