Where Are You Anyway?

West Coast Bump City Oaktown O’Town

Jingletown, which everyone thinks is named for all the nortenos and their popsicle carts with bells on, but is really a reference to a boom town time when filipinos would exhort their friends and family to come to Oakland and get good jobs so their pockets would jingle with coin. I never mention it to my neighbors. They prefer to think Jingletown is a current state of affairs.

Ronnie says he grew up down the way on 7th Street where all the major acts came to play gospel blues and jazz. You think you know the blues but you don’t. It’s in three blocks of tilted dereliction, a neighborhood evicerated by progress. Slim Jenkins lives on the side of a building in helvetica letterforms made of some efficient polymer. There may be affordable housing arranged in its courtyards. This is the neighborhood where everyone claims to have written The Thrill Is Gone. I believe every one who so states. You look at the signage, gone bald, really, and the club facades turned into pissfronts, and squint.

There.

Hear it?

The home of the west coast blues. Used to be, after the cypress had been torn down and caltrans announced they were building a replacement on top of the famous 7th street area, one of the squats along the bart tracks was holding out just a little, to make the wrecking ball appreciate its booty, I guess. The squatters put a sign in their window, at eye level for commuters:

fuck you

it said. Sigh. Not only is the sign gone, the squatter’s gone, and the building that kept them both is just a square of dirt with a bunch of rebar jutting out of it. A little tower of babel is going in right there, with every slam of the pile driver.

When Ronnie’s dad got home drunk in the middle of the night, he’d wake Ronnie up and bring him out to the living room in his pj’s and order him to put records on the player for him. Each song would move his father to tears. Put on another one, now, he’d sob. Ronnie would put every record on until his father’s torment turned to sleep.

That’s how I learned, Ronnie says. Everybody played there. *Everybody*. There was no where else to play. It was a time, Fred says, oh, the minks. Oh, my god, Ronnie says, it was not the lateness of your arrival hour that made you important at those clubs, it was the length of your mink. Stop, I say, no fuckin way. Way, Fred says, the *only* way, and when Sylvester showed up, his mink went from the top of his head to the floor and out the door. Sylvester kissed me on the mouth, Ronnie announces, did I ever tell you that? Stop it, I say again, this is too much. He did, and I was proud to tell everyone that Sylvester kissed me on the mouth.

Every time I’m in the van with the kids I ask them to explain all the tags to me. What’s that tag? Where are they from? How do they compare to? I keep showing them my tag, and they never know who it belongs to. That’s my tag, I say. Then they roar with laughter.

They don’t believe me.

I’m not from here.

Lights Please

I’m working on a poem called Math In The Sky, after watching a streetman doing sums in the air like chalk to a chalkboard and noticing him make a mistake. I fretted about it, since I could see he was going astray and his total would be off. He noticed my dismay and said:

there there, everything’s going to be alright.

But you made a mistake, I blurted (damn!) and we both looked to the air where the sums had been going on, like we could read them to see where the mistake was.

After a couple beats we looked at each other like the other was completely insane, and backed off with soft, distracted humming.

Oh…

…God.

So the plan is to pass out 1,000 marshmallows on bamboo skewers prior to the burn. You know, for the kids.

We have to think of a slogan to advertise our free specialty, although I’m sure we’ll be mobbed by marshmallow-seekers eager to rob the burn of its special fuzzy sacredness. And it’s just one marshmallow per stick, which, by the way, could really hurt someone. I’ll ignore the liability and return to the conceptual: I like the forlorness of one marshmallow vs. 40-foot burning man.

I see you holding your ‘mallow to the roaring sky, turning, turning, turning, pulling back and inspecting, saluting again and turning, turning, turning, pulling back and frowning, almost done, salute once more, and resist the temptation to just light the little fella on fire and blow him out with little sugar-happy poofs. Salute, but do it carefully…

…or you’ll knock one of the sums off the sky.

They Convicted Barbie

I had to remind Juliet that I tell that story all the time, usually to a stranger who is about to leave a party because s/he can’t connect to anyone anywhere, a stranger resting at the bar for quite some time growing disgusted at the sight of other people having a good time.

