Monday, February 4, 2013

Cannonball

Andy stood at Broadway and Montgomery, smoking a cigarette, staring across the street. Behind him was an SRO hotel. His residence. As far as SROs go, it was ok. It was far from the Tenderloin, so it attracted more drunks than junkies. Sometimes drunks are better than junkies; sometimes not.

Andy was neither. He was poor, working poor, and in transition from a crazy girlfriend, a girlfriend that bought him a weekend in jail for a lie. With a welcoming smile, boots on their third resole and a slew of wool sweaters, he was comfortable in this neighborhood. He fit. North Beach.

Since the 40s, North Beach has attracted writers, musicians and romantics. Everyday, young men walk the streets, looking into windows of bars and bookstores, imaging their heroes: Kerouac, Garcia and Biafra, to name a few. And imagining history. Andy was no different. Fluent in Modest Mouse and Hendrix, Burroughs and Foster Wallace, like so many young people of his generation, he wasn’t pigeon holed by the past or present, only knowing both, without the shackles of age, history and dogma.

Across the street was Centerfolds, a strip club that caters to a more sophisticated crowd – a moneyed sleaze that appreciates girls with less tattoos, bigger boobs and clearer eyes. In contrast, a block to the west was The Lusty Lady, the politically correct strip club. With their jerk-off booths, fleshy dancers and union protection, the discerning scumbag had choices. Regardless of choice, methamphetamine, delusion and bad dads were common denominators of the entertainment.

On the street outside the entrance of Centerfolds, Andy viewed a young, Asian man arguing with the bouncers. By his gesticulation, he could tell he was emphatically making a point. He moved closer to hear the plea:

“I didn’t know, I didn’t know,“ he said, wide eyed and shaking his head, in an effort to sway ignorance. “I didn’t know you couldn’t touch them. Nobody told me; there were no signs,” he continued, scouring the outside wall for a sign that listed the rules.

2 bouncers, crossed-armed and looking a little like Mr. Clean in black suits, stood motionless. Trained not to engage, they let him talk it out, but exhibited enough menace, incase force was needed.

Getting nowhere, he slightly changed his approach:

“My friends are in there. I promise, I swear, if you let me in, I won’t do a thing. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” He said, resorting back to the original point.

Finally, with no response from the bouncers and out of ideas, he blurted: “I spent a lot of money in there, you know.” No response. He touched a stripper. He broke the rules.

Admitting defeat, he lumbered a quarter block down Montgomery and sat on the curb, his head between his knees. Andy watched, knowing he still had fight left in him.

Breather over, he jumped up and marched back to the entrance. Before he got there, second thoughts ruled, and he turned around. Stopping, with his back to the entrance, he appeared contemplative. Fueled with entitlement, injustice and alcohol, he came up with a better plan, walking farther down the block to where his motorcycle was parked.

Slipping his full-face motorcycle helmet over his head, he walked into the street and slinked back to the club, parked cars obscuring early detection from the bouncers. Crouching down behind the last parked car at the corner of Montgomery and Broadway, less than 15 yards from the swinging double doors of the entrance, he prepared himself for the final part of the new plan: regaining entrance into the club by force.

Bent over at a 90-degree angle, both hands on helmet, he gained speed, crashing into the bouncers and piercing the double doors. Both bouncers fell backwards, but quickly regained composure and followed him into the club. As quickly as he entered, he immediately returned with even more thrust. Pissed, the usually laconic bouncers threw him into the street, helmet still on head. With the professional fa├žade gone, they swore and kicked him in the stomach. He curled up into a ball, bracing for the blows. This is how things like this end. And he knew it.

