Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Comedian From Jamaica


I am drunk and walking home from Specs

it is a Tuesday evening

a lot of people are still out walking around on Grant Street

this guy starts talking to me

and he walks with me for a ways

he says, “I’m a comedian from Jamiaca.”

I say, “I’m not giving you any money.”

he laughs

he does a lot of laughing

he says, “Come on. I’ll tell you some jokes. I just got in to San Francisco today.”

I say, “You don’t sound Jamaican. And you’re not very funny for a comedian.”

I am pretty drunk

he laughs some more

he says, “This is my first time in this country. I swear. Let me tell you some jokes.”

I stop and lean against a lamppost

I light up a cigarette

I offer him one but he says he doesn’t smoke

I say, “Okay. If you can make me laugh before I finish this cigarette, then I’ll give you five dollars.”

he laughs

he likes this idea

he has very white teeth and a winsome smile

he starts telling me some jokes

the jokes are not funny

an old Chinese lady stops and scowls at him

she asks me if he is bothering me

I tell her to mind her own goddamn business

I am pretty drunk

I am not really listening to the Jamaican comedian anymore

I am just enjoying my cigarette and feeling good and drunk

I say, “Hey. I know some comedians. You ever go down to the Punchline?”

he says, “The what?”

I say, “I thought so. Your time’s almost up, and I’m still not laughing.”

he laughs

he starts in on another joke

I cringe

it’s a pretty bad joke

something about a Hertz Doughnut

but I laugh anyway

and give the guy a five

and go on walking down Grant Street

until I get to a bar

where I go on inside and order a double whisky

and decide to try

to never laugh again 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Forever Undone (a continuing saga)

