Category: Creative Non-Fiction

Rowing Killer Fang Falls

A sample of my full Grand Canyon rafting manuscript

Valentines Day – Killer Fang Falls Rapid, Grand Canyon, USA

Our private group of four boats is pulling over to scout Killer Fang Falls, also known as Mile 232 Rapid. It’s February, it’s cold. We’ve been down in the canyon for weeks rafting icy water, one day in the falling snow. But this is the Grand Canyon, the rafting trip of a lifetime. When you win the raft permit lottery, you go. Our boat is on sweep, which is to say we are the last boat. I’m on the oars, having run the past couple of smaller rapids. Killer Fang is not small, and as the name implies, not to be trifled with.

Despite being the strong rower that Boo has dubbed “The Motor” that he drops-in to get us to shore when he doubts his ability, I am not stern to the shore in time to back ferry. I perform a spin too far midstream, miss the eddy. Suddenly we are quite clearly not going to make the scout.

Immediately I snap into GO! mode having no choice but to power through and take our chances with the unknown white water lurking around the bend. What I know about Killer Fang Falls: it takes its name from a two-pronged jagged shard of schist protruding from the wave train. What I don’t know in that instant is exactly where said fangs are located. Turns out they awaits us at lower river right. I deduce this from information being shouted at us from shore and frantically resounded by Boo and Meredith as we plummet down the tongue and straight into a fast narrow chute.

In the words of 19th century canyon explorer John Wesley Powell, “The waters reel and roll and boil.” Once in a Grand Canyon rapid of any substance, there is no escape but straight on through. There is only river right, middle and river left. Often you must enter right and move left, or visa versa.

Up a wave we go and down the other side only to be met by another of greater size and force. The river bends to the right here, the forward driving force of which gives birth to a series of lateral waves striking inward from the left wall.

Just five seconds ago all my force was dedicated to pulling us left to set the boat up to avoid the fangs. And only two seconds ago I shot down the tongue of the rapid straight on. Now I point my bow thirty degree left and thus at a right angle to the now monstrous laterals.

Then we hit it: the seething maw at the core of the rapid, the largest of the hydraulics midway down the falls. Down into its trough we go and then up, up, up but before we clear the top she breaks across the bow. For a few seconds all in the boat is awash in foam.

Now past it the boat bobs and weaves in a mad sea of waves breaking every which way. Somewhere deep beneath us a maze of huge boulders and tunnels carved through the millennia churn and froth and swirl and beat the passing river into the frenzy of white water that is a rapid.

Now all my energies go into pulling the bow around to face the approaching fangs on river right. Always careful to plant my oars where and when the powerful hydraulics won’t rip them from my hands, I commence to turn the boat. But the current fights me. I roar and grunt and shout in unconscious accompaniment to my physical fight for every degree of angular advantage.

I see the fangs. They are barely visible today due to the current high water flow but no less treacherous. To hit them at this speed would be at worst to flip, to shred the boat or at the very least eject a passenger and possibly high center.

They are coming up fast. The boat is not stern to river left as needed. Without this angular advantage, I cannot be sure to pull away from the danger in time.

At last I gain the upper hand. With both oars pulling hard in opposite directions, I manage to pull the bow around to face my nemesis. With mighty back-ferrying strokes, I feel the heavy 18-foot craft creeping across the crazed swirling but mostly hard downstream tangent of the water, all 20,000 cubic feet per second.

Through the flying foam and splashing hysteria that is every great Grand Canyon rapid, I can hear Boo and Meredith cheering, “You got it Jester! You got it! Pull! Pull!”

Suddenly though we are not yet past the fangs, I just know I have cleared their dangerous line. I pull once more for safety’s sake and once again out of pure adrenaline, and a whirlpool under-path spins us ever-so such that as we pass we are sideways to the river, bow to the fangs. We laugh as we cheer. We are clear of them. I have done it. I have run my last Grand Canyon rapid spot on, and I did it without even stopping to scout.

© Rick McKinney 2011

The only way out is straight through the middle
The only way out is through the middle

Bambi Vs. Cameravan

The amazing true tale of the 1995 Art Car Caravan to Houston!
by Rick McKinney

“I had a dream that night. Harrod, Ron, Mr. & Mrs. Northrup and I sailed outward through space to some parallel world where all cars were art cars and we were the mad monarchs of the mode. We drove in my dream across Milky Way highways of Comets and Dusters and Quasars where Dennis Hopper sat atop a deep-space chopper blowing by Richard Bach’s biplane in the carpool air-corridor fast lane to the McDonald’s on Romulon 4, 27 Gagillion served! It was Planet Art Car with Harrod Blank as Undisputed King of the Wild Wheels Anti-world. Here, police dressed in the Mardi Gras garb of car artist Chuck Alston from the “Wild Wheels” film, and Chuck was himself their chief, piloting a born-again Cosmic Ray Deflection Car and giving tickets to anyone caught driving a normal, boring car.”

It’s a Monday night and I’m standing in some eerie East Phoenix neighborhood asking a frightening-looking blonde kid with a pistol in a shoulder holster if he’ll give me a lift to the auto parts store down the street to purchase a new battery for my art car, Duke, dead in a Circle K parking lot. The sun is soon to set. I’ve driven over a 1000 miles straight in one day on the I-10 and Myk, my passenger, is telling me in his entirely impractical zen idiot savant way to calm down BUT I CAN’T CALM DOWN! I’m hoping it is just the battery. Could be worse. The prospect of having to abandon my art car is making me crazy!

Duke is a car with a soul, one of a rare breed of Art Cars, and you don’t leave your art car for dead without losing a part of yourself. God! In East Phoenix, of all places! I’d rather leave Myk here than leave my buddy Duke to die in Phoenix. I’ve known Duke longer. So begins the tale. In East Phoenix. It has to, for such journeys must begin with the question of an inopportune end: will my car make it there and back? And if it doesn’t, am I prepared to say goodbye?

I must confess that I had once thought that if Duke croaked, I would torch him at sunset in some desolate stretch of desert, take pictures, drink myself silly and weep in my beer until the other caravaners carried me off and took me with them. I mean, what choice would I have? Starving artist.. no money for repairs or a tow, no triple A, no nuthin.

Nothing but an imperative: get the car home.

I’m about to relate the experience that led to this imperative, that led me to understand that I was far more attached to my car than I thought. This is the story of the road trip that changed a life. It’s the story of the Great American Gen-X Novel four-chapters-shy of completion. It’s about the check in the mail, the redefinition of family, and eleven creatively-endowed automobiles on the road to Houston and art history.

It’s also about the ill-wisdom of illegal ferret trading, the hitchhiker with bad vibes, new uses for climbing gear, engine-baked potatoes, Hunter Thompson fantasies, ex-girlfriends in foreign ports, the practicality of car-driving hippies (gypsies), cops on camera and the psychiatry of the Camera Van, and folk art fantasmic on the I-10. It’s about two weeks on the road with first ten, fifteen, then twenty eccentrics rolling, rambling, wobbling through desert towns and Texas spring blooming fields of wildflower color in a dozen cars bound for automotive glory.

This is the story of Harrod Blank’s West Coast Caravan to Houston. Though I wrote it just after returning home in April of 1995, the sensations and spirit, the characters and magical moments of that journey remain so vibrant in my otherwise cloudy memory that it could have been yesterday.

JUICE Magazine out of Berkeley had promised me $500 for the story, but failed to ever publish it. On its first draft, it totaled 40 pages of mad road ramblings. Crunched down several times since for several different media, the story got shorter and more stilted with every editing and never did see publication. Well, hooray for the Web. This is the tale as it was meant to be told, the whole truth, all versions thereof, with plenty of style and imagination mixed in.

More than your average road trip, the 1995 West Coast Caravan will, I believe, go down in history as the best, the first of its kind, the most magical and anecdotal of caravans in what will no doubt become a blending trend in the heretofore separate worlds of art and the automobile. The players, the cars, the melding of minds, the filming, the weather, the wonder, and in the case of my then-topless ride, the wind. (I’ve since built a roof.)

As a final introductory note, the 1995 Caravan came at a strange time for me. I was deeply into the work of my first novel, spending ten or twelve hours a day in a fictional world of my creation. This, together with my novel’s use of parallel world theory, undoubtedly lent my experience of the caravan a special other-worldly glow, like I was never very sure that any of it was real! And if it was, did the so-called normal world still exist outside our Art Car realm? With all that in mind, I encourage you to read the ensuing tale not as yesterday’s news but as something very real and alive and quite possibly happening right now in some parallel Art Car world, circa 1995. Enjoy!

Duke, my colorful road buddy, my fondest four-fendered friend. Typewriter hood-ornament, rubber ducky with Barbie doll arms, a trail of blue smoke at every stoplight. A public graffiti car, Duke’s body is swaddled in a dozen or so layers of multi-colored house paint, bullhorns, Barbie doll heads and plastic cowboys and indians. His eviscerated dash is filled with everything from beach stones and nude trolls to my cub scout uniform pins and patches, and pistol ammo casings stuck in a lava bed of hardened spray foam insulation. Duke is a 1976 Ford Granada with a soul, one of a rare breed of art cars lending relaxed smiles to the hurry-up-and-wait freeway faces of America.

Picture this: It’s a Wednesday in mid-April in a snowstorm sixty road miles and 6,000 feet up from Palm Springs. I’m sweating in long johns, jeans and a down jacket as I shovel, repeatedly, parallel paths in the snow for the sake of four bald tires and their struggle to move my art car sixty feet up a slight grade to the freedom of a paved street. It takes a lot of imagination to shovel snow to move a car filled with snow and pine needles to the street and think, “Whippee! In a few days, my feet won’t be soaked and cold. In a few days, this car without a windshield or a single roadworthy tire, this car adorned with faded house paint, this car that’s been sitting for eight months untuned or cared for is going on the road 3500 miles round trip to Houston, Texas with a dozen other wild cars and I’m gonna get a sun tan! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!” A lot of imagination.

A few weeks before the plotted departure date of April 19, I had started to feel stupid, having invited first one, then two, then half a dozen friends to accompany me on the road to Houston in Duke and still I had no co-pilot. Friend A couldn’t afford the trip, Friend B couldn’t take that much time off work, Friend C said I was nuts to think Duke would make it to Houston and back, and the person I would most like to join me on the road was three weeks from graduating college and couldn’t miss that much school.

My computer had just died, only a few chapters shy of a finished novel, and all these friends with pc’s they use about as often as their Exercycles claimed to suddenly need their computers for something more than decorative furniture. So one day I’m over at the home of this guy Bruce Endres, a guy who hardly knows me, listening as he performs last rites on my smoked laptop, and suddenly he unplugs his own pc and hands it to me, saying, “I never use it. Here, finish your novel.” Wow.

So Bruce, I decide, is an angel among men, among charlatan friends and family who claim to love and care but when called upon to show their cards shrink away like witches under a leaky rain gutter. “Bruce,” I said, “none of a dozen people who claim to be my friends could part with their pc’s for me. My mother wouldn’t risk stretching her credit to help me buy a new computer, something about her debt ratio being too high. But you did! YOU ARE A GOD!” And somewhere in that day’s conversation, I mentioned offhandedly to Bruce that I was going on a journey soon that might interest him, a good bet for “Adventure of a Lifetime” status, a road trip to Houston with a bunch of wildly painted cars. It was just an offhand mention.

And dammit if Bruce wasn’t off to the paint store the next morning, painting and preparing his VW van to make the trip to Houston with me and Harrod and the gang. I love Bruce. Due to the busy nature of the trip and my own scattershot foreshortened attention span, I can’t say I knew Bruce much better at the end of the trip than before. But I loved him instantly, because he gave without hesitation and he had the courage to hit the road with nothing but a book of food stamps and a few dollars. Bruce and his daughters Jessica and Amanda were to make the whole trip from our town near Palm Springs to Houston and back on a handful of Monopoly money and Jessy’s violin talent. Wow.

We spent our first night at The Clubhouse, a warehouse in some bad part of Los Angeles following an art car fund raiser party put on by the L.A. Cacophony Society. In the planning stages, this had worried me, what with my car having no roof. Street-people gravitate toward Duke’s chaotic colors and cozy confines. A homeless guy actually set up house in Duke during an overnight stay once in San Francisco’s Haight. But I need not have worried about the L.A. location, what with the high iron gates, barbed-wire and gun turret-fortified compound they had us parked in.

This was my first time meeting other art car artists after some four years in Duke feeling like the only freak on the road. I was excited at first, awed into admiration of Ron Dolce’s Glass Quilt and thrilled to meet Harrod after much correspondence. I wowed at the sight of Michael Gump’s Frozen Bug and ooh’ed and ahh’ed at a flame-shooting, espresso-making cast iron vehicle of sorts, though neither were to join us the following day. But then it got late and it became apparent that the only place to sleep was the back seat of my car. The hundred-odd L.A. culture buds and cocktail-apron actors that had come to see the Art Cars had gone, leaving our seedling circus caravan to fend for ourselves in the festive detritus of the post-party night.

I awakened hungover and dehydrated and craving a Cherry Slurpee at four in the morning. I could, however, discover no way out of the compound nor into the locked warehouse where there was a bathroom. For a small-bladdered, claustrophobic, light-sleeper from the mountains, my first night out on what would otherwise be a fantastic journey, was basically hell. I spent the pre-dawn hours scrunched painfully in the back seat of my car, vibed-out by the brain-baking buzz of the high voltage power station next door and freaked by the far off tink-tink tinkle of urban gunfire.

The next morning brought hope. A kind and helpful cacophonist set me up with a broken down old CB radio. Though it failed to transmit my voice, I could at least monitor the banter of the caravan. Breakfast was at the L.A.-famous Pantry downtown. Thanks to door proceeds from the party, Harrod picked up breakfast for the whole caravan crew. This was to be a common occurrence throughout the journey, with earnings from various appearances along the route buying meals or accommodations for all. A real boon for the broke, which I imagine many all of us were.

