Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The $20 dollar bill was well worn and had the look of being freshly laundered. Its days of inflicting paper cuts were over and it was just a matter of time before the Mint got to it and exchanged it for a cuter, younger bill. I balled it up and put it in my pocket next to other bills in the same condition.
At the register, I paid for the meal with my credit card, like I had done the 50 or so times before. I had the Petaluma omelet (chicken apple sausage, spinach, mozzarella, mushrooms and salsa) with a Diet Coke; Wolfie had the usual: sesame bagel with cream cheese and milk. Neither of us had deviated in our breakfast choices in 5 years or when he moved into solid foods.
Waiting for the clerk to return with the Diet Pepsi and milk, I rummaged through my pocket searching for a tip. I pulled out a faded dollar and made sure the clerk see me put it into the tip jar. I don’t know why I waited, but everybody does. The clerk’s eyes brightened and he responded, “Thank you very much, Sir. Thank you.” The response was excessive for a dollar tip and made me a little embarrassed.
Wolfie and I walked upstairs and took our regular seat overlooking the main floor of the restaurant. It was early and only a quarter full with small families and early rising college students. Before sitting down, I thought about the clerk’s response. It didn’t make sense. It was only a dollar and didn’t warrant so much enthusiasm. Did I tip $20 dollars?
I checked my pockets and there was no badly worn $20 dollar bill. I checked again and then pilfered my wallet. There was a $20 in the wallet, badly worn, but I wasn’t sure if it was the $20 I was looking for. I sat and ate breakfast, with my mind on the $20 and my $20 on my mind.
On our way out, I stopped at the counter, under the guise of asking for water, even though I was aware that a pitcher of water was available next to the utensil counter. While asking for water, I peered into the stainless steel vase that doubled as a tip jar. Alternating between looking at the clerk and the vase, I visually searched for any sign of a 2 or a 0. I didn’t see either.
Leaving the restaurant I accepted that I either lost a 20 dollar bill...or I didn’t. I convinced myself I didn’t.
Monday, June 29, 2009
In the 2 years that Jack had been delivering to the hotel, he had not spoken to the doorman. They acknowledged each other’s presence with nod or slight gesture of hand, but hadn’t taken the step of introducing themselves. Both were comfortable with this informal relationship.
Last week Jack walked through the front door of the hotel on his way to the elevator. The doorman nodded, John reciprocated but this time he followed him to the elevator. They stood in silence, eyes watching the round floor buttons above the elevator move down from the 4th floor. 4-3-2-1.
Once inside, they repeated the same behavior, watching the floor buttons move up this time. Jack broke protocol:
“How’s the tips here?” looking straight forward, eyes on the illuminated buttons.
“Fare to medium,” appearing to mock his tone, void of expression.
On the 4th floor, Jack got off and doorman stayed on. Neither said goodbye.
When Jack returned to the lobby, the doorman was back at his post. On his way out Jack decided to introduce himself:
“Hi, I’m Jack,” extending his hand.
“I’m Tsan,” pointing to his name tag.
“San?” Jack said, squinting at his name tag, hoping that his printed name would help with the pronunciation.
“Tsan…like Tsan,” once again pointing to his name tag like it would help. Jack thought of his friend Dano who would introduce himself as “Dano…like Drano.”
Jack forced a smile, regretting that he asked. He walked toward the door.
“Jack. Martial arts,” Tsan yelled, not explaining the context of martial arts after Jack’s name.
Jack turned and forced another smile. “Huh?” he replied, pondering if Tsan thought his last name was Martial Arts.
Tsan yelled again: “Jack, you know you hunch over when you walk, it’s not good for your heart.”
This got Jack’s attention, as his glass was always half empty. In 5th grade his teacher told him he would get an ulcer if he didn’t stop worrying.
“I do? You think so?” he said, not questioning the snap diagnosis of a stranger.
Tsan followed Jack outside and asked him to clutch his hands behind his head, like he was a prisoner, and to sit on a bench that was outside of the hotel. Jack obliged and sat down.
Tsan climbed over the backrest of the bench but couldn’t get a good position. He asked Jack to twist his torso where his shoulders were parallel with the bench. Tsan stood on the slanted bench next to Jack and jammed his knee into his back while pulling back his shoulders. Jack grimaced in pain, heard a crack and for a brief moment felt some relief. Before he could raise a concern, Tsan’s knee collided with Jack’s lower back. Feeling great pain, Jack jumped up and was on his way.
That night while lying in bed, Jack worried about what Tsan said about his posture and heart. The next morning he woke up and couldn’t move is neck.