--And, you know, well, I am grateful for these things. I’m really grateful, filled with grace…
--Is that what grateful is? Um, like gratitude too?
--They have a similar root, if that’s what you’re asking.
--You tell me. I have no idea what I’m asking.
--There’s a Latin word gratus, which means something that is pleasing. Both words come from it. The word graceful doesn’t cut it. You know, the meaning’s different. But I think you could say that having gratitude would involve grace, though grace has a lot of different meanings too. I guess what I’m talking about when I say something like, “filled with grace,” is that one is almost overcome with a sense of devotion, thankfulness…Um, okay. So it’s like you’ve got the three sisters, the graces in Greek mythology, you know, Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia. That’s the kind of grace I’m talking about, like being filled with their spirit, being blown full with the wind of Gods.
--What the fuck? Is that supposed to make any kind of sense to me?
--Never mind. You know what I mean.
--So, as I was saying…
--Yes, as you were saying…
--I look out and up and all around at these old buildings, these architectural treasures, and I feel really grateful. I’m so glad that people decided to build them when they did. I am so pleased that those people existed, people like Timothy Pflueger…
--Not that guy again. Why does he keep coming up?
--I don’t know. Anyway. I’m grateful that those buildings were built, for the time period that they were built in, and the fact that somebody has seen it fit to keep them around, to do some upkeep on them, make the windows and the doorknobs shine. I mean, not all of them. There are those that have fallen into a state of disrepair. Like the Hibernia Bank on the corner of Jones and McAllister, or that whimsical decrepit relic with the Doric columns topped with friezes of laurel leaves at 1017 Market, the one with, “Furniture and Carpets,” engraved across the top of its decaying fa├žade. But sometimes I like those all the more. There is something crushingly beautiful in the way they are still hanging in there, something gritty and real and marveling about it.
--Well, sometimes I’ll just take a stroll down Market Street. You know, on weekday mornings or early afternoons, when the sun’s performing impossible feats of light and shade on everything.
--Taking a stroll. Stretching those legs. Going for out for a little ambulation. Taking in the sights.
--You’re one peculiar guy, you know that?
--Nope. Glad to hear it though.
--So, I’ll walk up and down Market, stopping to stare at things, buildings mostly, and talking to myself a lot.
--You must fit right in.
--Right. I feel very accepted. It’s strange. I’m just a part of the scenery. Especially around the Civic Center and down towards 6th street. I’m just another lunatic wandering around aimlessly.
--That’s for sure.
--Sometimes I’ll just stand on a street corner, say like by the Golden Gate Theatre, and stare at things for a really long time, trying to remember all the details of what is there, of what things really look like when you stop and look for long enough. You know the old St. Francis Theater on Market?
--Oh yeah. The one that’s been all boarded up for a long time, with the letters missing on the marquee where it used to say, “Bargain Matinee Until 2pm.” Another St. Francis. We’ve got the hotel, the soda fountain in the Mission, the hospital, the yacht club, and, shit, probably more than that.
--Didn’t know about the yacht club. You’re one fancy dude. Yachts?
--I’m not a member. My friend’s dad is.
--Sure. Anyway, that theater has always fascinated me for some reason. Old theaters in general tend to interest me, but this one, maybe because it’s all boarded up, and it looks so woebegone and like it’s been untouched by human hands for many years, maybe it just gets me imagining all kinds of things. Like that cracked marquee sign with the letters missing. Where did those letters go? Did they fall on someone? Did somebody climb up there and steal them? And why didn’t they just take the letters down when they closed the place up. It would’ve been easy enough. And also, there is like no way to look inside. It’s hard to imagine, with all those boards all over the bottom half, how it looked as a theater, how it functioned, where the box office was, and I wonder if the movie screens are sill inside, and the seats. There is one window, with kind of an ornate metal frame around it, but it’s pretty opaque and it’s too high up to peer into.
--The things that you wonder about.
--I saw this Charlie Chaplin impersonator standing out in front of it one day. He was really old and had all kinds of makeup on, and of course that little mustache and the cane and the too-small-for-him black suit, the whole nine yards. He was selling cigarettes. It was weird. And he kept doing that little hobbling, skip/dance thing, you know, the little tripping thing, like the Little Tramp. He was really good. He’d pretend to drop a pack of cigarettes, and it’d get caught in his sleeve, and he’d do this like Globetrotter thing where the pack would go from one sleeve and across his neck and into the other, eventually coming out in his other hand. It was pretty good stuff.
--Did he sell many cigarettes like that?
--I didn’t see him sell any. But a lot of people stopped to watch him and take pictures and stuff like that. It was really something, watching him perform like that out in front of that old boarded up theater. If it weren’t for those stupid trees there it would’ve been quite perfect.
--I remember you saying something once about how you hate trees.
--Nice segue. Well, I don’t hate trees. That’s not true. What I was saying was that I don’t like trees in certain situations. Like, for instance, in urban landscapes. The less shrubbery and green the better. Out in front of that old theater, well, they just don’t go. I mean, in a lot of instances, when you’ve got all kind of old marble, brick, sandstone, beveled glass, ornate flourishes of architectural wonder, and those withered, harlequin green lamp posts, well, the trees just get in the way, they cover things from sight, they make the whole scene seem a little more paltry and dull.
--Maybe it’s just certain shades of green that you don’t like. And, anyways, are lamp posts really that color?
--Sure. Yeah. Why not?
--Don’t know. Guess you’re right.
--Trees in the city landscape, especially downtown, just piss me off. They grow wild. Their big old branches hanging over the street and poking into buildings. All those leaves getting all over the place, getting in people’s hair, making tall people have to duck to get by. So much upkeep is involved. We spend so much money to keep all those damn trees manicured and watered and whatnot. It’s all such a waste. And they are fucking ugly as sin. They make the cool soot-stained ways of certain streets seem almost sterile and suburban. They take away from the feel of things. Have you ever seen an old picture of Powell and Market, a black and white one, on a rainy night, taken way before they built that BART Station there, before they planted all those damn trees and put up that chain-rope to reel in the tourists waiting at the Cable Car turnaround?
