Tuesday, July 29, 2008

All Upon An Overcast Sunday Afternoon

Staring at the sidewalk, the poured concrete ribbon with cross-lying strain relief grooves, the tiny pebbles inside some of the squares of the cement, the cement that is more gray and ashy than white, all of those tiny stones of many colors, those things you never notice until you really look, the grime yellowing in the cracks, the various stains, bird shit, more dog shit than you’d expect, tree wells and the coverplates of electrical boxes all worn and dimpled with a thousand seasons of wear, water damage, bumps from roots under the ground coming up and breaking apart the surface, the surface that is rough and hard and chipped and sad, speckled with black tarry splotches of unknown origin, too many cigarette butts to count.
The iron peel and trundle, blastings of metal scraping, and a rumble like a craven groan croak out from under old trolley cars on Market Street. The electric sizzle of busses going by attached to wires up above by long white poles. With a fluttering and a quick scuffle-like pattering of wings, pigeons dodging traffic in the street, bicycles, and, on the grand wide redbrick sidewalk, pedestrians too. I listen to the sound of a lone saxophone wailing on the corner of Sutter and Market, put a dollar in the guy’s hat, move on and go across the street to stare at the buildings on Sutter. I walk up Sansome. The fog is scudding just over the top of the Bank of America Building. It’s a gray afternoon of moody wanderers lurking like silent ghosts along the sidewalk. A pan handler cries out at me, accusing me of stealing his pencil, calling me a rotten bastard as he sits against the plate glass window of a 7-11 and stews in his own urine. I try to pretend that I’m walking around on the soundstage of a Frank Capra movie. It doesn’t work. A lady with a beach towel wrapped around her head like a turban is walking down Geary carrying a croquet racquet with the end sharpened like a spear. I walk a little faster to avoid her. There isn’t much light left in the sky.

…Later that day

--It’s this movie called Harvey. Jimmy Stewart plays a guy named Elwood P. Dowd, who is a dipso, and is very good natured, much bonhomie and munificence and all the likes, a simpleton with a benevolent heart and compassion, who also has this invisible friend, a six foot three rabbit named Harvey.
--Yeah, I know that one. Elwood lives with his sister and her daughter in this huge house. The lady who plays his sister is pretty great. She’s…um, exuberant. Wild. Very temperamental and loud, and really fun to watch. There are some great lines in that movie.
--“Nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.”
--Yep. That’s great. That whole monologue he goes into outside the bar is really quite wonderful.
--Quite. I love that story he tells abut his friend who has had too much whiskey and gin.
--Yeah. And how he was in need of some conveyance. So he put him in a cab.
--And that’s when he meets Harvey for the first time. A miracle leaning on a lamppost at 18th and Fairfax. I love that too. About his friend needing some conveyance. It sounds like something that Tom Waits would say during a story.
--Yeah. He’s actually got that line about people not bringing anything small into a bar in one of his songs.
--That’s right. I wonder if it’s related or just some kind of odd chance thing. Coincidental.
--That movie is really kind of a madcap comedy too. Like when his sister gets all fondled and frisked and thrown in a bathtub at the mix-up at the madhouse. There’s a lot of good slapstick going on.
--It’s made from a Pulitzer Prize winning play. That always seemed odd to me. I can’t see anyone but Jimmy Stewart in the role, putting his arm around that invisible giant rabbit. He calls it a Pooka. Something out of Celtic lore I think. He has the ability to stop time.
--Another great thing is that Dowd is always trying to give people his cards. They’re not business cards. I don’t know what they are. Just his name and phone number on them. And he’s always inviting everybody he meets over for dinner. He’s really adamant about it. Making them commit to a time and date. But he always wants to meet up for a little drink at a bar somewhere. The guy loves his whiskey.
--Yeah. I remember how he gets mad at the old doctor when the doctor is telling him about his ultimate fantasy, about the girl on the beach in Akron saying, “You poor thing,” and holding his hand. Elwood wants the guy to have whiskey, but the doctor will only drink beer.
--And I think there’s something great with the taxi driver at the end.
--Sure. Yeah. It’s where he says how he thinks normal human beings are just a bunch of stinkers.
--Stinkers. That’s right. That part gives me goose bumps. His sister saves him from normalcy, you know, knocking on the door, stopping the injection of that potion…what is it called again?
--Formula number 977.
--Ha. Yeah. That’s so weird. Just a MacGuffin I guess. But it’s so great how the old hag saves him from being normal, so he can keep on having his hallucinations, can keep being himself, with all of his quirks and habits and his odd personality, and can keep all the things that are best about him. He can keep quoting Ovid and picking flowers and having wonderful conversations with his imaginary rabbit friend named Harvey. He can keep making other people happy.
--That’s really it. Isn’t it? Making other people happy, and in doing so he makes himself happy. Everybody just can’t help liking him.
--Just a commentary on the way society doesn’t want to accept outsiders, people who are a little different, how it wants people to conform to the way it wants them to be. No deviations from the norm, no uniqueness or originality allowed. Leave your daydreams at the door. And your soul too while you’re at it.
--Elwood P. Dowd, that affable tippler, is left high and dry and boring as hell…I mean if he gets the injection of Formula 977.
--No more taking the road less traveled for him. No more good times or bad times. Just bland, anesthetized, boring old reality. No six-foot rabbits to keep you company. No bats in the belfry.
--The recalcitrant given electric shocks to the brain to make them fit in.
--Or anti-depressants.
--Remember how he makes those holes in Harvey’s hat, for his ears?
--Yeah. And he’s always trying to introduce people to Harvey. It scares most people away. But not everyone. Not the bartenders, the drunks, the insane people he knows, the people that know him best. In the end his sister even admits that she loves having Harvey around.
--Do you ever talk to yourself?
--All the time. In my head mostly. But sometimes when I’m alone I’ll do it out loud. I’ve never created another being that I’m having these conversations with, but I guess I kind of do have someone that I’m talking to. I must. It’s just some kind of specter, some idea of myself…that is also not myself. It’s not a rabbit, but maybe it’s not something too dissimilar from that. I just haven’t given it a persona. I haven’t materialized my imaginings into a concrete thing. I can keep reality separated from this discussion going on in my brain.
--Are there really two of us talking?
--I mean…I just get the feeling that maybe there is no substance to us. That we are merely figments of somebody’s imagination. That we’re dreamed up. Or maybe we are just some conversation going on in somebody’s head. Is that possible?
--Anything’s possible I guess. But, shit, I don’t want to think like that. It’s like imagining that the whole universe is merely a speck of dirt on the back of a giant’s shoulder, and that when he takes a shower everything that we know of will cease existing. That kind of thinking doesn’t get you anywhere. Sure we could all be just living in somebody else’s dream. When they wake up finally we’ll all be gone. Or a giant meteor could strike the earth and do the same thing. Why contemplate life like that? What good does it do?
--I know. I know. But, I mean…I just can’t help it. Every day this thing gnaws at me. It’s getting worse and worse. This feeling that I’m just a dreamt up voice in a dull tale told by some moron filled with…fuck, I don’t know…all this sound…all of this…fury. I don’t want to be just some fictional thing, some character in somebody else’s story, some minor player doing a bit part in the story of somebody else’s life. I really am starting to think that I am just the fucking stuff that goddamn dreams are made on. Nothing but empty words…hollow…nothingness.
--Why all the dots?
--You see? Why did you say that? About the dots.
--Yeah. What the hell does that mean?
--I don’t know. It just seemed like you were saying stuff with a lot of dots in it.
--Saying? How can there be dots in what I’m saying? Is that some kind of metaphor or something?
--I don’t know. I don’t know what it means. Shut up! Just shut the hell up!
--Do you see what I’m saying now? Scary, huh?
--Fuck you. This is over. I just wanted to talk about this movie and now you’re turning it into this diatribe on…