Idling at a red curb awaiting the departure of the group, I’d quickly moved at the sight of a meter reader approaching in my rear view mirror. When I got home two weeks later, I discovered a $55 parking ticket in my mailbox from that day! I couldn’t believe it. L.A. you whore! L.A. with all her badge-wielding boys playing the role of pimp enforcers. Only a place as self-possessed as L.A. would ticket you for pulling out.

That afternoon, the art cars assembled about 100 miles east in Cabazon, CA, for a photo shoot by the dinosaurs of “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” and other films. In Harrod’s group-shot by the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the line-up thus far featured:

The Camera Van.. Harrod Blank, 32, filmmaker, Berkeley, CA; Alexis Spottswood, 26, substitute teacher & waitress, New York; Dan Lohaus, 24, Camera Van team member & “guitar wanker,” Berkeley, CA, set to spend Summer of `95 sleeping on gravel or in the van, drove truck around looking for cameras for Harrod, loves silicone, thinks Harrod hired him when he realized toxicity of all the chemicals used on the van; Chris Weiser, 27, quit job to come on trip, Berkeley, CA; and Neil Rubbert, 26, occupation unknown.

The Grape.. Charles Hunt, 31, plasterer, Simi Valley, CA; Natalie Berry, 32, mother of two, “Charles got suckered into taking me.”

The Rainbow Bus.. musician Bruce “Swami” Endres, 42, and his daughters Amanda, 12, and Jessica, 10, Idyllwild, CA.

The Coltmobile.. (driving for creator Ron Snow) carpenter & mechanic Jimmy “Saint James under the hood” Skinner, 45, Portland, Oregon, gave his time free of charge as caravan mechanic.

The Glass Quilt, a.k.a. Marble Madness.. Ron Dolce “That’s dole-chey, as in La Dolce Vita, that means sweet. I’m really a prick, but I happened to get a good last name,” 52, artist, Oakland, CA. “I never had a real job, spent 23 years moving furniture. It’s hard physical work but good money and you get lotsa good stuff, like silicone which they can’t take because its flammable, so I take it. The ‘Oak Town’ homies call my car tight and double tight. It used to be fresh, live, chill, rad and now its tight.

And of course, my car..

The Duke.

My crew included myself and my copilot Myk Loutzenhiser, artist, 20, Idyllwild, CA. I’m 28 and career conflicted.

I’m a writer. At least I thought I was that safe and sunny day under the T-rex amongst new friends. One year later, long after my novel “Catcher in the Sky” is finished and accepted for publication and I’ve had months and months to revel in the confidence of a Writer-On-His-Way-To-Fame-And-Fortune!, the publisher will bankrupt and my mentor will die. I’ll turn 30 and then 31. My Saturn Return will hit me like a 9mm slug into a TV set. I’ll lose all faith in the written word, move to Oregon, hit rock bottom, and just days after the first Art Car West Fest in San Francisco, I’ll check into a mental hospital and be main-lining Prozac just to get out of bed once a day.

But heh! That’s another other story, right? Right.

I don’t know why, but those two dinosaurs at Cabazon and the million or so silver windmills whoop-whoop-whooping in the high winds between there and Palm Springs have always entranced me. I wrote about the dinosaurs and the windmills in my novel:

“Dust devils of aberrant sound perused the singer’s efforts, drafts of white noise made mystical in the dense atmosphere of the setting sun, the already apparent night stars, and two, life-size dinosaurs. It was an August desert oven world where nothing organic moved in the deadly heat and a thousand white and silver windmills whipped languid parabolas, distorted by distance, distorting the singer’s voice, gurgling graceful blues guitar like a child’s voice humming behind a floor fan, hot summer night in the deep south. Between the Dinosaur Diner and Joshua Tree Monument stood regiment after regiment of such windmills. Soldiers of the desert winds. The spectators of Edder’s impromptu dinosaur mouth performance that night regarded a sea of spinning silver blades in the distance to the north. As the MTV helicopter snuck down on the crowd from Tiara Mountain and the freeway behind them to the south, 400 north facing eyes could have sworn they saw the windmills marching closer, getting louder, closing in for the kill.”

And inspired by the gathering of Art Cars that day at Cabazon, I would later write Harrod and friends into the book as well:

“The MTV camera people arrived by helicopter, having heard about the traffic fiasco on Tiara Mountain. Filming from the chopper, they captured scenes from the craziness. Swooping down Interstate 10 past Bowling Alley to the Dinosaur Diner on a tip from local radio station KDUH, they caught a massive tailgate party underway. In a wagon train formation around the notorious, life-size brontosaurus and T-rex sat two dozen colorful cars, Duke’s brethren art automobiles, gathered together in caravan by young filmmaker Blank Canvas. Known to his friends as ‘Chickenman Canvas’ due to his penchant for prancing around and screeching like a chicken, young Blank drove a VW bug covered in colorful slogans, spinning sunflowers, skulls, coins and chicken memorabilia. And the other cars ran the gamut of automotive eccentricity: a shark car; a road-kill, scrap-metal and bones car; a camera-covered van; a Toyota decked out in baby dolls and broom brushes; a Chevy Malibu with a living lawn.”

That night the caravan crashed in Gila Bend, Arizona. And I mean crashed. I, for one, was dead tired after a sleepless night and two mad days in preparation and on the road. And from the way we all zonked out littered higgilty-piggilty about the grounds of some RV park, it appeared that all were exhausted.

The following morning Jim Skinner helped me divine the cause of Duke’s first complaint: a sort of sluggishness and tendency to stall when cold. “Go and buy yourself a new set of spark plugs,” he said, and I did and voila! Vroom! Vroom! Already, I felt a measure of security that I had never known on a road trip, like no matter what might go wrong with my car, I wouldn’t be left stranded and clueless by the side of the road. At least Jim would know what the problem was, even if he couldn’t fix it.

It amazes me still how instantaneous came the sense of family. An art car family! These were eccentrics like me, hippies, gypsies. And it takes a certain strain of hippie to maintain an old American car, to afford gas and repairs, to go on the road for any length of time. The term gypsy actually tells it better. Road gypsy seems to say “practical, self-sufficient transient.” That was us. That is us. A family of road artists. And it’s magic.

I think of the story of The Coltmobile, the car Jim was driving along with his copilot Lizzy. Creator Ron Snow glued model horses onto his car as a form of therapy while in Alcoholics Anonymous over the past 20 years. Apparently Ron couldn’t make it this year, so brave Jim rose to the occasion. His seemed a scary job at times. The 10-foot tall wobbling tower of over a thousand blue horses seemed sure roll with the force of every passing semi.

On the flip side of size and extravagance would be Ron Dolce’s 1969 Volkswagen Marble Madness. It is one of the smaller and more subtle Art Cars, but to my mind it is the most beautiful. Its exterior is comprised solely of marbles and stained glass, what Ron eloquently calls, “frozen watercolor.” Ron is the old wise man of the trip, a hoary nut with a sardonic, “get-out-of-my-face-I-just-woke-up” look permanently carved into his mug. He and Jim are the lone elders of an otherwise GenX crew.

We hit it off well, Ron and I, becoming fast friends by my third day out, although he says that at first he didn’t like my car at all. This came as no great surprise from a guy who admits to being a prick. Haha. I look at Ron’s car and I see Sistine Chapel; I look at my car and I see L.A. freeway overpass. What makes my car unique is the sheer number and variety of people who have scribbled on, painted, graffitied, and autographed it over the years. What makes Ron’s car special is, well.. just look at it!

The real pricks were the wait staff at 100 East Congress in Tucson, our destination later that day. A restaurant called The Grill where our troupe, suddenly over a dozen strong, were told we could eat for free in exchange for the promotional value of our appearance. Meeting us there when we arrived were the Land Yacht, Jeff Carlock’s Zebra Truck, three from Bisbee, Arizona including The Doll Car, The Funk Ambulance and Love 23, and several others not intent on the trip to Texas, but just turned out for the day.

Face it, wherever we go, a crowd forms. It’s good for business. However, it seems some members of the caravan failed to tip the wait staff adequately (though a later tally swore to across-the-board tipping) and the hired help turned nasty. By the time I sat down to eat later in the day, my waiter had at least four orders of fried zucchini up his ass. I asked him his name and he snarled something about his fifth amendment rights and “what is this a fucking interrogation?”

Free food and drinks for the caravan somehow wound up costing me twenty bucks at The Grill in Tucson. When I paid the bill at the register, the waitress taking my money spoke loudly over her shoulder to my waiter, saying, “Stick around for the arrival of the flea circus later on.”

It was weird. Ours is a measure of freedom unacceptable to some people, a bold, public display of creativity. They were jealous. C’est la vie.

The energy on the street, however, was great. There were loads of people milling about the cars and many art car artists I hadn’t yet met. I got to see true roadside hucksterism at work for the first time watching Harrod, Dan and Chris hawk Art Car Calendars, books, postcards and video copies of ‘Wild Wheels’ out of The Camera Van. It was exciting to see, and I rushed off to develop a roll of shots Harrod had taken of Duke that day so that I, too, would have something to sell. Years before I had discovered for myself the excitement of making money from my art. And back then it was hardly even art! Just a few layers of multi-colored mix-n-match paint. I didn’t even have anything tangible to sell. But there I was, stranded at a scenic turnout on Highway 1 in Big Sur with no money for gas, turning Duke into cash by inviting people to paint on him for a small donation. I documented that trip in a piece titled On The Road With Duke. Now today, watching Harrod wheel and deal for the Art Car world, well.. it’s nothing short of amazing.

Harrod Blank. Typing his name, I think of the lyrics of a song by the band Heavy Vegetable that say, “All my heroes are crazy, bored people with nothing better to do with their own lives.” It fits my impression of Harrod well, a serendipitous infusion of slacker wisdom into my contemplation of a man who, though human, seems to take on a more mythic status with every passing art car gathering. For what this 32-year old has done in that crazy-bored-nothing-better-to-do-space existent in us all, is astounding.

In that dead zone that lingers maliciously between brilliant self-creation and succumbing to shitty jobs like selling ties at K-mart, Harrod Blank has back-flipped out of boredom and into brilliance, lending validation and unity to a lonesome bunch of one-in-a-million artists who, before the film “Wild Wheels,” probably thought themselves a few cards short of a full deck. Or, in the case of Ron Dolce, a few marbles short of madness.

That day in Tucson I met Kathleen Pearson and Phillip & Colleen Estrada and their daughter Gypsy, all Bisbee people who I would come to know and love when I moved there later the next year. Kathleen was driving Love 23, her 1983 Ford LTD Station Wagon painted pink and covered inside and out with some 5,000 plastic figurines. An artist, Kathleen’s entire world, I would later learn, is as object-encrusted and colorful as her car. And the same goes for artists Phillip, 33, Colleen, 28, and Gypsy, 2. Their 74 Toyota Corolla Doll Car with over 200,000 miles to its name serves as a kind of showplace of one of Phillip’s primary art forms, dolls painted and hung on crosses and brooms.

It would stand to reason, I guess, that most art car people would be artists. However, I had had my art car for half a decade and never thought of myself as an artist until meeting the likes of Kathleen, Harrod and the Estradas. Witnessing their artistic confidence and the extent of possibilities for ‘enhancing’ one’s car, I determined at once that Duke would no longer suffer long periods of neglect following the ebb and flow of my creative self-esteem, but would from here on out blossom like a bouquet of steel flowers, its push-rod pistils and independent suspension stamen driving it skyward, stunning the interstate world!

For what is a car if not moving art? And further fancified and fanticized, it becomes a freeway fanfaronade for all to see, a priceless, one of a kind, classic work of art! An art car is a Picasso with a drive shaft, a fuel-injected Van Gogh, a motorized Matisse, an internal combustion Gauguin, a Salvador Dali with independent suspension, disk brakes and a T-top roof.

It was the top down all the way to Texas for Myk and I in the Duke. That night the now-swollen caravan headed out of town and up into the valley of the Saguaro. Snaking through Saguaro National Monument outside Tucson around midnight, it soon became clear that the caravan was hopelessly lost. ‘Who cares?’ I thought. Part of a small nation of art cars, I felt safe, indestructible, indivisible with liberty and ample buzz for all.

Finally resigned to not finding the campground, Harrod led us into a turnout somewhere in the darkness of the park and we disembarked for the night. There were people romping through the cactus, howls and hoots. Visions of scorpions kept me moored to the massive blue tarp laid out for general crashing purposes.

In the morning there was the brilliant blue sky above, cacti all around and Charles Hunt brewing coffee over a Sterno fire on the hood of The Grape. I haven’t said much yet about Charles, perhaps because he’s kinda difficult to describe. Charles Hunt is a beast, of sorts, a scary looking dude with a scary looking car. On the basis of outward appearances, Charles and his car go together like most pet owner’s and their pets. German shepherd-like people have German shepherds; poodle-like people have poodles. But beneath his crusty exterior, Charles is a softy. The Grape, on the other hand, doesn’t have a soft spot in it, so far as I can tell. A 64 Comet, the Grape is pure skeletal steel, driftwood, detritus and decomposition. It’s bones and bombast, bullet holes and rusted bells. It’s a thing from Hell. And it’s beautiful. But its Sterno coffee production wasn’t enough to sate everyone, so we went on a coffee run in The Land Yacht.

What can I say about Eric Lamb except that a ride in the crow’s nest of his towering Land Yacht through Saguaro to a tiny diner in the desert for coffee was one wild ride.

If you’ve never sailed the cacti and tumbleweed sea in a luxury yacht, well.. I recommend it highly. This massive white Cadillac done up like a yacht gives true meaning to the automotive pejorative, “It drives like a boat.” An Art Car joke: Why did the Land Yacht drive to Michigan? To anchor in Ann Arbor.

That morning was the first and last I would see of Eric Lamb. Impatient with the caravan’s snail-like pace, he would run on ahead of us toward Texas, although come to think of it I don’t recall ever seeing him in Houston.