Posted by Greg Kim at 2:12 PM
Friday, June 26, 2009
Jay told us he was fighting at the Cow Palace in a few weeks and asked us to come. I assumed he was fighting in an amateur boxing tournament, not some street brawl at night in front of the building. But this was Jay, so you never knew.
For the past few years, Jay went to a local boxing gym to learn the craft, sport or whatever you want to call it. According to him he was pretty good and he proved it many Friday and Saturday nights on the faces of patrons at bars in San Francisco. I had never seen him get into a fight - by the time he reached this level, I had refused to go out with him because I knew how the evening would end - but I heard about all his exploits on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Jay lived upstairs in our warehouse and was a frequent visitor in our space.
His stories made me uncomfortable, but Jay was highly intelligent and a great storyteller and always spun the violence into an entertaining story, rather than a bloody fight. While churning out lore after lore of fist fights, we sat rapt, guilt ridden for enjoying his exploits. We were anarchist punks and while we would rather engage the system than individuals, the brunt of his lashings was always yuppies or jocks - people that deserved it? Knowing this made everything a little more palatable.
Three of us made the trek to the Cow Palace, not knowing what to expect. My history with boxing had mostly been Ali, Frasier and Foreman - The Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle – and I assumed this would be like that but on a much smaller scale.
There were 2 rings set up in a large hall next to the main room, where I saw many concerts in my youth. The room looked like it was used for conventions and, by the smell of it, 4-H events. Large, boxy and unassuming, fold up chairs circled the stages and bleachers bookended the rings. Not wanting to get too close, we sat in the bleachers. Jay was first on the card.
Like professional boxing matches on TV, they announced the boxers over the P.A. Jay pranced in, ducked under the ropes and danced around the ring, throwing fake punches, before returning to his corner of the ring. A man that looked more like a fellow boxer than a trainer stood in his corner and encouraged him before the bell rang. I imagined he was saying something like: “Pick and jab,” “don’t’ get caught in the corner” and” keep your hands up.”
We moved forward as the bell rang. For 3 rounds Jay went toe-to-toe with a more experienced boxer, landing punches and taking 3 in return. We were having a great time seeing our friend get beat up in a controlled environment. We yelled, “Run, Jay, Run,” as his relenting opponent chased him around the ring, looking to back him in a corner.
At the end of the 3rd round, the bell ring and Jay lost by a decision. He was bruised, a bit bloodied and beaming with pride. We were impressed and couldn’t wait for his take on the fight; we were sure it would be the exact opposite of what we saw.
While waiting around for Jay to clean up, we watched the other fights. The fighters got progressively bigger, meaner and more brutal. The last fight, between Irish Danny Maguire and Pat Lawlor, proved to be the best fight of the night.
Irish Danny was first to enter the ring. As his name echoed through the hall, I looked around and noticed the crowd had gone from friends and family to fans of these 2 boxers. The Sunset district look was in full force: Irish, white, 20 – 35 years old, mean looking, shaved head, baggy trousers, backward baseball caps and NBA tank tops, specifically the Boston Celtics. It was like House of Pain was playing next door.
Seeing that the propensity of violence in the crowd increased considerably (we were long hairs), we situated ourselves opposite from where they congregated and tried to blend in.
As they announced Irish Danny Maguire, his fans stood and taunted the crowd, throwing their hands up and bouncing up and down. The P.A. blared Jump Around by House of Pain; As they announced Pat Lawlor, the other half of the crowd, dressed exactly like Danny Maguire fans, stood up, threw their arms in the air and bounced up and down to the tune of Jump Around by House of Pain. It was almost like they were fighting for rights of the song.
Not to be out done my Danny Maguire fans, Lawlor fans unveiled a homemade banner on what looked like a queen size bed sheet. With a crudely painted of picture of the Pacific Ocean with a rainbow over the ocean, the banner said, “Pat Lawlor, The Pride of the Sunset,” the later following the arch of the rainbow. It was a beautiful sight – all homemade banners have a tinge of beauty.
Almost immediately, Lawlor fans screamed out addresses in the Sunet and Parkside, neighborhoods in San Francisco: “48th and Taravel,” “23rd and Judah” and “38th and Lawton” and many more. Maguire fans countered with more addresses. I assumed this was where they lived and customary at these type of events.
As the bell rang, the crowd of tank tops surged and we moved back to the bleachers. While Lawlor and Maguire beat shit out of each other, Jay appeared in street clothes, holding a gym bag. He looked like he had showered. His face was a little red, but he looked good.
Downplaying losing the fight, he reached into his bag and pulled out his boxing shorts. Embroidered along the front of the waistband were the words Kid Cupcake. I hadn’t noticed the name when he was fighting. Jay said that they made him turn the waistband inside out, which explained his “short” shorts.
