Poetry Review

Review: leaving a tip at the Blue Moon Motel by Richard Vargas

leaving a tip at the Blue Moon Motel by Richard Vargas is a fanfare for the common man without the pomp and bombast of the Copeland musical interpretation of what the common man is. Find the humanity, the story inside mundane activities, is what Vargas does best. Whether he is sorting donated clothes for a thrift store, selling underwear on a department strew holiday job, or delivering packages for UPS, Vargas finds a universal story. Only a real poet can imagine the history behind the Victoria Secret tasteful negligee donation, the wedding dress (only worn once!) for a full-figured woman, or the odd silky pair of panties among the buy one-get-one-half- off practical panties a young woman buys. The man in him wonders what the woman is thinking but he respectfully does not meet her eye as he completes the sale. After all it is none of his business and he is gentleman enough to confine his speculations to a poem.

Vargas is the kind of patron who understands the nature of the jobs people take for granted, of workers who are invisible because of the nature of their work, (think cleaning people). He knows the feeling as he has had some of those jobs. He leaves a large tip behind in his motel room for the worker whose job he describes as essential. What could be more essential than removing all traces of the person who occupied a room so that it is pristine for the next occupant and how distasteful cleaning up after people can be.

“at shift’s end
they go home
don’t bother with the news
or sound bites of
the stupid things
politicians said today

right now
there are hungry mouths to feed
payday is tomorrow

and that frozen pizza
in the freezer will have to
make do.”
(from “essential”)

Wry reflections on marriage are vividly detailed in a long-married couple seeing Fatal Attraction in 1987 where a single, lapse in marriage fidelity becomes a tale of an obsessive, murderous partner (Glenn Close) stalking the wayward husband (Michael Douglas) character. No sex for him after the movie that’s for sure, as the wife concludes that all men are jerks. Years later, at what I assume is the Ditches, I mean The Bridges of Madison County, he is the only male in the audience among a multitude of weeping women overcome by the tragic unrealized romance of unfulfilled dreams. One wonders if they had remained married longer would there be a 2015, Fifty Shades of Gray, SM Lite, flavor of the day? Not likely. Still relationships, and the times they are a changin.’

“my time traveler’s advice” takes Vargas on a time travel trip recalling past birthdays from the vantage point of turning 60. It’s like a Dickens Ghost of Christmas Past: the modern times version. You can almost hear Frank Sinatra in the background singing, “regrets, I’ve had a few”…. Vargas shares his timeline (turning 50) pot brownies celebration including a last, fraught conversation with his brother, (40) a poetry reading featuring a drop-dead gorgeous woman “who will only break your heart”, (30) buying a condo with his wife drinking Corona and knowing why his Dad had OD’d just before His 30th birthday, turning 21 at a topless bar, and fond memories of his 10th with Gulliver’s Travels and art supplies. Unlike Dickens there is no projected future, just a blank slate. While the recollections are gist for a good poem, sometimes it’s better not to reflect too long on stuff you can’t change. But we all do, don’t we?

The final section is a prose narrative that begins with a quote from Barbara Ehrenreich from her essential book on work, Bait and Switch. Along with her Nickeled and Dimed, these books might just be the two most pertinent books written on the everyday work experience of how we work now in the 21 st Century. His “pay dazed” is a brief resume of actual work experiences beginning with the demeaning experience of being laid off by a call center in New Mexico.

“Like a scene from Schindler’s List, we shuffle one last time
down the main hallway as we are led to a makeshift dining area;
a vacant space of fluorescent lights, white walls, and shiny off white
linoleum that used to house the mail-order prescription department.
We find a seat amongst the round dining tables rented for the occasion,
all covered in disposable paper tablecloths. Set down the cardboard
box provided for the purpose of carrying out all our personal belongings:
family photos, small potted plants, framed employee-of-the-month
certificates, and coffee mugs. Some of us have been working here
for ten or more years…”

Perhaps, if possible, even more insulting is the “last meal” provided, consisting of “one rib and one piece of chicken, a small clear plastic container of cole slaw, one third of a corn-on-the-cob, a tab of butter substitute wrapped in foil, packages of salt and pepper (one each), sweet and tangy BBQ sauce also in a small plastic cup, a roll, a cookie, white plastic fork and knife, neatly folded paper napkin, and one can of soda (off-brand).” Some get severance pay, some don’t but most of all, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. I’ve had restaurant “meals,” in ones I worked at, worse than that, but only by degrees, meals made inedible and disgusting just because the head chef could.

Vargas’s work history goes on, for years, much in the same vein as he describes above. Working in Rockford , IL, whose only claim to fame seems to be boorish behavior, rowdy drinking and future MAGA morons of America cells. He finds work in a bookstore that is all title, long hours, and no pay, and again with a Medical call-in center where he is laid off. In New Mexico as part of his relocation effort and a, maybe, fresh start with his severance pay, he tries a Medical Insurance Call in center. He’s the guy you talk to initially who explains to you why the insurance doesn’t cover all the things you thought it did and really need it to cover. Before, that is, the claim gets kicked upstairs where they really fight big claims tooth and nail, letting the little ones slide. He quits and soon realizes, Never Quit Unless You Have New Job Lined Up. Been there, done that and man, is he ever right.

A few months later, broke and desperate, he learns, as most of us Liberal Arts/ English Majors of a certain age do, we are unprepared for the jobs market. Desperate enough to enroll at a Temp Agency, he is hooked up with a claims processing job and he soon discovers that while he is employed, nominally, by the company, his pay is being filtered through the temp agency where they are siphoning off their cut. Bottom Line: take it or leave it. But he does get a Christmas bonus. He and his fellow temps, and newbies, line up for the hand out, a Payday Candy Bar. Ironic and metaphorical both; the little guy, screwed again.


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