That morning, activity abounded in the saguaro. There was an acoustic jam on the tailgate of a truck and introductions to yet more new additions to the crew. There was a group of the women doing yoga in a desert wash across the road. Then came the obligatory visit from the cops mid-morning. “All your vehicles will be cited if not moved immediately! You are not in a designated parking area.” There wasn’t another sign of human life for miles and miles and yet we’ve gotta move. You can always rely on the politzei to call an end to unscheduled and un-permitted fun.

On the road again, and we’re really a mob now. Joining the many art cars at this point was 33-year-old film-maker and Harrod-amigo David Silberberg and his crew in Jack Splat, the spartanly decorated sixties model Caddy with oxidized maroon paint. The only discernible decor on this topless Caddy were a couple of clumps of oven-fired ceramic goo swirled in red, pink and gray puke-like colors and splattered across the trunk. Had I studied the clumps and their precise location on the car and tried to gauge their relation to the car’s name, I might have figured out the mysterious meaning without having to ask. But I did ask. And the answer? Think Jack Kennedy, Cadillac, Dallas..

Members of David’s camera crew included set-designer & actor Jeff Vance, 33, and Oakland cinematographer, social revolutionary, biophysicist, baker, and actor Frances Nkara, 29. From here on out, the Jack Splat crew would film our every movement, though mostly focusing on the antics of their film’s focal point, Harrod Blank. In Houston at journey’s end, Frances would tell me that they had shot 4000 feet of film in our one week on the road.

On the freeway outside Willcox, Arizona, I spied a hitchhiker. Caught up in the euphoria of the caravan, I made a snap decision and picked him up. It was a decision I would quickly come to regret. From my journal:

“Now we’ve got Israel in the car, some hispanic kid with bleached-blonde hair. Says he’s hitchin’ to Galveston and after a while of being in his not-so-hot vibes, my heart sinks as I realize Galveston’s past Houston and the kid wants to go all the way with us. A stop at The Thing for trinket shopping. The kid doesn’t feel right. I ask Myk to hang by the car to watch the CD boom box, move the car closer in to where several caravan members are loitering outside the store. Back on the road, the kid is creep city. I sense danger in his weasel voice and semi-psychotic banter and realize that by bringing him along I have endangered not only Myk and I but the whole caravan. The idea of having him camp with us is too much as I envision highway robbery, murder, whatever. I go to work figuring out how to lose him without pissing him off, for indeed if he is psychotic we’re in trouble.”

That day after sunset the caravan docks at a giant truck stop on the east end of El Paso to refuel and eat. I somehow convince Israel that this is as far as I can take him, somehow, that is, without him knifing me. He’s clever though, and halfway through dinner I find out that he’s gotten in with someone else in the caravan! Zebra Truck Jeff probably thought the guy was with us, as little as we all know each other. I quickly correct the mistake, and everyone in the caravan is relieved as Jeff retracts his offer and Israel gets left behind. On the road late that night, I felt a twinge of guilt thinking how paranoid I’d acted. ‘Hell,’ I thought, ‘maybe I had the kid all wrong.’

Ten days later, I’ll be home in California reading an article on twentysomethings wanted by the FBI and leap out of my skin at a photo of Enrique Moreno Casas, 27, cop killer, swearing the kid I’m lookin’ at is Israel, my ill-vibed hitcher.

Tired of driving and thirsty for a vodka and grapefruit, I deferred the driving of Duke to Myk and hopped inside The Camera Van for a stint at passenger travel and a cocktail. All I recall for certain is that somewhere just west of Sierra Blanca, Texas, I was forced to chuck three-quarters of a liter of Absolut out the window when Harrod panicked on approaching a well-lit vegetable quarantine station. Bang! Absolut zero. From groovy greyhound to grapefruit grey, and a gross waste of pricey, medium-grade vodka. It was the old molotov-cocktail-out-the-window thing, and it apparently damn near blew Ronnie off the road. I had tied on a healthy buzz before that panicky prohibition, so details of the rest of the night are vague at best. The vodka eviction was the only casualty of the trip for me, but just a harbinger of things to come for Harrod.

That night we rolled into Sierra Blanca, a tiny nowhere town quite by itself in the long stretch of I-10 between El Paso and Ft. Stockton. We secured a couple of motel rooms and shared beds to cut down on the cost. Somehow I wound up sleeping with Rotten Ronnie. What didn’t seem all that odd to me at the time became a subject of much joking around the next day.

At some point, Philo and Joanne Northrup had joined us in the Truck in Flux, a movable, evolving shrine to Elastic Symbolism. They had had transmission trouble way back before the L.A. overnight, and had taken awhile to catch up. Philo would later take on the task of organizing the next two art car caravans, no small task. And together with Harrod, he would launch the highly successful Art Car West Fest.

The next morning, we lingered awhile in the seemingly near-abandoned downtown stretch of Sierra Blanca. A reporter from the diminutive local paper came to take our pictures and interview some of the drivers, and townsfolk started coming out of nowhere to get a closer look at the cars. The people of Sierra Blanca were very friendly and our unplanned stop in their town created a bit of art car folklore. In the coming years Sierra Blanca would become an important stop on every caravan. It was as if the town held luck for us, or we for it, and the townspeople sent us away with gifts of praise, talisman like antlers and skulls for The Grape and The Funk Ambulance. Sierra Blanca added to our story, a story made up of many stories of the people and events of the coming days.

Like the story of artists Tim Johnson, 25, and Gretchen Baer, 31, drivers of the 1973 Olds 98 alternately known as The Funk Ambulance and Soul Patrol. Also from Bisbee, this couple will have moved back East and built an art boat by the time I got to Arizona, but I’ll never forget witnessing Tim’s mastery of manifold-baked potatoes, literally the process of baking potatoes on the engine of their mobile disco.

It was the Quantum Reality of the Art Car in America, and that day cinched it for me with fourteen crazy cars rolling stoned and happy together in the Texas sun, and me, driving sitting up on my headrest and steering with my toes, ‘good-visuals’ for David’s documentary film.

We were a micro-universe in a land of shinier, more fuel efficient automobiles. Throughout the journey, I had the feeling that nothing like this was going on anywhere else on the Planet. We are special, I thought. We are magic, a snapshot epiphany in A (for Art Car) Major, adagio, the slow trickling dance of a rainbow caterpillar of cars at fifty in the slow lane. Sunshine eternal and smiles as the fire of life, of shared experience ignites and burns bright in the body caravan!

It was the whole enchilada. Everything and anything. Just pick an image. Like Jack Splat, Jeff Vance’s ancient Cadillac convertible zooming by with Frances Nkara behind the massive movie camera and Kennedy’s brains strewn across the trunk in ceramic sardonic wit. Like the Sierra Blanca skull people, or the Elvis impersonator, or the motel toilet from the night before that you couldn’t sit on straight because it was too close to the facing wall. Like Annie-get-your-gun buck naked out the window in the fast lane on I-10.

Tick! Tick! Tick! Every second it was something, some freeze-frame moment of pure joy, of people awake and alive on the road in April in America.

Annie-get-your-gun is 24-year-old Annie St. John, a spirited young lady who manages her own line of clothing, but who was sighted somewhere in western Texas in no clothing at all. Traveling with her boyfriend, 26-year-old musician David Myers Pugh, Annie and some of the caravan’s other lovely ladies got naked for a morale-boosting caravan drive-by streaking. Yee-hah!

Flashback: I’m standing in the shadow of the Funk Ambulance outside the glare of an El Paso gas station’s island ambiance attempting to drop my shorts and jump into a pair of jeans for the evening drop in temperature. But privacy just ain’t to be had. There are four state troopers milling about the caravan ahead of me and an endless stream of curious Texans circling our Art Car wagon train like shark scouts and road kill vultures. What am I thinking? My friends and I virtually scream “Carnival!” everywhere we go. Our vehicles are a visual cacophony. When we roll in for fuel stops, attendants rub their eyes and swear to cut down on the No-Doze. Grinning cops pose for Polaroids by our cars and puff out their chests for Harrod’s camcorder. It’s no wonder then, that I can’t get my pants on at 11 p.m. in the relatively discreet corner of a gas station lot.

That evening, we were somewhere west of Johnson City, Texas when the lead members of the caravan passed right beneath a gigantic highway sign for our turnoff, Route 290 to Fredericksburg, and we blindly followed along. Annie was driving Duke for me, and I was in the passenger seat not paying any attention to the road. It was after midnight and we were freezing our asses off in Duke. With no roof, the night wind at sixty miles per hour is more than cold. Annie said she thought maybe we had missed the exit, but we we’re enjoying each other’s company and without a working CB in Duke we had no choice but to follow the leader.

Meanwhile, Rainbow, Marble and Jack Splat were way back, a point in their favor, for when they reached the turnoff they assumed that was the way we had gone. They soon learned from the CB banter that we’d gone astray, and apparently Harrod figured it out about then, too. It’s hardly worth mentioning the incident except that it amounted to some twenty miles out of the way, which for Annie and ice-cube-me was painful. That, and it made me sit up and pay attention, which allowed me to witness what happened next.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park. It was foggy as hell when suddenly “Thwack!” Harrod hit a deer, sending a shower of thrift store cameras across the road. Bambi ate a dozen Polaroids for a midnight snack, thrashing the grillwork of The Camera Van.

Somebody said, “Jeez, if it weren’t for all the cameras, imagine the damage to the grill!” I had a sneaking suspicion Harrod would have fed the deer the entire transmission rather than blow sixty-some odd pieces of an intricate camera puzzle to smithereens.

Skirting the headlight glare of a dozen art cars parked higgelty-piggelty along the roadside, the ghost of LBJ lurked in the darkness and not one car drove by. Tarzan Tim and Charles Hunt canvassed the nearby tall grass in search of the dead deer. The victim was described as a four-legged woodland creature with flashbulb eyes. Bambi the Terminator: half-android, half-Polaroid.

“This calls for a beer! Anyone wanna drink with me?” Yeah, I said to the wrecked Harrod at the scene of the crime on a lonesome stretch of Texas highway. But Alexis and a few other well-intentioned fun-spoiling watchdogs would have none of it. They tore the beer from the distraught Harrod’s hands and escorted us all back to our chariots for the now-adrenaline buzzed last leg to Fredericksburg.

There were pledges to return for Bambi in the morning, to skin the damn animal and mount it’s lens-encrusted head on the grill of the Camera Van. It was said that Harrod should craft a loincloth from its pelt to be worn on special occasions, primal moments when the blood of the art car artist rages in the beastly engine like rocket fuel, and the mutant and wonderfully-warped reality of Road Art howls out of hoarse lungs like fire from the throat of an over-primed carburetor! But no one ever went back.

Gas station, Fredericksburg. “Look, I just hit a deer,’ Harrod exclaimed. “There’s camera fragments all over the road back there.” A posse of local cops has turned out to welcome us to town. Annie and I thought we were in the lead as we rolled into town, but it appears that Jack Splat has been pulled over up ahead in what looks like a roadblock full of flashing yellow lights and of course the familiar blue and red of the cops. Thankfully, the cops are friendly and give us directions to a rest stop down the road. It’s free, they say, and we can sleep there. But mob ruled and suddenly we we’re at a motel a half a mile back haggling over who was getting the beds and who got the floor or was tenting it outside in the grass.

And of course, a battle ensued. Mostly it was between The Grape and Love 23. I say it thus because by now we were all referring to each other by our vehicular names. In the battle for bed space, however, a few other choice names were used. I asked someone the time. It was 2 a.m. There was an empty pool at the motel, and I was just tired enough to climb down in there and go to sleep if the bed battle wasn’t settled soon.

The killing of the deer had effected a strange shift in all of us. We were getting testy, over-tired and road weary. But morale was at an all-time high. There was wild energy afoot, that no mere fatigue-addled fray could dispel. We were edgy, pumped, and starting with Harrod, we were starting to get a little batty. Sure I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, but I had to admit with this group, on this trip, the feeling of being part of something great seemed to erase the need for sleep. I thought, only in the mundane workaday world is regular sleep a necessity. Out here on the edge we survive on coffee, adrenaline, gas fumes and transmission oil. We run rough yet determined liked an old car. Fatigue-slumps and thrill-induced rushes jangle our brains like the behavior of a moody carburetor, stalling at high revs from a clogged fuel filter.

At last I got a bed, again doubling up with Marble. But sleep, I was soon to learn, was as yet a ways off. For in the room with Philo, Joanne, Ron and I came Harrod with his camcorder and a bottle of some high grade tequila, Anejo or Hornitos it was.

Harrod is tall. He must be all of nine feet or so, and that night from my vantage point in bed, he appeared very tall indeed. When someone as tall as Harrod gets hammered, he whips in the wind like a too-tall gumby or a whip antenna. It was Harrod’s night to get weird and flexible. He was so close to my face with the camcorder several times that I could hear the soft whirring of the autofocus over the din of the equally mad crazies, Joanne, Philo, and Ron, laughing uproariously at Harrod’s antics. The lens would rests for a moment on the tip of my nose, then be gone as Harrod pivoted, swirled, and rocked on his tequila-lubricated hip bone. Doing a sort of torso twist, he rocked like a crane above a city, happy as a lark and shouting ‘Don’t YOU JUST FUCKING LOVE IT, RONNIE?’ whereupon he climbed in bed with Marble and me and we all laughed and drank and swore vengeance on Bambi come morning.

Then in came Charles to give us the low-down on the injustice of bed distribution between the women, insofar as his girl Natalie not getting a bed when Kathleen did. It was all the more madness, Harrod of course getting the whole thing on video. Poor Charles spun himself out and joined in the drinking. And somewhere in the shouting over deer and bed-divvying, a half a bottle of tequila disappeared and Harrod swayed ever-more precariously like the high horse on the Coltmobile, a very tall man bending like a cartoon.

I had a dream that night. Harrod, Ron, Mr. & Mrs. Northrup and I sailed outward through space to some parallel world where all cars were art cars and we were the mad monarchs of the mode. We drove in my dream across Milky Way highways of Comets and Dusters and Quasars where Dennis Hopper sat atop a deep-space chopper blowing by Richard Bach’s biplane in the carpool air-corridor fast lane to the McDonald’s on Romulon 4, 27 Gagillion served! It was Planet Art Car with Harrod Blank as Undisputed King of the Wild Wheels Anti-world. Here, police dressed in the Mardi Gras garb of car artist Chuck Alston from the “Wild Wheels” film, and Chuck was himself their chief, piloting a born-again Cosmic Ray Deflection Car and giving tickets to anyone caught driving a normal, boring car.