A little bubble descends around us, like in Get Smart. Someone is usually dragging their fingers through the party mix looking for the good bits. Idle. Despairing.

It’s this:

So I was in a 7-11 in southern oregon the morning of the fourth of july with my friend who had been talked into driving somebody else’s shit up there and we were exhausted. Exhausted from being three in a cab of an now inadequate toyota truck: an essay in pretzled limbs. Left-with-no-morals exhausted, which accounted for our uncontested selection for breakfast: cigarettes and fruit pies. But not yet so exhausted that I failed to notice the daily paper that said, in 3-inch letters, that Klaus Barbie had been convicted.

Barbie’s bin convicted, I mentioned to my friend.

For what, having pointy tits? she said absently, studying the fruit pie flavors.

Almost, I said and we paid the clerk, who was cranking his face up in horror.

We left, smoked, ate, and ended up in Bolinas shooting fireworks on the beach. Sheriff left us alone, being busy with this van parked up the street that the locals had been blowing up, little by little, all day. It was finally becoming a starsky and hutch ka-boom liability. I felt all prickly waiting for it to spray.

There. That’s usually how I tell it.

It provokes both awkward and charmed responses, I won’t lie. At least, as they step out of the door into the street, resigned, happy to be heading home, they have one thing:

a real and welcome impetus to leave after having crossed paths with a subversive storyteller, or

a small accomplishment that can’t withstand the risky business of staying afloat in the swirly interactive mortification chamber of a party.

There they go.

I usually leave a few minutes afterward, too. Probably for the same reasons.

And All The Women Had Plugs In The Back Of Their Heads

How can anyone survive their first painting if it’s called “The Dead Man”? Isn’t that a big red flag?

Full Stop.
You Have Said All You Ever Wanted To Say.
Thank You For Stopping By.

And there, flump, you are absolutely done. You no longer have to toil and beg and subject yourself to muses and jackasses (who look deceptively alike, unfortunately) and you can, you know, do, you know, whatever, like.

And all that.

Then, quite unexpectedly, my heart breaks at the sight of two Rothkos. Why? Why after all this time? Then, shocked, utterly shocked I’m gonna faint let me put my head between my knees, at this Calder mobile with it’s spheres wrapped in Pure Intimate, the color of a horoscope clipped and kept in a wallet for fun for one or two days, then left there forgotten for twenty more, then kept months as a very private test of faithfulness, then finally absolutely necessary to the proper functioning of the wallet:

Hello, talisman.
Hello Lucky Rabbit Foot.
Hello Ann Landers.
Speak to me again from your creased yellow self.

Well.

That’s the stuff around these orbs. And the mariners who might have found the information on them useful died about a thousand years ago, parched and sad. And you could jump the wire and take one, with tears streaming down your face, and crash it open, and, as the guards approach you confirm your suspicion: Calder’s Orbs Have Ducklings In Them.

Some of the canvases were perfectly flat. Suprisingly flat, considering pigment has dimensionality. You can coat somethings thicker than others, and you probably will. Go try it and come back here. That one in particular is so flat that when you begin to see depth changes you realize they’re the ones you’ve projected from your heart. Who asked my heart to come here? Who’s responsible?

But that play, oh, jesus. I read it in the best of all possible circumstances: on the corner of 14th and 5th waiting for Margaret to get out of her class at The New School. Just standing on that corner for 90 minutes, reading that play and yes, of course, absolutely no one noticed or cared.

It is great to be alive. I have read A Play on a corner in Manhatten after sleeping deeply on one of it’s buses and still not missing my stop. The Play is a shield, protecting me from harm. You may wish to molest me and destroy my opportunities, but you must come back another time. Today I am holding The Play.

This is what I can report:

  • It has a pretty good song in it.
  • By placing a parable at its end we are saved the sensation of having almost understood everything leading up to it. This parable is opaque enough to make anyone turn from Uncertain-But-Hip to Just-Plain-Furious.
  • And that’s a very good play.
  • It has women characters exclusively who are equal parts Tank Girl, Petticoat Junction, and all major and minor Austens. There is a hint of Jean Kirkpatrick in every character, always at the beginning of our acquaintance with her, Jeanny Genie, that Wicked Miss K who often visits me in my dreams and intimidates me into rephrasing questions for her again and again and again until she feels they are worthy of her answer.
  • But I could be projecting. It’s that kind of play.

