Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mutton Fat Jade

        “She says the only power she has in her life is over food.  My son
doesn’t listen to her, her son is never home,” Mei mockingly told Lin.
        “She seems to have some power over the credit card.  I saw her coming
out of Nordstrom’s with bags of new clothes,”  Lin averred.
        “Aiya, she’s such a liar, that one.”
        “I hope they were muumuus.  She shouldn’t wear tight tops with all
that back fat.”
        “My son probably stopped doing it with her because she looks like a pig.”
        “She’s so full of it.  She’s got an excuse for everything.  It’s
probably her fault your son never visits.”
        “Then again, she might be the reason Jin comes all the time.  She’s
such a horrible mother.”
        “Just feed Jin what you’d cook for your son.  He’s a good boy.
Everybody in the building thinks so.”
        Mei and Lin squatted before their offerings, each item on sale for a
dollar.  Government cheese, chips, plums, potatoes, and gallons of
fruit juice sat arrayed on blankets on the red brick sidewalk at
Market and Jones for passersby to browse.  Some stopped to buy.  Mei
used her money to buy greens in Chinatown.  Lin had a secret cigarette
habit, and kept her grape juice.  They hoped to sell everything before
any police stopped to tell them to pack it up and move along.
        The two had been friends since before coming to America.  In college,
in the late 1950s, they would walk together up Powell Street, trading
glances that rated the boys they passed on their way home.  Now
grandmothers, they were still silent friends.  They seemed to
communicate without words.  The only audible conversations they had
were about Mei’s thoughtless son and self-indulgent daughter-in-law.
Both Mei and Lin agreed the best thing those two had ever done, the
only worthwhile thing, was have a son, Jin, who visited his
grandmother as often as he could.

The visits began the year Jin turned 14.  He would bring a forged note
with a copy of his dad’s driver’s license – anything would do as long
as it had a picture.  It got him into the building, past the
persnickety front desk.  He was too young to have his own ID or
driver’s license, but if he could prove he was Mei’s grandson, he
could get in.
        He had the best time of his life.  His friends in school were pretty
well-behaved kids – they got good grades, and never got into trouble.
They all spent a lot of time with their families.  But Jin kept quiet
to them, as he did to Mei, about his life at home in that dark, lazily
decorated Duboce Triangle condo.  He knew he shouldn’t criticize his
dad and mom to his grandmother, but he was stuck:  his parents were
assholes.
        The hardest part of his visits to Grandmother Mei’s little shoebox of
a single-room occupancy studio (next to leaving when their time
together was up) was trying to find a way to explain why he visited so
often.  His Chinese was halting, and she praised him just for making
the effort.  Sometimes, she would hold up little things like plates or
her treasured bracelet of almost-white jade, and try to teach him the
words for these.
        He would let her distract him then, over steaming bok choy and
dumplings, as she taught him how to say new words.  He forgot about
learning how to make her understand something he suspected she already
knew, and knew better than he did.  In fact, he soon felt a bit of
shame for assuming her to be more innocent than she was – an
assumption many seemed to make of the old Chinese ladies who hustled
around town.  It was an important epiphany, when a boy on his way to
becoming a man realizes his grandmother is no doting, daft old
creature, but a woman, a complete woman who has seen so much more than
he might ever hope to.
        He wanted to tell Grandmother Mei how hard his mom was trying – in
all the wrong ways.  For example, she would insist on doing his
homework for him.  How could his mom not understand that he needed his
pride, pride he could earn only from doing the work himself and
knowing the B on the paper was worth more than his mom’s A?  How could
he tell his father’s mother what a douchebag the hapless guy was?
When Jin was six, he saw a Japanese cartoon he loved, and wanted his
favorite character’s name.  So his dad let him change his own name
then and there, in front of the television, like nothing had any
importance.  And where were the fishing trips?  Camping?
        Jin, though, the more time he spent eating savory dishes at his
grandmother’s Tenderloin hotel, learned how much stronger silence
could be than complaints.  He tried not to hate his father for never
visiting, and put effort instead into loving who was present, and
loving that they were present; that’s what his grandmother’s
demonstrated skill for living taught him.  Why think about dad’s
failures at all when he could play ping-pong with Auntie Lin in the
community room behind the lobby?
        He also felt a swell of pride from finding his first footing as a man
– what dignity with which he carried himself when he knew his
escorting Grandmother Mei was the reason she could brave the
intersection at Taylor and Turk, a rather rough part of the
neighborhood.  She would never go that way alone, but Jin was nearly
5’10” and growing a moustache.  She could rely on him to be her guard.
        She taught Jin so much without words.  Sure, the pidgin Chinese was
fun – and he already spoke better than his father.  Yet Jin also
learned the secret language of shared glances, eye contact from the
side that spoke whole passages.  He quietly treasured his grandmother.
She was a link to roots his parents never took time to respect.
        Jin knew he had to say something, anything so that mom and dad would
get it.  Not a fight, not a criticism, just words that stated how much
he needed Grandmother Mei’s guidance and wisdom, and with those words
hopefully imply that he wasn’t the only one.  So one day, he came home
from school, changed into a shirt and tie his mother had bought for
him at the store as though she had been awkwardly bargaining for
something.  He stood in front of his father, between him and the
television, and said aloud, “I’m going to grandma’s.”  It was the
first time he had announced where he was going, instead of heading
directly there.
        His father stared ahead absent-mindedly, as though through him to the
television on the other side.  “Watch yourself in the TL, Jin.  Don’t
take too much money.”
        Jin stood there for a moment, unsure if his dad had even looked at
him.  He had at least hoped to hear how sharp he looked – something,
anything.  All Jin could say was, “So, bye.”  And he left.