I don’t remember who won the fight, but I do remember how it ended: an all out brawl between the Maguire and Lawlor fans. It was fitting end to the night.
Posted by Greg Kim at 1:07 PM
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Somehow he had become a big baseball fan. Even though he was only 5 years old and had trouble pronouncing last names like Uribe and Rentaria, he loved the game and would sit through 9 innings without a break. We started collecting baseball cards and it wasn’t long before Emmanuel Burriss’ card replaced his teddy bear at bedtime. I was thrilled because I loved baseball…and because it was so damn cute.
His first game was a Monday night vs. the Braves. I bought tickets on craigslist in the Club Level to avoid the requisite drunks that inevitably populate sporting events. The level offered easy in and out access, shorter bathroom and concession lines and had an enclosed area to watch the games on flat screens in case it was too cold. It was a little more expensive, but it was his first game and I was hoping to avoid a drunken brawl between Giants and Braves fans.
The game was exciting. It had great pitching, stellar defense, plays at home, home runs…and the obligatory drunk. Regardless of how much you pay for a ticket, you can’t escape the drunks. Lesson learned.
In a sea of white baseball fans, 2 young African American men strolled down the aisle carrying 2 beers a piece, garlic fries and hot dogs. It was the second inning and they sat 2 rows in front of us. After putting down their food and beer, the taller, leaner one of the two – the one that got the ladies – stood up, pulled out a 5th of Hennessy from his back pocket and took a long drag. He did nothing to conceal what he was doing. Grimacing from the bite of alcohol, he turned around and addressed the crowd: “Who’s a Giants fan? Stand up if you’re a Giants fans? Come on!” Nobody stood up. He waved his hand us and sat down, grumbling how he was the biggest fan. I leaned over to Wolfie (son) and said, “He’s funny, isn’t he?” hoping to defuse any subsequent actions brought on by his behavior. He wasn’t long for the game.
At the end of the inning he and his buddy left, returning in the bottom of the 4th with more beers and snacks. For the next 3 innings, he chided every opposing batter with taunts and swears and befriended the 2 pre-teens sitting next to me, much to the chagrin of their conservative parents. He acknowledged Wolfie’s presence and threw him high-5’s. Wolfie gladly reciprocated. He was harmless, even charming at times, but it wasn’t going to end well.
In the middle of the 7th evening, the P.A. announcer asked for a moment of silence, to honor American soldiers who died in war. It was Memorial Day. My friend 2 rows in front of us took the opportunity to finish off the last dregs of Hennessey. He tipped the bottle back; beads of alcohol fell on his extended tongue. He dropped the bottle and yelled, “Viva la baseball! Viva la Baseball. Go Gigantes!” I gave him the once over, reevaluating his heritage. Maybe he was Latino and I was too stupid to know? In his alcohol soaked brain, I assumed he had mistaken Memorial Day for Cinco de Mayo.
It started with, “Shut up, idiot.” And then, “Have some respect.” He was oblivious to the forces gathering around him. He continued yelling, “Viva La Baseball,” while dancing in his seat. Finally a woman across the aisle got his attention, “Shut up, you fool, and have some respect.” He countered with, “I served my country, I served my country.” The simple act of responding brought out every Central Valley speedboat owner that did a stint in the Iraq War, the Gulf War and even Nam. Throughout the section, beefy, barrel-chested white men turned toward him and stared him down. It didn’t look pretty.
Just in time, 2 policemen tapped him on the shoulder He stood, knowing his time was up. He looked like he was used to this. As he ascended the stairs, both cops gripping the back of his arms, half the section clapped. I felt this was in poor taste. I kinda liked the guy.
An inning later his quiet friend appeared and sat down. He stayed for one out and then left.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
She and 3 of her girlfriends entered in the bottom half of the first inning. They sat down like a storm, reached into their bags and pulled out water bottles filled with Orange Juice and Vodka. Placing them in the convenient drink holder, the woman closest to me yelled, “Woo-hoo. Go Giants;” the leader of the group – the pretty one with wraparound black sunglasses – stood up and yelled, “Fuck the A’s!” The latter echoed though section CL203 and announced to everyone that that if the game was boring, they’d provide the entertainment. I both grimaced (because I had my 5-year old son Wolfie with me) and looked forward in anticipation (who doesn’t love 4 swearing drunk women?).