They grabbed him out of the street, throwing him against the outer wall of the club, extra hard, knowing his helmet would brace him from head injury. Before they could properly restrain him, the police arrived and threw him into the back seat of the police car. They’re always nearby in North Beach. As the police determined what happened, Andy could see the young man violently throwing himself around the backseat, eventually breaking out the back left window. He still had fight left in him and still had the helmet on his head. He would need the fight, and the helmet, because a broken window dictates at least one more beating.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Employee Assistance Program

Before therapy, it started with a call to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work, a free service that helps employees with “problems.” And I had a problem. I called and they asked me what was wrong:

“I’m angry and I feel like someone is going to hurt me,” I said, knowing that I was anything but articulate. What I meant was my mouth was gonna get me in trouble. I had no censor on the street, and had the amazing ability of turning the most innocuous incident into a full blown problem.

After a long pause, the counselor said, “Hold Please.” Followed by another long pause, a new person with an empathetic, professional tone popped on the line and blurted, “So you want to hurt yourself?”

Knowing that I could be in some deep shit, and that they might be calling HR at this very moment, I backtracked: “No, no, no!! I meant that my mouth was gonna get me in trouble. I’m not gonna hurt myself, but I feel someone is gonna hurt me.” I fucked it up again!

“Who’s gonna hurt you? Is someone gonna hurt you? At work?”

“Aw Jesus,” I said, my voice showing considerable regret, “no one is gonna hurt me. Listen, my mouth is gonna get me in trouble in the Tenderloin. I’m gonna tell the wrong person to fuck off. I’m burned out.”

“Oh, burned out.” she said with some relief. “Ok, let me transfer you back. Hold please.”

I knew “burned out” would be language they could understand. They referred Ronald and the rest was 14 months of therapy, the first 6 sessions on the EAP.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Mylar Period: Get Well Soon

It seemed like a good idea. That’s how pretty much everything starts with me. I think it’s a good idea and since it’s a good idea, other people will follow suit and play along. It never happens this way.

I saw a picture of a dead raccoon on the side of a road. Tied to the dead raccoon’s leg was a Mylar balloon that said Get Well Soon. It floated 6 feet above the dead animal, framed by a wire fence and rolling hills in the background. The picture had more questions than answers.

What I saw was a different take on the Get Well Soon balloon. Instead of the omnipresent photo of a skier with a broken leg, a Get Well Balloon hovering over the injured in the corner of the room, I saw the balloon in a different light, in a different context. I imagined the Get Well Balloon being given everyday of the year, to anybody that was depressed, having a bad day, hiding dark thoughts and/or the myriad of people with various mental illnesses. Basically everybody! Everybody deserved a Good Luck Balloon…at any time… on any day. It was a big thought for a small picture.

This idea set me off. It was a bit after the shootings in Connecticut, and mental illness was foremost in the collective minds of the nation. To embrace the new idea, I changed my Instagram bio to: Accepting Get Well Balloons every day of the year. I mean, come on, I’m a tad mentally ill (getting worse as I get older), so why don’t I get a balloon?

I came up with a plan.

Before work, I stopped at SF Party Supply to get a Get Well Soon balloon. I’d been in the store before and I knew they could supply my needs – them or possibly Safeway. I’d seen a few Mylar balloons floating near the flower area at Safeway. Safeway would be a backup.

SF Party opened at 9 am; I was their first customer.

A person that looked like he didn’t work there – possibly the owner – asked if I needed help. I told him I wanted a balloon and he summoned help. The help produced a 1 inch thick catalog of various Mylar balloons, in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was awesome and got me really excited. I had no idea the enormity of the Mylar balloon community.

He opened the catalog and found the Get Well Soon section. I looked at about 30 different designs and picked one that was easy to read. He went downstairs for a few minutes and returned with one balloon.

On the short drive to work, I came up with a narrative to go with the balloon:

The Get Well Soon balloon is greater than broken bones. It’s greater than the flu. And it’s now for mental illness too.

I felt the balloon needed a mission statement.

And there would be rules to handling the balloon:

1. The balloon would go with me everywhere for one day: car, work, meetings, bathroom, therapy, Subway (lunch), corner store, etc. Tucked in my pocket, following me like a shadow blimp, I would attempt to act non-chalaunt, like it was a bag or some other accoutrement.