        It was about six months after Jin’s first visit that his father
finally took interest in the worst way.  It was complete happenstance.
Jin was sitting with Mei and Lin after the food bank, when who should
show up but his father, livid.
        “Jesus, Ma, I’m on my way to lunch break when somebody said, ‘Hey
David, is that your mom selling shit on the street?’”
        “But I’m your mommy, yes?  Why are you yelling?”
        “What the hell?  Do you know how embarrassing this is?  They were
laughing at you, the guys from work.”
        “Don’t you love your mommy?  Don’t yell.”
        Jin stood up.  He knew he didn’t want to disappoint his grandmother –
how could he upbraid his dad?
        “Dad, can I say something?”  At 14, his eyes were nearly level with
his father’s.  “I don’t listen to what people think of my grandmother.
They can laugh.  It’s just harmless laughter.  It’s innocent, right?”
        “Jin, you’re not old enough to understand.”
        “No fight.”  Mei’s voice was steely from her squat beneath them.
        “Dad, it was my idea.  She hates this food, and I thought she could
sell it for vegetables from the store she likes.”
        “Why didn’t she just ask for some goddamn money?”
        “She didn’t know better, Dad.  I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
        His dad took a step back.  “She knows better,” he muttered, and
walked back to where his coworkers were waiting.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I'm Ready To Throw My Hands Up...

...Out of sheer exasperation.  I hate the way these cop deaths in NY and FL have been politicized. It just does not seem like the thing for people upset about police brutality to do -- it's the one thing people protesting police brutality would probably never do. Nor do I buy the conspiracy theory that the cops set up the murder of other cops whom they wanted dead (not to say it's inconceivable, but it is extremely unlikely). One of the more common delusions I've heard of from, say, tweakers, schizophrenics, and assorted other paranoiacs is that the cops are "out to get them." Chances are, a little digging into both shooters' pasts will uncover mental health issues -- they probably heard voices and hallucinated police hurting them in some way. I doubt that they themselves were victims of actual police brutality who were on some vengeful rampage. All this talk of assassination and retaliation seems extremely ill-informed, premature and irresponsible.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Back In The World

"And knowing's half the battle!"  That's what they say before the rousing theme designed to inflame your spirits and sense of patriotism, but they never tell you what the other half is:  a lot of pain and blood and heartbreak.  They never warn you about the shit you can't unsee:  half of Scarlett lying in a ditch, her intestines trailing away from her.  They never tell you that guys like Duke and Ace will come back so chewed up, they may as well not have come back at all -- you want to sneak into rehab at the VA and break their fucking necks because it would be a mercy.  They never tell you after Allah knows how many tours that you'll go so far beyond section 8, Cobra Commander's propaganda videos are more precious to you than a Carrie Underwood sex tape.

It's harder than you know.  People are so universally loving and supportive when you come back, but they don't understand how you never really come back.  Certainly, nothing below my knees came back.  And when civilians see the knee-hinge with those tell-tale dangling rubber bands -- I tell you, those who don't pretend not to look try to thank me for my service.  I tell 'em right away it happened when I was drunk and dicking around by the railroad tracks.  I don't even bother to slip my dog-tags into my shirt -- I just bald-face lie and dare them to call me on it.  Fuck, I'm so fucked up on this fucking hillbilly heroin and nightmares about reality I can't even hold on to the same IHSS worker for more than a week...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Reprinted From Facebook

Yeah, so no indictment. [It doesn't matter] whether you call them protests or riots, or what names you call the participants. At some point, words are shown to be the lies they can be, and are of no importance. I approve of the fact that there has been a populist response to the situation. That means people are still pissed off about the injustices ingrained in our culture -- good. Fine. I support any and all instances of civil disobedience in the wake of the jury's decision.

I have never in my history on facebook unfriended anyone. But I will unfriend the first moment I read a post in which the people's response is characterized as riots, if I see any talk of "savages" or "animals," or if I see that fucking ugly as sin meme in which a cop says "This is why we shoot you guys." I'm all for raw humor myself, and have been known to go places that will make South Park fans blush, but that shit -- especially that final meme I just mentioned -- is not cute or funny at fucking all.