“But no! Wait! This cannot be! A world where everyone is weird like me. I would not, could not have this be, that everyone drive identically! We’re artists! Madmen! Not graffiti gods! God forbid we become fashionable, too! Eek! Eek! It’s the plight of the Star-belly Sneeches all over again! I have erred! How absurd! In a world where everyone drove a car like Duke, I should have to go normal, I should have to puke.”

I awoke again to a midday sun plunging through the motel room’s open door to greet us, garrulous loving child the sun. Out the door I stumbled with an audible grog, audible to the boom mic hanging overhead, David’s crew rolling camera to catch first sight of the car artist spilling from hibernation. Whether or not a car artist sees his shadow is purported to have some effect on the weather ahead. It hasn’t rained or snowed on us yet. It would be Austin that day, and Houston the next. Yet I sensed already that the events of The Orange Show, though fun, wouldn’t even touch the exhilaration of the road trip that got us there.

There would be no weather to speak of until early May. In the first days of May, when all the cameras and most of the cars were gone, straggling members of the caravan, the die-hard, hoary remnant zealots, would run naked together in the desert in hail and boiling gumbo thunderstorms, abandoning their cars, their morals –their tethers to the jet set plain world of workaday worries unraveling, disappearing into the mists of Avalon, the wind, the rain, the lightning flashing on mad bright white teethy grins– Marble Madness, Elastic Symbolism, crazed caravaners, the Lost Tribe dancing in the desert night. I would hear about this second or third hand, having returned to California in haste. But I would see it all in colorful art car spiritual clarity, pick it up on the instinctual Internet of my imagination. For by then I would know these people well. These were my people. Putting a slight spin on that Christian camp song I learned long ago, “We are one in the art car spirit, we are one in the Lord of the Road..”

The last entry in my road journal to Houston reads:

We push on, the road ahead bowing down in awed reverence before us. Brilliant flowers spring to technicolor life ahead of us as we thrust forth a vibrational bow wave of purples, yellows, oranges and reds. Annie St. John stands in Duke’s passenger seat, her split pea green scarf sailing in the warm Texas spring wind. Annie is Joan of Arc in a combat helmet, a Tipparillo cigar perched upon her gracious grin. Annie smiles and laughs constantly. She is the ultimate co-pilot and passenger, and Duke bounces giddily along, a day-old helium-filled Mylar balloon, an astronaut on the surface of the moon, too heavy to fly but still dancing on the buoyancy of Annie’s infectious laughter.

© Rick McKinney 2013

Jesus Perdu Et Flottant

by Rick McKinney

The following is the raw contents of one 80-page steno notebook, a 15,000-word snapshot of two weeks from January 3rd thru 19th, 2009.

3 January 09

Embarking on a new adventure today. Kinda fun! Though a small, localized journey, my destination gives the day an exotic sheen. Yesterday saw me sad as hell, not atypical for me in the 48 to 72 hours after imbibing any alcohol. With New Year’s eve, I couldn’t resist passing the magic hour in Heinhold’s Saloon at Jack London Square, the location of so much fun on this night a year ago. A couple of beers is all it took. Well, that and the raw wretched wound of tragic heartbreak now addling my every hour following my manic mad leap into impossible relationship status with O. We lasted 48 hours. But anyway!

The journey! To San Francisco I go! When last in town just before Thanksgiving, I made it at long last to a Sunday service at Glide Gospel and oh-what joy! While wandering the neighborhood that Sunday in the post-Glide glow of love and fellowship, I stumbled on the SF AYH, the youth hostel and an idea was hatched. I saw a way that I could accomplish a couple of goals for my time here in San Francisco in one stroke, goals I have lived here some 18 months and not yet begun to realize. I could make Sunday morning services at Glide with some regularity at last! And I could do it by overnighting at the AYH for a reasonable $25/night where I would get to meet people from around the world, always a great thrill for me. It was a great idea! But, the whole Duke-to-Joshua-Tree mission called me away, and I stayed away where, hungry for love no matter how impossible, I fell for O’s charms, my will power gave way, and in short order in that “cage with golden bars” that is another’s world, another’s house, another’s children, another’s agenda, my mind gave way as well. Just 100 hours ago I was so sick with that confused caged-animal lost-in-space feeling that I was well night ready to lay down in the snow and end it all.

Hours later now I find myself in Grace. Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, a truly massive church within whose walls I feel closer to the divine, whatever you believe that to be. I speak silently to the divine and give thanks for the clarity of mind and purpose that got me here tonight. I apologize to said entity for not believing in Original Sin. I apologize for believing only in One, in IT, as it were. I confide in Her my rather secret belief that, despite recent dips into grave uncertainty, I am healing. I am moving toward a better me, one tiny little cellular synaptic step at a time. I am healing myself.

By ruling out, bit by bit, all old ways which no longer serve me. I am moving toward MY light. Not hers. Not yours. Not theirs. I move not toward anyone’s idea of what or who I should be, only mine. And if I appear reticent, it is because some wiser voice within me knows that the way you are leading me is not the way for me.

I have never in my life read a self-help book. Call this ignorance, obstinacy, stubborn defiance or stupidity, but even in my blindest years of debauched and disconnected living, I knew inside that no one could tell me my path. I had to find it on my own.

I never attended an AA meeting, but I learned of my own the need to stop, and I am grateful (such as it is) for the constant reminders by those of my acquaintance who still live for alcohol and are therefore ever in the death of it. I never want to sound condescending toward drinkers. I wrote a lot of very fun and oft-meaningful material while “in my cups” over the course of some two decades. it is death for me, is all. I cannot say what it is for anyone else except that in listening to the drunk now, I am easily bored. Then I am easily bored with many people.

Give me a talented drunk like Bukowski, however, and I will dive into his words with vigor, relishing every soused syllable.

Back at the hostel I discover that one of my four bunk roommates is a Bukowski fan, and is either German or likes to read Buk auf Deutsch. At a glance, it appears that the laptop computer may have quite altered the social scene of the youth hostel as I remember it. Looks to be about one laptop for every three heads in the “reading” room. I am relieved when the hacker kid across from me gets up, unplugs, departs and is quickly replaced by a young woman with hand-knit red slipper socks and an actual book. I don’t foresee myself ever nestling up to a computer. Even the Palm Pilot with keyboard I carried on the Appalachian Trail, that already-outdated device that seemed so modern and hi tech to my fellow thruhikers was just an input device. It matters not that it nestled on my crotch for the creation of ninety percent of the writing of Dead Men. A book is an irreplaceable nestling friend. Perhaps not so sweet and fine a fit as a lover’s body, but more steady of temperament and longer lasting.

[Pause to take a phone call from Justin who, having just crushed up and snorted some monster pain pill, was a very chatty boy!]

Sultry female vocalist piped in from the lobby below somewhere, sounds quite like Lonna Kelly, the hot breathy bird whose CD I bought after seeing her perform at Gretchen and Shawnee’s space in Bisbee in.. 06? Ah, Bisbee. To think just days ago I sat at the crossroads off I-10 just south of Joshua Tree National Monument and opted out of that party, that world. “Like and old shoe,” I referred to Bisbee in a chat with Patrick’s partner Kristina. For that reason, Kristina prescribed Bisbee as the solution to my prevaricating writer’s woes. A not-so-bad idea. So WHY oh WHY am I back here on the San Francisco Bay?

Perhaps, maybe I just like it here. Maybe, maybe it is starting to grow on me. Hell if I know. I think what I am learning from this protracted experience of, well, of feeling unable to just up and relocate as I’ve been doing for years, is that at base it is really good to have a base! The boat isn’t worth selling and if for instance I did move back to Bisbee, I would lose roughly as much of my income as I am now spending on monthly slip fees and insurance for the boat. So, what’s the point of selling it? There isn’t one. So I keep it.

And I am free to travel, to make up any hiking or climbing and writing agenda I wish, and always I have the boat to fall back on. Onto. And into!

Keep moving, said Hunter S. Thompson. Keep a home base, say I, even if it is a semi-derelict sailboat in a semi-derelict marina in a culturally derelict town like Oakland, poor ugly stepchild of beloved SF across the water.

Today I walked twenty minutes to the subway, tuned out to a couple of Tool songs and voila, emerged from underground into the soaring animated world of Market Street San Francisco.

There was this thing this woman said, this kind of elitist and presumptuous bullshit which she occasionally leaks out from behind an otherwise healthy sense of self. I think she considers it the stuff of normal high self-esteem. I think it is conceited crap, and if she heard it turned around with the gender bias on the other foot as it were, she would bark indignant. I had mentioned that our mutual friend B. had a thing for her, and had once given me the “Not this one Klaus” vibe on her. If it was ever spoken as such or just inferred I cannot recall. Years ago. Anyway, her response to being told this was, “All you men, like sperm, are fighting to get the egg.” Damn, woman! Crank down the ego a few thousand watts! I had a biologist girlfriend for years who could explain such things in great scientific detail but who had far more humility than you.

4 January 09

Headed home to the boat Sunday afternoon. Subdued. Been wandering the city cold since walking out of Grace Cathedral morning services a good bit shy of the end, avoiding communion. I had had enough of the pomp and bs of Catholic ritual. It would be better to hit the two disparate churches in reverse order. For after the unbridled expressions of joy and openness of Glide, service at Grace was stuffy, the message tepid, the sense that real change was pending or even important to the well-heeled Grace congregants almost non-existent by comparison.

Grace and Glide in one day. What a thing. Then hours walking the streets, my jacket back at the hostel doing me no good in cold San Francisco winter day, a day that never warmed up with the sun. No real warmth even at City Lights where I stood and shivered reading this and that.

Standing now on West Oakland BART platform occupying every inch of sunlight available to me out here on the exposed station platform. I feel like a traffic cop standing with legs wide, tall and meaning business with notebook in left hand and right handed pen a-moving. To any who deal regularly with cops, I must look a fright. What’s he writing? What’s he writing? I feel the question lasered at me through countless eyes everywhere I go. It’s.. well, it’s fun really. I mean to say it doesn’t bother me. I’m writing again, and a lot. What I am saying of any value to the world, I am not sure. But the pen moves. It is a dance, its rhythm in keeping with the beat of all life. And that, kittens, is ALL that matters.

7 January 09

Bad haircut
The sun out at dawn and cheery bright
But we don’t like mornings
So lay a-bed til noon
Then the Internet parasite awaits
Must feed on me and does
Until 2 with boats a-passing rocking mine
Boats of people with discipline
And an apparent greater need for sun than I
Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course
I need her desperately, desperately!
Now on BART train to the city
Because I cannot tolerate walking in Oakland anymore
Perhaps two precious hours of sun left in day
I’ll lose twenty minutes in tunnels
Just passed sun twinkling oer shipyards
We now descend into tunnel and beneath the bay
It’s miraculous eh? A real feat.
Oh great diligent wonder thou art man!
Fuck it.
Just get me to San Francisco
Where the bright sun of that aesthetically appealing city
Will win me back another day
From the hell that is my reflection, my inner life.

In the Mexican joint across Columbus from Brian Goggin’s lovely new installation of books in flight here in North Beach, in the Mexican joint the cashier frowns that I don’t want the super veggie burrito, sags visibly as I further decline a beverage, and hands over my change with all the charm and grace of a sore loser forking over rent in a Monopoly game. I try to bear in mind the words of the CBT psychotherapist I happened upon in Open Exchange magazine earlier about the difference between event and interpretation. My interpretation. The problem, however, with always checking my interpretation is that as a writer I AM ALL interpretation! And if I assume the yogic position and on my way through everybody else’s negative bullshit, well, the result would be a very pleasant nirvanic albeit unreal depiction of events. Ay, there’s the rub. To write of the world as it comes in and with all the faults of my dinged up lenses, or to write Tele-tubby gibberish to make you all happy?

My reception here at Steps of Rome, a cafe a block away, is quite the polar opposite. I hear a hearty “Welcome!” shouted from behind the counter some 15 feet from the door over the heads of other customers. Very gregarious. A little too much at first, but, as I relax into it, I am glad of it. A pretty girl with French accent asks if I wouldn’t prefer an espresso to my requested plain coffee. When I say “No, just coffee,” she responds not with disdain but sweetly with a touch of concern as if to say “Surely monsieur deserves espresso!” Now that’s the attitude I need to get me through the night.

Wednesday evening early January in San Francisco’s North Beach. I came over mid-afternoon to walk. Just walk. Spilling out of subway train and through the scissor tollgates of pedestrian traffic at Montgomery, a wary eye out for trigger-happy BART police, I melted into the canyons of the financial district and on into the dense and colorful energy of Chinatown.

The simplest things make me smile: a man gingerly toting a small green and white paper wrapped gift through the otherwise monochromatic unsmiling sea of financial district suits on the sidewalks of Montgomery. In Chinatown off the tourist path and into the teeming streets the locals are out to market and I hear myself saying two things: “All this life!” and “Jeezus, I gotta cut down another street” because I cannot pass down sidewalks piled high with half of Asia buying and selling mountains of strange fruit and vegetables, tubers, unidentifiable meats and pickled things. Amazing.

I cut west in need of sun, as much as I can get this late in the day in this city where the low winter sun must navigate steep hills and man-made canyons to feed vitamin hungry men. A sign in a high window on Jackson at Leavenworth says, “Welcome back America!” I like the sentiment as much as I like the old and somehow different architecture on this block. I have found this place purely by chance, roaming the city following naught but the most gossamer tether of aesthetic appeal.

Meandering further, I find sweet warming sun at Broadway and Leavenworth and saunter up the former. A banner around a newly planted sapling quotes Martin Luther King Jr., “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” No sooner do I digest this information than I come upon a magnificent and miraculous succulent, though not five feet tall fully a tree for its girth, formidable with fight and plaster-cracking success and finesse, a blooming thing bursting forth from foundation of it’s host house. It is an impressive sight.

