26 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Intermezzo: Call Me Noman (Erasure of Old Self)

Bismillah* your old self
to find your real name. - Rumi

I felt like a dying clown
But with a streak of Rin Tin Tin - The Who

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings!
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! - Percy Bysshe Shelley

It's not completely unheard of to lose your ass at a casino. I mean, it happens all the time. In any movie or television show set in Vegas, if there's a scene in a casino, you've seen someone acting like they've lost their ass. For every story you hear of someone winning at a casino -- it does happen because too much losing is bad for business -- there are countless people who lost their ass ... or more... because the house always wins.

What is, perhaps, a bit more unusual is to completely lose your identity.

Lost. Stolen. Some cosmic message in the form of a pickpocket. Whatever.

The day began on a simple premise. My friend Jamie is, apparently, something of a card sharpie at the blackjack tables and can turn a little bit of money into a slightly larger amount of money in a matter of hours. She wanted to go, partially to have something to do, but also so she could win some money to add to my travel fund.  A dear heart, really. She even offered to stake me some money so I could play myself.

Now, all lines being arbitrary... because, let's be honest, they mostly are... I told her I didn't like the idea of gambling with someone else's money. This, she thought, was completely ridiculous. It was no big deal, she maintained. If I lost my stake, she would be able to make it back. And if I happened to win, I count it as a contribution to the travel fund. And since all lines are, really, for the most part, arbitrary...

I thought, what the hell.

Now, I should also mention that while I am no expert at the game of Blackjack. I have some experience at it.  Actually, other than the horses, the game of 21 is my preferred method of itching the gambling urge. And while the money is nice, it's the adrenaline rush that tends to drive me in these situations. I like blackjack because not only is it an easy game to learn, but it also satisfies a certain egalitarian impulse: you always play against the house, not against your fellow players.

In theory. Apparently there's all sorts of things you can do to put the squeeze on your fellow players and press your own advantage. I will admit a certain ignorance regarding this sort of table etiquette. There are a a few often thought of "hard and fast" rules in how you play the came, like Hit on 16 and Stay on 17. But what they don't tell you is that those rules are as much to the houses's advantage as the odds on a Roulette Wheel. Yes, there are times when it's goo to hit on 16. There are also times when it's good to stay on 14. Because in spite of the seeming simplicity of the rules, the cars are still fickle, they're still shuffled, and they still behave in a random way.

I was doing okay for a while, and managed to a but more than double the stake Jamie had given me. Jamie was doing pretty well herself, for the most part, but she kept giving me advice... which was distracting her from her game. The table was pretty calm, a nice flow was going and the winning was spreading itself around... which is what, in the best of all situations, you can hope for. Then a high rolling Ethiopian, who played loud and nervous and talked smack to distract the order of the game, came and sat in the chair to my right, putting him on the dealer's left and in the first position for cards. I managed to win a few more deals, even getting a Blackjack (a face card and an ace) or two. The more I won, the more smack he talked. He was betting heavy, and had clearly had a number in mind he needed to hit in order to confirm his manhood.

I was up, and the Ethiopian started winning as well. Then he finally hit his number and left. A few more hands were dealt, Jamie was up, so was the other player at the table, and things were going pretty well.

And came The Cooler.

We cycled through two different dealers, both of whom did a good job of spreading the wealth around whenever possible. The third dealer, however -- a cold skinny bitch with fake eyelashes and a pre-teen's love of blue eye shadow -- killed the table almost immediately. And between here and other pre-teen who felt like he'd gained some experience at the $1 buy in tables (There's a 25 cent table fee with each hand. This means that in order to win $1, you have to pay $1.25. To win at all, you have to bet in $5 increments... which means you might as well find a $5 table. But it's good for the kiddies that don't want to feel like they're losing a lot and who never paid attention in math class.)

I lost my buffer and my stake pretty quickly. It was clear that Jamie wasn't finished, though so I told her I'd get some air and wait. 

I went outside and smoked. I could've smoked inside the casino, but it was nice day outside, and I wanted to sit outside and get away from the sound of the slot machines. One of the reasons casinos can afford to let people win at cards is because their money is in slot machines. And spare me the amazing stories of people who have won masses of cash sitting for hours sipping a mojito, smoking a carton of Virginia Slims, and squinting aggressively at the machine in front of them. The odds are always in the house's favor. Yes, they have to let people win so people will walk through the doors to lose and still feel like they had a reasonable chance. But if playing Blackjack is an egalitarian activity, owning a casino is akin to being a successful drug dealer. They ALWAYS come back.

So I smoked, I engaged in some constructive people watching, and felt pretty good. 

Then I noticed my journal was not in my back pocket where I had thought it was.

My first thought was: "I can't find my journal!"

Then I remembered: both my driver's license -- my only form of picture ID -- and my bus pass were in my journal as well.

Did I drop it? I thought about the last time I'd seen it. That was lunch.Sometimes I take it out and set it the table, along with my cell phone, when I eat. I went back to all the placed I'd been. I went to the casino restaurant were we ate lunch. They told me anything left at the table would have been turned into lost and found. I asked where that was located, and was told that I could talk to any white-shirted security officer and they would help me.

So I found the nearest rent-a-cop and described my journal, it's important contents, and asked if he could check. He did. There was nothing in lost and found matching the description. I back tracked every step I could remember. Nothing anywhere. Then I went to the parts of the casino I didn't even go to, around the slots where the wrinkled old ladies say smoking near tobacco-less cigarettes and sipping Diet Coke. Nothing. I found a second security guard. He checked over the radio. Nada. I went to find Jamie and found her at another table, doing very well. Between hands I asked if she had it... maybe, I thought, it slid out of my pocket when I left the table. She didn't have it, and gave the key to the car just in case it slipped out of my pocket there, which I was sure it hadn't.  It wasn't in the car.

At this point I asked another security guard and after the third check, I was sent to a house phone. Maybe some luck?

No. Zack, who was very apologetic, took down my contact information and said they'd call me if it turned up.

I ended up having to get Jamie to take me back to hers and Dave's place to see if maybe, just maybe I had forgotten it there. I knew I didn't because I don't forget my journal. Any one who knows me knows this about me.

Jamie said she had a good feeling, but I didn't share the sentiment. She felt bad because the casino had been her idea, but she didn't need to. Either I lost it because I wasn't paying attention, or it was stolen by someone who mistook it for a wallet or pocket book.

All they'd find is my nearly indistinguishable scrawls and scribbles, my bus pass, my Illinois Driver's License, and my IWW Red Card... which is behind on stamps because I haven't paid dues since hitting the road. Then it occurred to me that if it HAD been stolen, the most they could hope for was to steal my identity.

Let them try, I thought. My credit rating is so bad at this point they'll lose money trying to make it work. If some undocumented worker tried to steal my name for employment, even that record is spotty. Shit. Let 'em have the collectors and parasites that have my name on some list somewhere. Let 'em have my student loan debt.

