It was one of those days that appear in endless number to those who look for work. Those days are numb and temperatureless, their color a shade of dull empty blue, and not grey as would seem the case. One walks past the bank on the way and notices the smart girls going in the back door to work, their dress, its neatness, and sharpness, remains a very real impression. Their black shiny high heels click along the marble entryway, their hair kept from the wind by a gloved hand, their perfect teeth smile at the Bank Dick. A pleasant lingering mist of perfume stays on the air to remind one of their passing by. And so the tone of those days is set too, there is that smart clack of the heels. The breadman delivers his bread and the back of his truck is a banging signal to that early day security. But here the sense of it breaks up because there are always those signs to make the unemployed man happy, the breadman’s job he would never want. He would take it perhaps, very likely he would, but he would never stick to it, because he knows it is a terrible sort of job. Breadmen are born that way. They were destined to be breadmen, and there is no escaping the rigors of that destiny. The unemployed man has not been born to anything. At the same time that is his fate, it is also, never forget, his salvation. For practically no matter what is proposed for him to do he will do it, but money is the crux of his whole search, and he will never be misled by false propositions such as a “good, steady job” or a slogan such as “work your way up.” No, there are two levels and two only on which money declares itself. The highest of course, is that in which there is such an amount that its “activity” is what makes money interesting, what it can do, like a toy train that can be switched, and made subject to elaborate signals. But then there is the level of the man who has none at all, and then the money he can get by whatever means takes on some qualities of this same operation. The smallest amounts, say two or three dollars, can suddenly become the levers with which he makes his little realm go. A cigarette, a glass of beer or wine, a loaf of bread, a little gas to go to the beach with, to dig clams, and yes, these men even buy a magazine then, but rarely a newspaper. What goes on in the newspaper is a step outside their world. But the point is that the money then becomes operative.
Money is not operative in the dim regions of those people who hold jobs as a matter of habit. One is not making any distinction like the middle class. This limbo extends from the nightwatchman to the executive. It is a dim region in which the clashes and exchanges have had all their sounds removed, it is preordained. In some real sense it is still a vast area in which the most primitive bartering goes on, these people exchange their time and looks and attention or whatever it is they have, for a graduated scale of presence which in their more liberated moments they call their lives. In the uppermost world, as in the lowest, this would be an unthinkable contract.
(from By The Sound)
Frontier Press, 1971