EVERY 28 HOURS

(PS:  Much love to the veterans who wrote to protest to their brothers and sisters in the National Guard that the latter please stand down.  Thank you for using your voices in such a way, and bringing your thoughts and feelings to the table -- and as always, for your service to our country.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Perfumery

"Hart":  lavender, horse dung, cedar, camphor, tiaré, ambergris

"Chéri":  vetiver, musk, sweet alyssum, hinoki, clover

"Hippolyta":  mowed grass, bubblegum, ginger, ylang ylang, vanilla

"Califia":  orange zest, pine resin, peat moss, ferns, carnation

"Hugs":  pure, redwood mulch, wild broom, freesia, sandalwood

"Déjà Vu":  hickory, wheatgrass, cardamom, 'new clothes smell,' verbena

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What Is This, LIFE OF OHARU?

[Black and white.  Perspective:  from the ceiling.  Japanese zither music plays mournfully.  William, dressed all in black, collapses before the candles and the statue of Buddha.]

Friday, October 10, 2014

Empty Ballroom Blues

Chandler ducked under the temporary blue awning and joined the line outside the Black Hawk at Hyde and Turk, where black and white musicians played side-by-side, where reefer smoke polluted the air.  A lot of single ladies there, even on a rainy day in the middle of November.  The patrons were mostly white, with quite a few exotic-looking folks in the mix.  He loved coming here for cheap cocktails and free conversation -- mostly, it was the latter, for work.

Chandler eyeballed the cloud-breathing crowd.  He noticed some high-tone Marina and Heights types:  some pearls -- real pearls -- and white gloves.

He turned his collar up against the chill, then reached into his pants pocket to make sure he still had a dime for coat check.

Inside the club, a haze of blue-gray smoke hovered over the patrons.  The place was well lit.  Nick Esposito and his sextet had taken the stage, surrounded by a tight knot of black-clad enthusiasts.  The band started into Empty Ballroom Blues -- who knew where they'd end up?  At the tables sat various couples on dates, or quartets of office mates.  Chandler threaded through these to Felicia, the beautiful negress who ran coat check.  She wore an aquamarine, full-length gown cut to mid-thigh, and was shaped like an hourglass.

"Hey Felicia."

"Hey Chandler -- you still running with Jorge?"

"No, but I've run up on a new case."  He surreptitiously passed her a dollar bill and kept his jacket.  "Did two men come in recently, guys who didn't check their bags?"

"Yeah.  Seems to me it was around Thursday, 10:00 PM, last week.  And they stayed for all of 20 minutes or something."

"One of 'em's a dead body -- shoot-out with the cops."

"Bad news."

"Did the other one look like this?"  Chandler held up a photograph.

"That's him.  Purveying heaters, I take it?"

"Something like that.  Guy's a meat packer.  I'd say this is his sideline."  He passed Felicia a dime.  "Call me at the Olympic, room 24.  About midnight."

"You bet.  Hope it doesn't get that hairy."

"Next time, I'll bring flowers."

"Make it a Venus Fly Trap."

They both laughed.



Down at the Ferry Building, under the tall letters that spelled out "Port of San Francisco," Chandler watched the play of lights on the water.  He heard a foghorn, and could make out the looming bank of black, moonless sky threaded with a glowing, white mist.

"Looking for mermaids, stranger?"

Chandler looked up and to his left.  Next to him stood a well-knit young dude with blond hair and the face of an angel.  The boy's fists were jammed into his pea coat pockets.

"Nah, just waiting for my ship to come in."

"I hear you."

"What's your line of work, stranger?"

"The name's Charles -- Charles Temple.  And I'm a student at Berkeley.  Just in town for the weekend.  Before this I was up in Little China.  I got a hotel room on Clay Street."

"Nice.  I'm Chandler, work as a private dick.  Heading in early tonight, expecting a call."

"I'll walk with you.  Where are you staying?"

"The Olympic, on Eddy between Taylor and Jones."

"I know a spot near there."

"Yeah, me too."  The two walked towards Market, under the new Embarcadero Freeway.  "Just so you know," Chandler confided thickly, "I haven't swung that way since the war, well over a decade ago.  You probably weren't out of diapers."

"Oh.  I thought, 'cos you were so close to the docks..."

"Well, I wasn't exactly on the market..."

"What do you normally go for?"

"Something a little more pneumatic.  Shapely trim."

"Listen, brother, you take home one of those 36-24-36 numbers, she's back at your place, she pops the girdle, and you know what you get?"

"What?"

"KABOOM!  Exactly what you deserve:  the whole woman and nothing but.  Now, you can hop on that jelly roll, or we can go get a beer."

"Beer."

"Got a nickel?"

They'd gotten twisted around just north of Market.  The two were near Hotaling and the Financial District, where young guys used to get Shanghaied after one too many.  Through the trap door they'd go, then out to sea.  Chandler and Temple stopped about 40 feet from a rat-swarmed bin.

Temple turned to Chandler.  "You said you were a dick.  You packin'?"

Chandler offered the boy his piece, butt-first.  It was the snub-nosed .38 he'd had since Fleet Week of '41.