I drank a beer, ate two cookies, and began to breathe. Yes, breathe. When people panic, usually the first thing they stop paying attention to is the one thing that, without it, they will not be alive. Air. There's a reason that every form of meditation there is begins with a breathing exercise of some kind. Breathing is fundamental. You can have water and food, but without air, it's meaningless. It's something I've fallen back on when I've been on the road and have to change my travel plans at the last minute. Like leaving St. Louis and going to Nashville. Like going to Colorado instead of Salt Lake City. Breathe. Adapt.

Losing my license and bus pass -- which only had a week left on it -- is not fundamentally different from any other change in plans. People place more importance on having photo ID because society is constantly insisting that we prove who we are, that we defend our right to belong, that we identify as one of the group and take our place among them, happy in our very specific anonymity.

I was annoyed at the loss of the journal, my notes since San Francisco, the various bits of poems I hadn't gotten a chance to type out. But I've been writing long enough to know there will always be more words, and the poems... well, they sometimes return of their own volition. As if they will themselves into being.

The universe has a funny way of sometimes giving you what you need when you don't know you need it. People sometimes enter and leave your life at just the right time. Relationships end so that new ones can begin. Although I love my family dearly, I have, over the years wondered what it might be like to have a different name. I have had different names over the years: Mickey, Mic, Michael, Mick, Quill, Papa. I have sought a way to bring the self within myself closer to the surface... to be who I am rather than what the culture dictates I ought to be.

And now, I am divested of my official identification... and in a way, my identity. I can call on a dozen people or more who could attest to my existence, and know me and who I am. There are people who love me, people who see me... truly see me. So, other than the inconvenience of occasionally being carded in a bar... usually by someone who looks 12 ... do I really need more proof of my own existence other than myself?

A name is a marker, nothing more. It separates us from others. Some believe our naming impacts who we become. But really, all a name does is tell others who are.... and who we are not. We attribute more to some names than others. Historical names. Rich names. Famous names. Infamous names. In the end, though, a name is nothing more than an utterance we have been trained since birth to respond to. Sons (many times) carry the last name of their father. Daughters (many times) carry that name unless they decide to get married and exchange it for another person's name. A name has been connected to notions of dependence and independence, to slave ownership, to heritage, to tradition, to the passing on of wealth and affluence, or -- at times -- the passing on of guilt, spite, hatred, and judgement.

What's the line by Shakespeare? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet?

Granted, in context, Mercutio is trying to convince Romeo to girl he's infatuated with and move on to some other more willing conquest. And then, of course, Romeo meets Juliet and turns into a dumbass.

Sorry. It's not a romantic play. It's farce. It's about how stupid young people can be, and how pointless family feuds are. It's not romantic to kill yourself because you didn't check to see if your girl is still breathing.

My point, though? I am no less who I am just because I can't prove it. In fact, it's possible that  I am more me now than at any time in my life. Ever.


*Bismillah: "In the name of god," spoken prior to a sacrificial slaughtering of an animal in the Sufi / Middle Eastern tradition.

25 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - The Denver Bug Out, Part 1 (End Times Polka)

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.  - The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Go here for media photos.
I sort of felt like I was getting out of Colorado Springs ahead of something terrible. The fires on the other side of Pike's Peak were slowly being contained -- in as much as they could be, given dry weather -- but there were reports of two fire bugs out setting fires on top of the ones that were already happening. The view of Pike's Peak had been hazy most of the time I was there, primarily because of smoke. As Cousin Mary was driving me into Denver so I could catch a bus to Kansas City and eventually, back through Minneapolis, heading eastbound into the Central Time Zone, the first wisps of smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire -- the first evidence of fire on the Colorado Springs side of Pike's Peak -- came into view. Her daughter Gabrielle lives there, so of course Mary calls her to make sure she knows about the smoke. 

Eventually, Waldo Canyon had to be evacuated, and Gabrielle, her boyfriend Zach, and their two cats had to spend the night at Mary and Ted's.  But I understand, as per Cousin Mary, the evacuation order has been lifted. The fire is moving closer to Woodland Park, a mountain community we drove through in the way to Cripple Creek. At this writing, as far as I know, there's been no definite evacuation order.

And while the rain that had been chasing me would have been a welcome boon, instead, I was pushed out by higher than average temperatures instead. 

Killing time in the Denver Station, I found myself watching one of the several televisions. They were all on the Weather Channel... which is at least tolerable and sometimes informative television.

I have images of my dad, sitting in front of the TV in the house in Pinhook, watching the the satellite maps. I remember thinking "What does it say about someone who can stare at something so BORING?" This, Dear Readers, is what becomes of you as you approach middle age. And the truth is, most television is insipidly useless anyway... and at least the Weather Channel isn't. Mostly. Though it doesn't replace knowing how to read the sky for rain.Or an arthritic knee.

In addition to the fires on the mountain, there was rain on three corners of the continental U.S., including a storm off the coast of Florida that might turn into a Hurricane. This was of particular interest since My Dear Sweet Ma and The Kid were off on some touristy adventure in the Bahamas.

The best part of the time spent in the bus station, though, was listening to the interpretation of events by other people waiting in bus station.. or in any case, they were hanging out there, having formed a circle of chairs near some tables in front of the restaurant, near the 19th Street Exit. Originally, the conversation started with politics: the merits versus the mendacity of stockpiling for the coming apocalypse. One of them. One favored stockpiling. Another favored the time honored approach of waiting on the Second Coming. Another, a younger one, ranted about the Mayan 2012 calender and the impending doom that will befall the Earth on December 21st, claiming that neither gun hording nor praying will save anyone.

"Look at that," he said, pointing at one of the televisions. "It's on the four corners of the Earth. What do you think THAT means? Huh?"

Other than you clearly didn't pay attention in geography class and don't realize that the Earth encompasses more than the continental United States? 

So much for youthful optimism. Then again, maybe it's like being relieved that you don't have to do laundry because the washer's broken. There's a sick blind optimism to hoping you're not responsible for the mess you've help make.

Personally, I think all this Mayan Calender business is a ploy by the Marketeers and Purveyors of Crap We Don't Need to get us to buy early Christmas presents. Fuck that bidness.

I finally got tired of listening, and of being within eye shot of the television. There was no point in me watching the screen, tracking whether Hurricane Debby would move east towards Florida and become a hurricane or move west towards Texas and become a tropical storm. Just like there's no point in worrying about meteors flying towards the Earth or whether the volcano that's under the western U.S. (Hello... geysers, people... think about it.) Will erupt someday. 

And they will... probably. Eventually. But worrying never fixed a damn thing, anyway. For now, breathe. Drink a beer. Eat a taco. Do something nice.

23 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Up on Cripple Creek (Colorado)

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don't have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one - The Band (1970)

...these adventurous characters, going out into a new country...where it would seem that at last all men would stand on equal footing, have suddenly discovered that amid these primitive surroundings the modern industrial system is... found at its worst. -William Hard, writing about 19th Century Colorado miners.

When I met my 95 year old  Uncle Dan  for the first time a few days ago and gave him the short and sweet version of what I've been doing -- pointing out, as I do whenever possible, that I am continually struck by the beauty I find as I travel -- he remarked "There's a lot of beauty to see. A lot that's ugly, too."

Leave it to a Parsons to say so much in so few words. 

Those of you who understand the irony of this statement, now is the time to guffaw. That's right. Guffaw.