2. Seeing no visible problem, inevitably, someone would ask what was wrong. If they asked about my wellness, I would pull out a small piece of yellow lined paper from my pocket. Written on the paper would be 21 personal problems. The problems would range from personal problems to the heartbreak of psoriasis.

I would ask them to choose a number between 1 and 21. Depending on how well I knew then, how much I wanted to share and a myriad of other on-the-spot criterion, I would truthfully share the info on the number they chose, or I would lie and toss them a soft ball: mild depression.

Given the choice of sharing personal thoughts with friends, family or coworkers, or choosing to keep them to myself, I mostly chose the easy route of keeping the family secrets intact. No brainer. However, the unintended consequence of growing closer to a friend (or changing the relationship rules and freaking them out) through sharing a fear or a hidden ailment was a nice afterthought. It never happened, though.

3. After sharing, I would answer questions. When conversation ceased, the rules of our departure would be explained: “When I leave, I want you to say, ‘Get well soon, Greg.’” This was the best part of the game. Oddly, everybody I encountered played along with game and wished me well.

As I prepared to leave work, exhausted from my day with the balloon, my coworker looked at me and said, “Tell people you’re an artist and your medium is Mylar.”

I thought about it, shook my head and opened the door to my office.

“Hey, Greg,” he continued. I turned and looked: “Get well soon.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll try,” I replied, smiling.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The corner of Ellis and Polk

While waiting at the light, I look to my left. A woman is staring at me. She could pass as someone who had a job, until she opened her mouth.

“Do you know where fucking Glide is at?”

It was one of those days, so I was on her level and didn’t miss a beat:

“I don’t know where fuckin Glide is at, but Glide is at Ellis and Taylor,” pointing downtown.

Looking me in the eye, like this whole Tenderloin mess was my fault, she blurted, “I hate this fuckin’ place.”

Preaching to the choir, I concurred, “Me too. Me fuckin’ too.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nooks and Crannies

Before entering the Santa Cruz Mountains to counsel kids in outdoorsy stuff, I went to the beauty parlor to get a perm. I was 14 and had no idea why I agreed to be a camp counselor. I wasn’t the type and my maturity level was that of the kids I’d be counseling. It would end badly. However, I felt I needed a perm to get the job done.

At the time, I was really into The Who, specifically Roger Daltry. His hairless chest and curly mop was one to emulate. To transform into him I needed to shave the tuff of hair that occupied the space between my pecks. I had just hit puberty and this furry landing strip was an unwelcome visitor. I borrowed my dad’s razor and eliminated the problem. Next was my hair. It was long and curly but not the right long and curly. With a photo of Roger Daltry from the Tommy, I handed it to my mom’s beautician and said, “Make me like this.” A year later I would hand a picture of Sting to the same beautician. After that, sheers would do the job.

Taking pity on me, the beautician passed me off to another person who put some emulsion on my hair and then placed me at the far end of a wall of hair dryers. To my left were 4 women that looked to be my grandmother’s age, reading magazines. I immediately rethought this perm business and wished I’d never heard of the Who. Bastards.

The beautician returned and lifted the dryer from my head. Gently peeling back the plastic cap that sequestered the perm emulsion, she picked at my new curly hair. She walked me over to a full length mirror and said, “What do you think?” They always say this. What I didn’t see was a 14 year- old Roger Daltry look-a-like. I looked more like Annie with developing acne. Before I left, the beautician said, “It will loosen up, don’t worry,” looking at my curly mop. Despite my best acting, she knew I was disappointed.

Bookended by towering redwoods, I marched into the middle of a freshly tarred mountain road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Left, right, left, right. The Who’s Slip Kid rang from my headphones: I’ve got my kitchen bag, my heavy boots, I’m running the rain, gonna run ‘til my feet are raw. The morning air was thick and the road was cast in long shadows. I was on my way to eat breakfast. It would be the first time I ate granola. It had the texture of tiny bricks and the tasted like bark with milk; however, I was a counselor, so I had to act like this breakfast was old hat and that I was in charge. I had no idea how to do this.