--Of course. Everybody’s seen a picture like that. Like something out of Dark Passage, right?
--Exactly. People with umbrellas, wearing overcoats, a certain sense of style. And the Pig 'N Whistle sign shooting down like a giant arrow, the Hotel Powell, the regal, sumptuous, and capacious Bank of America building with that big old clock hanging over the entrance, the awning of the old Owl Drug Company, the Cable Car turning around…
--Wasn’t there a Woolworth’s there at some point?
--Yeah. But I’m talking before that. There used to be a cafeteria there too. A place called Moar’s. Not many cafeterias left these days. It’s too bad. It’d be nice to go into some old lunchroom and eat a meal sometime. We know so little about what we’ve lost, about what’s been bulldozed from existence, things we’ve never had a chance to remember. Hey, but you know what else you don’t see in any of those old pictures?
--Um, let me guess. Trees?
--Right. Not one motherfucking tree anywhere in sight.
--And when you look at these old pictures, the ones taken before BART, before they closed off that portion of Powell to cars and made it all Disneyfied or Las Vegasfied or whatever you call it, you start to see how all those stupid, worthless, piece-of-shit trees they planted there really ruined what was a classic urban landscape. Not that trees are the only culprits, but still, they suck.
--Okay. I get it. You don’t want trees mucking up your nostalgic and idealistic vision of what constitutes beauty among the concrete and glass and fumes of city life. You have this absurd notion that in the past things were somehow more, I don’t know, cooler than they are now. As if people had so much more style and grace, as if just by not wearing shorts and t-shirts and Nikes, they were somehow more richly alive, and the buildings were all untouchable masterpieces of architectural genius, and you’d whistle and say hi to everybody passing on the street, and the rain made everything romantic, and the world was black and white. That’s such bullshit. Things change. They are always changing, and they are always going to keep on changing. Thing weren’t even like that then. You just think that they were. Sure, you can look at a picture and pretend to make time stop, and then get all caught up in the infatuation of the moment, the whole history, the way things were, things, by the way, that you’ve never even known, and they seem so great because you can imagine whatever you want. You can pretend it was all like an old Humphrey Bogart movie where people in suits and hats smoke cigarettes while leaning against lamp posts, which may or may not have been harlequin green mind you. And it’s all so rosy. It’s all this perfect image that you dream up in your sappy head. It isn’t real. It never has been, and it won’t ever be real. I’m sure people at the time didn’t find anything extraordinary about the world they were living in, about the way people dressed, or about the lack of trees in the city.
--Okay. I agree. But that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m just getting a little sidetracked here. I mean, nobody notices the trees much now anyway. And they certainly didn’t notice when there were no trees. Nobody pays attention to all the really fucking wonderful and amazing things that are happening around them all the time. They don’t enjoy the way the power lines sizzle in the rain, or that certain way the MUNI buses sound going by on electric wires, or the slight trundling of the trolley cars, even the damn whistle that the wind makes in airwells of old apartment buildings that makes me think of The Wizard Of Oz
--Please, no details on those sounds. I’ve heard you go into it before, and really, we don’t have the time. I’ve got laundry to do and food to make and phones to answer, you know?
--I’ll bet. You’re one busy guy, aren’t you? Okay. So what I’m saying…no. I mean…
--What are you saying?
--What I am saying is that people should stop ignoring things so much. I know we all need to filter things out, the doors of perception and all that, but we can choose what we filter, and I just think people should think about what they’re missing.
--Aren’t you sort of generalizing? I mean, how the hell do you know what people are, “filtering out,” as you put it? Maybe they are seeing and hearing and smelling things that you can’t even dream of.
--I hope so. That’d suit me fine. What about touching and tasting? As long as we’re naming senses here.
--Glad to see your sense of humor has returned. You were getting a little too serious there, and, well, you know what the poets say, seriousness will not do.
--That’s very true. I like that. Seriousness will not do.
--So. You hate trees. Can’t stand any kind of greenery in the city, huh?
--Well, actually I kind of like to look at the trees on Market Street sometimes. You know, maybe on a windswept afternoon around dusk, or late at night when the streets are pretty desolate and there is a certain something in the air.
--Oh no. Here we go. The contradictory romantic waxes poetic. Go ahead. I’m ready for it.
--Hey. I’m a Dadaist. I’m…
--I know. You’re contradictory by nature.
--Have I said that before.
--Oh, only about a dozen baker’s dozen times.
--Really? Geez. I’ve got to stop repeating myself.
--It’s okay. I’m not here to judge you, right?
--I hope not. Anyway, so those trees on Market Street, all lined up along the inner part of the sidewalk, with their leaves waving in the breeze, their branches slightly lifted, hunched up a bit, trembling there…well, if you look at them just right, say on an October night by the light of a full moon and the streetlights and the glowing eye of a trolley car, gazing at just the right angle, they seem to go on and on forever down into the end of sight. And you just might start to think that maybe the world isn’t such a bad place to be in, and that there is hope out there somewhere floating around in the interstices, those spaces between adjacent atoms in a crystal lattice, and that maybe, like just then, you might be able to stop the world from turning for a little while, reach out and grab it, hold it in your hands, and be grateful for what it is that you have.
--Um. You want to walk down to the Ferry Building with me? I’m getting hungry, and those hamburgers they’ve got down there are pretty badass.
--That’d be great. I should probably eat something at some point. You know about that clock tower down there?
--Oh shit. Here we go again. Alright. Let’s have it.
--So, it’s kind of an interesting story. You see…