Good for shielding. Prevents interference.

Alchemy.

Art.

You Don’t Miss Them Til They’re Gone

I poked my eye
By trying to squeeze the
last donut
out of it’s cellophane cylinder
while driving
on the freeway.

The donut wouldn’t come out.
So I shook the cylinder and
rattled it and tilted it and
squeezed it.
Until the waxed cardboard
which had been inserted for
package rigidity I’m sure
went right into my eye.

And I howled and dropped
the donut pack
and the last donut fell
to the mat right around the
accelerator
and my eye was on fire.

For the rest of the day.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vacuum

When we were dismissed from elementary school, many of us would leave through the back end of the playground where a dirt path established by a big earth mover gave way to a field which had three characteristics:

  • It caught fire every year and we were only to blame one or two of the years.
  • It was posted as an arboretum by some community agency, yet there were no trees to speak of, just huge ruts and dirt clods and tall weeds which (see above)
  • It adjoined the back field of our house and the Wells’ house, with an easement running down the two property lines lined by chain link fence: The Path

We could, since our field met the school field, skip the path and go home through the back gate, but we often wanted to linger along the path with our friends. This allowed us to spectate any fights that had been called out earlier in the day, trade the secrets children cultivate, claim to have read and completely understood page 28 of Mario Puzo’s forbidden novel The Godfather, arrange horse rides, sleep overs and make fun of Russell Wells’ shoes.

This was 1972. A couple years prior, my mom had distinguished herself at the local high school where my older brother and sister attended by establishing a drug clinic on campus that specialized in pro active education programs and recovery resources. Part of her research on this project involved massive deconstruction of youth culture, usually in the living room with my older brother and sister, plus the posse of their friends thrown from their parents’ homes and welcomed into ours, throwing platter after platter of pop music onto the magnavox and explaining lyrics, context, and, more often than not, just holding silent while ears filled with the sound of American psychedelia: swirly distortion pedal phase shifting mind curling music of the Doors, Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly.

Iron Butterfly was sending pop radio into a crisis with it’s tremendously long and tremendously successful track: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, clocking in at 17:05 (a whole side of proper vinyl). After my sibs had abandoned it for Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears, my mom kept returning to this album and developing a monumental thesis about the work and its cultural significance, all the while enjoying, with a pure soul, the title track’s musicality. Listen! she would say. Listen to the arrangement! We’d listen,
and nod in complete agreement. She’d jump up and crank the magnavox to baffling point. Yes, mom. Turn it up as loud as it will go. That’s how it’s supposed to be heard. You can hear the arrangement! she’d shout. Listen to that! We were completely into it. The music was big enough for everyone, then: little kids, middle kids, scary teens starting over on methadone, and moms. All comers. All ears.

But as we walked The Path that day, a vibration that started right about the end of school property began to swell and articulate. It became rhythm right about the point where our old barn foundation was, and was definitely rock and roll by the time we passed the in-law apartment off the back of the garage. We all fell silent and turned our eyes to the main house at the end of The Path, spilling onto the blacktopped street. Iron Butterfly, my brother correctly identified. You could see the chorus pulsing in the plate glass windows. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, he completed, sullenly.

Ummmm, said Bradley Hart. When your mom hears that she’s gonna be mad. Oh yes, we agreed, quite angry, god save us, but we had to go at once.

The O’Kane children hopped the fence and streamed into the house, running for the magnavox and pouncing on it, snapping the volume off and whirling to face Mom, who looked up from her vacuuming with a look of disbelief. Turn that thing down, we shouted at her, hands on our hips. You’re
embarrassing us!

She explained: This is vacuuming music. I have to turn it up in order to
hear it over the vacuum.