My perm settled and fell across my forehead, errant strands reaching my nose. I constantly swatted my bangs from my face like flies. As I addressed my group of tween campers, most only a few years younger than I, they noticed the irritation with my hair.

“You look like Robert Plant,” one camp counselor blurted. This long-haired tween was testing me. By the looks of him, I knew he had older siblings, who taught him the finer points of 70s rock: Robert Plant was cool; Peter Frampton was not. Not to be upstaged by a ten year old, I shot back, “You mean, Roger Daltrey.” This ended the conversation. Obviously, his siblings didn’t teach him about The Who.

“Nooks and Crannies,” said another camper.

“Nooks and Crannies? What does that mean?” I was incredulous and gave off a body stance that emitted: “What the hell is going on here?”

“Nooks and crannies,” the kid said again.

I mean, I got it: Nooks and crannies from Thomas’ English Muffins. And I understood they were correlating the nooks and crannies to my curly hair, but I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. This whole perm thing was backfiring.

Before I could curtail my camp moniker, every kid yelled: “Nooks and crannies.” So much for Roger Daltrey. At that moment, I became Nooks and Crannies. Greg was dead, at least in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

As predicted, it ended badly. In the middle of the redwoods at 3 am, while the campers slept, their bags packed next to them for an early departure, all the counselors snuck away from their cabins. Around a roaring campfire, we passed smuggled booze and smoked pot. It was the last night, so we felt entitled to a little fun. Before we could make false plans to see each other outside of the forest, the familiar strobe of flash lights appeared in the distance, ricocheting off trees. Some ran back to their cabins; other stayed put. Having some expertise at drinking in the woods and getting caught, I stayed put. I knew we were busted.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bill Graham by Tom Pitts



It was a Bill Graham event. They were all Bill Graham events. In the late Eighties in San Francisco, if you were somewhere that needed tickets, a place so big that you couldn’t go to the door and pay a cover charge, in other words, somewhere that wasn’t cool, then you were at a Bill Graham event. He’d cornered the market on rock and roll in the Bay Area since the Sixties. I’d been to his shows, eaten his famous free apples. Overripe and overrated, the both of them.

I’d never met him. I’d done deliveries to the underpaid employees at Bill Graham Productions on 5th Street. I’d seen the tired arrogance in their eyes. It was nice being that close to the rock legend, glancing quickly at old Fillmore posters and gold records on the walls as those same tired arrogant eyes watched me leave, making sure I’d didn’t linger in their hallowed halls. It was a different world from the promoters of the punk dives and shithole bars I was used to playing. Such a great divide that I never considered the possibility of being part of that world, Bill Graham’s world, the man that made rock and roll happen in the Bay Area for the last twenty years.

In fact, I never would have been at this show, at Shoreline Amphitheater sweating my ass off in the midday sun, had I not had a friend that knew someone in the band. Didn’t everybody have a friend that knew someone in the band? The show was Aerosmith and Guns and Roses. Guns and Roses were the band of the moment, the act that everyone wanted to see, to be a part of, to emulate, to know, and in Bill Graham’s case, have a piece of.

The excitement was in the air, billowing up like the plumes of pot and cigarette smoke that, mixed with the sun-kissed sweat, gave that certain stink that only a rock concert could give. Even though we had seats, everyone was on their feet, clapping and shouting out to and open and empty stage. It was well over an hour before the opening act, Guns and Roses, was slotted to begin and we were already being jostled and shoved by the throngs of rockers behind us.

It had been so long since I’d been to a big rock show, the chants and shouts were foreign to me. The styles were the same, but the people seemed drunker, sloppier, but happier. There was a harmonious mellow buzz building that was starting to make me feel like I was part of something bigger, a historic rock and roll moment.

