Archive for shama

Executive Floor Executive

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by javedbabar

Bobby couldn’t believe it. He had applied for a job at the Lucerne Valley Hotel and got it, and not only that, it was a job on the Executive Floor. Was it a mistake? Had two people with the same name applied, and they’d mixed up their applications?

A resident of the halfway house getting a good job was not a regular occurrence. At any given time, no more than six of the thirty-six people living there were working, mostly in short-term menial jobs. As far as he knew, no one from the house had ever worked at the Lucerne Valley Hotel. It was run by the fearsome Mr Kazantazkis who was said to be a fascist, believing in survival of the fittest.

Bobby’s letter confirmed his position as Executive Floor Executive. He would earn twenty-five thousand dollars plus tips, which he’d heard could exceed the basic salary, so this was a fifty grand job! He’d earned this kind of money before, but that was a long time ago when he was a different person in a different world, before the curse of drugs, but he was clean now. Why shouldn’t he make a fresh start?

Bobby wasn’t sure whether to tell his housemates. He didn’t want to seem like a show-off, but he couldn’t help mentioning it.

“What?” said Shama. “When was that job available? I didn’t see it advertised.”

“It wasn’t advertised,” said Bobby. “I sent them a letter mentioning my background, and the troubles I’d had, and how I had overcome them. I told them I would love to work again at a meaningful job, something I could take pride in, that would help to develop good daily habits.”

“What’s the job exactly? Executive Floor Executive. Is it a fancy word for cleaner? Will we see you leave the house wearing a frilly apron, carrying a feather duster, and bending over for businessmen to tickle your…”

“Don’t be stupid!” said a girl entering the kitchen. No one knew what her name was. “He’s got a good job. We should celebrate. Hang on.” She went to her room and returned with a bottle of cheap vodka. She poured them each a measure.

They downed them in sequence, the girl saying “Executive,” Shama saying “Floor,” and Bobby saying “Executive!” They laughed together and did it again, this time with the girl saying, “Floor”, and then finally, Bobby. Spirits were high at the halfway house.

Bobby’s first week went well. There was some cleaning involved, but the job mainly involved concierge and security duties. He got great tips, and the pile of cash under his mattress grew rapidly. He was so busy at work that he wouldn’t have had time to go to the bank, even if he’d had a bank account. The pile became huge.

One night he awoke, inspired. He counted out his cash: there was $7,200. He divided the money into thirty-six lots and walked around the house, putting $200 beneath everyone’s mattress. People were sick or drunk, and none awoke. It was enough for a month’s basic groceries.

He could use this money to get out of here himself, or he could use it to make everyone’s lives a little better. He had an additional role here: Forgotten Floor Executive.

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Mattress Mortgage

Posted in Infinite City, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by javedbabar

“Paying rent is wasting money,” said Bobby. “We should get together and buy our own place. At least then the money would count towards something.”

“How do we do that?” asked Shama. “Shall we all bring the money from beneath our beds and build a mattress mortgage?”

Bobby thought, there are ten rooms in the halfway house’s ground floor apartment; four male dorms, four female dorms, and two double rooms. There are four people in each dorm, plus four more in the double rooms, making thirty-six people in total. Combining their income and assets could really add up.

The problem was that residents of the halfway house were generally not working, and those that were didn’t earn much. But thirty-six people working together could surely do something. “I’m going to look into it,” said Bobby and went off to do so. He didn’t have much else on today.

The lady at the bank said, “Are you an existing customer of this bank, Mr Law?”

There is no chance of that, he thought. The residents of the halfway house had zero, or even negative, credit scores. “No, but I am considering it. I would like to discuss mortgages first. Please assume I know nothing, and run me through the basics. What does the word mortgage even mean?”

“Mortgage is a French word meaning death contract. Don’t look so shocked. It’s not what a gangster offers to an assassin.”

It was a joke, but Bobby was sobered by the thought.