Young Temple cradled the weapon in his right hand.  His finger rested over the trigger guard, and he pointed the barrel away from Chandler.  One got the notion this kid could fend for himself.

"Good weight.  I'm used to rifles, really.  My dad hunts deer up in the Colusa mountains.  Anyway, I can smell the oil.  I respect a man who takes the time with what could save his life."

"Yeah, I'm better with rifles, too," said Chandler, feeling awkward and a need to impress this young buck.

There was a rustle of paper behind them.  Temple spun around, and in one eye blink, one fluid motion, cocked the hammer with his left hand and fired a round from the hip.  One of the dog-sized rats keeled over in the same instant.

They were sure never to be noticed in this neighborhood at this time of night.  It was very unlikely anyone around would report gunfire.

"Sweet shot," exclaimed Chandler.  "How'd you do that?"

Temple laughed a little.  "I used to watch the cowboy serials every week as a kid, at the cinema.  I always wanted to shoot a revolver like the hero did.  One day, I bugged my dad until he taught me.  He came out of the war an E-5, back in '39, missing a leg."

"Sounds tough.  Marine?"

"Sailor."

"Well, you pop like that I just might have to hire you as I'm thinking I might need a tail-gunner."

"Beats the calculus."  Temple drew towards Chandler and the two kissed, spontaneously and with the full force of drunken Olympians over the body of bleeding Hyacinth.  Chandler, as he wrestled his new, decidedly lean conquest in the dark, did a quick mental calculation to make sure he could offer the boy what the boy needed should he prove useful...



The antique black phone rang abrasively.  Chandler picked it up, held the speaker to his ear and the mouthpiece to his clenched lips.  "Hello?  Chandler here."

"It's your coat-check girl, the dusky dame done come up out the South to beat the white devil and find trouble in Frisco.  Or if not trouble, at least a new way of elocutin' things."

"Thanks Felicia.  Better safe than sorry.  Quick question."

"Shoot."

"Have I ever struck you as 'sweet' that way?"

"No, why?"

"Never mind.  I guess I never did have a reputation as a tom cat.  It's just, I ran into this kid.  Never met the like before.  He's got me going all sorts of gay!"

"Well, sir, I'll have you know I entertain fantasies of Tyrone Power, which is blatant miscegenation.  I say good night, sir!"  She hung up.



Chandler laid his head on the pomade-stained pillow.  The couple of Benzedrine he'd taken prior to going out were giving him a hard time, but he tried to allow the beer to lull him down.  Whether he slept or not, Conchita would give him a wake-up call around 6 AM.  He planned to take a cab out to Mission and 16th, where this scum bag gun dealer had a day job packing pork.

With the windows closed, Chandler couldn't even hear the theater-bound traffic coming down Eddy Street.  Most of his neighbors were families visiting the City from Humboldt, Napa, Sacramento, Chico.  The doorman and the desk clerk were ample security.  He probably didn't even need any check-ups from Felicia, though the case was a violent crime, and he could have spent some more time lingering with that Charles Temple.  He felt he had something to prove to the young man, whose Berkeley phone number he remembered as Bridge-3786.

Before finally dozing off, Chandler briefly wondered if he himself should go back to college...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Boy Who Could Ignore Nothing

Hideyoshi Azuma kept his manju shop open about five minutes longer than usual.  He stood outside the tenugui -- strips of fabric hanging from the entrance -- that spelled out "manju" in Japanese letters, in a perhaps vain hope another customer would come.

He sold many kinds of Japanese sweets:  fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste, rice gluten balls covered in kinoki powder.  He had about ten regular customers who came in on about the same days every week.  On top of that, he had a steady trickle of tourists who arrived in shorts and t-shirts (even on the foggiest and coldest of days) with cameras on straps around their necks.  They often took pictures of the rustic-looking interior, and came every afternoon, in at least twos and threes.

Azuma-san earned his craft from old man Nozaki, who died in the year 2000.  Every second Sunday at temple, Azuma-san would offer oshoko, incense, at the shotsuki hoyo service where his senpai was named among the deceased (the man's family all lived in Japan).  Learning the secrets of preparing manju, like learning most secrets, did not take much time at all.  It was a brief yet magical apprenticeship.  Nozaki-sama always reminded Azuma-san of a monkey.  The old man had a habit of scratching his brow from behind his head -- a somewhat comical tic.

Azuma-san was at the end of his Cabin cigarette (he bought a pack each day at the grocery store on Post), when who should approach but little William Way, shouting, "Chotto matte kudasai.  Mada akateiru no?"

"Hai, sou da.  Irasshai!"

"Thanks."  William was dressed in all black -- black, long-sleeve pullover, black leggings, and big ugly black shoes.  "I need to pick up some okashi and a drink."

"No problem.  I'm closing up right after, though, okay?"

William was one of Azuma-san's regulars.  He usually came earlier in the afternoon.  He was a white boy with the bluest eyes and a shaved head -- rather handsome, and not too "kusai."  He lived far away, on Larkin Street, and walked to the Japantown shop from Nob Hill.