That’s when I saw him. The Man, Bill Graham. He was only a few feet from me, walking up the isle, smiling and shaking hands like a politician. People were in awe, they treated him like a rock star. Sullen fans who’d been bitching about being gouged on ticket prices moments before were now reaching out, crying, “Bill, Bill!”

I was amazed; he was so close, so approachable, so accessible that I wondered was it was really him.

“Is that who I think it is?” I asked my friend standing beside of me.

“Yeah,” said Greg nonchalantly. He’d grown up in the Bay; he’d seen Bill do his diplomatic schtick many times before.

I was too cool to stick my hand out like a teenage girl who’d first laid eyes on the real Paul McCartney, but I was deeply impressed by Graham’s confidence and swagger. I watched him work his way up the isle before turning to Greg and making some snotty remark about Bill’s financial status.

It couldn’t have been a minute later when we were shoved forward. A violent jolt that broke the harmony. The cigarette hanging from my mouth singed some frizzy blonde hair right in front of me. There was a commotion behind us, shouting, we’d gone from Woodstock to Altamont in the matter of a few seconds. I turned my head, all heads turned; we all wanted to see the side show. I could see a cluster of yellow security jackets moving around like angry bees, pushing people back, barking orders. I could hear yelling, but all I could see was the backs of the people clustered ahead of me.

Then the crowd parted and I saw Bill. His face was red and he was shouting unintelligible profanities. I wondered if someone had hit him. Then I saw the head clamped under his arm. Bill was dragging some unruly full-price ticketholder out in a headlock. He marched down the isle with some denim cloaked longhair locked under his wing like it was no more than a sack of potatoes. With a gang of supposedly trained yellow-jacketed security thugs by his side, the legend, Bill Graham, had taken it upon himself to police his subjects personally. His eyes were wild with rage, but I could tell that he was in his element. This was the real business of rock and roll. He was doing what he did best. It was the: If you want something done right, do it yourself work ethic that had made the man who he was.

I looked back at Greg, stunned. Stunned by the violence, stunned by man. I was star struck.

“Now that,” smiled Greg, “was Bill Graham.”


Tom Pitts 9\28\11

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Chinese Line

The line extended to the end of the block and halfway up Jones Street. Orange cones, spaced in intervals, ran parallel to line, delineating where people stand and where the general public walks. It was a regular occurrence to the neighborhood so people knew the drill and very few complained, even though there was good reason to.

Dressed in shades of grey and black - some homeless, most transient – they stood, referred by Social Workers, friends or given a Free Eats Chart with instructions of how to get there. They were mostly black and white: high, crazy and fucked. With a hot meal and a seat guaranteed, the line was relatively drama free.

Large men in yellow jackets with the word SECURITY in block letters across the back policed the line. With a light hand, they roamed the area. Mostly, they stood out front and accepted food donations. Their presence was mandated by nearby businesses and neighbors. It was the least they could do for permanently fucking up a block.

The yellow jackets used to be participants in the line. It’s assumed that at some point they accepted help and switched sides. With their lives back on track, they got their AA in drug counseling at City College and eventually move inside the building, into a small room where they counseled people on drug addiction. This is a generalization.

Across the street is another line. This line is much shorter and everybody is holding some sort of shopping bag. And they’re Chinese. I don’t know much about the line, except they there’s a storefront that appears to be giving out groceries. The people in the line are much older, but have the same expression on their faces. I would bet most aren’t on drugs.

Never will the two lines meet.

I’m about 30 yards east of the Chinese line. I have no affiliation to the Chinese – I don’t prefer it over the black and white line – I just happen to have business on that side.

I’m training a new driver. Wearing Red Wings from the 70s, these boots have a Tom Mcan vibe that says the wearer has reached a level of working class status that requires him to hold a clipboard rather than drive a forklift. That’s what I imagine. I liked to be called a Foreman.