Ironically, 4 guys around the same age sat behind them. It was like an episode of Friends waiting to happen except I got a strong Daly City/South San Francisco vibe from the girls and a potent Walnut Creek scent from the guys. So, it would be more like Valley Girl. Depending on how you looked at it, one of the groups would either being slumming or rounding up. They immediately acknowledged each other’s presence and the drunken mating ritual began.
The woman closest to me - the funny one of the group– said hello and we exchanged pleasantries. Getting caught up in the developing story, I leaned over and said, “You know, they’re 4 of them and 4 of you – this could be like a Cinemax movie?” I changed the scenario from Friends to Cinemax and regretted it immediately. She smiled, laughed – not really getting what I said. Like I said, she was the nice funny one and didn’t want any trouble – at least for now.
The 2 groups barbed, flirted and one-uped each other all night. As the male group drank more beer and the female group finished their water bottle cocktails, the 2 of them got looser and their taunts turned from inane to laced with profanity and sexually suggested.
Acknowledging their swearing, the big girl leaned over and whispered, “I’m swearing, aren’t I?” Her face was squinty and her shoulders were up, as if to say, “Watcha gonna do?” in a very, very nice way.
I leaned back and responded, “Yes, you are. You’re having fun, don’t worry about it.”I was playing the cool guy and pandering to them, even though I should’ve been more adult since I was with my 5-year old. My intellect rationalized their actions: “They’re young, having fun, not hurting anybody and I did much worse at baseball games at their age.” The father in me and getting-old-cranky side thought: “Fuckin’ Daly City trash. Shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up.” The latter is usually deeply suppressed and rarely comes out.
She whispered again, “You should hear me when I let loose. It’s a lot worse.” Even though this could be taken as a threat, it wasn’t meant as such. She was just letting me know that she was doing her best to act civil.
By now, I was unintentionally mimicking her squinty whispers. I whispered back, “I can only imagine. We’re gonna go to the bathroom and get some food next inning so feel free to get it out of your system while we’re gone.” drawing out every word. I was kinda bummed that I was gonna miss her verbal assault.
“Ok, thank you. I will do that.” She whispered back.
When Wolfie and I returned, we sat one seat away from them. They were loud, distracting and, because the woman next to me was rather large, it was hard to see the batters when she twisted her body to talk to her friends and the guys behind, which she was always doing. I placed my bag in the seat the between us, just in case she decided to move over and chat.
I hoping she wouldn’t acknowledge the insult. I was wrong. She immediately turned her head, looked at me, then the seat and gave me a look as if to say, “Hmphhh!” I leaned over, hoping to ignite our previous whispering session and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, it was just that, um, you were rather loud and it was hard to see and....” It was like I had conjured George Costanza.
In a gracious move, she said, “It’s ok, sweetie.” She topped off the kindness with, “I’m drunk.”
With 2 outs in the 9th inning, we stood and clapped. Lincecum, the Giants’ wunderkind pitcher recorded the 27th out and the near sellout crowd went crazy. We clapped and high-fived our neighbors. Unbeknownst to me, my neighbor – the big girl turned drunk girl – had gone into my bag and pulled out Wolfie’s foam #1 Giants hand.
Dancing in the aisle with the foam hand piercing the San Francisco night, she looked over and playfully jabbed me in the stomach. Slightly touching the foam finger on top of Wolfie’s head, my shy boy recoiled, grabbing my thigh. I laughed and loved that she went into my bag.
As the crowd moved toward the exit, Wolfie and I watched the players shake hands and the media hover for interviews. The 2 groups next to us awkwardly broached the idea of hanging out. I listened intently as they devised a plan to meet up at a bar near the stadium.
Posted by Greg Kim at 2:16 PM
Friday, June 12, 2009
My friend Josh and I were skateboarding down San Pablo Street in Emeryville, coming back from a Soul Asylum show at the Berkley Square. We were about a quarter mile from our warehouse, carefully crossing train tracks, when we heard a voice to our left: “Hey, get off the sidewalk!” We looked and a cop across the street, walking to his parked car, was gesturing toward us and seemed mad. It looked like he had just gone to a store and was on his way back.
I replied, “We’re not on the sidewalk, Homes!” He either didn’t like my righteous tone or use of the word “homes” because he moved quickly to his car, got in and flipped a u-turn. Josh and I didn’t wait around. We skated as fast as we could to the entrance of the warehouse. We knew that if we could make it inside, the cop would not come in. They knew who were and routinely were called to break up our warehouse’s parties and shows and knew that the space was a very dark maze of hallways.
I made it inside but Josh didn’t. I told my roommates what was going on and we ran to the roof to see if Josh got caught. Lying on the roof, we saw a silhouette of what we assumed was Josh, slumped down in the back seat of the cop car.