Now at top of hill all this light gracing only the highest places, the towers, the castles, the church spires white, all divine light now, and far off a leg of Bay Bridge shines through.

In light of recent events, in deference to recent acute states of ill mental health, I have come to feel or rather to view or better still am simply gifted anew with the splendor to be found in every landscape as though today may be my last.

Mind you, Reader, I don’t really believe this to be true. I don’t think I am dying. But the irrational nature of my mind’s battles with this current paradigm and plenty of supporting evidence have me on alert. Alert to live better when possible. Alert to see better when there is good to be seen. Alert, as the diligent recorder of this life that I long ago swore to be, swore some verdammt blood pact to write it all down, as much I can, as eloquently as I can phrase it. I have been unable to work creatively from inside my boat for much of my 18 months residence therein. So now, back in the bay, I take the notebook to the streets.

Now on my second coffee here at Steps of Rome, the as-yet untapped (by me) Caffe Trieste behind me through the wall but having appeared too crowded for my purposes tonight. I will likely be up til next Tuesday with all the caffeine. But then again, no. For as Bob said in Drugstore Cowboy, “Most people don’t know how they’re gonna feel from one moment to the next. But dope fiends have a pretty good idea. All you gotta do is look at the labels on the little bottles.” For me, my one vestige drug of choice is the seductive sedative Klonipin.

Though I successfully kicked it last year, I found months later that I simply could not bear the screaming, crashing, choking, howling, alternately-psychedelic and downright Wal-Mart frightening and discordant beat of the world without some calming influence. No more booze, no more pain killers, and I never was one for the virtually ubiquitous (among all with whom I am acquainted) herb smoke. So a little K sings me nightly to sleep.

Pardon the apparent descent into melodrama, but given my recent resurgence of suicidal ideation, the following book title came to me today: A Last Walk Before Dying. It would be comprised of all my recent journaling, random impressions from desert, suburbs, mountains, love, heartache, hell and my beloved streets of San Francisco. Anecdotes such as this:

I was standing on a sidewalk between buildings and parked cars, my downcast gaze firmly on the tiny notepad onto which I was scribbling a thought, when suddenly a man came running toward me. I heard him say “Bueno!” to no one in particular. I then looked up to see him leap into his car, start it and move it just a short distance away, whereupon he parked. It was only while walking a block or so later that I realized what had happened. The man had mistaken me in my government green jacket, official looking patch (Appalachian Trail) and short, infinitely-employable hair for a city employee, a meter maid of sorts, writing him a parking citation. By chance, I had stopped, stood right beside his illegally parked car, pulled out a pad and started writing. Imagine my surprise when I put it all together!

Now there’s a man who is grateful his interpretation of said event was all wrong. Or perhaps, he just thinks he got away easy, never comprehending that I was no threat at all. Either way, I like it.

I like the “Grrr-rrrr-rrr” of the cable car cables running underfoot on all the cable car streets. Then there’s the North Star, a lounge on the corner of Powell in North Beach, its exterior proclaiming it home to the Number One happy hour as voted by the Betty Ford Clinic. Beneath the bar’s name, it reads “Drinking consultants since 1882.”

In City Lights bookstore, I hold a copy of Love Is A Dog From Hell in hand for the second time this week, wanting to buy it for Justin but again shelving it and walking out in deference to more pressing survival needs. Poverty is no joke.

I have lived beneath the poverty line my entire life. It was okay to live like that in college, even into my late twenties it seemed noble, for the cause. But now, at 42, it’s just pain absurd and depressing as hell. That I, an author and so prolific a scribe, cannot afford even my own books is insane. That I must walk out of City Lights empty-handed twice in one week out of concern that one $16 book purchase could spell hunger at month’s end, this is as degrading and defeating to the spirit as anything should ever be in our supposed rich western culture, in the United States of America of all places. Is it our culture? In part. But I know that it is also me, the illness of all my insecurities and rejections and failures and deaths, both real and of the spirit. My soul is in tact but my mind is dead tired of this poverty.

A woman, well-dressed with a touch of some expensive accent, consults a cultured Indian man in a suit in the sub-level of City lights as to what authors’ work she should purchase. In a slightly over-eager inquisitive tone that makes the author’s suffering sound an exotic thing, she asks “Didn’t he suffer from depression?” My God, I think. This is the way of the world.

Here today unseen, unread,unimpressive, unimportant, gone tomorrow and an instant exotic commodity, a must-buy to take home and wallow vicarious, to masturbate poetic empathetic erotic necrophiliac yee-haw whippee ding dong the poet’s dead and on the silly woes of his now mouldering head we dance the timeless dance of kinky post-mortem fascination! NOW he’s impressive! Now he is important. Hmm. Now I am. I am now. Don’t dismay, dear Reader. It ain’t your fault. We’re all in love with Death. It’s in our nature.

When I lived at Berkeley Marina on a smaller boat than I am on now, it used to bother me when I alighted from the marina to a parking lot where there were always a few people sitting in their cars. Just sitting there. Creeped me out. It was most disturbing during my brief stint as owner of a motor home in which I was trying to divide my time from the confines of the 23-foot Ericsson sailboat. The people in the cars seemed always to watching me. Doubtless, my own paranoia. They would come from Berkeley or trickle off the I-80 freeway in search of a little solace at the water’s edge, to relax in site of the sea and the watercraft that to every caged heart, nay to EVERY human heart, scream “Freedom!”

Shame on me for thinking ill of them. Five years hence, I am seated in my car, delaying my return to yet another boat. One wonders when i will learn. This life aboard forever-harbored ladies of the sea is a poor and wretched manifestation of freedom and solace. To my experience, at least, it is far too solitary, the price for cheap living quarters paid in loneliness, too dear. I must find a larger boat and a woman to share it with, or surrender to the burdens and frightening unknowns of child-rearing to be with the woman whose love is mine right now and that I count myself lucky to have but unready at present to whole-heartedly absorb.

To think, I sat in this very car in that other marina parking lot five years ago reading selections from my script “Salem and the Train” into an mp3 recorder for this same woman. She is without boyfriend now yet seems near as unavailable to me by dint of added child in her life. My God, will this cat and mouse game ever end, with or without her, it must!!

All that coffee — well, just two but very strong, keeping me up, a drag since duty calls and I must tomorrow rise relatively early to get Mike to his job interview at some laser company.

Anyway, a note on meds and moods. I began taking Wellbutrin 150 mg again yesterday, 1/6. No doctor. Just me self-adjusting and using scrips filled fairly recently through my sweet geriatric doctor who kindly calls in anything I ask for. My mood yesterday was fair until long & oft heavy conversation with Justin about his/our relationship woes (mostly his) brought me low and a surprise visit from Mike just sunk me. Kind, he invited me our for a burger at Nations and I went, not even hungry due to overwhelming sense of mental imbalance. I should have stuck to my plan and gone for a walk in the city, along the waterfront at Jack London, anywhere, exercise. Told him how close I was to self-admitting somewhere. He offered support. Today however went well and well-documented.

[The following is a strange little snippet, an unfinished idea, a conversation between me and ??]

What do you do?
I’m retired. Retired military.
Oh yeah? What branch? What specialty?
Bombardier. I dropped bombs on children.
Jesus! That’s really sick man.
Oh yeah? Who are you to judge me?
A poet! A pacifist! And a vegan to boot!
Ah! A stoner with no ambition.
I’m a revolutionary!
You’re the next regime, is all.

9 January 09

I lie here on the water
I’m like Jesus the way I lie on the water
Every day not going under a divine act
Here in my forlorn old sloop
Sea life aggressive boring holes in her hull
For lack of proper copper bottom paint
Peanut butter & jelly at sunset in cold January
Race riots just blocks away
Their righteous cries of indignation at a black man’s killing
Hardly heard over here
Ten lanes of screaming freeway between us
But I hear the sea worms boring in
I lie here on the water
Jesus doing the back float
Here in the starboard settee
Jacked into demon internet
Free but imprisoned by this mind
Watching water dappled sunlight move
‘Cross the sun dial ceiling of a day without escape
I put in a movie to calm me
Jeliza Rose reminds me
To imagine
So I go down in golden grass of prairie
And sail away under the seas
Where no cops or corporate jails can find me
And sleep comes without the need of pills. – RSM

10 January 09

Pray for wild things who suffer that they cannot be kept. – text message from me to O today

O texted me today and asked most kindly “Can I do anything for you today?” This was my response. Which begs the question: what the fuck is wrong with me? Or maybe not. Maybe just the reaction: Whoa! Certainly not what she wanted to hear anyway. Poor woman.

I’m on BART running fast and crazy beneath the bay through tunnels miraculous and deadly. Late start today toward my SF hostel goal. Pissed away a perfect sunny day, warm for winter! Sitting in boat jacked into damn Net writing mad words about BART shooting and my North Beach night with Brian Goggin’s books in flight (Proper title: The Language of Birds).

Now North Beach again. Drawn to this place. Now that I’ve found it. I’m in good company here, historically speaking. Kerouac in the air maybe, I dunno. I don’t know what I’m doing here at all, really. Which goes back to my premise about wild things. Phone call from artist friends came in just as I was packing out of the boat to make my way to the city. “We didn’t know you were in town!” An invitation for tonight, movie night at their house with several other people I know from my automotive connection to the art world. Somehow I said no thank you. Which is really what prompted my question, posited while roaring ‘neath the bay: what the fuck is wrong with me?

My resolution, not for the new year but voiced many months ago in hopes of a better future: be more social! Find community. Church if need be. All that. I was trying. But then love entered into it, the love of a great beauty in whose person and devotion to me i can find no flaw. Love entered in and now everything is fucked. Because I surrendered to that love and literally within hours the bars of the golden cage came down and death feelings racked me, body and mind. As soon as I couldn’t see how I would continue to live and write as I do, how my life would fit into hers, I felt submerged and helpless.

So I fled. I ran from great love because the circumstances of her life baffle me and create in me unanswerable enigmas, paradoxes, and the illusion of a cage which, no matter how illusory and no matter how lovely the jailer, holds me fast in panic. Anyway, the result for the first ten days of the new year has been a very solo trip. I have sought the company of no one here in the bay area. One friend sought me out and won my begrudging company only by his unannounced arrival. He even came aboard with naught but an assumed invitation. Mike, that scoundrel! Bought me a burger and pie and then suckered me into helping him load up his truck from his storage space, a doomed growing operation with all its energy of failure, a dream dying on the vine.

So, back to the present, no movie night with friends tonight. I stick instead to my pathetic little commitment to myself, to overnight in San Francisco so as to make it to Glide Memorial Methodist in the morning. It was a tough walk to the BART station at sunset today, fighting the urge to quit my trajectory and go hang with friends. But I did it. Slow plodding steps at first, pace quickening as conviction returned. For there is the other side to this strange solo city trip story.

It’s the story I’m writing right now, longhand in old fashioned ink on the modest pages of a 6×9 steno notepad. It’s the story of my life. And if that sounds conceited, so be it. It’s the only story I know. It’s the story that lately has found a new and vigorous voice in every moment spent somewhere new to me, away from the boat anyway. Tonight for now anyway, the setting is Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe on Union and Columbus at Washington Square. And as window seats go, my bowsprit corner table with its positional charm would be hard to beat.

Ask any woman I have ever dated or anyone I’ve ever eaten out with for that matter. I’m extremely particular of where I sit. Still I had to stroll past outside three times before committing. Had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, to be sure that the corner table where the cafe juts out into the sidewalk passerby world really was free and that there were ample other free tables such that I would not be made to feel unwelcome with my modest cafe americano “rent” and the hour or so I planned to sit and scribble.

So far so good. Hell, I’m so pleased with the place that I’ve asked server Amor for a menu. He’d left me alone, my nose in my notebook scribbling furiously perhaps having some Jedi mind trick repelling effect on him. Hell if I can afford to eat here. But the AYH hostel I’m in tonight on Mason just off Union Square is markedly less charming than its sister hostel five blocks away where I overnighted last Saturday. It’s a frikken zoo, in fact. First impression, anyway. I showed up there at twilight, checked in with a pear-shaped young woman with the personality of a rock. No. Scratch that. I’ve seen some pretty amazing rocks. This girl’s reception of me was more in line with hardened cement on a double dose of Prozac.

Or thorazine. Fuck, I’m rambling. Anyway, imagine my surprise when, key in hand and ascending the stairs of the hostel, who do I espy wedged between slouchy soft couch cushions and his MacBook Pro but Chris, the nerdy journalist I met in line at same hostel a week ago. Tough guy to read, this Chris. I would think him just plain rude or unfriendly if I weren’t rather well versed in the behavioral nuances of the socially awkward. Takes one to know one.

I have no book knowledge of the psychology or behavioral patterns of extremely self-conscious people, but I am one. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. (Nod to Bill Murray)

I was eager for a shower, unsure of when I had showered last (a hazard of marina life) and so excused myself after a few minutes of greeting dialogue. I figured I’d catch up with him later. Pressure-wise, the shower was little better than a trickling solar shower from a bag hung out in the sun. But appreciation and need are relative, and I enjoyed that shower for all it was worth. Clean of body and armed with fresh socks and undergarments, I made my bed up, locked the four-person bunk room behind me, and headed down.

Chris now seemed more deeply ensconced in couch and computer than an hour before, and I felt my greeting to be an intrusion. I asked if he’d seen much of the city besides the Mac Expo. He pulled one of a set of those ubiquitous white iPod earphones from his right ear (not the ear closest to me) and answered that he’d been to a few parties, over to UC Berkeley which he hopes will accept him next month, and to the offices of Wired Magazine, for which he’d like to write. This latter seemed perfect for him, and I wished him all success. As a courtesy yet with every intent to follow through should he wish it, I invited him to join me on my sojourn out into the throbbing city. But no. He leaves tomorrow early for D.C. By his response and body language, I could see he was already on the plane, melting resignedly into a kind of pre-flight jet lag.