“It is a pledge which ends when the obligation is fulfilled, or the property is foreclosed. Of course, everybody hopes for a successful transaction, the loan paid off and the house fully your possession. But I am legally obliged to tell you the other possibility. If you do not repay the loan in the prescribed manner, you can lose the house.”

This sobered Bobby some more. He said, “You mean a bank can take your home away if you miss a payment. That sounds…”

“Technically the bank owns your house till you repay the loan. It is only yours upon the loan’s fulfilment.”

She spoke of the 3 E’s: Evidence, Existence, and Encumbrance, and the various kinds of loans available: direct and indirect, partial and complete. She mentioned intermediaries, size, maturity, interest, payment method, fixed and adjustable rates, interest only and repayment loans, debt ratios, and time-money value formulas.

What to make of all this? Bobby’s head felt like a spinning coin.

When it finally landed – he wasn’t sure if on heads or tails – she was speaking of MOST mortgages – Multi Occupant Strategic Tenure – where you somehow owned and didn’t own your property at the same time.

The numbers looked good though. If they paid all their rents into the MOST fund, they would own the house outright in twenty-five years, possible via the 3 M’s: Multipliers, Matching, and Magnetic MoneyTM, the latter a financial technology patented by the bank, which involved “attraction and integration of negative-positive cash flows.”

Bobby didn’t understand the details of the mortgage. He didn’t understand its essential purpose either. They would spend twenty-five years repaying the loan, and when they finally owned the house, they would be old and alone with no one to pass it on to.

The residents of the halfway house were mostly strays, who had been abandoned or lost. Life held little promise for them, and they lived day to day. Maybe renting was better.

Money Under Mattresses

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by javedbabar

There were boys’ rooms and girls’ rooms and communal areas. Maybe they were too old to be called boys and girls, thought Bobby. It would be better to call them desperate, middle-aged men and women.

How had he ended up at this halfway house? Was it halfway to employment and stability, or halfway to unemployment and the trash can? Most people lived in hope, but there was no telling which direction they were moving in; recycling or landfill.

The employment situation in Lucerne was dire. The number of sick and struggling people was rising, and doctors’, lawyers’, and accountants’ services were much in demand. These professional people were doing well, but everybody else, lumped together loosely as unprofessional, was suffering. Some turned to crime, robbing the professional people, who they said were taking much more than their share.

This led to discussions about the meaning of money. Clever people said it had no intrinsic value as a physical commodity; it was just fiat money, from the Latin word meaning “it shall be”; a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a standard of deferred payment only because The Authority said it was money.

The middle-aged men and women in the boys’ and girls’ rooms accepted all of this. They had no issue with money’s definition; the issue was that they had none. They had however not sunk to criminal actions, instead created an informal community, helping each other to survive.

Shama approached Bobby, looking angry, and asked. “Did you borrow some money?”

Bobby said, “I did last month. It was a twenty dollar bill. When I got some work at the Botanical Gardens I returned it.”

“Well, there’s still twenty dollars missing. Are you sure you returned it?”

“Yes, I did. I remember putting it under your mattress. There was about two hundred dollars there altogether. You had blue sheets.”

Shama became angrier. “I always have blue sheets. I don’t have another set. Are you being honest with me?  If you still have the money, that’s okay, but just say so.”

Other boys and girls in the lounge went quiet. Someone may have turned down the TV. It suddenly seemed quieter, and their voices, louder.

How could Shama say that in public, thought Bobby, accuse him like that? It wasn’t on. He said, “I’m not lying. I told you I took it, and I told you I put it back. Why would I lie?”

Shama shook his head and walked away. They grunted to each other after that, but didn’t engage in real conversations. Tension built in the house. What they called their economy of trust became strained.

Most people had lost the use of their bank accounts when they had entered into voluntary liquidation agreements, paying off their overdrafts as loans. Banking facilities for fiat money were thereafter withheld from them.

What money they had, they threw under their mattresses. Shama had always thought this was appropriate, as mattress comes from matrah, the Arabic word meaning “to throw down.”