He was released early the next morning and came straight over, feigning being pissed at me. I felt a little bad because I was the one that threw out the “Homes” comment.
Posted by Greg Kim at 10:16 AM
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Cruising down Haight Street, a man in front a tattoo shop flagged me down.
“Where you going?” I asked. It was the beginning of my shift and I’d repeat this question at least 60 more times before the night was over. It was a Tuesday in the dead of winter and I was happy to have a fare.
“16th and Valencia. I’m finishing up my back piece.” He didn’t clarify what “back piece” meant, assuming I knew the vernacular of tattoo culture. It was the late 80s in San Francisco and everybody in the Lower Haight had multiple tribal tattoos, bountiful piercings and standard issue Doc Marten’s. He took a liberty and I responded correctly, proving my hipster cache:
“You mean you just finished your back piece, right?” gesturing to the tattoo shop next to Walgreen’s.
“No, I was there getting scarification on my arm.” He peeled up a large bandage on his bicep, revealing 4 symmetrical vertical wounds, slightly raised and infected.
“Cool.” I said with a flare of indifference. I didn’t bother inquiring about the process, the infection said it all.
At the stop light at Church and Market, I flipped the dome light and turned around, my arm resting on the back of the front bench seat. He scooted forward, twisted his torso and pulled up the back of his shirt, revealing a very large and intricate tattoo of a medieval scene. It spanned the small of his back to the base of his neck.
“Cool,” I repeated. Not knowing what to say.
Pulling his shirt down, he said, “He should be able to finish it tonight. I’m moving back home to Arkansas this weekend to work on the family farm. Before I leave, I’m finishing up this piece on my back, I got scarification on my arm, I pierced my nipples, tongue and septum and tomorrow I got an appointment to dye my hair Manic Panic red. They don’t have any of this stuff in Arkansas.”
The light turned green and we rode in silence, as I digested his laundry list of body manipulations. To most, his instant transformation would appear contrived and calculated, a severe attempt to fit in with the trendy scene that enveloped the era; however, hearing him matter-of-factly talk about getting scarification like running an errand, I figured he wanted to return to Arkansas with trophies from the big city...and be noticed.. Being from the suburbs, I understood this urge.
I pulled over at 16th and Guerrero. As he exited, I looked out the back door and said, “Good luck in Arkansas, they’re gonna love you.”
Posted by Greg Kim at 2:27 PM
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
While looking at children’s books at Pegasus bookstore in Oakland, I overheard a peculiar conversation between a very patient clerk and a loud, brash customer.
Not even 5 feet in the door, a young woman with bangs yelled in the direction of the checkout island, “Do you have Islands in the Stream by Hemingway? Can you check for me?” The clerk looked up as she made a beeline to the counter. She was loud and obnoxious, but this behavior was somewhat normal in bookstores. For some odd reason, people like to scream the title of the book they’re looking for, to let everyone know they’re literate in the classics (Hello, everybody. I’m looking for War and Peace - possibly the greatest book ever written!”). I would’ve gone back to perusing books, ignoring her rude behavior, but Islands in the Stream made me think of Dolly and Kenny, so I listened intently.
In a calm voice, the clerk replied, “No, we can’t look it up, but if we had it, it would be over there,” gesturing toward the fiction section.
A few minutes went by as she walked to the section and scoured the shelves. I pictured her, head tilted, straddling the H section.
Out of nowhere she yelled, “It’s not hear. Why doesn’t anybody have it? I guess I’ll have to go to Border’s.” She was having a conversation with herself, asking and then answering her own questions.
Mentioning Border’s was like a threat and it was meant to be. It was like she was saying: “See, people. I tried, I tried to buy independent. I was willing to shop here instead of Amazon, but, once again, you fucked me!” People like this are always insincere in their philanthropy.
Everybody in the store heard her. Like an echo, I stopped, listened and waited to see if the clerk would immediately respond. In a soft yell, he politely said, “We can check to see if our other store has it. Do you want me to do that?”
She appeared from behind the shelves and walked toward the door, passing the clerk without looking at him: “No, I’m leaving town tonight. Thank you.” And she disappeared onto College Avenue.
Posted by Greg Kim at 1:25 PM
Monday, June 8, 2009
I know for fact that this is not Hammer’s Hummer. Hammer drives a black Hummer.
A year ago we played a gig with Hammer at the San Jose Convention Center. Not really a gig, but we were in the same large room as Hammer. Hammer was a judge at an American Idol-like competition for Google. We backed the Google singers, to the likes of Gloria Gaynor, Alice in Chains and other Karaoke standards and Hammer did his best to critique them, along with other Google higher-ups.