This cell was used to house up to 6 men, sleeping on hammocks.
And Colorado is, like a lot of this part of the country, is simply stunning to see. Mary, my first cousin, drove me up into the mountains, up through the City of Woodland Park, towards Cripple Creek -- which has been wrested from decay by the legalization of casinos and the subsequent tourism which has swelled as a result. You lose  (or win) at a casino, you can look for free range donkeys, you can walk up and down the main drag, look at the plaques on the buildings, buy ice cream, trinkets, toys, take a tour of the old jail... which really isn't that old, since it was last used in 1994. That's the year my daughter was born. She is 17 years old. I suppose it could be argued that metal boxes never go out of style and that prisoners should'n't be spoiled too much. I mean, after all, it's guilty until proven innocent, right? Make the bastards suffer. And the bitches, too, for that matter. The women's cells were upstairs... only two of them, along with a room for the Matron and a separate cell for children who were arrested. The women prisoners -- who, as far as I could tell, were mostly arrested for prostitution or other unladylike behavior -- did get a window view of the street, as well as a private  toilet and access to a bath tub. Still a metal box, though. with no heat in the winter, no respite from the heat in the summer.

The other thing that stuck out to me -- probably because the plaques describing them were included in the jail tour, is the labor history in Cripple Creek: like the 1894 Miner's Strike and the subsequent Colorado Labor Wars.  The 1894 Strike started because miners were fighting an enforced 10 hour work day. It was a violent strike, and it cemented the reputation of the Western Federation of Miners as a violent group. During the Labor Wars, which ran from 1901 to around 1904, were also violent, and included both the use of state militia, the National Guard under the command of Adjunct General Sherman Bell (who has a building with his name on it) and mercenaries like the Pinkertons, and the Baldwin-Felts. 

If you're a student of history, you might notice that the Haymarket Square Bombing -- for which four men, including Albert R. Parsons, were unjustly hanged -- occurred a few years prior the Cripple Creek Strike. (The Pinkertons were there, too. Notorious fuckers, the lot of them.)

I tend to get stuck on stories like this. Stories like that tend to be glossed over for the sake of tourism, and for the sake of revising some corporate entity's sense of guilt. And by corporate, I mean the government, I mean any governing body empowered by The State,  I mean the mining company that put profit above the safety of workers, and I mean anyone -- including the WFM, long defunct -- who resorts to violence. But mostly I mean the government, governing bodies, and mining companies.

I tend to get stuck on stories like this because there are always stories that aren't being told, that aren't being exploited for tourist dollars, that aren't left to history books that no one except historians read.

I actually had a nice time wandering around the town, because 1) I'm a history junkie and 2) I love small towns with a sense of character, some sense of self. And, as my cousin Mary pointed out, there's more history there than can be learned in one visit. I'm finding that for the most part, that's true of every place I've been since January. There is never enough time, and always more stories to hear.

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22 June, 2012

City Lights Pilgrimage, Summer 2012

Forgive me Ferlinghetti, for not buying a book
But I enjoyed the upstairs rocker
and the collection by Auden I read from.
I nearly spent money I didn't really have
on a collection by some Cincinnati writer
I haven't heard of – until I saw
he teaches at Xavier to the entitled and the pitied.
And then I read the poetry. And I was not moved.

Though the chances of running into you were nil
I nonetheless hoped to find you skulking behind
Bukowski, or perusing Corso.

The bookstore is as much a museum
as it is a library where people buy books.
Reminders everywhere if a time
when poets spoke words to lightening
rather than hid behind them
like thin, tepid grandmother's skirts.
No worries now about losing the poet
to pop culture, since  poets are either
college professors or mechanics
and neither of those is interesting enough
for a reality tv show.

(Wallace Stevens was the last lawyer  worth trusting.)
(William Carlos Williams was the last doctor worth listening to.)

I wanted to buy a book. Really I did.
But San Fran on the cheap
really isn't, though it's a great city to wander in;
and if you can't get by, there are shady places on the sidewalk
to sleep where passersby do not gawk
because they do not pay attention.
Market Street is for the suits,
the neighborhood bars around Little Saigon
and up and down Mission Street
are for those
who do not have the right attire to be seen
at the Embarcadero. There are no contenders there, anymore.

But I digress, Ferlinghetti.
I simply wanted to apologize
and to thank you for the chair,
and the nice cozy corner to read Auden in.
And to ask a simple question –
but I have forgotten what it was.

21 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Whim of the Great Magnet (Rocky Top, You'll Always Be)

Live in the nowhere that you came from
even though you have an address here. - Rumi

Ask the dust on the road!. -John Fante

After buying a $1 cup of coffee from the Mcdonalds in the Plaza Hotel -- which cost me $1.08 with tax -- I had exactly 19 cents to my name. Sitting in the Las Vegas bus depot... which is shamefully void of slot machines -- I had to consider my options carefully. In addition to that 19 cents I had a 12 ounce bottle of water, and a partial bag of trail mix that I knew would see me though.

I hoped.

Of course, the reason for my presence in Sin City's bus terminal... which, contrary to what people might think, has none of the glamorous odor of piss and astroglide (I FINALLY figured it out!) parfume of the L.A. bus terminal... instead of being on a bus headed for the Mormon's version of Eden on Earth, Salt Lake City -- was because Phoeinx simply did not want to let me leave.

No. Really.

The 10:15 pm bus leaving Phoenix was full. The bus driver, Carlos, informed us that if we closed the air vents located above the seats near the reading lights that the bus would catch fire. To be fair, it was an older bus. Since heading west from St. Louis, I have given up expecting a ride on one of the newer, glimmering buses they advertise with more leg room, electric outlets and free WiFi. (And while the outlets are great, the WiFi is spotty, the seats are actually a little less comfortable, and the overhead storage compartments are smaller.) Other than the possibility of fire, the air didn't work and the bus creaked like it was held together by duck tape.

All I wanted to do was sleep. For all I cared, the bus could've been made of duct tape and plastic wrap.

My planned destination: Salt Lake City. Why? Why wonder why? I wanted to visit the state that killed Joe Hill. I wanted to see if I could see any trace of the myth that Utah Phillips spoke of in his stories and songs. I wanted to scare some Mormons. I wanted see if I could snag some of that magic underwear, since I thought it might come in handy.

Why the hell not?

The bus made it as far as Glendale before Carlos pulled the bus over. Not a good sign. He puts the bus in park, hops out, and walks around the back of the bus. A few minutes later, he comes back.

"I've just spoken to Dallas," he said. The tone was ominous. Official sounding. Or, attempting to sound official sounding. "The back lights on the bus aren't working," he went on. "So we're turning around and going back to Phoenix Station to resolve it."

People were muttering, annoyed, guffawing. People are on their cell phones. I hear various versions of the same one-sided conversation. "This is SOME KINDA BULLSHIT!"

Then, as if we all didn't know it, he said "You can consider this schedule [pause for what? Dramatic effect?] delayed."

Walking back into the station was anti-climactic, but I wasn't too worried. I'm in no particular hurry, really. Whether I sleep on a bus in the dark then, or an hour from then, didn't matter to me. I was sure there,d be a bus to Salt Lake City in Las Vegas. I mean, Mormons gamble too, right?