This made quite a bit of sense. We put the record back on. We cranked it all the way up. We positioned the arm up on the turntable to insure infinite replay. The vacuum started up once more and my mom flashed an OK signal. Then we fled the house for the back yard, pretending we couldn’t hear the commotion, but falling into step with the beat during our play. Contagious. Big enough for everyone.

Church of the Wholly Sacred Billy Idol Cigarettes

A man I truly admire maintained the Church of the Wholly Sacred at Burning Man this year. It was a beautiful rectiliniear orange tent out the West gate of Central Camp, separate from its neighbors with four cardinal carpets leading to it. Inside, Black Rock citizens had installed objects of temporary, permanent, personal and global holiness. It was alarmingly quiet, moving, and effective.

The Maintainer mentioned that he only recently went through a box of altar offerings, assuming most of it was highly personal garbage until he spotted a small bundle wrapped in paper: a hindu deity, maybe, a medicine bundle.

I’m always dying to know what other people do in those tiny, private, sacred places. But was it appropriate to pry? would it offend the person who made it? Would it offend the deity(ies) it was made for? Naturally, I tore it open.
The Maintainer

Come to find out the bundle contained a small green bud. This knocked me out utterly. I was expecting to be told it contained a lock of hair, two subway tokens, a crinkly polaroid of a really good looking lover, and a bazooka joe comic. But no.

It was simply Found Bud.

This Story of Found Bud was such a relief to me. I had been carrying around my own Story of Found Bud and was really tired of it. It had none of this karmic richness,and involved stealing Billy Idol’s cigarettes. The Maintainer urged me to tell it anyway. To make room for the new Story of Found Bud, here’s the old Story of Found Bud:


It’s true: My wicked pal Brian Hanna was working at a restaurant (of course!) in the Village… Grove Restaurant, maybe, one of hundreds B. has turned upside down with his particular form of Waiter Patter. This time he espied Billy Idol in his domain, and served Billy and his mother a particularly glum meal. At this point in the story Brian goes on about everything Billy Idol and his mother talked about. I can’t remember it. I don’t have to. I just like the *idea* of Billy Idol going out to dinner with his Mom. Brings every thing right on home.

So Brian is really good at copping things, and especially things right out from under people’s noses. Palming Billy’s cigarettes (Marlboro Lights) was no big deal, even while Billy sat there patiently waiting for the regulations to change so he could smoke them.

Then two months pass and Brian comes to California for a visit and ends up in my studio apartment in the Heroin Subdivision of Downtown Sacramento. I was working at the time, but really available because I was on jury duty and was being ejected from every panel I was randomly placed on. The only thing I remember saying consistently to lawyers was: I think drugs are more of a health problem than a criminal justice problem. I digress.

Brian gave me the Billy Idol cigarettes as a hostess appreciation gift for all the good times I was showing him in Sacramento, California. We were dizzy with excitement. Before placing the Billy Idol Cigarettes into the House Shrine, I peered in to take inventory: two Marlboro Lights and a pencil thin bone that Brian was convinced was dangerous and lethal, because Billy was acting *very* strangely the night the cigs were lifted. Who knows? we kept asking. Is it more or less likely that Billy would carry around PCP in his ciggie box? Could Billy afford the good stuff or was this some trashy shake he picked up on his way through the park? Was the fact Billy Idol *owned* the drug an *endorsement* or a *big red flag*?

We forgot about it within the hour.

About a month later I went camping at Some State Park with my other wicked pal Juliet Musso. Right before we headed out, we scanned the studio in Heroin Subdivision and decided to bring Billy Idol’s cigarettes, just in case we wanted to have a smoke once we were in the great outdoors. Eventually we felt like smoking and smoked the Marlboro Lights, marvelling at how stale they were. Then we stared at the bone for about half a day before deciding against it.

Finally my not wicked pal Phil Dyer came round and smoked it during lunch hour in a single toke. Like I said, it was thin, and Phil was one of those himalayan lung-guys. It had absolutely no effect on him, yet he was very polite about it.

Brian found out we had consumed the Billy Idol Cigarettes, downed the bone and thrown away the box and became a little furious. It was a *trophy*, not a *dare*.

Fire that sacred object up. Easy come easy go.