"Do you have any koala biscuits?"

"I'll get them from the back.  I was going to shelve them tomorrow."

Azuma-san soon found himself growing nervous as he cut the tape fastening closed the cardboard box full of smaller boxes of chocolate-filled, koala-shaped cookies.  He wondered why, and in a moment realized the cause might be William himself.

He liked William a lot.  William spoke beautiful Japanese in a lovely, rich and resonant Wakayama accent, which Azuma-san, who hailed from Yokohama, somewhat envied; his own Japanese sounded almost tepid by comparison.  But rumor had it, the boy was cursed.  Many who knew of him did so because of some vast, vague shadow of evil that seemed to pursue him.  Knowing William was almost a paranormal experience in this otherwise humdrum world.

One day, a woman came into the shop with a pamphlet.  She bought one little bean paste cake, but insisted she was there to give the pamphlet to the proprietor.  All she said was, "Look out for that boy, the one with glasses who looks like an angel.  They are coming for him and he is before them."

Azuma-san was puzzled by this visitor.  The pamphlet was full of strange writing about angels, shadow people, and djinn.  Bake-mono, as some of these things were called back in Japan -- ghost stories to frighten teenage girls when out camping in the woods.  "This boy needs all our help," the woman said, "and he may still lose in the end."  Azuma-san gave her a quizzical look, took the pamphlet (and soon threw it away), and wondered if she meant William.

Back at the register, William stood patiently with a can of soy drink in one hand and his wallet in the other.

"Ne, Uiriamu-kun, dou desu ka?  Atama no koe-tachi, tte."

"Kage-no-hito no koto kai?"

"Sou."

"Ma-ma -- gaman shiteimasu.  Ganbatteimasu.  Chotto hidoi, toki doki."

"Naruhodo.  You know, once in a while I hear a voice in my head."

"Really?  What does it say?"

"Sell the shop and move to Hawaii."

"I hope you don't, but good luck if you do.  I'm lately always thinking of leaving San Francisco.  I just applied for a couple of jobs, though, so I won't leave right away."

"Just remember, William, there is no today after tomorrow."

"Wakarimasu."  William tendered five dollars for his snack and beverage, took his change, and left, saying, "Maido ookini," as he opened the door.

"Douitashimashite," replied Azuma-san, and turned off the register and lights soon after.  "Sokkuri tenshi mitai da na," he muttered, locked the door to the shop behind him, and walked up to Geary to catch the 38 home.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Spoonful of Sugar

Reprinted from the Fall 2014 issue of CALIFORNIA (print edition -- unavailable online.)

In 1943, during a stint in the Navy in World War II, a young Alexander Shulgin -- who would later be dubbed "Dr. Ecstasy" -- was hospitalized for a bone infection in his thumb.  A nurse offered him a glass of orange juice.  As he knocked back the glass, Shulgin noticed a thin film of undissolved white crystals at the bottom.  He struggled to stay awake for his surgery despite what he thought was a sedative, just to see if he could.  To his surprise, he later found out the the "sedative" that put him to sleep was in fact just sugar.

"A fraction of a gram of sugar had rendered me unconscious, because I had truly believed that it could do just that," writes Shulgin in his self-published autobiography and MDMA recipe book, PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story.  "The mind is the major factor in defining a psychoactive drug's action," explains Shulgin, who passed away in June (see In Memoriam).  This revelation paved the way to a prolific career in psychopharmacology.

After obtaining his bachelor's and doctoral degrees at Berkeley, the chemist rediscovered an obscure compound, MDMA, first isolated in 1912.  From then on, it was love.  Over the course of his lifetime, the "Godfather of Psychedelics" synthesized more than 200 compounds and believed them to be tools for providing insight into the brain.

"Each of us has his own reality, and each of us will construct his own unique drug-person relationship," writes Shulgin.  Even if it is with a spoonful of sugar.

-- L.C.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Sukhavati" Excerpt

"Have you ever read Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'?" Edgeley asked.

"No.  I've always been more of a Hemingway girl."  O'Reilly as far as he knew had never delivered a baby.  She certainly wasn't the type to make any.

"She described a practice wherein mothers were given drugs that made them forget the pain of giving birth, rather than anesthetic during the birth."

"How much do you know about the darker side of the medical community?"

Edgeley's face darkened with disgusted indignation.  "Some women when they go into labor attract some pretty fucked up company.  The kind of people who fill scrubs because they want a taste of...you probably know."

"Jesus, you sure as fuck know some twisted shit."

"I'm very proud of my mother.  She wouldn't take shit from anyone.  Cursed like a sailor the whole time.  My dad was too scared to leave the delivery room."

"I need you to summon some of your mother's strength now.  This Aven program could endanger a lot of lives."