Before the gig, we were lounging on the loading dock with our guitars. While Southwest Airlines planes flew overhead, a black Hummer pulled up to where we sitting. MC Hammer got out, walked past us and into the building. He was wearing black wraparound shades, dressed all black and appeared to be flying solo. He looked good.
Later that night while on stage, I caught Hammer’s eye and gave him the Too Legit To Quit hand gesture. I was very proud of myself and acted like it I was the first idiot to think of this. Even though he had his shades on, he acknowledged the gesture with a slight nod of the head.
Posted by Greg Kim at 9:26 PM
An excerpt from the never to be published book (or perennial word file): Donations Excepted: Dumb Dogooding thru Punk and Anarchy or White Dope on Punk (working titles):
One of the last Doggie Diners in the Bay Area sat at the intersection of Adeline, Macarthur and San Pablo. The iconic wiener dog sign stood high above the eatery, looking over the border of West Oakland and Emeryville. Shortly after we moved in the neighborhood, it was leveled and replaced by a check cashing business.
We welcomed the check cashing business by spray painting “GET OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD” on their new stucco wall. We tried breaking their front window but it held strong, the bricks bouncing back and almost hitting us. We found this type of window familiar, like the one we were not able to break the McDonald’s at 52nd and Telegraph…though we tried. Our paranoid side thought they reinforced the windows, knowing that we might try to break them.
After spray painting the check cashing business, we went back to our warehouse and got my car. The night was early and there were still many windows to break and walls to spray-paint. We had no plan; however, we had a few clumps of concrete that we got from our warehouse parking lot, two cans of spray paint, crazy glue, ski goggles, a crowbar and a small can of butane—a well-stocked vandalism kit.
Driving north on San Pablo we slowed down to admire our past work on a wholesale butcher warehouse. The walls were speckled with various colors of paint bombs from the months prior, giving it a Jackson Pollock/Damien Hirst feel. We used mason jars and house paint for paint bombs. Both were in limited qualities, so we rarely carried them anymore.
It was 3 am and the streets were empty. We were listening to a Chumbawumba cassette. The only people out were drug users looking to score, prostitutes and us. Near the end of the Berkeley border, we eyed a Kentucky Fried Chicken. For some reason, Stinky and I were particularly against KFC. They were no worse than Burger King or McDonald's, but we just liked saying “The Colonel is fucking with the chickens.”
We parked the car a block away and slinked in the shadows back to the KFC. I ran to the front door and squeezed crazy glue into lock, looking eye-to-eye with a graphic of Colonel Sanders on the glass door. Stinky yelled, “Watch out!” I looked back and he had a large rock that he pulled from the landscaped walkway. I ran back to the sidewalk. Laboring with the large rock, he awkwardly moved toward the front plate glass window and heaved the rock. A low boom rang out, alerting the neighborhood that we were now fucking with the Colonel. It felt like a bomb went off. As the alarm rang out and glass settled on both sides of the window, we turned and retraced our footsteps back to the car.
I kept the headlights off until we reach San Pablo. We were both scared and excited, chattering a mile a minute:
"Jesus Fucking Christ, did you hear that?” I said, half laughing and still out of breath from the sprint to the car.
“I know, I had no idea. Those things usually never break.” Stinky admitted, his voice getting higher with the excitement of retelling the act.
I met Stinky in an arranged friendship. We had both responded to an ad looking to start an anarchist punk collective in an East Bay warehouse. Before we moved into together, Stinky came over to my apartment in the Haight. At the time, he was living in a shitty squat in Noe Valley and happy at the idea of having permanent housing.
Stinky was from North Hampton, Massachusetts, and never let you forget it. He was about 5’ 10”, had naturally spiky brown hair, wore oversized wire-rimmed glasses and had intermittent tattoos over his arms. On our first meeting, he proudly showed me two of them: the ubiquitous Black Flag bars and the “squat” symbol, a lightning bolt through a circle. He would later add the intertwined peace and anarchy symbol on his inner wrist, another staple tattoo of anarchist punks. He divulged that his mother felt that anybody who had over three tattoos was a sexual deviant. If this was true, Stinky was a deviant and so was his father.
After breaking KFC’s window, we decided to call it a night and go home. On the way, Stinky yelled, “Stop. Pull over! I’m gonna flatten its tire.” A large truck with a logo that said “Quality Meat” was parked on San Pablo, on a block without a lot of commercial businesses. Stinky jumped out of the car and ran over to the front tire nearest the sidewalk. For minutes, a loud hissing permeated the air. It abruptly stopped, replaced by sounds of a short struggle. The large cab of the truck obscured my vantage of Stinky, but I could see his feet. He had moved from a crouching position next to the tire to standing next to the hood. His feet moved back to the middle of the sidewalk then ran to the hood, jumped, then jumped a few times more, lunging forward.