Two hours later, the bus was apparently repaired, and we reboarded and headed out into the darkness. It still creaked like it was held together by tape and I was mindful of the vent, to avoid any fires.

By the time we reached Vegas, the sun was up and I was only slightly rested. The bus had managed to fill up, my phone battery was dead, and the air... which is supposed to be cooler when the engine is hot... wasn't. It was already hot, and I had missed the 7:55 to Salt Lake by nearly 2 hours. The next one would not leave until 9:30 that night. Not quite 12 hours. But close enough to be annoying.

Then I noticed there was a 3:15 to Denver.

My cousin Mary lives around there, somewhere. She's the daughter of my dad's older brother, Daniel, who is still alive, and who, up to that point, I had never met face to face. The Parsons' are an independent, quixotic lot. At least, my branch of the family is. And from what I can tell, from those I have met, and from the research -- genealogical and otherwise -- we tend to chose our own way through the world, regardless of whether it's the easiest, or seemingly the wisest.

I had thought I might make my way through Colorado on my Westward Jaunt, meet my cousin and my uncle. What had kept me away up to that point was a series of direction changes and ... to be honest ... the fact that every time I  saw a television report about Colorado, it involved apocalyptic fires and floods.

Considering my options, I plugged in my phone at the barely adequate charging station and sent a message to my cousin. A change in course didn't bother me. But I didn't want to make it a last minute one that would annoy or inconvenience  family I barely knew and had never met.  The possibility of meeting my Uncle Dan -- who, like my father and my Grandpa Parsons, had reached near mythic heights in my imagination -- stuck in my mind. To shake the hand of a man who was as close to my own father as I could meet as an adult, to get a glimpse into his life... his real life... was worth risking the apocalypse that seemed to be hitting The Centennial State.

I heard back from Mary in short order. She told me I was more than welcome to stop through for a couple of days.

I checked the schedule to Denver, and made sure of the exit gate and time. It would leave Vegas at 3:05 and arrive around 7 the following morning.

It was at that point that I wandered out into the street, and found my way to a cup of cheap, but welcome, cup of coffee.

Re:visionary Radio 06/21 by Grindbone | Blog Talk Radio

Re:visionary Radio 06/21 by Grindbone | Blog Talk Radio

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18 June, 2012

Eastward-ish - Into the Sunset: Tempe, AZ

Many demolitions are actually renovations. - Rumi

There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places. - Wendell Berry

There's what's right and there's what's right and never the twain shall meet. - Raising Arizona 

O, what's left of the flag for me?
My time back in the Valley of the Sun has reminded me of a few things. The first thing I'm re-reminded of is how nice it is to see old friends. I was able to cross paths with Kenny, who let me sleep on his floor in spite of the trauma it visited upon his cats, Koufax and Drysdale, and Scott McNulty, who let me crash on his couch for night.  I was also able to see Dan and Julie, Alan and Katherine, Colleen and Donald and John and Reese along with other regulars, from the now defunct (May it Rest In Peace!) Horse and Hound -- the bar that was my home away from home for most of the time that Arizona was the place I hung my hat.

I was also reminded of the impetus that made me leave here in December 2009-- albeit, I will admit, with some dragging of the feet. And I can best describe my reasons by highlighting the list of offenses committed on me by this loathsome, arid, devil's asshole (think Dante's Inferno, the lowest level):

  1. My first night here, I puked blood. 
  2. At one point, my feet and lower legs swelled to three times their normal size. (Think of a fucked up Popeye.)
  3. I experienced the Arizona version of Montezuma's Revenge.
  4. I was in a perpetual state of dehydration no matter how much water I drank.
  5. Being here caused me to spend more than I should have.

Now, it could be argued that I puked blood because I ingested far too much beer and not enough food. Though how that ever made a difference, I haven't a clue. I will admit that, upon returning here, it occurred to me just HOW MUCH time I spent at the bar, or drinking. I recalled the summer I perfected my margarita recipe...  well, I sort of remember. Really, with that much tequila and Triple Sec, who the fuck remembers anything? I'm lucky I wasn't arrested, naked from the waist down,  in the middle of the ASU main campus, pissing on the administration 

My visit wasn't all bad. In fact, it wasn't even mostly bad. I was also able to ride the light rail downtown and meet a dear friend, Michele L, for coffee. My eventually-to-be-ex-wife and I became friends with her and her studious husband, Richard, when Michele worked with Melissa at Child's Play Theatre in Tempe. Michele and I got along almost instantly, bonding over the Arts, literature, and penchant for being a bit long of jaw. Richard and I became friends because, like his wife, he's very smart. He also has a preternatural ability to win at the horses -- a skill that ... probably because I would have used it for evil rather than good... I haven't really acquired. (Not that it ever stopped me.) 

The Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa metroplex has a lot wrong with it, but the light rail isn't one of them. Clean and efficient, it took all of 36 minutes to get from Tempe to Central and Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix. If you're familiar with driving in the metroplex or with the I-10, you will know that's an amazing time. If you're not, take my word for it.

I left Tempe yesterday and spent last night -- somewhat at the last minute -- at my friend McNulty's closer to downtown. I have less of a connection, truth be told, to actual downtown Phoenix. I spent most of my time here on the East End. I worked at ASU's main campus. I drank at the Horse and Hound. We shopped and ate out in the East End. I went downtown once on the light rail, maybe twice, right after they unveiled it -- which was always delayed between construction delays and the protests of those short-sighted people who refuse to see the present and future importance of a working public transit system. 

I suspect that many of them have never had to rely on public transit, would not be caught dead on public transit, and (among all the men and maybe some of the women) drive gas guzzling cars because they know their penises are too small.

Though while it's been good seeing friends, I feel like I'm looking at Arizona with new eyes and seeing a host of old problems and issues that I recognized when I was here before. A 6 year old undocumented Mexican being arrested by a Maricopa County Sheriff who is more of a criminal himself. A governor who, but for scaring rich white people in Scottsdale, would probably have to go back to being a hairdresser. 

Or a Republican Vice-Presidential candidate.

I thought about living here before, and how angry I was. All the time. I don't know if it was the sun... and believe me, I do think the sun fries people's brains out here. How else do you explain the Minute Men at the border? Or the fact that Arizona insists on trying to support a hockey team?

Your guess is as good as mine, Dear Reader. Lawdy, Lawdy.

Be warned, though. Don't confuse righteous indignation with random anger. I may not have much of the latter. But as time goes on, I have more and more of the former. And I don't intend to misdirect my righteous indignation. Or sacrifice my sense of peace in the process.

