By the Hour

Visiting Cuernavaca around 1971, my plane ticket bought for me by the United Methodist Women, so the first deschooler to found a learning network, me, could meet with the inventor of deschooling, Ivan Illich, I had the pleasure of hearing Illich explain in person how he’d set up his CIDOC: before detailing blue prints for learning networks in Deschooling Society. He told how anyone could go to CIDOC and offer himself as a learning resource. CIDOC had only three rules that had to be complied with. I repeat rule 3, warming up on rule 2:
Rule 2: One could not use CIDOC grounds to plot the overthrow of the Mexican government! That is so funny, because the rule is redundant: it’s already against Mexican law to plot to overthrow the Mexican government! Only three rules and one is wasted! Typical Illich humor (a joke with a corollary stentorianly implicit: it is OK to plot to overthrow the government of some other country! )
Here’s rule 3: the one that introduces this story:
A would-be resource person cannot demand money from her audience until she’s given them at least one half hour as a sample. It’s the right of the CIDOC “student” to ask, in Illich’s worlds, “Who the hell are you?!” for one half hour before committing to pay any tuition.

I’ve followed that rule myself ever since. I followed it at FLEX starting in 1970. I offered myself as a resource, I always gave free samples. No one then every paid my any tuition, but they were invited to. Silly me, I didn’t shut up after thirty minutes until they had coughed up: any coudl see that I’d keep teaching whether they paid me of not: till I ran out of gas, that is. I followed that rule in other areas as well: PK Fine Arts, Ltd., and at

Here in Sebring, 1989, broke, less than a tank of gas left, I made a sale to a local art gallery. Jim owned the store and ran it with his wife, Ann. In the early 1990s, with a tank of gas, but in search of income, I presented myself to Jim once again, this time as a desk top publisher. He had some printing he wanted done, I was trying to show him how I could do layout, typesetting, printing … drawing, text editing, writing … “I get $100 per hour, but the bill doesn’t begin to become due until a sample half-hour has passed. If you hire me after a half hour, then you owe me for the whole hour, and for whatever hours follow.”

We were about twenty minutes into my presentation when his phone rang. He answered it. He didn’t tell the caller that he was in the middle of a timed presentation that he could potentially be billed for; he just talked, and talked, and listened, and talked. He talked for three quarters of an hour at least.

I sat and fumed. I wanted the commission. I wanted him to hire me. But I didn’t want him to think that he could waste my time, the cost going to me alone.

What do I do? On my feet I could have pointed out that when he got off the phone he already owed me the better part of an hour: at $100 per! I could have asked him to establish trust by paying me that part then and there: then we could go on, or not. He owed me $X regardless.

He wouldn’t go to the doctor and talk on his cell phone for an hour while the doctor waited. He wouldn’t interrupt his $4 a minute phone call to the telephone whore, to gab for 45 minutes to some party who had nothing to do with the dirty talk: he’d owe the phone whore regardless, the phone company would bill him: and collect, or he’d have no more phone.

Jim abused the fact that I had no power over him. The phone company didn’t work for me. The IRS didn’t work for me. The cops didn’t work for me.

I’d sacrificed my life to offer him and the world a cheap free market place, a device by which school and state could be bypassed: an affordable, internet not run by the government: Christ-inspired.

Jim was a born again Christian: but like other church-goers, he had no idea of what Illich had said, or of how Christ had inspired Illich, and me. I knew of no way to tell him, having already failed to communicate this to anybody, between 1970 and the early 1990s, that he and his US had already stolen my internet: like knocking Santa down, mugging him for his presents, keeping the presents, and saying you don’t owe Santa a thing.

I sat and waited. Jim hired me. But that was not the last long stretch of my time he wasted while on the job. A job that should have been doable for a few hundred dollars would up taking thousands of dollars worth of $100/hour time. But I was lucky to get a few hundred out of it. And of course I never went back to Jim, no matter how broke I was.

An incident with my girl friend this morning prompted me to tell this story. I was preparing to leave her, to go home and work. I was telling her a last minute thing: and her phone rang. She went to answer it, saying she’d be back in a minute. Right away my mind clouded. As long as I’ve known her, she cant’ accurately predict how long she’ll be on the phone. While she’s on the phone, she’s not thinking of promises she made to me. Any minor crisis in her family is of immediate importance, and supersedes any promise she might have made: to a lover … to God, to the FBI …

In a well-run household manners similar to an well-run office apply: the tele-marketer cannot interrupt the family dinner, anymore than the Bible salesman can interrupt a meeting of the Fortune Five Hundred Board of Directors. The butler tell the neighbor’s kid that Billy can’t come out to play until his dinner with his family is over: the butler does not interrupt the dinner to fetch Billy for the neighbor. The butler tells papa’s mistress to call another time, the butler does not interrupt dinner to drag papa away.

No system is perfect. The best secretary in history wouldn’t know to interrupt Caesar to tell him that Jesus was downstairs. Death walks right through the butler to choke sissy on the chicken bone. Humans don’t reliably know what’s important and what’s not. But we’re not very good even at knowing what we used to know. Lots of families used to have some service person protecting the family’s privacy, the family’s integrity. Now the cell phones, like death, parade right in, anywhere.

And we’re too stupid, too full of ourselves, to realize that we’re not always wonderful in all ways in all things.
a second draft sure could improve the above, but I don’t know when I could manage to try

Stories by Theme

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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