Stinky came back to the car laughing, shaking his head and with a windshield wiper in his hand.
“What the hell were you doing?” I asked. “From here, it looked like you were fighting the front of the truck.”
“Yeah, I was pissed off because flattening the tire was taking too long, so I decided to rip off the windshield wiper,” he said, a bit perplexed why taking a penny and jamming it into the valve of the tire wouldn’t flatten the tire in less time.
As we took off, Stinky rolled down the window and threw the windshield wiper at the truck.
At the corner of University and San Pablo in Berkeley we saw two cops, guns drawn, slinking around the corner of a bank. The light was red and we watched as they cautiously moved forward. The light turned green and I made an immediate right, getting off San Pablo to take a less traveled street. Somebody must’ve broken into the bank.
Riding down Hollis, Stinky once again yelled for me to stop. I pulled over and he ran across the street with the ski goggles and the crow bar. Pulling the hood over his head and putting on the ski goggles, Stinky approached an ATM. He looked around, reached into his pocket and squirted a large dose of butane on the ATM. He put the butane in his hoodie pocket and reached in his pocket for matches. Moving one step back, he lit a match and threw it at the ATM. A faint bluish yellow light reflected on to Stinky’s dark clothing. The expected large burst of flames didn’t happen. He took the crowbar and alternated between bashing it like a baseball and wrenching the crevices. After a few swings, he gave up and walked quickly back to the car. The fire had gone out and the alarm was silent.
We were tired and it was time for some sleep.
The next morning we watched the check cashing business clean the graffiti the walls. That night Stinky and I returned and spray-painted “…And Stay Out!”
Posted by Greg Kim at 3:48 PM
Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
While Alex and Wolfie were in the bathroom, I watched 2 teenage boys, in oversized suits that unknowingly paid homage to David Byrne, peruse books from an airport bookstore. Sticking together like feral dogs, they picked up books, put them back, interspersed by watching a flat screen TV in the corner.
I was pretty sure I figured them out. I had seen their types before - big suits, cheap shoes, white short sleeved shirts and backpacks. The only thing missing were badges on the breast of their jackets.
I got up and stood next to them:
“Hey, you guys on your mission?” I said, in a buddy-up kinda way. I was so sure they were Mormon kids on their year mission or really bad Mods.
The kid nearest to me looked confused: “What are you talking about?” I knew I had the wrong guys, but I continued on, regardless.
“Aren’t you guys Mormons?” I said, still trying to sell my fallible observation.
“No, we’re going to our Aunt’s funeral,” they said matter-of-factly, with no tinge of indignation. I would’ve been that generous.
“Sorry about that.”
Posted by Greg Kim at 9:58 AM
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
While standing on the dock, I looked down the alley and noticed 2 scraggly junkies hustling up the block carrying 2 armchairs. Like the junkies, the chairs looked like they had spent some considerable time on the street before being adopted.
Despite the chairs being cumbersome, the junkies moved at a fast clip, dodging obstacles that littered the sidewalk. Oddly this wasn’t an odd occurrence. It was the first of the month and many SRO Hotel dwellers were on the street, having spent their G.A. or SSI checks on drugs, not rent. Street sales were ample and people were moving clothes and large objects from hotel to hotel or just donating them to the streets.
Approaching the end of the alley, they abruptly stopped and placed the chairs, angling inwards, in a shallow inlet between 2 buildings. The woman immediately sat down and shot up in her ankle; the other guy pulled out a blue bandana and placed it on the seat cushion, before sitting down and shooting up. Obviously this junkie was either new to the street and not “jonesing” as much as his partner or, regardless of his situation, still maintained a sense of decorum – street decorum. I found this little act of dignity fascinating and humanizing.
I sat on the dock and watched them. Once they had shot up, they settled into the seats and stared straight ahead, like they were watching an imaginary TV. For this rare moment, they were at peace and enjoying a rare sense of privacy (even with me eyeballing them).
Posted by Greg Kim at 10:50 AM
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Driving east on Bay street on a foggy Sunday, I stopped for a red light. Looking in the rear view mirror, I see 3 young men in the middle of the street running my way, waving their hands for me to stop. They were definitely running from something.
I thought about blowing the light, but there was too much traffic, so I locked the doors. The automatic door lock didn’t work. I panicked and thought about getting out of the cab and running.