"I hope my little fevered brain can snap as effectively and frighteningly as hers did..."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tempting

Ferguson, Rick Perry, the Iraq crisis -- there's so much to continue bashing the other America about.  But it's been a long time since I published Freedom Camp, when the right wing was ascendant, and the Bush Administration was so scary people like me wrote online under pseudonyms (not that it mattered much.)  I'm not interested in being another Roy Edroso or Glenn Greenwald.  My grandmother's COINTELPRO-worthy history and my own Bush-era activism have gotten me in enough trouble.  I still never know when I'll be George Winston-ed out of the blue, or when I'll be able to finally put to rest Orwell references (I find them so tired these days.)  I do know I'm sick to death of thrashing right-wingers, most of whom I don't think of as hateful (as my friend Ruth said of her Arkansas kin -- they're not bad or malicious, they just know what they know, and no matter what they say, they, like the rest of us, take people case-by-case as they come.  They're not cretins, but rather often just fine people who are products of their time and place, and who don't know any better.  Certainly, they mean well.  I believe this.)  In fact, I never want to get in a flame war with DailyKos or About.com trolls again.  I'd even go so far as to say I somewhat regret how sharp-tongued I was with many Bush supporters during those years; too bad I can't take back some of the x-acto-fine lashings I doled out back then.  These days I am a devout Shin Buddhist, and will do my damnedest to say and think only beautiful things.  I'd even go so far as to say I'd love to meet former President Bush; he seems like a very personable guy with lots of good in him.

I guess you could say I "cowarded" out of the partisan war that the left and center-left seem to be winning these days.  I'd much rather outlive my mother after she passes on of old age and natural causes, than be felled by a letter bomb or a Red State dead-ender's made-good-on death threats.

Hence "The Hollow Man."  Occasionally harrowing, and every once in a while too close to the bone -- it is nevertheless an expression of the best of my writing abilities.  I've noticed it speaks to many more thousands of people than Freedom Camp ever did, it exceeds the previous blog in maturity and entertainment value, and it seems to be far more effective a bully pulpit for forwarding my agenda than some snarky, me-too post on a political message board.

(P.S.  Isn't it awkward noticing the CIA when they operate domestically?)

(P.P.S.  Tangential to the previous post-script, a big thumbs up to San Francisco Police Department's handling of a found bomb a couple of months ago.  Completely the opposite of what we'd expect from many East Coast authorities (see the Boston Marathon Bombing -- granted, that one went off, but still...))

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shoe Shine

Getting your shoes shined by an older gentleman with a stand and a chair on the street is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  (Sorry, ladies, but it remains something of a bastion of chauvinism.)  It is a ritual, an indulgence, and a spot of cosmetic maintenance as old as modern America.  Men these days might opt for the same euphoria but from a facial, a manicure, or a hot stone massage.  Give me a shoe shine over those.

It might also be the only in-person conversation you have all day -- not texting, not e-mail.  If you're not a barfly or a flibbertigibbet, you could use the information exchange and soul connection talking with the shoe shine man brings.  You can talk about the weather, the changes the city has gone through over the years, the latest celebrity death -- whatever.  My conversation today was mostly about fishing:  Berryessa, San Pablo, Clearlake, East Park; rainbow trout, catfish, bluegill.  I had no idea I could get a license at Big 5 off of Sloat and during the daytime catch bass out of Lake Merced.  Good to know.

$7 is all you need down at Market and Montgomery to experience a storied and resonant tradition in American manhood.  Well, I paid $10 -- after all, I feel a tip is obligatory, and besides, the gentleman does have a grandchild on the way...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Not Exactly

Several years ago, I rented a bedroom in a three-bedroom house near Ocean Beach with Albert, Michael, and Michael's husband, Paul.  When Paul took ill (his dying was relatively quick), I helped out as best I could, though I was under no obligation to.  I didn't do it well.  I was still a bit of a drunk party monster in his 20s, and would frequently hide in my room when not needed, getting tight and blowing clouds.


It wasn't exactly an improvement over caring for my Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother when I was a teenager.  Then, I was pretty much the perfect little saint.  I never once lost patience with her or broke down, and mine was the name she never forgot.


I have been called good and all sorts of wonderful things besides.  But what stick out are the failures.


No matter how many blind men I've helped across the street, or spilled paraplegics I've helped get back into their chairs, or bleeding victims I've waved down a squad car for, I'll always think of the failures, like my inability to be the best caregiver for Paul.


Or like the man lying down at Turk and Taylor two days ago, his walker by his side.  Should I have stopped?  I didn't, as though I were like anyone else who would pass suffering by without a thought...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Election Day

Is coming up.  I always treat it like my own little holiday:  I get dressed to the nines, go to the polls with my researched crib sheet, turn in my ballot, put my little red sticker on, and go out on the town for drinks and dinner afterwards.

I wish everybody took their obligations to their country as "seriously."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Samadhi

It is Spring.  A monk stares at an apple tree for hours.  He stares until he has become a blossom, and the myriad blossoms on the tree have become the faces of a myriad Buddhas, each smiling silently as pink-white petals fall from their mouths.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mother's Day

Let me tell you how wonderful my mother is.  Back when I was about four or five years old, I contracted the mumps.  What did she do?  After having spent the entire day at work, she came home and found me in this state.  So she spent the whole night up with my head on her lap.  The pain was so great, I couldn't even properly cry.  By the next morning (after she'd spent the whole night up), I could cry, and she went back to work for a whole other day of working her ass off to help my brother and I survive.