13 June, 2012

Eastward-ish: Isn't That Just Spacial? - Tempe, AZ

I refuse to quote the First Amendment because no document can grant me what is mine already. - Quote from Mick's Travel Journal, Tempe, AZ

I've never heard of a revolution starting because people protested where the cops told them to. -Noah S. Kaplowitz

Traveling as I do means that sometimes, health and wellness complications arise. As you may recall in The Rash, Part 1 and The Rash, Part 2 , a run-in with some of the local wildlife residing at the Lewis and Clark Inn (Rapid City, SD), resulted a rash I (briefly) took for a burgeoning peanut allergy. I find that being back in the valley of the sun, my feet -- which have been out to get me ever since I learned to walk -- are once again deciding to give me 10 kinds of hell for

  1. Being where it's too fucking hot, and
  2. For wearing sandals because... well... it's too fucking hot, and  (Don't remind me it's not August yet. I'm not going to be hear for that hell. And save me commentary about dry heat. Stick your head in a heated convection oven and tell me how much better dry heat is.)
  3. For not getting enough salt.
It should be noted, for the record  and for any potential future posterity, that my feet have continued a slow and steady campaign against my person AT LEAST since the age of 8. The evidence is more than circumstantial. It's an air tight case demonstrating that my feet are trying to kill me. Or at least, trying to get out  of working... which, on a philosophical level, I can at least respect. 

Now, because I've twisted and NEARLY broken both my ankles, mostly without insurance -- and, as a result, mostly without post-tumble medical aid -- some occasional swelling is not all that unusual. Sometimes I twist one of my ankles without realizing it.... though wearing a good pair of boots when I travel helps enormously.But I noticed last night, while I was settling down for the night, that my right foot and ankle was swelled. No pain. Just swelling. Then I looked at my left foot. Not as much swelling. But it, too was getting that shiny, slightly reddish appearance of microwaved hot dog.

Upon doing some research on the ever reliable Google, I found that this condition is tied to the weather, my diet, and a change in the amount of salt in my system. I actually avoid too much salt, even preferring unsalted peanuts. My dietary habits as I travel tend to depend on cash flow and whether I'm in between or visiting someplace.  I've mentioned my preference for trail mix and fruit when traveling. I avoid the gastrointestinal nightmare of fast food whenever possible. When I cook, I do use salt, but I never add more than the minimum required. I don't touch the salt shaker either, except to maybe unscrew the top for some unsuspecting salt-aholic. I do like sea salt. But it's healthier... right?

But what I had forgotten, since I haven't lived in a frying pan for a few years, is that the sun, in addition to cooking you in your own juices, will actually take the salt right out of you. 

Really. No joke. Not even a folksy metaphor.

And when that happens -- when there's any drastic change in sodium in your body... sometimes there's swelling around feet and ankles. 

Today it was a little better. Then, when I arrived at the Tempe Public Library to blog and drink coffee in the Friends of the Library Cafe, Tempe Connections, I ate a bag of Doritos. There's still some swelling. But not as much. 

So, I guess it's true. 

Salt really does heal all wounds.

As long as it's not cardiac arrest. or Cirrhosis. Or Diabetes.


This Machine Supports Fascists 
Outside the doors to the Tempe Public Library, there's several shaded benches, nicely paved sidewalks leading to from the door to the parking lot and back. Tucked off in one corner, almost to the through road that cuts behind the City of Tempe Museum and in front of the library leading from Southern to Rural Road, there's a tiny tree. The tree isn't tall or wide enough to stand under, but a person can, theoretically, sit under it... either on the ground or by using a folding chair. In front of the tree, next to a spigot for the Tempe Fire Department, is the sign that inspired today's blog.

Now, I know what you're going to say, Dear Readers.

"This IS the United States of America."

Yes, it is. Gawd save the Republic.


Yes. We also have toilet paper. What a 1st World Country we are!

"And the First Amendment says --"

Did you know the Constitution also refers to blacks as 3/5th of a person?


"Yep. That could be why, whenever the Friends of  the Tempe Public Library run people out of the cafe for not spending money, they're usually black. Sometimes Mexican."


But I digress...

Sometimes there's someone out here with a petition or two, looking for signatures from registered voters. Don't let the tree fool you. It's fucking hot. And usually, it's not the people who actually CARE about whatever the petitions are about; it's usually people earning next to no money... often they use the homeless, and college students and the under employed... who really know nothing about what they're pandering. 

Come to think of it... except for the homeless, the under-employed and the college students, that sounds like most politicians, used car salesmen, and reflexologists. 

But especially -- naturally --  used car salesmen.

I've been coming to the library for the past few days to blog -- free WiFi, the smell of a library, and the potential for maybe sneaking a few pages from some book or another that I haven't read in a while. (Today I'm hoping to read a little from a collection of Henry David Thoreau's journals from 1837-1861.) The past two days, there wasn't anyone standing in the Free Speech Zone. 

On Monday, though, there was a guy. He was camped out, had one of those comfy camping chairs with a beer holder in the arm rest, a small cooler, and a plastic bag of munchies. His teeth hadn't seen a brush in quite a while. The front ones he had left were a green color. Red t-shirt, cargo shorts, gym shoes with the soles nearly worn through, an old ball cap, and really really new looking sunglasses. 

I'm guessing they were considered an advance on his paycheck; though I did wonder if he was getting paid hourly or by "commission." (I met a hot college co-ed once at ASU who tried to get me to sign up for the Republican Party by flashing her very smooth very tightly bound tan cleavage and insisting ... with a pout that would make any 4 year old jealous... that she would only get paid by commission based on the number of names she came back with. I didn't. My affection for tits will only go so far.)

He was trying to get people's attention, but no one was buying. I remember watching this when I lived here before. It's easy to walk by, and because of the limited and appropriated nature of the The Free Speech Zone, those trying to get petitions filled, or trying to sell one idea or another, are more or less limited to the green space... that which isn't burnt to dust... between the tree and the sidewalk. They're not even allowed to walk on either side of or behind the tree. They can't step on the sidewalk, or find a shadier place close to the entrance. 

If I didn't know better, I'd think they were treating people exercising their Constitutionally Promised Right like pan handlers.

As an occasional freelance journalist/muckraker/hack, I know quite a bit about the First Amendment. It's supposed to protect the press, particularly when it's being critical of the government. By practice and precedence, this right has been extended to groups, and to individuals.

As long as you stand in a space that is marked, appropriated, or apportioned.

As long as you purchase a permit to protest -- in a place that is marked, appropriated, or apportioned.

The very notion of a Free Speech Zone implies that everything outside of it is NOT a place where free speech is allowed.  Think about all the places you have seen where free speech is "allowed." And now think about the immense real estate dedicated to... say... real estate development. The usury-style theft and resale of our natural resources back to us, usually including the destruction of other natural resources they don't  about because they haven't figured out how to make a buck on them yet. Think about the amount of real estate with TRUMP on it. 

And then think about how many free speech zones you've actually seen.

Then tell me again about the Constitution and the First Amendment.

Since I had some time to kill on Monday, waiting for the Orbit bus (free), I asked the guy in the Free Speech Zone what he was trying to get people to sign. He asked if I was a registered voter in the state of Arizona. When I told him I wasn't, he seemed disappointed, but told me, very quickly, that one petition was in support of adding a $0.01 sales tax in Arizona for education. (I knew that one would die. People would rather pay for fences than for better schools; that's true in Illinois, it's true in Arizona.) The other was a petition for open primaries... and other sundry stuff having, I'm sure, nothing to do with transparency in government. 

Which is, of course, an oxymoron.

Then again, the ballot box is one of those marked, appropriated, and apportioned spaces.