I walked away feeling a bit self-conscious. Did he really think me psychotic (the word he used last week in response to my confessed reason for overnighting in a hostel so close to home)? And if I am, is it really such a bad thing to have my boat-dwelling existence likened to Mel Gibson’s character’s surfside trailer life in Lethal Weapon? I decided not to decide anything further on that subject. Between my self-doubt at shirking tonight’s social scene with friends, the cacophony of Asian hostelers socializing in the lobby, and the specter of the streets ahead of me alone and with no real destination, I was getting the fear.

The best cure for the fear is to quit thinking and push straight on through. I did, and here I am. The sautéed eggplant focaccia here is fantastic. At five bucks fifty for the half order, it’s even cheap enough to justify on this author’s gazing-up at poverty level from somewhere far below budget. But my fingers grow cold here in the windowed corner of Mario’s, and another cafe americano at this late hour would not be wise, what with church awaiting come morning. Good night then North Beach, home to sweet French bulldogs and a fine corner table in a friendly place.

11 January 09

Brain gone this morning
Blown out by broken pills
Sedatives taken in tiny amounts
Yet many, counted like sheep through long night of troubled sleep
Accumulate in this sad excuse for consciousness
Upper bunk bed cage-like with its roll bars
Unpleasant air in closed-window room
Four men breathing and passing gas in the dark
While outside on city streets music shifts
Late night revelers replace the drone of homeless man
“Spare change for the homeless? Bless you.”
Then some semblance of comparative quiet
In the canyons of concrete where sound waves rise
And flood every window, every ear
Then garbage trucks pre-dawn
The crashing, crunching, slamming
Of some dark consciousness that does not dream
I watch lights slide across the ceiling
Dead awake and disbelieving
“Work, damn sedatives! Work!”
And finally they do
I come to after nine
Watery coffee no help
Bad music piped in to grim hostel lounge room
I suck it up and go see God. – RSM

BART train back beneath the bay
Dazed by hunger and lingering pill fatigue
I fathom with wonder the coincidence of meeting friends P & J at Glide.
To hear my name called out anywhere in this big city
Here where I am so often feel alone
The spell was broken!
We sang and held hands and hugged warmly
I come so alive around all that love!
P & J off to MOMA
I stayed behind for a meeting
Folks seeking higher meaning in their lives
Discernment, they called it
And it was good
Met Jeremiah who nearly died by railroad tracks one day
(He didn’t elaborate on the circumstances)
But said he’d seen angels
And apologized as he said it
As though seeing angels was a dirty thing
We made lists on paper
Answered mnemonic questions like
What do I want to do?
What does God want?
What does the world need?
Each repeated five times
Interesting effect
Earlier the black pastor forbade us
From condemning the white BART cop who
For all the world to see via cell phone cameras and the web
Summarily executed a young black man on New Year’s Eve
The message brought tears to my eyes
I simply can’t go south this week.
No way. – RSM

12 January 09

The subway ride from West Oakland station beneath the bay to Embarcadero Station in San Francisco takes five minutes exactly. “Zombie” by the Cranberries is five minutes and five seconds. The song makes the perfect musical accompaniment and buffer to the screeching fast loud and subconsciously unnerving underwater journey. I highly recommend it, played at top volume of course.

Some kind of heat wave for this time of year in the Bay Area. And I’m loving it, relaxing into it. Stood halfway in and out of boat cabin today in t-shirt and colorful Snoopy boxer shorts reaching into starboard aft hatch today when “Oh! Hello. Pardon me, I’m Cindy, the new harbormaster.” Whoa ho-ho! Jokes on me. Busted if busted need be. Caught with my sneak-aboard pants down, or off, smack in the act of obvious live-aboard status, illegal in the bay on boats under 35′ in length. Fuck it. If I am gonna get caught, I can’t think of a better way than in my underwear with WiFi antenna (the whole Mac Mini) out on deck, warm sunny day and joyful music blaring from boat!

I had meant to start today’s cafe writings with an “Oh well can’t win em all” description of my melancholic state, of the hour or so lost to (hand-written that looks like “horror”) to a kind of Alzheimer’s like stupor that is altogether too familiar to me and worrisome these days. The where-am-I-going, uber self-consciousness in the face of busy cafes and park benches loaded with people out and about on a sunny day. But such has passed.

As soon as I settled on the where, Caffe Trieste on Grant & Vallejo, got my americano coffee, found a suitable hole to crawl into, the very farthest inside corner table by the canvas-covered upright piano, sat down and set pen to paper, I felt better. I may be wrong about this, but I believe Trieste means or at least has its roots in the latin word for sadness. It seemed an appropriate venue for this writer today, not to mention that I’ve been flirting past its door and corner windows since North Beach first got it’s hooks into me a week ago.

According to pictures on the wall back here, Pappa Gianni opened this place in 1956. I imagine the beat boys Kerouac Ginsberg McClure Ferlinghetti all of ’em spent some time here, but I dunno. And not wanting to feel the tourist, I’m not asking. I sit directly beneath a portrait of Bill Cosby with the owner. Never underestimate the power of celebrity in America. I read that in a Dean Koontz novel, I’m not proud to say. Dean can bite me. Fame can bite me. Ha! Hell, it already has.

Fame came a ark of wretched obscurity and moved on to Heath and Britney and countless others that have come along since the mid-1990s, young writers, too. Ugh. Worthy? Maybe. Some. But most more than likely pure fluff and luck in exposure just as it was in Buk’s day. Having said that, Heath Ledger, not a writer, went out with a paramount bang, and I don’t mean the studio. His last and final role as The Joker was truly mad evil genius. But what.. or rather where am I going with all of this? Self pity.

T, whom I used to refer to as O and I think I will again, O for orgasm as per her refined talents in that arena, tells me that I need to start writing with themes in mind. Hmm. The extent of her commentary on anything I write and publish to the web, to Jigglebox lately is, well, acknowledgment and little else. She isn’t impressed, and she won’t be until I’m writing about faeries and enchanted forests and tantric love-making, you know, positive shit!

Of course, my writing already has a theme. The theme is me, my singularly unique view of the world. From my view today I saw myself reflected in the slightly beveled window glass of Car #60 at the California & Market end of the cable car line. Surfacing from the subway tunnels at Embarcadero, I noticed, as though for the first time, the 6-seater shoe shine stand and stood fascinated by the action there. A short, cheap-ass fucker in a suit that seemed to bespeak employment and an income or at least some grasp of the cost of things there in the financial district of the country’s most expensive cities to live in, stood passionately engaged in argument over the cost of his shoe shine.

“Three bucks, buddy and not a dime more! You’re not gonna scam me! Eight bucks for a shoe shine. I saw that guy give you three bucks.” Bobby, whom I met shortly thereafter, wasn’t the businessman of the pair of shiners. He was fumbling, clearly injured by the little prick’s ingratitude for his work. The business end of the operation, I’ll call him Brown for his comment “I’m not black, I’m brown!” dealt Mr. Clearly Out of Touch With the Economy a decisive blow, saying, “That was THE TIP!”

I was impressed. I peered down at my own terribly worn-looking cowboy boots and decided to treat myself. Today the penniless poet dropped $15 on a shoe shine to better shine in his own mind as he strolls the San Francisco streets to the clock-clock-clock-clock of his heels and feels a modicum better knowing he looks as good as he sounds.

Or a boot shine, rather, for there’s a lot more real estate for a shoe shine man to cover on cowboy boots than on your average shoe. It was fun. I had treated myself, and that felt good. It was from the raised shoe shine platform that I espied my reflection in the beveled glass of the cable car. Not terribly fond of mirrors these days, I actually enjoyed seeing myself in that moment. A good shoe shine platform is a kind of public throne. For the duration of your visit upon it, you are a kind of king, a nobleman on a raised litter, attended to by bowing servants, adored perhaps if your imagination affords you such, all while raised just high enough above the hustling bustling human traffic of the city, just enough to forget your tragedy, your poverty, your obscurity and all the internal mental flaws that drive you down, just enough to afford you a view of the better life to which you daily aspire.

So far here in Caffe Trieste, even wedged back here in the remotest corner, I have met Bernadette and Cash. I’ve been so busy pushing the pen that I had no real conversation with either, but I did break out long enough to meet each individually as one and then the other sat near me awhile then packed up book and laptop to go.

In the men’s room just now, I thought about the weather. While peeing, I stood staring at a minimalist portraits of a woman, her face like a question mark and naught of body but one breast further down the wall right where a breast, in relation to the face, ought be. Who knows, but looking back someday I may reflect that this odd and wonderful Indian summer here in mid-January may have changed the course of my life. I believe it has rained but once and only lightly since my desperate return here just hours before the tick-tock slip click into the new year.

As one exclaiming in song his highest praise for the miraculous return of sun to a place resigned to darkness, a tenor belts out a crescendo of Italian opera from speakers overhead. Or not. To others in the room, it probably just sounds of opera, if it “sounds” to the conscious brain at all. Most here in Trieste are engaged in dialogue. Not counting the ancient little Asian man selling tiny paintings by the door, there are five such pairs and but one other loner like myself. Here in my corner it smells of shoe shine and spearmint tea. The couple to my right (I am back to the wall) pose a mildly interesting question in my mind, essentially who are they to one another. Both in their late twenties, they are certainly not well-acquainted. She speaks too low to be heard over the cafe din, but I’ve overheard two questions asked of her by her date. One was “What would you say is the oldest book on your bookshelf?” I’ve never heard anything more assuredly straight out of some dating handbook.

Jesus! Oh right! I need a theme. Eight pages since I walked in here and what have I written? Anything salient? Anything worth reading? Doubtful.

The marina. Now there’s a theme, one I have steadfastly avoided addressing in either poetry or prose as one avoids anything too close to home. But it is rich in drama, a real trailer park on the water. Had I hit this theme months ago, I could have told you about Dennis, the 62-year old unemployed computer consultant and apparent half-owner of Marty’s yacht Giggles, the first Hatteras ever made. Unemployed and doing online training in some new computer language to improve his employability, Dennis was my constant companion all summer. With the clockwork precision of addiction, the soft clink-strike song of Dennis’ stainless steel zippo cigarette lighter would announce his arrival on the aft deck. It wasn’t long before it became a pleasantly familiar sound, reassuring somehow, the announcement that break time had at last arrived. Break time. Now there’s a phrase quite foreign to me. Sure, I recall it from sundry and a dozen other stupid jobs of my youth. But nowadays I take no breaks. In the soil of every new day there is the pressing needful seed of this work of mine. When I get on a tear, it is all I can do to remember to piss. This past summer’s cadence of Dennis and his smoke breaks made me envy the smoker. Ironic, that. In all likelihood, smoking played a large part in Dennis’ recent disappearance from the marina drama, from the story I might have told six months ago. I’m told he had a series of strokes, one on the boat and another later in the hospital. In a cruel twist of fate, his undoubtedly stressful summer of unemployment at age 62 in the economic collapse of 08 had just ended, bearing fruit in a high paying new job in Phoenix.

Clink. Strike. Gone in the blink of the proverbial blind eye of Fate. Not dead but, as Marti sees it, the worse off for being alive but paralyzed in the hospital. Very sad. He seemed a very sweet man.

Or I could have told you about Jim. Lanky, long and quiet as an old tree, one that grows straight up ten stories tall with naught but tiny branches until the very top. Jim the silent drinker, head bartender at the Elks Club, sixty-something going on 100 to gauge by his fleeting gaze, his jaundiced running eyes and strawberry nose. Jim who often triggered the thought, “I really oughta befriend that guy, get him to warm up to me, help him out when I can.” And whom I did help the one time a need was obvious, climbing top decks to adjust his tarps to fight off a likely army of leaks. Jim, old Jim. Jim who one day fell in while I was away, narrowly escaped a watery death when he was rescued by neighbor Roger after twenty minutes in the water, and now lies in ICU in some local hospital slipping away with pneumonia.

Jim who I oughta go visit in the hospital. Jim and Dennis both. Oughta. Shoulda. Mighta. Coulda. And so life goes for us all, eh? But in the marina we are all hermits. So is it any wonder that Jim and Dennis slipped by me nearly totally unknown after a year as neighbors? Does it make me think twice about my life here? Does it make me want OUT of this solo paradigm, this bloody insult to the God who made us all (allegedly) One and would, if He would ever speak to us, encourage us to love one another? I suppose he did do that. Does it make me wish for community, family, companionship? Fuckin-A right it does. So, God, get on the stick and open the path for me to have all that AND still be able to do this, the writing, the gift, my greatest gift and hope for somehow inspiring and communicating a kindred spirit with my species. At this writing, I do not see a clear path to life with O. Not at all. I see a muddy manic and dauntingly cluttered road, a forest path barely discernible amid an overwhelming overgrowth of new life. This can’t be right. And every time I have attempted to walk that path, I have tripped and fallen and not written at all. Come on, God! Help me out here. I’m not running from Love. I’m not running from my talents. I’m pushing this pen as fast as I can for a solution. Not that the solution to my unwanted solitude is to be found in pushing a pen, but dammit this is all I know how to do anymore. And a voice says the solution is to be found “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” this IS my deep gladness. What by way of writing dost thou hunger for, world?

Writing is what I do. Creating with language, new worlds or a new spin on the world before us. Throw me a bone, Big Guy. The sun is out and warm and I am truly and duly grateful. But my love is far away in an overpopulated house with no privacy, a weird roommate and a baby in the bed who kicks me in the head! Mama-mia!

Sorry. Tired of the banter of a coupla Mac nerds beside me, I plugged into an mp3 mix called Music to Make Pasta By. Thus the mama-mia. Now it’s Mack the knife by Louis Armstrong. Is that good for pasta? Anyway, hungry now after four plus hours of cafe life with just a coffee and one cup-o-tea. Time to put pen to rest, feed bodily needs. Question is, after today’s boot shine, can I afford to eat?! – RSM

(2,000 words at one sitting! Not bad at all.)