That's my mom.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Every Day

Seems like a test of every value I hold dear, every value without which I would happily die.  Reverence, humility, compassion, wisdom, respect, honesty, piety, disobedience to our vested authorities -- all of these feel weighed and their worth now decided on by those capable of positing pure mockeries of them.  My soul is being hammered at by the soulless, and one day it might crack.  I may be sanctimonious and naive, but my life refuses to be reduced to a simple formula for easy digestion by a factotum I've never met and has absolute control over my life or death.  It's been a daunting few years, to say the least.

What can I say?  You have to put a bullet in me to stop me from believing in the things that make life worth living.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Browsing With Cops

It took me a while to get it, but I finally did.  I mean, that's a rare one indeed who didn't grow up playing in the dirt like the rest of us.  You've got to wonder, who could fit that profile?  Do they even shit like a normal person?  Did they ever fight with their parents when they were kids?  What were they like on the school yard?


A librarian once told me, when I was surprised he couldn't give me a fact off the cuff (I though librarians were smart) -- he told me, "I don't know everything, but I know how to find anything out.  That's what librarians are for."  So I go to the library, for their wi-fi and a place to work that isn't my shitty apartment and isn't a precinct full of assholes (God bless 'em.)  Sure, the library's populated with ragamuffin scumbags whose socks stink up the place, but I have respect for the institution.


One dude is checking me out, all hateful, so I sit across from him.  Make sure to open my jacket so he sees my badge and holster.  Yeah, you made me.  So?  I'll ask you for your ID if I give a fuck about your priors.  The feeling's mutual, you know?


I open my Dell laptop and stare for a minute at the screen.  I click on Chrome, and it opens up to Google.  Now here's my problem:  the Internet has my answer, if I can just come up with right question...


Now, I'm looking for a pretty godawful piece of work.  If we had to judge, here's our scale:  the worst person in the world is God himself (we've seen what shitheads angels can be, right?), and the best person in the world is my wife.  Our perp is on one of the lower rungs.  Probably has a deep-seated fear that he is not in fact God, and he wants to be...

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Old Man

Death is of greatest consequence to those who cause it.  For them, it is a fearsome spectre to evade.  It is their chosen activity, to kill, and their lives are overcast by hellish skies raining red-gray threat.  Every shadow harbors doom; every hollow they encounter is a possible final resting-place.  Killers may never take their days for granted.  They may never assume tomorrow is a matter of course.

Pluto

To my executioner/hunter:  you and I are both lost.  I guess you thought I was important, but I was treated, on the balance, pretty fairly.  You seem to be somewhat bitter.  Can't you find a nice white lady to give you a hug?  I'll never fathom some of this shit.  Hang in there, and remember:  friends are for life...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I'd Say It's The Same...

...Sometimes, someone breathes the same air another breathes.  Sometimes, someone touches his penis to another's vagina.  In the end, the person you love gets sick, and they could die.  It doesn't mean they don't love you, or that they're bad, it just happens.  It's nobody's fault.  Sickness is part of life, and can cause death.  It's sad, but it happens.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Stud

Duran Duran's "Hungry Like The Wolf" plays on the shitty PA.  The floor is packed fins to gills.  There's no making headway through this crowd without a bullwhip.

Best as I can I squeeze between dancers and revelers.  I'm trying to get out.  It's too much -- I need to get outside and breathe.

I cannot escape the feeling of being watched from within by some great, unblinking eye.  It stares through my thoughts, my silences, and my lies.  It leaves me naked, sputtering on the floor.

No one comes for me, but I've heard they will.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Present-Day Hauntings

The most recent updates about Philip Seymore Hoffman's death indicate not that he overdosed but that his junk was bad -- some of the fentanyl-laced heroin currently on the market.

Where is the quality control?  You'll never find a more reliable consumer than a heroin addict, so it's stupid to kill them from a business standpoint.  Is the contamination intentional?  I hope not -- that would be a terrorist act; even if the targets are "drug-addled losers," they're still U.S. civilians.

The corrections industry, the rehab racket, and entrenched bureaucracies fight us every step of the way on harm reduction, testing, safe injection sites, needle exchanges, et cetera.  On the one side, you have the prohibitionists who know goddamn good and well that their agenda is inhumane and a force that undermines civilization.  On the other, you have the compassionate and the contrite fighting an uphill battle for social justice, public health, and the enfranchisement of those whom society marginalizes lest lynch mobs run out of strange fruit.  One side is in it for lucre and temporal power; the other, fairness for all.  The former has money and hopes to continue raking it in; the latter operates on a hope and a prayer.  Prison guard unions, the DEA, axe-grinders, Carrie Nations -- these fight Quakers, ethical medical professionals and social workers.  Meanwhile, "organized crime" tries to run its business on our backs as it makes Faustian bargains with governments (the mob always tries to go legit, but let's face it:  governments need a foil in the war on drugs and are known to leverage dirty work out of made men.)  It's a kiss-up, kick-down, double-dealing world populated by scumbags and hypocrites, many of whom wear badges and suckle at our teat with too-sharp teeth.

