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
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!
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
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
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
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