14 January 09
Another lovely sunny fake summer January day. I board BART and head for North Beach, my new Inspiration Point, as it were. A hefty man about my age leans against the rack of newspaper stands outside the Oakland Civic Center Post Office. I bend and peer next to him at the headlines but a little strategically-placed corner advert prevents my sneaking a peek at the lead graph of the headline story. “Is that THE cop? The shooter?” I ask. “Yeah, they got him,” says the man, a half-eaten Vietnamese spring roll in his right hand, his Blackberry handheld scrolling away in his left. he begins rattling off the breaking news live from the Net. “You can see why papers are taking a hit,” he adds. The juxtaposition of new and old, of hitter and hittee is telling. So that’s it for Johannes and Oscar, I guess. A gross injustice swiftly corrected by the witnessing of a dozen cell phone cameras and subsequent nanosecond fast worldwide broadcast on YouTube, riots in the streets of Oakland, cars and storefronts burned, hundreds jailed. Crazy old world we live in.

Of course, that ISN’T the end of it by any stretch. But it’s something, a nudge toward balance in the Universe, a possibility for which those rioting in Oscar Grant’s name would no doubt call me crazy but which I still believe is true. Even in the midst of the most insane chaos, life is nudging itself toward balance, the chaos sometimes being the most efficient path.

Cafe Americano. My new drug of choice. A shot of espresso in a cup of hot water. An Italian cup-o-joe and the ambiance of North Beach, Caffe Trieste in particular. But who knows how long this will last. Phases are all I seem to have anymore. Autumn was a southland phase: Joshua Tree, Idyllweird, the burbs with the nephews. But we are decidedly in a new phase now. I need a friend or two to share my time with in this new phase. today finds me in the opposite corner of Trieste, diagonally across the room from the coffee bar. There are three young bohemians in the two table to my right. They wear funny bright sneaker which, if I hadn’t already heard them speaking perfect English, would make me think them European. The two that appear to be a couple wear mostly black with red bandanas ’round their necks. VERY cafe hip. The tall girl across from them wears a pink candy-striped dress. Her face is unique, wholesome, with a kind of roundness that I would not call unattractive. No, she is quite pretty. Glowing really, that face and yes, most decidedly European. I have seen every type of anglo American face and I know them all. For the most part, they bore me. But this face intrigues. Her cohorts look sleepy and I realized it is the look of love and a great deal of recent practice in the art thereof.

I should strike up conversation with them, but like me, they are all deeply engrossed in notepads, the girls with words, he with a portrait perhaps.

Pavarotti belts out Nessun Dorma now as the juke pipes up with a random selection to entice nostalgic dollar-wielding patrons. I think of Glen Smith the teacher, my friend, the man who introduced me to opera.

And that’s it. An hour passes as I finally break the silence and speak to Ida in the candy stripe dress, and in time to Ulrika and Matt. I was half-right about the shoes. The girls are not American. I’d been fooled by their perfect English, spoken in conversation with Matt from San Diego. Ida and Ulrika hail from Sweden. Funny, but when I spotted the shoes, my first thought was German. Why? Because I once lived in Germany. But given the clues of clothing and European facial features, the fact that their English was so perfect should have led me away from Germany to Scandinavia, or even the British Aisles. I have never met a German whose accent didn’t give them away. To me at least. I have an impeccable ear for a German accent, and a damn good ear for most others western language accents. Anyway, in my notes I apologize to both Germans and Swedes for my assumption based on shoes. Herein, I retract that apology. I was after all, correct that they were European.

Now at Mario’s Cigar Cafe again. A strange series of erroneous moves atop an hour or so lost, albeit pleasantly, to talk with Swedish girls and Matt their American host. I should have invited them sailing. I hesitated, however, as the boat is badly in need of a bottom cleaning (it’s an aquarium down there!) and without it will not sail well. Certainly not fast.

The Swedish ladies would not have know any better. None but a sailor would. But I would. And that’s the problem. Also, my motor is packed away in the boat’s closet, decommissioned for winter but now yearning to get out and play during this strange but beautiful winter heat wave. In the same manner that I seem incapable of rising before ten and typically don’t get off boat (or Internet) until 2 or 3, I fear that I will delay readying the boat for sailing right up to the end of this fine break in the weather. Jesus, I sound pathetic. In a weird little knee jerk move I scarcely understand, I got up and vacated my corner table in deference to this tall, heavily-bejeweled gypsy looking guy whom I’d seen holding court there on my previous visit. I don’t know why I did this. I saw him come in, remark that his corner space was occupied, and head back out. I guess being new to Trieste, I feel it important not to supplant the locals, the regulars. and this guy looks like a serious regular. Fuck, what do I know though? I’m frikken neurotic. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, and that is one fucked sensation to walk through the world with, let me tell you.

Earlier today, while walking here alone the embarcadero from the foot of Market along the waterfront and up toward Coit Tower, I was just a stone’s throw from my dream marina, Pier 39. But did I go investigate, pop my head in at the marina office and inquire about slips? No. Why? Because I felt self-conscious with my full-size backpack, sure that I’d be taken for a homeless person. I feared giving off the wrong impression. Also today, I canceled out on a sailing date with new acquaintance Jerry who LIVES ON HIS BOAT AT PIER 39. It’s true what they say about your own worst enemy. I am truly my own.

I cancelled so I could make it to TK’s “Good Riddance Bush” party down at the Box Shop on Hunter’s Point. Now, why did I do that when in fact I don’t really want to go to that party for a couple of reasons. One, it’ll be a drunken orgy, and struggling sober-I will not likely make it out of there sober. Which really, aside from TK’s heavy alpha male energy and what a bad mix it made with my way-off-off psych meds insanity of November and December, is the only reason I don’t wanna go. I think I just need to stay away from people who drink and smoke pot habitually. I need clarity. I’ve had enough insanity for several lifetimes. I love my wild creative doped-out friends. Pulling away from them is a thousand pound bitch. But I gotta do it for my survival.

Two glasses of wine last night out to eat with P P and his friend at some swank joint called Bin 39 just fucking wrecked me. Dinner was nice. I gave this guy Gavin, a prospective Appalachian thruhiker, a king’s ransom of good advice. Which made me, at least initially, feel justified in eating on their tab. I have told my neighbor P on several occasions that I would love to join him for dinner but I cannot afford his expensive tastes, that I eat out only occasionally and in the ten dollar range at that. Twice I have let P buy me dinner, but I never end up feeling good afterward. Alas, last night was the charming third time. Knock on fiberglass, I won’t make this mistake again. I had only agreed to the dinner last night because there was a point to the expense, to educate his friend, and because I most definitely had something to bring to the table.

The bill paying awkwardness was almost averted when Gavin, visibly pleased with the fullness of his meal and buzzing with the wine and a hundred visions of the trail to come, slapped down his plastic and pushed the check away. Enter P. A not-too-terribly smooth cat to begin with, P is big on talk and unwelcomed ass-grabbing, undoubtedly a smart cookie, book smart anyway, but not a man who handles his obviously large lust for liquor well. In fact, he’s a damn lousy drunk, and watching him behave with a few cocktails in him quickly diminishes for me the mystery of why a super smart civilian allegedly in charge of the US Coast Guard’s fleet of ice breakers would live alone in a none-too-impressive old cabin cruiser in our none-too-impressive marina by the I-880 freeway. Why, in essence, he would live as I do. Poorly.

Anyway, back at Bin 39 right when everything is fine, P slaps down a wad of cash and chimes in with “I’m sorry it’s not enough, but I’m not used to paying for two people.” Gavin tries to assure him that it’s not necessary, but P is already blundering forward, asking of me, “Do you have $30? After all, we did bring you to a really nice place.” My urge to punch him is bested, as if often the case, by a sense of pity for the man. I reach in my wallet and produce one of two twenties therein. I’ll play his petty game, but not to the extent of bankrupting myself when I’d made it quite clear that I could not afford this dinner, no matter how “nice” a place it was. When will I learn.

This is Day #9 of my self-prescribed return to Wellbutrin, that goddamn little purple pill I have been ingesting daily, ritually (with the occasional six month hiatus for religious and scientific research purposes;-) for twelve years. The more things change, the more they stay they stay they stay the same. The more I persevere to journey north, the more I find myself walking in late afternoon, the sun warming my right side, not my left. Eastern philosophy and wisdoms are painfully true. Everything is so cyclical. think too much about it, and you will go mad. I want to go back to the innocence of a belief in one God, one life, one Heaven. I want to go back to praying and reliance on a higher power for guidance. O is all about reliance on self, on being responsible and conscious of one’s every choice, that you make your own reality, that all outside is a hologram. It’s the whole Neo trip and as the traitor in the Matrix said, “What a mind job!” It really is too much, this whole self-made reality gig. All evidence points to my gross negligence in the self-made reality department, to failure. And I can handle failure, anyone can. You try, try again. But there comes a point when the failures are stacked to the rafters, and you’re looking up because the only way to catch a little glimpse of sky between the stacks of all your losses is to look up. And maybe this is why there are no atheists in the trenches. It’s not fear of death so much as just noticing the sky. Trenches make you look up. And failures like unpublished manuscripts stacked to the ceiling feel a lot like trenches. I dunno. I do know however that I don’t want to wear all these failures anymore. I want to slough them off, like sloughing off the mortal coil, not to die, however but to be reborn. Something new. Something touched by the divine. Something not so alone. Hmm.

16 January 09

Four days before the beginning of a new era in America and Oakland is foaming at the mouth. Police cars drive in loopdiloops attempting in vain to block a loose knit band of protesters sauntering down 12th Street where it widens into six lanes at the south end of Lake Merritt. One cop throws up his hands and none attempt to direct traffic so we in cars weave our way slowly through and around the crowd. Oakland is frothing over. It is a pot of still-living lobsters over which the cook attempts to secure the lid. In the wake of Oscar Grant’s senseless killing, Oakland is an Obama-empowered angry thing. I hate Oakland. But I don’t hate it for any of the above reasons. The protesters, the recent riots, the righteous indignation, I support all of it. No, I hated oakland before any of this began. And so I have begun a campaign of active, fully-conscious denial of my Oakland address. Hell, I began said campaign the day I moved here.

Technically, I don’t reside IN Oakland. I live on a boat at the furthest end slip from the land, the last dock in North Basin marina in the Alameda-Oakland estuary. I’m proud of that much. And so it is that I began (proud of not being on the land, that is) of late to take up a kind of pseudo residence in San Francisco’s North Beach. And for the entire year and a half of my recent stab at Bay Area life, I have told anyone asking that I live in San Francisco. I never say Oakland. Never. I actually say San Francisco Bay Area or, “I live on a boat on the SF bay.” Both are true.

For a couple of weeks now I have been maintaining this illusion, if only for myself. Well, yes. Totally. It’s all just for me. It’s a state of mind. The moment I step off the escalator on Market Street and into the air of San Francisco, I breath a sigh of relief, so odious has Oakland become for me. I walk a block, board Muni bus #41 and for 50 cents I am in North Beach in minutes. Or I walk from Embarcadero station in a zigzag pattern that takes me down a lovely alley of fountains at the Meridian hotel, past the base of the TransAmerica Tower, past the Scientology Center and upward into North Beach. A part of me is beginning to believe that if I just hang out here often and long enough, one day I simply won’t have to go back across the water anymore. It’s a fantasy. But it’s a nice one. One worth tucking in tight to my breast and dwelling on in quiet hours.

Only my third or fourth visit here at Trieste and already today barista Tom remembered my drink of preference. Does this make me a regular? Hot damn. Then taking a seat against the back wall, I was greeted by Cash whom I met my first day here. I’m diggin it. So what if this whole North Beach cafe slumming time may well just be a phase and as unsustainable as any chapter in my life, I’m really enjoying it. today by the piano, two men play strings, a guitar and a mandolin, no vocals. At City Lights, I inquired how I could get my book on their shelves. The kid explained the consignment process and to whom I should speak, someone named Jude on Sundays. Wandering among the shelves, I thought I should peruse the local zines and chapbooks for something for my cousin. It was here that I realized what consignment meant at City Lights. If consigned, my book would end up with all these zines, crammed into a recessed alcove (likely once a closet) with a zillion forlorn-looking handmade books w/o ISBNs. I saw another section with Bukowski books and upon flipping the overleaf on one realized these were books actually published by City Lights Press. In a flash, I realized I must submit my next work to CL. Back at the register to reclaim my backpack, I told the kid that my book was in regular circulation. “Oh, well just bring us a copy and we’ll consider it.” Groovy.

Walking in the general direction of Coit Tower and the day’s waning sunshine, I happened upon the Green Tortoise Hostel. “Aha!” I had heard of the place and just recently dialed up GT to inquire about their bus trips. It is a unique travel gig that I have always wanted to experience. At the desk, Flora informed me that regrettably it was against house policy for Bay Area residents to overnight there. “Aww!” said I. I told her my story, and she relented that I should call when I wanted to come stay and perhaps they would make an exception. the next GT bus was leaving for Death Valley in a matter of hours she said, if I’d like to go. “Go!” came an authoritative female voice from behind me. I caught the blur of the girl as she passed out of the lobby. If I had come with sleeping bag, I might well have gone. What the hell? Such is the measure of freedom for which I pay so dearly in poverty, anxiety, and frequent loneliness.

I took the schedule for upcoming trips, thanked Flora and took my exit. At the foot of Coit Tower, satisfied that I had achieved at least a modicum of aerobic exercise, I ate my pre-made PB&J as the sun set sideways into an apartment tower to the west. Later, on the sidewalk a few blocks from Trieste, a young woman and I contemplated the potential free-ness of some items left out apparently for the taking. She wanted the old typewriter. “Are you a writer?” I inquired. She had a friend who wants to write, who is convinced that the genuine feel of the old typer is what he needs to inspire his efforts. “Of course,” I said in seeming agreement, although in point of fact I feel passionately that the typer does not the writer make, and more than screenwriting software makes a screenwriter. No instrument can help you. One must just write, as I am writing now. Today, with pen on steno, tonight perhaps with wireless blue tooth keyboard cradled on my hips while lying flat on my back in my bow berth bed. It doesn’t matter.