Isn't it?

[Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, remember:
  2. PLEASE DONATE TO THE TRAVEL FUND. (Thanks and Gawd Bless Ye)]

12 June, 2012

Eastward-ish: Intermezzo: Answer To The Most Asked Question

"I'm a spoiled bitch" resonates in any language. - Note from Mick's Travel Journal (San Francisco)

Why do one-eyed Nazis always have the coolest eye patches? - Note from Mick's Travel Journal (San Francisco)

It's early June, and except for a few extended visits with friends and family, I've been Out and About for almost half a year. When I started re:visionary, it was meant to be part travel blog, part poetry journal, part political and culture commentary. There are elements, early on, that describe the disintegration of my marriage, and I am loathe to go back and read over them even though I know at some point I'll have to. I'm not loathe to read them because the memories cause me pain or discomfort or embarrassment. But I think at some point I'll have to combine what I've put in the blog with what I haven't had room for. And there's more. Much, much more, to be done.

Besides, while I can have bouts of what are best described as rampant sentimentality, I am not generally struck with nostalgia.  I do not long for the past -- not mine, not someone else's, and not any sort of revised and misrepresented point in history. I want to learn from the past, and carry those lessons with me into the present and future in the same way I carry my rucksack.

When I started out at the beginning of the year, it was with the intention of writing it all down, of staying out and living on the cheap as much as possible, and depending on the little bit of money I had when I left, plus any donations to the Travel Fund. (Graciously accepted, thank ye gawd bless ye).

Living this way is a feast or famine proposition; but, if I'm being honest ... and I'm ALWAYS honest, Dear Readers... so it goes for most people, indigent or no.  If you're one paycheck away from living out of your car or out of a backpack, then it's feast or famine for you, too. 

One of the nice things about being back in Tempe is that my friends here -- bar friends all -- remember me as a writer. More than one of them have asked if I'm working on another book, since they liked the other one so much. I've tried explaining americanrevisionary.com to them, and in spite of myself, it always comes off slightly more like an adventure story than an attempt to understand the country I call home, the American Dream that never was, and my life which in constant flux. This trip is is as much about the poetry I'm writing as it is the poetry I'm finding.

Maybe it comes off like an adventure because I still look at it that way... because I choose to live my life as the way it suits me rather than the way it suits the governmental and social  institutions that have let us all down. 

A few people -- some of them friends, some familial -- have asked What I Intend To Do Next. It's a question I often dodge, mostly because I don't feel like having the whole long discussion. But it has also occurred to me that in order for the blog to really be honest... and I strive to be honest, I do, Dear Readers... that I need to go ahead and say it as directly and as clearly as possible.

I don't intend to stop. I will take a break from time to time. But I like being Out and About too much. I need it too much. And I don't have any interest in having another job that will require me to sacrifice or compromise those elements of myself that are good and noble.  I'd rather live a real life than watch a reality TV show. I'd rather hear the stories of people I meet on the road than read about them on the internet. I'd rather be myself than other people's idea of me.

And I have found that the people who love me... who truly love me... know this about me even before I say it. One or two hold out hope... like My Dear Sweet Ma, I think... that I'll settle down again. She told me once,though, that it's possible she simply has her own ideas on what it means to be happy... and that mine don't have to be same.

I'm heading east for some rest, some respite, and some much needed warmth. But then I'm going to be off again... to the South, I think. Port Charlotte, Florida in the winter sounds wonderful.

11 June, 2012

Eastward-ish: Dennis the Menace and The L.A. Bus Station

Transcending life and death is leaving home. - Bodhidharma , "The Waking Sermon"

It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. - Native American Proverb

It was somewhere around the time that Dennis finished telling the story about how he and his dad had to help a stumbling drunk then President Jimmy Carter to his limousine -- much to the annoyance of the Secret Service suits who were, at the moment, looking at a long semi-retirement in Georgia having to babysit an ex-president -- when it was announced that our bus was boarding.

I was sitting on the floor in line at Door 14 in the Los Angeles Central Bus Depot, waiting. There is an established etiquette in most bus depots that says you can leave your bags and hold your place in line; naturally, this unofficial rule runs contrary to the official rules as set down by Greyhound Bus Lines, which state that no bags should be left unattended. There is also another common courtesy among most bus travelers -- bag watching. Which is to say that if you're holding your place in line at the gate (This does NOT apply to the ticket counter... ever.) and if you need to run to the restroom without losing your place in line, you can ask someone to watch over your shit while you're taking one. As the person watching, it's your responsibility -- if you chose to accept it, Mr. Phelps -- to move the other person's stuff forward if, for any reason, the line should move. It is NOT your responsibility to load someone else's crap on the bus, or to make sure it gets put under the bus.

Naturally, Greyhound Bus Lines has a rule EXPRESSLY FORBIDDING you from watching any bag that isn't yours or belonging to anyone you don't know well enough to have either changed their diaper or helped them through the trauma of a body cavity search.

I watched Dennis's stuff when he went off for a smoke, and when he got back, he hobbled and sort of fell -- he later told me he was suffering from a sciatic nerve -- next to me on the floor, telling me about he and his dad and Jimmy Carter. He also took care to point out that his mother was already in the limo drinking with then Presidential Family Prize, Billy.

Dennis and I left San Francisco on the same bus, changed buses in Sacramento, and were now waiting for the bus from Los Angeles to Dallas., where he would change buses again and head south for Miami, Florida. I was getting off the bus in Phoenix, where I hoped to visit friends and see some old stomping grounds.

The availability of a friendly couch or piece of floor was also a determining factor. My stay in San Francisco, while cheaper than it certainly could have been -- the city has a 15.5% surtax on hotel rooms -- still depleted my travel fund to the point that I had to either go someplace with friends, or go someplace and hope there was an open bed at the men's shelter.  I had been promising friends in the 480/602 that I would stop through my Westward Jaunt. My original plan, prior to being waylaid in St. Louis and ending up in Nashville, was to circle south and visit The Valley of the Sun while it was still almost kinda sorta comfortable. But the timing was good, anyway... being low on funds and knowing I'd at least have a place to crash -- not to mention being able to see friends I hadn't seen since the eventually-to-be-ex and I left the desert for the four seasoned tundra of Northwest Illinois -- was all the incentive I needed.

And of course, coming from the West Coast that meant going through L.A.

Now, as much as I've said I don't have much interest in seeing L.A., I have to admit I kind of wish I could have. The problem, as far as I can tell, is that I'm not quite sure how to wrap my head around a place like Los Angeles. Most other cities -- even the horrible gray ones like Norfolk, Virginia --  have a sort of personality. Sure, most cities are diverse, and have all kinds of stuff; but even New York -- which is by far one of the more diverse conglomerates of buildings, neon, history, and twisted metal that I have ever seen -- still has a sense of itself. Even Cincinnati, which has very little sense about anything, especially among the people who are typically elected by Indian Hill residents to keep the keys and turn the lights on and off, still has a unique personality. L.A., it has always seemed to me, is more of a Choose Your Own Adventure City. Is it the punk/rock/goth/music scene that's the backdrop of such shows like LA Ink? Is it Bukowski's North Hollywood? Is it all glam and slam bam thank you ma'am like it looks on the Oscars? Is it Watts? South Central? Compton? Seems to me like whatever you want out of the City of Angels you can get.