I tell the new driver this: “They don’t like me, that’s good.” I talk in short, abbreviated bursts. “The more they don’t like me, the more they’ll like you. Feel free to talk shit about me; it will bond you with them. Feel free to tell me if they talk shit about me. Stand by the door until someone lets you in. Alert the person that you’re here. He’ll come out with a cart and stand by the vehicle. He’s very particular about the way you give him the food. Work something out with him. I don’t care, whatever works but don’t let him abuse you. If he’s a dick, let me know and I’ll deal with him.”

The driver stands next to the door. They let him in and he comes out a minute later. I’m in the back of the vehicle staging the food.

“How did it go,” I ask.

“Fine, I think I gave it to the right guy.”

The new driver joins me in the back of the vehicle.

A young, dour, Goth woman in black rags appears at the side door and reaches into the vehicle. I immediately spring into action: “Get out, get out, GET THE FUCK OUT.” It was the verbal equivalent of poking her with a stick. She wandered off behind the vehicle.
I told him that people in the neighborhood may try to steal food.

Walking to the curb with a pan full of Tilapia, the Goth woman was standing next to the man next to the cart. I immediately thought: Volunteer! Fuck! I mistook the Goth woman for a homeless person.

I lowered my head and put the pan on the cart. I looked at her and said, “Sorry.” I wanted to explain that I thought she was homeless or a junkie but that would’ve made things worse.

The new driver had already picked up on my mistake. I stayed in the vehicle and let him pack out the rest of the food.

On the road, the new driver said, “That woman was pissed at you.” Having already overcome the embarrassment of making an ass out of myself, I replied, “She’ll get over it. People always assume I’m homeless or a bike messenger.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Representative From Costco is Visiting Today

Within 5 seconds of exiting the car, I felt something hit my left shoulder. Something big and heavy, I thought. I looked up and noticed him standing next to me, looking crazy. He was black, 5’ 10’, black cap, disheveled, high and mentally ill. This is how I described him to the BART police dispatcher. The dispatcher asked me to clarify the style of cap; if he was drunk and how I knew he was mentally ill. In order, I told her it was a baseball hat; he didn’t smell of alcohol and that I work worked with lots of mentally ill people. She didn’t question my credentials.

His eyes had that yellow glow of somebody who had a prolonged relationship with crack. He was sweaty and waiting for me to reply. They’re always waiting for a response. It helps justifying violence. Like an idiot, I gave it to him.

“What the fuck, dude.” This was a very white response.

I continued walking, taking out my keys and putting them in between my clinched right fist. I had done a quick check of his ability to kill me and deduced I could take him. I calmed and continued to the ticket machine, violent visions filling my thoughts. He followed, his yellow eyes egging me on. I pulled out my phone, my iPhone. Not a smart move.

“Dude, get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the police.” Once again, I included dude.

“I don’t care, call Allah. I’ll kill you,” As violent as this sounds, his demeanor remained the same – the yellow eyes looking at me while we moved forward. I should’ve known that the threat of police never worked. Last time I used this tactic, the response was: “I don’t care, I’m not afraid of going back to the penitentiary.” Don’t mess with anyone who calls prison the penitentiary.

As we entered the courtyard of BART, he derailed from my path, heading east to International Blvd. The influx of people defused the situation. I continued on, keeping a close eye on him as I walked with the commuters.

Bypassing the ticket machines, I went straight to the station agent and reported the incident. While explaining what happened to the attendant, I looked toward the turnstiles and the Director of Human Resources at my work was smiling at me, shaking her head. She had witnessed the incident. Her look was one of pity and amusement. I motioned her away. This was a woman who hears all the petty and nasty shit at work, she didn’t need to get involved in my problems.

The attendant handed me a phone and I gave the dispatcher the particulars. An officer appeared and talked to me in hush tones. Before we walked the courtyard, looking for the perp, I established my credentials: “I work in the Tenderloin, so I’m pretty used to this.” He didn’t respond. This was becoming more about me than the incident. He took my name and number and sent me on my way. I was a little embarrassed that I reported such a petty crime, but I justified it by thinking I was doing a public service. Once again, it was about me.

