Saturday, August 5, 2017

Getting Weird On 6th Street

I remember taking a bath in a dilapidated house on Balbach Street in San Jose, circa 1973. It didn’t have a shower. Just a tub. I remember languishing there in the water, a little amazed that warm water could feel so good, when a mouse appeared. I looked at the mouse. The mouse looked at me. It was just that. A simple acknowledgment. The mouse scampered off and I never saw him again. I don’t think I’ve taken a bath since then. I prefer showers. I like the feeling of water hitting my body. It’s like getting splattered with punctuation, semicolons and commas. I come out of the shower feeling clean and grammatical. The narrative that is my life continues with little pauses and thoughtful hesitations. I like to drink time in small shots. None of my memories are all that big. I don’t remember being born at all. Does anybody? What kind of memory would that be, assuming anyone could remember that? One minute it’s dark, the next minute the world is huge and bright and people are looking at you, everybody smiling at your entrance.
Whatever happened to Bobby Darin? Funny, I never really got into that guy, but he did put out a lot of great music. “Dream Lover.” That’s a good one.
“Please Mr. Postman.” The Marvelettes. Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Wanda Young.
Things I have lost over time: my temper, my youth, my parents, my illusions, my direction, my patience, my innocence, a little incentive, a little hubris, two habits, three molars, one incisor, five jobs, two cats, eight theories, nine callings, seven thick glazes, four cars, countless socks, my train of thought, a Who ticket, and a pet rock named Slim.
I also lost a planet, but it wasn’t my fault. I blame capitalism.
“Take Me To The River.” Al Green. October, 1974. That was the year my dad drove me back to my studio apartment in San José. He took a sudden turn to the left off I-5 and headed west on Highway 26 which both surprised and annoyed me. I was eager to get back home and complete a paper on James Joyce’s Ulysses. He was like that. He’d get in a car and take turns on impulse. He liked looking at things. Landscapes especially. He liked taking pictures. It was also the year of the gas crisis and Kohoutek Comet. We’d stop along Highway 101 overlooking the rocky Oregon coast and looked west trying to search out what might be a comet. We never did see it. We spent the night at a motel in Coos Bay. The gas gauge was on empty. We got up early and checked out of the motel. I spotted a phone booth and phoned the state patrol for information about a nearby gas station that might be open. They didn’t have that information. There was nothing else to do but leave, or become residents of Coos Bay until the gas crisis was resolved. Happily, we found a gas station open on the outskirts of town. I finished my paper on Ulysses, my dad returned to Seattle, and Kohoutek became a song by the German band Kraftwerk called "Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie."
“Miss You.” Rolling Stones. May, 1978. I hated disco, but I’ve always really liked this song. It has a bluesy core. You get the coke scene and leisure suits and mirror ball decadence of that era, but with a nasty, visceral bass line and Richards’s open G tuning, it’s not just a song, it’s an attitude.
“Heart of Glass.” 1979. Another disco song that I liked. Can’t explain why. I just like it.
The most exciting thing about 1979 was that it was the end of the boring 70s. I had entered my 30s. Jimmy Carter gave his “Crisis in Confidence” speech, which I agreed with, we had more than an energy crisis, America was destructively materialistic, we had a moral and spiritual crisis, hard to believe now an American president would say such a thing, but he did, and I dug it, but the country didn’t, not at all, Carter and his sweet Georgia smile got booted out and in 1980 we got Ronald Reagan as president and thirty years of ecocide and obesity and consumerism on a grotesque scale that hasn’t diminished in the slightest but swelled like a dead body in a murky pestilential river.
1979 was the year my dad chartered a bus and invited a bunch of people to go see the total solar eclipse in Yakima, Washington. We boarded the bus near midnight. It looked like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the with Donald Sutherland, which came out the previous year. I didn’t sleep. We arrived at about six o’clock. I brought a shoebox with a pinhole in it to view the eclipse. But as soon as it began to occur and the earth went from blue sky morning back to night and waves of darkness undulated over the grassy knoll and dogs and birds all went silent and I heard oohs and aahs from people I turned around and saw the blackest hole I’d ever seen with little scintillating golden beads around the rim.
I stop during my afternoon run to talk to a neighbor, a guy about my own age, about the horrors and weirdness of everything. He has the same sense of dread and derealization as R and I, a mega-maniacal North Korean dictator with a weird haircut throwing missiles into the ocean and threatening war and holocaust, a broken Federal government, a president with the intellect and behavior of a five-year old, ethics completely missing from all levels of culture, but especially healthcare, doctors have become crooks, the weird sudden scarcity of birds, R says the morning used to ring with the chatter of birds but lately there’s been nothing, few insects, dead bees littering the sidewalks, it’s spooky. I get going, my friend goes back to packing his car for a trip to Salt Lake City, which reminds of a trip R and I made to Boulder, Colorado in 1995, listening almost exclusively to the Cocteau Twins there and back, Allen Ginsberg giving an impromptu talk in a big white tent on the Naropa campus, discoursing brilliantly and vigorously on William Blake and Urizen, the idea that the hyper-rational mindset of the technocratic juggernaut that emerged from the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution had become destructive, so solidified that it didn’t allow for any feeling or generosity of imaginative space, all during a raging lightning storm that slapped up against the Rockies, I worried about lightning running through the microphone cords and lighting Ginsberg into a ball of St. Elmo’s fire. That same week the New Yorker magazine had Ginsberg on the cover, holding a pen to a lightning bolt.
1992. I’m ending a shift at the mailing service where I’ve been working for almost two decades, I have my hand on the doorknob, the radio is playing, I’m about to turn the knob and enter the soothing night air when I hear the opening chords to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and stop dead in my tracks. Wow. What’s this I wonder. I pause at the door and give it a listen. It’s the first song I’ve heard in about 23 years that’s got me excited about music, that hasn’t sounded corporate or swaggering and steeped in the gym-sock stench of hypermasculinity. Hell of a song that guy wrote. Kurt Cobain. Took a lot of pain and made something beautiful out of it.
R was right. All the hotel rooms in the swath of the solar eclipse that will happen on August 21 at about 10:25 a.m. in western Oregon have been rented. Some hotels have canceled reservations so they can charge more money for the rooms, some as high $1,000 per night.
Shit. R tells me she told me about the eclipse a year ago. I don’t remember that. I must’ve been obsessing about something else at the time. Why didn’t it register? Fuck me. I must’ve had a total eclipse of the brain.
There’s another one in 2024. We can see it in Austin or San Antonio, Texas. Or Mexico. But will I still be alive? Will there still be a planet? Seven years is a long time. I can’t imagine a Texas seven years from now. I can’t imagine a United States seven years from now. An Alamo. An Arkansas. A Utah. A Trail of Tears. Bats. Armadillos. BBQ. Getting weird on 6th Street. Willie Nelson. Dixie Chicks. Big Bend. Marfa. Chicken shit bingo on Sunday night.

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