The pawns in this twisted fracas:  drug users.  People, we are only as free as those among us who are the most crushed.  When the vast majority of Americans who don't think about narcotics and the war on drugs finally get off their collective dead ass and realize that they, therefore, by extension are just as oppressed as the most maligned and persecuted, we might stop hearing the pigs accuse the powerless of being pigs.  We might see pigs fly.

Hoffman's death is an unsubtle reminder that drug users count among their number our best and brightest people.  Genius is a touched and wild thing.  It often finds itself hitting a pipe or shooting up.

End prohibition and save lives.  Who knows?  Some of them might turn out to be worth saving.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Glass Man

The room smelled of cigarette smoke and a musky animal.  It was small and dingy, though tidy.  Its only three windows looked upon an airwell.  The Honeymooner's brick wall that was the view looked about ready to sprout arms or teeth, then make a monstrous lunge for the apartment's sole tenant, an old man with no television.

This old man liked to listen.  It was one of his favorite things to do.  Behind him, above the twin bed he occupied, were two canvasses:  one painted with nine mouths; its partner in the diptych consisted of nine eyes.

Sometimes the old man heard people in the airwell.  They talked to him or about him.  Some seemed hostile.  Then there were the people who talked through the walls.  Some were his friends.  Still others professed hatred and a desire to kill him.

They wanted to kill him in the most amazing way:  they were going to shoot him and trick him into thinking he hadn't been shot.  It was very novel.  They would try to pick fights with him as they (almost supernaturally) managed what and who he might see or hear.  Who was real?  Who was not?  It seemed like a hunt.

But he understood there was disagreement among them about what to do with him -- somewhere beyond him.  This world felt so full of love and support (he certainly was a kind old man and a good friend to others.)  Where did these threatening people come from?  He'd never really quite met them.  Whoever among them whom he might be able to see kept their distance.

He seemed somehow tragically wedded to their desire to kill him.  He felt drawn to them as they encircled him.  Sometimes they claimed to be authorities, such as cops or government people.  Or they were doctors and nurses with a grudge.  It made no sense to him.  It was like someone else's nightmare, to which he was addicted.

When they were cruel, he barked back, or laid down in bed and let the hatred just wash over him.

The old man got the sense of constantly being rescued as a stranger's voice (sometimes a man, sometimes a woman) seductively and sadistically entreated him to "feel pain for once in his life."  They liked bullets a lot, delighting to tell him they could wait to shoot him through the wall as he lay in his bed.

It had gone on for years.  So many times he thought for sure he was going to be killed.  Dead certain.

He took hope as much as possible.  But death was such a reality for him.  He knew his own was inevitable.

And the voices saddled him with obligation, or tried to, implying often that he was responsible for some vague offense necessitating his execution.

He remembered his childhood nightmares.  One, he recalled, was about a great cyclone come down from the sky to devour him.  In another, a man dragged him headfirst through a car window; the car then collapsed on his head.

The voices threatened his family, or said they had killed them.  He laughed -- what family had he left?  He was very old, and alone in the world.

Sometimes he laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.  They seemed so stupid.  They never stopped threatening and just did what they said they would.  They seemed to have so much patience, yet so little:  one day soon he would die anyway.  Couldn't they just leave be?

He got by, and still liked to chat with some of them.  One girl flirted with him.  Someone else said the bad guys were all done for and everything was fine.  Good news was nice.

He supposed, one day, towards the end, that he should stick to expressing gratitude.  Overall, there seemed a shadow of regard and respect for him among them.  At least people care enough to do even what seemed like the wrong thing!  It have him hope not only for his own hide, but even for his professed enemies, who surely if attacking him was their pastime led very self-destructive lives.  But at least they took interest in him, someone other than themselves.  That's a redeeming quality.  He finally grew to view them with compassion, and to feel some love for them (though they informed him in no uncertain terms they had nothing but hatred for him -- perhaps they didn't love anybody.)

He found them in the end honest, at least.  He thanked them.

He continued to wait.  Some say for years.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Know I've Been Something of a Hassle...

...And let's hope that turns out to have been a good thing.  I got the message:  it would be nice for me to stick around for as long as possible.  For my part, I aim to have a future, but we must ever mind that the world is an uncertain place, and the universe in which it spins like an infinitesimal mote is a rather indifferent and hostile universe.  We can never hope to encompass and thereby control everything that is, and we should be wise enough never to want to or to try.  Time is fleeting, and not all of us will make it to tomorrow -- I am no more deserving of a future than anyone else.  So fingers crossed, and I'll try not to get killed.

Love and thanks to everyone again, and best wishes.