On the train to work, I sank into the dirty, blue bench seat and revisited the incident. Indian software engineers and office workers slept, their heads moving in rhythm of the train. As innocuous as the incident was, it was embarrassing and somewhat tested my manhood. I did right by ignoring the situation, but my heart was telling me to hit him, hit him hard. I believed that hitting him would alleviate the built up anger that followed me the past 2 years. The anger of being in the TL, seeing junkies, johns, prostitutes, druggies, scumbags, scammers, holey rollers, do-gooders, entitled white people and pathetic hotel desk clerks every day; and listening to staff tell me about botched suicide attempts.
But most of all I was sick of seeing poverty, crime and drugs. My optimism was gone, and unhappiness and bad endings was omnipresent. Everybody appeared to be doing poorly; nobody thriving.
By taking my anger out on some miscreant, I believed I would reset. It was a dangerous narrative and I knew it.

As I sat down at my desk, an all-call came across the phone system: “A representative from Costco is here today to talk about membership. He’ll be at the entrance of the lunchroom. Please stop by and say hi.”

Like a slap in the face, the poor salesman from Costco inadvertently added perspective to my morning and the last 2 years. I went upstairs and looked at the salesman. I still wanted to pummel some scumbag, but for now I was glad I wasn’t behind a foldup desk talking about the advantages of a Costco membership.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cracks in the Sidewalk

On Thursday, a TL hooker and a john were going at it in the alley, across for our roll up door. Groups of staff watched. As the excitement grew, more came to join in the view. Unaware of the street performance, I approached the crowd, inquiring about what was going on. A familiar face pointed across the street. Instead of walking away, I closed the roll-up door. It was the adult thing to do. Some shuffled off, others dissected the spectacle and one or two said, “Officer Kim,” shaking their heads.

A few minutes later, I opened the roll-up. The hooker and john had finished and were zipping up. Without provocation or even a meeting of the eyes, the hooker made a beeline for the roll-up. It caught me off-guard. Usually they wander off, the john back to his car for more trolling and the hooker using the proceeds to buy drugs.

The hooker laboriously shimmied up on our dock and slowly rose to her feet. Having a 6th sense for alley ghouls, who try to breach the line between alley and business, my verbal assault started way before she reached the dock. “Get out, get out!”

I ran for my stick – a giant, discarded wooden soup stirrer (I’m sure there’s a proper name for this thing) - and poked the air in front of her, yelling, “Get out, get out.” Her eyes attempted to focus and her mouth moved but words were indiscernible. She was totally fucked up and had no idea what she was doing. I felt sadness, but I still wanted her to get the fuck out.

My voice calmed and I pleaded with her sanity. Regardless of her illness and inebriation, “Get the Fuck Out” is one directive every TL alley dweller knows. They’re told this countless times every day and react to it like a stern push. She left.

A few hours later, another crowd formed. I grabbed my wooden stirrer and peaked out the window. 2 marginally homeless guys were fighting, one shirtless. Nothing out of the ordinary. They yelled, came together, jumped back , came together and generally did very little damage. A typical TL fight.

Three young men in flat-brimmed baseball caps, budding homeless, a decade away from fulfilling their destiny, danced around the fighters, filming every move and taunting them: “Get’em, Nigga. Get’em.” All the players in the scene were white or of Middle Eastern descent.

I tighten the grip on the wooded stirrer. This was it, my swan song; the culmination of 15 years of bullshit; the day I would join the ranks of the dregs and be a youtube video of an old man beating 3 young guys. I was ready.

The next day I watched the video on youtube. I decided against beating the homeless in-training. As I watched, I touched the wooden stirrer. It gave me comfort.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One Wall

Most corners of rooms are right angles.