The first mattresses had been leaves, straw or grass, covered by animal skins, which had evolved into cotton, foam rubber, and metal spring frameworks, even water and air beds. The money beneath people’s mattresses was as insubstantial as this latter filling. The boys and girls knew this, and helped each other; there was give and take.

“Money come, money go, money nothing,” Shama’s grandfather used to say.

Shama remembered a night at the Lucerne Valley Hotel bar where he had spent $20 on drinks, and then come home, dropped onto his mattress, and dreamt of better times. Maybe Bobby hadn’t taken it after all. Maybe Shama had spent it on forgetting.

Head Half-Full

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2012 by javedbabar

Zadam had predicted Armageddon. The whole village was now scared and shunned him.

For a while he had been the most popular person in Lucerne. Citizens lauded his demolishing of politicians’ bullshit at the town hall meeting, and liked the way their pets frolicked around him, as if he were a forest god. But after his humming, spinning, sparking display in the park, and his prophecies of global doom, they avoided him.

This didn’t seem to bother Zadam. As a deformed man with upside-down head, he was used to social rejection. His only real friend in the village, Shama, still dropped by and encouraged him to go out.

“Why should I?” Zadam asked him.

“Because it is nice to go walking – you get fresh air and exercise. I know there are people who make you feel uncomfortable. Just ignore them. While I am with you, they won’t come close.”

For the first time since he had met him, Shama saw a tear appear in Zadam’s eye. Because his eyes were near his chin, the tear appeared, rolled down, and disappeared quickly. “What is wrong?” asked Shama.

“Nothing at all,” he said and turned away. Then he turned back. “I am nothing at all to most people. I am someone creepy and disgusting. That’s why I hide in this hood.” He stopped speaking and looked down.

Zadam was a grown man. Shama didn’t know what to do. Should he hug him? Would that be too invasive?

Shama did what came naturally. He wiped the next tear, and held Zadam in his arms. He kissed him on the forehead, like a kid brother. It seemed a little strange because his forehead was placed where you would expect his mouth to be.

Zadam began venturing out again “by his own,” but whenever Shama saw him he was not alone. People walked beside him, quizzing him about his apocalyptic prophecy that the world was unbalanced and about to break, or following him quietly, reverentially. They felt sorry for him, and scared, and wanted to show they supported him.

A local holy man, Ozwald Malchizedek, also known as OM, declared that Zadam was divinely inspired. He said, “There was the first man, Adam, and now the last man, Zadam. These are clear signs for believers.”

He tried to be seen walking ahead of Zadam, but Zadam was unpredictable and stopped and started without warning. Eventually OM began following a few paces behind, telling people that Zadam was the herald for a forthcoming Master, not saying, but implying, himself.

Shama saw Zadam across the railway tracks, like when they had first met. The red lights began flashing, bells ringing, and barriers falling. These stimuli were picked up by sensors, converted into signals, collated by receptors, and interpreted by cells. What to make of this sensory overload? It indicated there was a train approaching.

Similarly, how should Shama react to Zadam’s warnings of global disaster? He asked him after the train had passed, on the railway tracks.

He said, “It is up to you. It is all going to happen one day, today, Saturday, who knows? But I am a head half-full kind of guy. We can have lots of fun before then.”

Zadam pulled out a whistle from his coat pocket and blew it from the mouth at the centre of his forehead. He led the crowd following him along the railway tracks.

Multi-Sensory

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by javedbabar

Shama was curious about the word sensitive. Was it a combination of sense, meaning the ability to perceive, and –itive, denoting a characteristic? Someone inclined to be ruled by their senses and doing what felt right, rather than someone who ignored these subtle messages and always stuck to rules?

Whatever it was, it wasn’t all good, at least for Zadam. This strange man with reversed facial features, a nose where it should be, but upside down, and mouth and eyes reversed, was just too sensitive.

He picked up people’s finer feelings, often hidden – their beauty, love and kindness – but also their grosser feelings, buried deeper – their anger, stress and hate.