All three jumped in the back and looked out the back window, checking to see if anybody was chasing them. “Go, go, go,” they yelled.
In their heightened state, one of them had the wherewithal to ease my fears: “Don’t worry, we’re not gonna hurt you. Treasure Island.” My face must’ve shown fear. They were military and were stationed at Treasure Island.
The light changed and I proceeded in silence, still not sure if these guys were legit. Once we were off Bay Street, they stopped looking out the back window and physically relaxed, sinking into the seats. I relaxed too.
Making a right on Battery, on my way to the Bay Bridge, they relived why they were running:
“Did you see that bitch with the umbrella hit me? She didn’t even work there.” When he opened his mouth, it was obvious that he wasn’t from the area. He had a country twang, drawing out the last word of every sentence. I surveyed the three of them in the rear view window and it was now obvious that they were 3 country boys on leave from the military for the weekend.
“Yeah, I saw her go after you with the umbrella, but I was dealing with that asshole Manager. Fuck that guy. So, I didn’t know what sour cream was. I didn’t like his tone” He got more animated as he relived the incident, blurting short, disjointed accounts of what happened.
Umbrella? Fighting with a Manager? What had these guys done?
By the time I exited at Treasure Island, I had pieced the story together: When ordering food at Taco Bell, one of the guys pronounced enchilada “en-chill-da.” The Taco Bell employee corrected his pronunciation. This pissed them off, but he stayed calm…for now. He continued with the order, but got stumped when it came to asking for sour cream, not remembering what it was called:
“You know, I want some of that white shit. You know…white shit?” he couldn’t remember the name.
“Do you mean sour cream?” the employee sassed back.
Once again not appreciating the employee’s patronizing tone, he reached over the counter and punched him in the face. The Manager of Taco Bell intervened, grabbing the guy in a head lock and pulling over the counter. His buddy’s reacted and an all out fistfight ensued.
I dropped them off in front of the guard station. As I watched them show the MPs their military IDs and disappear into the barracks, I thought about pulling up to the guard station and telling him the story. Instead, I made a u-turn, knowing they gave me a wonderful story.
Posted by Greg Kim at 3:13 PM
Monday, June 1, 2009
Sue pressed play and we launched into “Sick to Death,” our unanimously agreed upon best song:
Sick to death of the live I’m living
Life’s troubles just pass you by
I don’t want to see your face
This is where it al begins
The lyrics purposely didn’t rhyme. I felt rhyming was conventional and not punk.
We didn’t have a P.A. so I had to sing directly into the boom box to be heard. After much experimenting, I found the perfect spot about 18” from the microphone. Leaning down and over to the boom box on the floor and playing guitar at the same time was not easy.
We recorded 3 other songs: Red, White and Dry, Reagan Country and Young and Stupid (and going nowhere) and chose Sick to Death to send to the Maximum Rock-n-Roll radio show, the punk rock only radio show from midnight to 2 am on Sunday nights on public radio. The quality of the recording was horrendous – only we could discern the drums, guitar, bas and vocals. To pretty much everybody else, it sounded like pure noise. Even so, we packaged the cassette with a lyric sheet and information about the band and sent it off.
3 weeks later at 1:55 am – the last song of the night - they played our cassette. Without an introduction, it followed a band from Fairfield, California (an even farther out suburb of SF) called Carnage. I was ecstatic and moved closer to my clock radio. It was the first time --and only one of a handful of times-- I heard my music on the radio.
It was loud, distorted and barely discernible, but I loved it. The blood rushed to my face, from fear, anxiety and excitement. The song stopped, started, slowed down and sped up, as was the custom of many punk songs at the time. For a little over a minute – the length of the song - I was riveted, engaged. It ended with dead air. Thinking the song wasn’t over; they let the silence go on for way too long. Finally, a loud, over-produced song screamed from the radio. I recognized it immediately and was mortified. IT was a song by Yes called Don’t Kill the Whales” - possibly one of the worst, over-indulgent progressive rock songs of all time. When we recorded, I took a used cassette from a pile of cassettes to record on and didn’t check to see anything was on it.
They quickly yanked the song and sounds of laughter filled the airwaves. They thought it funny, not recognizing the song. Because of this mishap, my punk credentials were in dire straits. I knew everybody in the band and a few friends were listening.
Tim Yohannon, one of the founders of Maximum Rock-n-Roll, came on and said, “That was Anti-Social Youth with “Sick to Death” from Pleasanton, California. It’s happening everywhere, people - even in Pleasanton.” Those few words were what I was waiting for. Acceptance in to the punk scene by the punk authority, I went to bed smiling.
Posted by Greg Kim at 3:30 PM