--Hey. That’s not fair. That’s not the end. This is not the end. Thdafdsafere#@$#&^%fjk%$#dhlsfjkahdslfjkh***HELP!**vbcnmxz5y34o785yq478fuiagf34fdkafv(&*)(*$%#@%#$FDfdsafdskhafjdkhfkjhlwrhewhriuwhlfr***HELP ME!!!!!dfhdjsa8947385hfusadlhfjdbs***AWWW!!!!..........


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nothing Can Be Taken From Us But Our Lives

You’ve got street corners and baseball teams
and mops and buckets to catch the rain
and handouts and apple cores and used coffee grounds scattered in the bottom of the garbage can
and ice and a few forks and electricity and water that is sometimes hot too
and diseases
and a job and people who care
and moths in the bathroom and spiders everywhere
and a television set that works most of the time
and strange habits and bad manners
and whiskey and sweet vermouth
and a few clean shirts and many empty beer bottles on the floor
and some pride but not much
and novels that nobody will ever read
and music to play all night long
and a voice to sing with
and a few bucks in the bank and don’t owe a man a penny
and you are one lucky bastard goddamn it


It was nineteen eighty something and we were eating dinner at the counter at the bar and my mother was on the other side where she always sat where she did the cooking on the other side of the table of the counter of the bar my mother over there eating and serving my father and me and my brothers and never getting a moment’s peace and doing all the dishes too and my little brother’s first memories of having his face smashed into the screen door by my father because he had spilled his milk on the counter at the counter where we sat in silence while he choked on his peas that he didn’t want to swallow as my father’s fist cracked hard against his back and he ended up on the floor choking and spitting up peas and the screen door was all dented in the shape of his little body and my mother was on the other side of the table sitting miles away and we were all silent at the table sitting at the bar on our barstools my feet dangling there way up high from the ground from the blood-red fake-brick tile floor and nobody was saying anything until my father said to finish our peas that they were some damn good peas and everyone ate their peas and didn’t say a word…

boxscores boxscores boxscores

We were just kids and a mile was the distance to the moon
And an hour seemed like an eternity
We hadn’t been going through life too long yet
And a thirty-year-old seemed ancient
I used to read the box scores every morning during baseball season
When my father would finish with the sports section of the newspaper
I would grab it and quickly turn to the back
And feast my eyes on all the numbers
All those perfect lines of digits
The categories marked by a few letters
I would read them intently
Like I was looking at some sacred text for the first time
My fingers turning black from the ink
Drool dripping onto the page below
I loved the long abbreviated vowelless player names
Sometimes a letter or two from their first name
EDavis Mttngly DHndrsn Lnsfrd RgJcksn
Or some that just came out plain
Gwynn Boggs Weiss
I loved the aesthetics of a 4 for 4 night
The way a 1 for 4 with a run and 3 RBIs
Stood out as an obvious Home Run
The complete game shutout was a thing of beauty
As was the perfect ninth of 3 Ks for the save
I still look at the box scores every morning
While I’m drinking my coffee and enjoying the sun before work
And it always brings me this sense of excitement
And also peace
A sense that everything is right with the world
As I mumble to myself and add things up in my head
Scan the standings
And try to forget about the rest of the world for a while