Their outing together to the museum had been a disaster. An old man’s pipe had caused Zadam to dwell on death, and after that he didn’t want to go out again.

Shama said, “Come on, Zadam, let’s meet up today. We can go for a coffee, or to the park. What do you say?”

He said, “I don’t say anything. I want to stay at home by my own. I have to, to keep my ten senses safe, and the other ones.”

What did he mean by his ten senses? Did he mean the five identified by Aristotle, plus five others suggested by science but not added to the official list? Or did he mean the five main senses, and their inversions?

Zadam sometimes called himself “Upside-Downy” because he could see, taste, hear, smell and touch things in a way that others couldn’t. He could perceive the stimulus, or outcome, of senses in a way negating their immediate message. Rather than a sensual experience, he knew origins and results.

Furthermore, what were the others ones?

Zadam took a while to feel comfortable with the outside world again. Shama supposed it was shock or a form of agoraphobia.

Time spent in the park seemed to work wonders. Zadam sat beneath a tree, like a modern-day Buddha, except with a mouth where his third eye should be. People kept their distance, but animals didn’t. At first butterflies and squirrels, and then cats and dogs, came and nestled around him. He played with them all day.

Eventually people stopped by too, but Zadam preferred animals. One day he mentioned his “infinite senses”. Shama asked “Which ones?”

“The animal ones. They know things first. Birds sense fires, fish sense earthquakes, deer sense volcanic eruptions. They can tell from air pressure, current direction, polarized light, and mechanical strain on things.” Zadam rocked back and forth.

He is getting fired up about this, thought Shama. Maybe he is picking up on the dark clouds rolling in, and humidity building. A storm is predicted for tonight.

Zadam began humming loudly. His sound seemed to bounce off trees in the park, nearby buildings, and around the valley.

Zadam began to spin around. It was like breakdancing, but smoother. It was hard to say how he did it.

Sparks flew from this body; Shama shielded his eyes.

Squirrels ran and butterflies flew, but dogs and cats stayed, and more came running. He was surrounded by a hundred at least.

Zadam began chanting. Words about the whole world becoming unbalanced by overpopulation, wealth inequality, fossil fuel depletion, water shortage, pollution, food inflation, climate change, media brainwash, unquenchable thirst for things, terrorism and nuclear war. He said he could sense these things. He was the upside-down hub of a world spinning and about to break.

Touchy-Feely

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2012 by javedbabar

Shama was very fond of Zadam, the strange man with an upside-down head and senses reversed. Since he had met him last week, crossing the railway tracks, they had visited the coffee shop and community centre together, and met up in other places too. It was difficult to know where to go with Zadam. Wherever they went, people stared.

It was the first time that most people had seen someone with mouth and eyes reversed on his head. They didn’t even know about his ability to smell what things would become, his ability to see all sides of a situation, and his ability to hear answers rather than questions. He was an odd-bod indeed.

How about visiting the museum together; was that a good idea? Shama’s ex-wife, Dimpy, was director there, but it was a part-time position, only one or two days a week. He could go on a day when she wasn’t working.

After the split he had followed her to Lucerne in the misguided hope of reconciliation. They had never made up, and she wouldn’t let him see their daughter either. He didn’t have money to hire a lawyer right now, so would fight when he could afford to. He didn’t want to think about it; it hurt too much.

They entered the museum grounds, a few small buildings scattered around a courtyard. There wasn’t a “main museum”, but rather a collection of historic cabins filled with antiques. The cabins had been donated to, or purchased by, the museum, dismantled, transported and rebuilt.

When they entered the Roseman Cabin, Shama said to Zadam, “Please don’t touch anything. It is not allowed.”

“No touching, no touching,” said Zadam. “I don’t need to do touching. I can feel what things are like already.”

So this is another one of his qualities, thought Shama. Great! But he kept an eye on Zadam as they wandered around the cabins, looking at hand-tinted photographs, tin chamber pots, bunk-beds, and horsehair-stuffed sofas.

One cabin had been set up as a village classroom, with a large slate board and a dozen small desks. On the board was written: “Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.”