The bus station in L.A., though... that was a world unto itself. The first thing I noticed -- besides throng of people and the near impossibility of getting around without having to almost run people over -- was an underlying and (as of yet) undetermined smell. I am (sadly) familiar with smells fine and foul, from expensive bourbon to 3 day old cooked puke and piss in the gutters of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The odor of the L.A. station wasn't sweat, or body odor, or garbage. It wasn't gasoline. It wasn't piss or old mop water.

Luckily, the bus we were on from Sacramento was about an hour behind schedule. That cut the 2 1/2 hour layover time down, at least.

Dennis was worried that the bus would be too full. He had managed to avoid having anyone sitting next to him by essentially setting up camp. He put his bag in the seat next to him and didn't move it. Lucky for him, neither of the buses was so full that he would be compelled to move it by the driver. I didn't fair that lucky...though the bus leaving Sacramento had been, at least, a modern bus with electric outlets and a spotty WiFi connection. I didn't expect any of the West Coast buses to NOT be full. And as much as I would like to have Dennis's tenacity, I still adhere to some simple rules of bus travel... that include watching somebody's bags in line when they go off to the bathroom for a quickie with a bus station hooker.

Sorry. Lady of the Evening. Lady Thanks to Duck Tape. Lot Lizard. Depot Deepthroater. Hand Job Sanitizer. Whatever. I'd hate to get someone's job title wrong. What do you call it when someone pays you for sex in a bus station bathroom?

Being a Republican.

And NO, I don't really care. I just think it might be better to have this shit out in the open. Set up Hooker and Coffee Kiosks. You can have chaise-lounge and a privacy curtain, order it all up like at Starbucks:

Cashier: Welcome to Coffee and a Piece. What would you like?
Customer (Male) : I'd like a medium half-caf no foam latte with a twist.
Cashier: Anything else? [Wink Wink]
Customer (Male): How about a Caramel Honky Delight?
Cashier: Blonde, Brunette, or Redhead?
Customer (Male): Uh...  (Looking over the menu) I had a Blonde last time. Nice but a little foggy. How about we go with the Red head.
Cashier: Very good, Sir.
Customer (Male): That's a natural Redhead, right? A friend of mine tried one at another location and she was strictly out of the bottle.
Cashier: All Natural all the time, sir. Will that be all?
Customer (Male): Does this location have the Hump Day Pre-Op Tranny Special?
Cashier: Yes sir.
Customer (Male): (Reaches into his wallet for his credit card.) Let's go with that, then.

The thing about Dennis's Carter story, which ended, improbably enough, with a statement that he liked Carter just fine until he gave away the Panama Canal ... after which he never forgave him ... was that while I almost certainly didn't believe him -- Ok, I was almost certain that I was certain I didn't believe him -- it didn't much matter to me whether I believed him or not. I liked Dennis. He looked rough. Looked, as a matter of fact, like he'd spent some time out, and was running with his tail between his legs. And as we talked, I discovered that this was probably closer to the truth. Before he got on the bus in San Fran, a suspiciously plain clothed cop type person handed him a bus ticket to Miami and $40 -- $10 a day for every day he would be on the bus. I found out later, among Dennis's story telling about being a master mechanic, carpenter, and about how he had to leave the West Coast because there was no work for him, that he had come out San Fran to see his wife, who is apparently brilliant, with multiple university degrees, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot.

"So I come all the way out here," he says. "And you know what she tells me?"

"No. What'd she say?"

"She says 'Dennis, you're a distraction. I can't work with you here.'"

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking the same thing I did. You're thinking "If you are married, there has to be a reason she moved to the other side of the fucking continent to get away from you." He was a small guy, though, a bit older... older than his age, since he told me he was born in 1957 but he moved like a much older man... and didn't look like he could hurt anybody. His big red suitcase with the duck tape handle weighed more than he did. He told me it was full of tools.

It was heavy enough to be full of his wife.

The thing I liked about Dennis, though, other than his stories, was that he was constantly excited about the landscape outside the bus windows. He'd never been across country by bus, he said, he'd flown out before but couldn't afford to fly back. (I don't think he realized I saw where his ticket came from. I didn't tell him.) But he was always calling over to me, whether I had someone sitting next to me or not-- I had a window seat on one side and he on the other -- about something he saw out of his window. At one point he was on the phone with someone who told him the highway we were on was directly over the San Andreas Fault.

And to be honest, I thought that was actually kind of cool.

[Thanks for reading. And remember: if you like what you're reading:

DONATE TO THE TRAVEL FUND. Please? Thank Gawd and Bless Ye. ]

07 June, 2012

Homo Viator (At The World's Edge): Ferlinghetti's Gambit, Part 2

Part 1 HERE

[I'm in transit, on a 15 hour burn to Phoenix. The bus, as far as L.A. anyway, is the first bus outfitted with electric outlets and WiFi since St. Louis.  Thank GAWD. Sometimes, Dear Reader, the universe is kind. Take care to keep that in mind, even when it's not.]

The poetry section didn't disappoint. A lot of familiar names, like Montale, Vaca, Auden.  The  names you'd expect: Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso.

Corso. I taught Corso in writing workshops at the drug and alcohol rehab at the Cincinnati VA. Those crusty old bastards ate him up. Couldn't get enough.

The rocking chair looked entirely too comfortable not to sit in. Those old rocking chairs are like that; they get some wear and tear. Some love, some care. They take on a character and a personality all of their own; they can become a defining factor in any space they inhabit or any space they are removed from. That it was labeled -- perhaps sardonically -- "Poet's Chair" added to the look, but didn't scare me off. My feet were starting to scream from inside my boots and a few minutes repose with a little bit of poetry seemed in order to me.

And besides, I thought. If there's some stupid rule about not sitting in the chair unless your Ferlinghetti -- perish the un-egalitarian thought, but hell, it's his shop he can piss in the non-fiction section if he wants to -- then it was a good start to achieving my goal.

I chose a collection by Auden -- As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse -- and flipped through to "Letter to Lord Byron, Part 1." Auden is one of those poets I came to only maybe in the last 10 years or so. Formal, disarmingly and deceptively light, he gets passed over often. It probably helps that he's not only a Brit, but something of a Socialist... and since we don't even like to read our OWN Reds, Ballad, let alone those from across the pond, Auden is continually ignored in a culture that prefers to ignore homegrown poets regardless of their politics. 

Such a funny poem. The speaker is a young poet, writing contemporarily, to Byron. And since Byron is, of course, long dead, the speaker is able to imbue the Romantic Bard with all sorts of characteristics... including making him a bosom buddy: someone with whom  the speaker can relate, pontificate, and try out his ideas on. 

In short, Byron is in artist's hell. 

While I was sitting there, reading, resting my feet, enjoying a cozy corner next to a small window with west coast light pouring,  another person perusing the shelves asked in what I thought was a British accent "Do you charge tax for books in America?"

"Yes," I reported grimly. "They do. Why do you think I'm sitting here reading it?"