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

they don’t warn you about mornings like these
mornings when the sun doesn’t spread out like butter
when the newspaper smells like piss and the ants crawl all over the kitchen
when the bile is climbing up the rungs of that sandpaper slide you call your throat
and your head feels lopsided and like it’s filled with oatmeal and cabbage
they don’t tell you about that weasel squealing in your ears
or how you won’t be able to get any food down into your stomach
which churns and quakes in mad spasms of revolt
they don’t let you know just how tired you’ll get
tired of Wednesday afternoons
tired of weeks and months and years going by
tired of not being able to sleep at night
tired of television and rats
and a long succession of jobs
each worse and more tedious and mind-numbing than the last
they don’t speak of days to flush away like used toilet paper
rent checks bouncing and hair falling out and hope sputtering into panic and dread
they won’t tell you that most of the time you won’t feel blessed for just being alive
you won’t look up at the stars just for the hell of it
and getting out of bed will be a miracle on some days
on days that start off with mornings like these
when your life is just a hangnail waiting to be torn off by the world
when you don’t even have the motivation to make coffee
or wash a dish
or take out the trash
or listen to the hoarse quock of the black-crowned night heron
while you stumble around
dizzy and alone
searching for a cigarette
wondering how the hell things ever turned out like this
how all of that then could’ve led to this now
they don’t tell you all the ways the world can come up with to crush the life out of you
or the caged fury that melts into a headache behind your eyeballs
they won’t fill you in on the horror and the absolute empty ache in your gut
that comes along at the end of a week-long drunk
stirring the mush that is left of your brains into madness and despair
leaving you unable to count to ten or make a ham sandwich
they never warn you about the women who are kind enough to sleep with you
the ones who claw at your face with their fingernails
or empty your pockets for you while you’re passed out
they forget to mention that people will desert you
leaving you clutching a shredded paper bag that had been filled with your memories
they don’t ever say how much you’ll crave that first drink of the day
how you’ll need a few more to level out your head
and smack you back to where you want to be
heading out to join those who line the bars at mid-day
how you’ll lean against brick walls and parking meters and telephone poles
to smoke cigarettes in the shadows of tall buildings
waiting for something to happen
how you’ll go days without showering or brushing your teeth
or eating anything besides peanuts and potato chips
how easy it’ll be to piss your money away like this
that’s not something they go on to you about
instead they tell you to invest your money and buy a house
to do things like get married and have kids
they tell you to just go with the flow
to never question anything
to be one of the crowd
to watch and be entertained
to get along and be normal and well behaved
to buy things and to not think too hard about why
they tell you that you are inconsequential
that your life is merely some data on a chart
another statistic on a spreadsheet
just a speck in the thin slice of a pie chart
something to be marketed to
nothing more than a slight fluctuation of the stock market
not even a blip on the radar screen of commerce
and there are times when you find yourself believing them too
but then again
there are times when you might find yourself
riding a silver-smooth stallion in the rain
peering up at clouds mashed like thumbprints into the sky
missing the way you used to dream
like that
before all of this thrashing about in the midst of things
caught up with what was remaining of you
one morning when you’d stopped answering the phone and the door
and promptly finished you off
before you had a chance to begin