“I know about him,” said Zadam, suddenly excited. He danced the beginning of a jig. His large green coat crumpled and filled like a hot air balloon being prepared for launch. I had better get him out of the museum, thought Shama, before he breaks something, but Zadam was bursting to say something, which would only be possible once he stopped moving. “He was the stupidest man ever!”

“Who?”

“Aristotle! He said we have five senses. He said we have sight, and hearing, and taste, and smell, and touch.” He restarted the jig, and couldn’t speak for a while. “What about balance, and temperature, and posture, and pain, and time? He only knew about half of them! What about the rest? I studied them all in the hospital. I have them all! You have them all! We have them all!”

They continued looking around the cabins. They saw a baby’s crib, a tin bath, a tea urn, and then a rosewood pipe. Zadam began dancing again, and chanting, and crying. “They are all dead!” he said. “The people are dead. The things are dead. We will be dead.”

“Not for a long time,” said Shama.

“But I can feel it already.”

Ear-Wiggy

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by javedbabar

I have always felt alone in Lucerne, thought Shama. It is my own doing mainly. I have kept to myself. I wanted to get away from the city, all those people making noise and trouble, and I haven’t wanted to re-engage with people, even in this small place.

But I don’t feel alone now. I guess it had to be someone special, an outsider like me. Who is more of an exile than Zadam? He is a disfigured being hidden within a green, hooded coat. His facial features are reversed. A man ignored, who ignores. Like me, he seems weak but is strong.

Shama was protective of Zadam. He thought of him as a kid brother who needed help to make his way in the world. He also provided a way for his self-appointed “big brother” to escape self-imposed exile. The flipside of integrating Zadam into everyday life was that Shama too must engage with the local community.

He thought it would be good for them to attend a local election meeting. They could smell the hot potatoes, spot elephants in the room, complain about white elephants, and enjoy hearing politicians getting abused, which was always quality entertainment.

Shama and Zadam came in late and sat at the back of the hall. Some people stared but then turned away. Whether they became ashamed of their rudeness in a temple of political correctness, or they didn’t want to miss anything going on up front, was unclear.

The mayor was a local business man. He owned the airport, the bottle shop and the grocery store, leading to claims that he used his assets to unbalance the local economy. How he did this was never explained, but there was a history of accusations. His style at gatherings was called B&B, a mixture of bullying and boring people into acquiescence, and in private there was further B&B: bribery and beating. He was a political player par excellence.

The mayor was asked questions about the very high levels of village taxation, its unbalanced budgets and non-existent plans, impossible building regulations, vicious personal arguments and crippling legal disputes. Some of these questions received stock answers, but most received no answers at all.

Zadam began talking to himself.

“Please be quiet,” said Shama. “You are disturbing people.”

Zadam said, “He can’t answer. He can’t answer.”

“Shhhh!”

“I know the answer. I know the answer.”

Zadam’s upside-down head caused his senses to be reversed. He could see both points of view of every situation, smell what things would become, and also hear true answers, rather than the false, unclear or irrelevant ones that most people spouted out, and usually preferred to hear. He liked that film where the general said, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Zadam couldn’t stop talking and people around him became annoyed. Shama asked him again to be quiet, but instead he got louder and eventually stood up, chanting.

The mayor tried B&B but it didn’t work. The chairman of the meeting also failed to silence the heckler. Eventually they just let him speak. No one was willing to publicly mishandle a disabled person.

Zadam said, “Why should I be quiet? You are not saying anything. You say you don’t know the answers. I know the answers.” He told the audience everything. He told them about the mayor’s personal 5% cut of taxation, crooked accountants, deliberate lack of planning so project funds could be hidden, the corrupt Building Control Officer, veiled threats, and lies told in court.

Following the meeting, the mayor and incumbent councillors withdrew their names from the ballot for the forthcoming elections. There was a motion for Zadam to stand for election but he declined, saying that the only poll he liked was a “pollipop”.

This confused people enough to not pursue the motion.