"That's a good plan." he said, taking his prospective purchases downstairs.

There was another person up there, an older, balding man in a blue shirt and tie. He stuck to the poetry criticism section. I wanted to smack him with Leaves of Grass, but the copies weren't handy, being on the other side of the room.

After a while, though, it occurred to me that I hadn't heard anything. There was some office kid sliding in and out of a nondescript door between the stairwell and the bookcase of Beat Poetry anthologies. But no grumbly old poets. The closest I could get was thumbing through one of his books -- a newer collection published by City Lights as part of a series on San Francisco poets.

As I went back downstairs, I quickly pondered my options. I could cause a ruckus and run the risk of the sourly bald register jockey calling the cops... who would, I'm sure, arrive promptly and not trample my civil liberties. Or, I could leave defeated.

I looked around one more time to see if I could catch some glimpse of the man. I noticed a closet under an alcove, it was open, full of books yet to be stocked. There had been a hand written sign in large black letters:


Couldn't have said it better myself.

In the end, I didn't get to be told to fuck off by one of my few living* literary heroes. 

But I got to read Auden, and sit in a comfy rocking chair, and breathe in the same space as Corso, McClure, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and  Bukowski. And, of course, Ferlinghetti... who remains as much a mystery to me as, well... most mysteries.

* Update: Lawrence Ferlinghetti died February 2021 at the age of 101 years. In 2012 he wasn't one of my few living literary heroes. He was the only one. 

Homo Viator (At the World's Edge): Ferlinghetti's Gambit, Part 1


It was a simple yet elegant plan.

My intention was to find the City Lights Bookstore, bask in the literary mecca of any and everyone who has read The Beats, and in the process, get Ferlinghetti to tell me to fuck off. The chances of that aren't nearly as far off as you might think; after all, City Lights Bookstore has been in the same location at the edge of Chinatown since it opened in 1953. In addition to being a fully functional bookstore -- where one can still go in order to buy books -- it's also a place where literary things continue to happen. It's also the home base for City Lights Books, which continues to publish interesting stuff even though it's been suggested that people don't really read anymore.

And in addition to that, City Lights Co-Founder and literary juggernaut Lawrence Ferlinghetti is almost as famous for being a crank as he is for being a poet/publisher/ independent book store proprietor.


Before striking out from the hostel late in the morning this morning, I asked the girl at the front desk about the best bus route to City Lights. I had a pretty good idea, having done a little research before I hit town, but I wanted to make sure my thinking on the matter correct, that there wasn't some change in the bus schedule that hadn't made it to the internet, and that I could find it without getting too lost.

She recommended that I walk there. She assured me she did it all the time and that it usually took her a half hour. Her directions took me straight through the heart of Chinatown. Naturally, I assumed it would take me longer to walk up Larkin to Geary, and then up Geary to Stockton... which would lead me through Chinatown and eventually to the mecca.

Let me point out that today was a beautiful day. I didn't mind the walk, and it would save me money not having to pay for bus fare.

China town was an amazing experience, a cacophony of smells, and people. The produce markets had people sometimes 3 or 4 deep, and all kinds of chatter. Crowds of people moving, or not moving. At one point, even before I walked through the Stockton Street tunnel that was the official boundary for Chinatown, I wasn't sure I had even the slightest clue where I was going. And I had a map, kindly provided by the very polite desk person at the hostel. Between that and the fact that San Fran is an easy city to walk around in, and an interesting one, too. All of the rail stations I ran across had easy to read maps with YOU ARE HERE red dots on them.  In addition, because the city is, in it's heart, an old port city -- the grand version of the river towns I grew up around -- it's not as economically or racially segregated. (Note: NOT AS.) In Little Saigon and the surrounding neighborhood, where the hostel is, there are countless residential motels, slums, dives, and shops, all buttressed up against high class hotels meant to attract tourists. Workaday people, artists (usually identified either by mod black attire or some version of Goodwill Hippie throw back), tourists, street folk, hookers, druggies, pimps, and various Others all share the same space... mostly by ignoring and occasionally sneering. Particularly at the street folk. The warm weather and the hope of secretly class conscious tourists make the city a natural haven. Some people blame the 60's. I blame the wind off the bay.  Walking through anyplace is the best way to get to know a place, and San Francisco is a romantic city to wander in...romantic in the way that only something old, something new, something ugly, and something beautiful can smash together and create.

After I found City Lights, it took me a minute or two to catch my breath before I walked in.  The neatly put together San Franny behind the register didn't acknowledge me. I walked in started perusing books. I found the Bukowski right away... in several languages.  That was all fiction, though.

What I wanted, what I needed... was poetry.

I had long wearied of trying to find a respectable poetry section in any book store anywhere.  I knew that if anyone would have a poetry section worth slowing down and looking into, it would be Ferlinghetti -- the man, the myth, the poet, the publisher, the rank asshole among living poetry legends.

I'm going to have to finish this on on the road, Dear Readers. My time in the city that inspired Dashiell Hammett is done. I'm heading east again, towards The Valley of the Sun.

Part 2 HERE

06 June, 2012

Homo Viator: (At The World's Edge): San Francisco Lines

It is an odd thing, but every one who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world. -- Oscar Wilde

San Francisco from the bridge
To no one's surprise, it rained copiously the day I left Eugene. Even though it was temperate and mostly warm for the entire week, the weather gods chose Monday, the day of my departure, to unleash a minor torrent.

Take that, road ready traveler. See if you can stay dry for that.

This leg of the trip was one with the buses mostly crowded. I was able to stretch out and enjoy the adjoining Only once between Eugene and Sacramento. A lot of people are on the move, I've noticed, as I've gone further and further west. And while I have run across a few nomadic souls here and there, mostly I'm running into people who are on the move because they have to be. Like the guy behind me who boarded in Medford who was headed for L.A. to attended a funeral for a bouncer friend of his who had been beaten to death. There have also been more than a few who are on the road because they recently got out from under parole restrictions, and some who are choosing to run in spite of them.

That shouldn't overshadow the large number people I run into who are looking for work... or who are just looking. Not vacationing... though I'm sure in some other place, say an airport terminal, or even on an Amtrak, I would find people who are off in search of that perfect hyper-real experience, that photo-fury experience of standing in front of things and moving from standing in one line to standing in a dizzyingly similar one.

After a four hour layover in Sacramento, I  made it to San Francisco around 9:30 in the morning, Left Coast Time.  After getting turned around, and then figuring out that the city is painfully easy to get around in on foot... there are maps at bus and subway stations that provide a Big Red Dot signifying You Are Here... I found my digs for the night... a friendly looking hostel located in Little Saigon.... which required me to walk through Little Harlem and The Little Latin Quarter (neither of which were provided lamp post banners to signify or make them stand out. Imagine that.) That allowed me somewhere to leave my rucksack and gave me a chance to wander around the neighborhood a bit, where, not surprisingly, I found a nice little bar, The Brown Jug, that maintained a goats head above the mahogany back bar, a nice broken down 1950's atmosphere, and a $5.00 beer and shot special.

After two those, Dear Readers, I found my legs a bit more solid, even if my feet were on the sore side.