The window on the west wall looks over the Jackson’s house. Miss Jackson’s son, Rocky, was the first person I met when we moved in 10 years ago. I haven’t seen him since. He drove a 70s Charger. I still reference him, if I need to show community spirit.

A mile past the Jackson’s house is Bishop O’Dowd. The east side of their football stadium is visible from the window. On Sundays in the fall, you can hear rumblings of football games. My son may attend O’Dowd, if I can get over the Catholic thing.

5 miles past O’Dowd is the Oakland airport. Planes are silhouettes when viewed from the window. A lot of drama happens between our window and the Oakland airport. We’re kind of drama free except for the yearly break-in.

Attached to the window is a grey wall. Karl, Alex’s brother, painted it. After 10 years, the upper half of the wall has developed a transparent quality, the white paint from its former self exposed. It’s either the result of bad paint or mold. Like a letter from the IRS, I don’t like looking at it. It represents trouble.

Below the window is a small book case that I got at Thrift Town in Fremont. I’m not a fan of most bookcases, but this one is ok. It’s packed with books, the overflow stacked on top and in front. Most of the books are of the non-fiction, contemporary history or sociology ilk. There’s some literature, but that’s not my thing. They’re there for pretention.

On the hardwood floors next to the window is a side table. I got it at a St. Vincent De Paul in Oakland on San Leandro Boulevard. Like lots of other thrift stores, it’s no longer there. I got it with another side table. Both are marked Made in Denmark. This is a good thing if I ever want to resell it. However, like everything I own, it’s a bit flawed.

On the face of the table is a 90s TV. Something is wrong with it. Any time you cough or move, horizontal lines appear. I’ve checked the cables and connections and they’re secure, so it must be the TV. It’s annoying, but I only watch baseball games on it, when my wife is monopolizing the good TV.

Next the TV is my dresser. I got it at Thrift Town in San Leandro. Like the side table, it’s Danish. But it’s from the 70s so it’s a piece of crap, but it’s big and can hold a lot of socks, underwear, t-shirts and jeans. I tried sprucing it up, filling in dents with putty and staining blemishes, but I failed miserably. When it leaves me, it will go for less than 10 dollars to another sucker who is enamored by the Danish mystique.

On top of the dresser is a pile of clothes that is waiting to be put away. Depending on many variables, they could be there for months. Behind them, leaning against the grey wall, is two pieces of art: the first is a painting on wood of a British bobby. Part of the painting is carved, accenting creases in the ears and facial lines. It’s a nice touch. The artist is names Marco Cibali – something like that. He’s from Toronto and pays the bills with commercial design. Lots of artists are pragmatic like that.

Next to Marco is a photograph by Loretta Lux, a German artist. Loretta was very popular back in 2002, when her first USA show at Yossi Milo in NYC sold out immediately. I was lucky enough get a small print of a not-so popular piece. The piece is of a young girl in vintage turquoise clothing, waving like David Bowie on the cover of Heroes. The subject I wanted went to people with connections.

The Lux was prominently hung in our living room for years. Not sure why it’s now leaning against a wall in the bedroom.

Hanging on the wall next to the Lux photograph is a photograph by Zoe Strauss, a punk ass, poorly dressed (more on this later) lesbian street photographer from Philly. This photo is of an abandoned hotel in post Katrina Louisiana. On the outer balcony of one of the upper floors, someone spray-painted “Mom. We’re OK.” Besides the message, it’s a very architectural photo. I like it a lot.


Zoe was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial in NYC. Before the event, she appeared on TV’s What Not to Wear. I guess she needed something to wear and had no idea of going about it. I suspect she’s back to her disheveled ways.

Also on the dresser is a ball the size of a hacky sack, pictures of our deceased animals, ashes of our deceased animals, strewn change and a jewelry box from my father. At the base of the dresser is launder clothes, stacked on a dining room chair. It’s almost like a piece of furniture,

This is just one wall in our room.