One need only push the pen, tap the keys, “talk” as it were with fingers and some odd corner of the brain relegated to man’s invention of the written word. Hell if I know. Thirteen more pages in this steno, and I’ll be moving on to my Christmas present from Dad, a refurbished G4 Mac laptop that I’ve been lugging around in my backpack for days, for some reason unable to crack it open. Correction: I have opened it and booted it up a few times now (each time giggling at the sound I now equate with the solar recharged Wall-E!) but never gotten through the registration process. It’s the denial thing. I don’t want to input my Oakland mailing address. Not that it makes ANY difference to the computer or Apple, Inc or the future world governing entity Google. It’s the essence of the thing. It’s the formality of it. Though used, the laptop is new to me and, like a new steno, I just want to introduce it into my world with the proper finesse! I want ceremony!

God & me willing, this laptop will be the tool by which I enter a new era in my career: the era of success! It just has to be so. It cannot be denied me any longer. Hmm! While writing all that, I happened upon an idea. I will input THIS address into the new ‘puter. I will pretend (again if only to myself) that I LIVE here at Caffe Trieste! Perfect. Now, what is the address here?

It’s Friday night here in San Francisco. Good things are afoot. People are happy. Perfect weather all week and for the weekend ahead. A new president in just days. And I am here at Caffe Trieste alone but somehow a part of it all. – RSM

Last night at sunset after dilly dallying all day on the boat, I made my way, a dizzying, confusing, left-or-right I-do-not-know-where-I’m-going kind of way toward Jack London Square and finally the ferry terminal where I parked and walked out beyond the shadow of a giant container ship to see the last of the day’s sun. I called my cousin Justino and we bullshited about this and that. We are both struggling, he to keep his job and his sanity, me to keep writing despite my own 100 years of solitude, my failure commercially and to keep sane as well. I remember how terribly drained and half-dead my voice sounded on the phone, even to me. All seems so bleak. But Justin for all his parallel grief and pill junkie woes, pointed out that the day was not without good news. A large commercial jet had crash landed into the Hudson River and all 155 people aboard survived. Wow. That struck me. I had seen the headline earlier, thought it cool, but not really thought much of it, certainly not fully ingested the miraculous nature of it. “Tonight” I thought, all of those people and thousands of other people related to or acquainted with those people will go to sleep with gratitude and a healthy sprinkling of the majestic, the miraculous in their hearts and minds. I thought a lot about that and was grateful to Justin for pointing it out to me. I had a glimpse for a second of why our newspapers and broadcast media dwell so heavily on the negative. It is because WE DO. We are our own worst enemies. I know I am. And last night at perhaps 4 a.m. I awoke and began writing a short story about a land wherein all mirror are banned. The basic idea is that in this fictional place, only people with goodness in their hearts and a healthy sense of self-love and love for others can see their reflection. Most people, especially the lawmakers, see horrid things in mirrors. I began the tale thinking of O, who sees a goddess in her mirror every day because she so strongly believes in her beautiful self.

It is surely not mistake that this all occurred to me on the night of a day when I finally unloaded all this heavy doubt and fear I’d been bottling up regarding our complicated relationship. Things like: where is the space for me in your tightly-packed (with people) and tightly scheduled world? When will the baby get her own bed or will she always sleep with us? What up with the roommate, can we send him packing as there is no privacy in the house (no doors) with him there? Where and when and how will I write? And so on, ad infinitum.

I went to bed not knowing how she would respond to it all, sent to her earlier in the day in a series of choppy emails. I felt ugly and more related to the mass off unfortunate fellows in my mirror story who see either something unpleasant or nothing at all in the mirror.

I wrote the mirror story’s beginnings from bed via infrared (which is in fact how blue tooth works, I believe) choppy and nowhere near complete. I hope to finish it. O responded today. I couldn’t bear to read it, cooped up in the damn boat. So I printed it out and finally here in Caffe Trieste, just now now I read it. The woman is indefatigable, unflagging in her love for me. Her responses are the most sober and sane and least psychotic (I had to throw that in given how rampant psychosis has been in women of my.. ilk, er, choosing) of anyone I have ever known, female or male. Given the load of tweaked and freaked gibberish I sent her way, well, she’s gotta be some kind of goddess. Stupefying really.

So the dance continues. Continue the solitary writer’s life with full freedom and all the time in the world to write yet all the current and past woes with which it goes. Or, marry the mother of two, marry for love, surrender to all the pressures and responsibilities therein, and leave what’s left of me to the Muse. Quit the writer’s life. Quit the only life I know. Quit the one thing that has stayed with me and kept me alive and strong through decades of madness. No answers tonight.

But goddamn I love San Francisco! I’ll take Door #3 for $500. Laundry Day today. Laundry Day everyday for well over a week now and yet it went undone. For who can do laundry when the sun is out and it’s 65 F in January? Nearly 8pm now. I ought go back and do it tonight. But I likely won’t.

This morning in Belmont, New Hampshire by the shining diamond lake of my youth, my cousin rose weary at 5 a.m., showered, shaved, shoveled down some breakfast and stepped outside into the -21 F killing air. Not a mile from his house, his car quit on him. Overheated, of all things. Of all the absurd possibilities, irony left him standing dick in hand fifty miles from his job with no way of getting there.

I have rambled around New Hampshire without a car. Fifty miles in the Granite State may as well be 5,000. He needs this job more than he has ever need a job. Over extended, he holds on by a thin thread. I can hear the seriousness in his voice, the awareness of his precarious position in this economy. Not one accustomed to prayer, I find myself praying a lot lately as the bottom falls out of the world, for one after another of my people. And I am more grateful by the day for the tiny government stipend that comes like clockwork, afforded me monthly like some veteran’s benefit for mental injuries suffered in the battle of life. A soldier of art and letters in a consumer capitalist civil war that pits brother against brother in a blood battle for the very few top end positions allowed in a celebrity or nobody culture. This stipend, that was won only in admission of great defeat, has caused me no small amount of shame. I will pray for Justin tonight.

Outside City Lights
Kofi in disco glittery shirt
Dog-eared spiral notebook in hand
Cigarette gesticulating his pitch
Wanna buy a haiku?
Ten cents for a haiku!
On the cobbles of Jack Kerouac Alley
How can I say no
To this Kurt Cobain doppelgänger
Long caramel hair and a young man’s beard
I reach into right pocket finding coins
Say okay!
Off he goes with something about bare skin and juices
(He’d prefaced that they were all erotic, but hetero, guessing my preference perhaps)
Half an hour later screaming beneath the bay
On subway with Lust For Life blaring blocking noise
I cannot remember the poems’ words or meaning
Only the animated poet, eager, excited
“Can I buy you a drink? Let’s write poems and drink port wine!”
To learn that I was kin, a poet too
A quarter and two pennies, the contents of my pocket
It was 27 cents well spent and that much
More than I had made on poetry today.

18 January 09

Somewhere I seem to have lost a day. Retrograde motion. Emotion. Life forgotten faster than it occurs. This notebook claims I wrote yesterday and the day before. But I didn’t write yesterday. All of the past ten pages unfolded Friday night. Today is Sunday. I’m falling out of time.

The Aeolian Skinner Organ here at Grace Cathedral will sing my descent, Carol Williamson organist presiding. From a dozen rows back here in the nave, I squint to be sure, but this organist Carol appears, in sleeveless dress with low cut back, quite naked. I think of the movie Secretary. I think of Monty Python’s Terry Jones. I think I wish I were sitting twelve rows closer. No matter. I close my eyes and sink in to the vaulting abyss of cathedral acoustics.

This morning at Glide, the line wrapped around the block to get inside the core of black celebration, black because all colors of the spectrum comprise black. Lucky in line at 10:35 a.m. to be still on the same block! Less than 48 hours remaining in Bush’s reign, and the energy is clearly jacked. JN, my church date! “If you’d told me twenty years ago I’d be doing this, I would have said Are you high?”

19 January 09 – Martin Luther King Day

The End of an Era? We’ll see. Bush, don’t let the door hit you in the ass, you fucker. Killer. Consciously, unconsciously rapist of the Earth and sky and all Living Things in between. May you awake from your dream of power as hungry and scared and crippled of limb and mind as you have made the rest of us. May the trapping of all the wealth you and your criminal cronies have amassed turn to ash in your fingers and acid on your tongue. Eat all the gold leaf you can ingest, hungry dumb evil pig-fucker. It didn’t work for Midas and it won’t work for you. May God have mercy on your soul.

MLK wouldn’t be proud of me for such sentiments. Nor Gandhi before him. Nor Thoreau whose words in the essay Civil Disobedience influenced Gandhi. Actually, no. Scratch that. I think Thoreau would definitely have harsh words for G.W. Bush. Henry David was a cranky yankee at times given to throwing stones (figuratively and literally) at passing steam locomotives, the then-newly arrived iron horses of manifest destiny. He would have let G.W. have it where it hurts. And of course I must give some voice to the silenced voice of my mentor. Hunter had no love for G.W. or his father before him and would, had he still breath or body today, be this very moment unleashing a most eloquent epithet-enriched epitaph to the departing Executive Swine.

I maintain that, in his way, G.W. Bush killed Hunter Thompson. Sure, Hunter might have been headed that way, but Bush’s re-election/re-instatement so gravely sealed our fate as a rogue nation for at least another four years that H.S. was left with no hope. With his health problems, he knew he couldn’t bear the journey and thus wouldn’t live to see 2009. So why wait another minute? With profound conviction and a singular courage known only to those who, of sound mind, enter the unknown of death of their own free will, he took his own exit one four weeks after the swearing in of W to his second term.

But enough grim raking of the past. Today it is yet sunny and sixty degrees in San Francisco here at the corner of Grant and Vallejo, and tomorrow is most certainly a new beginning for the World. Across town at Bill Graham auditorium an orgy of hope and high expectation is unfolding in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. today, Obama tomorrow. Why I am not there is anyone’s guess. Planned on going. Just didn’t feel up to the crowds, is all. Felt a need to come here and work.

Perhaps I also have just had enough uber-hope for one 48-hour period at yesterday’s Glide Memorial celebration (as they call their services;-). As my church date J noted about Obama during a lengthy gospel choir-accompanied slideshow of Obama/MLK juxtapositions, “He’s under so much pressure.” Indeed. I hope the boy is up for it. We are nearly the same age, Obama and I, and I can’t begin to imagine being the subject of the whole world’s scrutiny. Enough to be pressured and ogled by and leaned on for salvation by the pillaged, raped and ransacked kingdom he has inherited. If you’re under any time constraints Heavenly Father, please focus your energies more on guiding Obama than exercising mercy for G.W. & Co. Thanks.

To my right here at Caffe Trieste today, a composer sorts through sheet music, all his notations in pencil. To his right, an artist works over a sketch in a dense book of his work with what appears to be a thin paint brush but is in fact charcoal. Very thin. Before me and to my left, four laptops tap-tap away Bush’s last day. Overhead, from a triangular corner speaker so ancient it actually says “Stereo” in some sixties font, there swirls the sounds of some Italian rendition of “trip the light fandango” or whatever that equally-antiquated tune is called.

Friend Tim B related to me a salient memory of San Francisco from 1966, a snapshot in time, a day he spent hanging out the windows of a flat at (and he paused to find the names) Grant & Vallejo. “Those words haven’t passed my lips in decades,” he said in apparent surprise at having remembered the street names. That would be here, Tim. Right smack dab in the middle of Beat Poet Central, precisely one lifetime ago. My lifetime, that is. Thus far.

Some great poet or artist or composer could have been sitting down here at Trieste while Timmy was trippin’ around upstairs. Hell, some great artists could be sitting here right now. I could be sitting on top of him;-) And who will be sitting here in my seat (back wall center with a view up Grant framed perfectly in the front door) forty two years from now? Do we only ever know the present through misty-eyed hindsight?

Of course not. But we as a culture, as a species even, sure are a good bit more fascinated with ghost poets & artists & statesmen than with the living, breathing, oft-starving and forever struggling history makers in our midst. I’m guilty. Unless a gregarious individual deigns to break into my little bubble of personal space, I remain aloof, keep to myself and scribble away…

[Half an hour later..] Okay, I busted out. I spoke to Gregg, white haired with black beret seated beside me here on the back bench twitching post (ooh, I like that!) post-latte and seemingly itching to talk. So I said, looking straight ahead, “This place is just great.” And that was all it took. Off we went, Gregg filling me in on the history of the place, confirming my suspicions (based largely on the vibe) that everyone who is anyone in the world of San Francisco arts and letters has passed through these doors. It was fun, and a great relief, really, to put down this mad pen and relax into conversation.

And that’s it for this steno. End of an era. End of a notebook. Can’t say I really said anything of import in this steno, but i sure did bang out the pages. Sometimes that’s all that matters. Rain tomorrow night, they say. The end of our January summer? We’ll see. Tomorrow, or maybe later this evening, I will launch into writing on my new old laptop, a gift from Dad this season, a refurbished G4. Hopefully I will continue to come here to North Beach, rain or shine. Hopefully the rain will not drive me madly and impulsively away form my work again.

Boats in the desert must wait. Love, too, will have to wait. I have unborn children of my own now going on 13 years old, their development arrested long ago by the actions of a corrupt publisher, complicated by the death of a mentor, and further complicated by my own crippled self-image and a decade of depression. I pray now for the focus and discipline to dive again into this, my first novel, Catcher in the Sky, to modernize it, to hone it, to do whatever it takes to GET IT IN PRINT! This year. I feel well enough for this. I feel ready again.

A grizzled artist named Mo-mo comes in with a framed portrait of Paris Hilton from the waist down, showing it around. I love it. If I had the dough, I’d snatch it up. Snatch it… Yeah. – RSM

[Postscript: nearly a month later as I finish the transcription of this steno, I can say that yes, I have continued to return to Caffe Trieste with growing regularity, have begun to make new friends and, as of this writing, have been invited to do my first-ever reading in SF at a special event at Live Worms gallery just up the street!]

© Rick McKinney 2009