Is it strange that I sing to my phone, “If you don’t know me by now, you will never ever really know me,” when it doesn’t recognize my fingerprint? Perhaps. But the oddest things do keep occurring in these particular times I find myself living through. Most of all I probably walk around looking as if I’ve just dropped something: staring at the ground around my shoes with an exaggerated pertinence. But, like some bit-part guy listed as The Boisterous Drunk in the credits of a B-movie, I have my moments too.
What a spread, this retreat spelled with the inanition that comes from the fear of making terrible decisions. Despondent as a recent divorcee taking a different kind of plunge from the rooftop garden, I hunt disasters down wherever I go.
Here’s something: “When George Washington was inaugurated President in 1789, only one real tooth remained in his mouth. Dr. John Greenwood — a New York dentist, former soldier in the Revolution, and a true pioneer in American dentistry — fashioned a technologically advanced set of dentures carved out of hippopotamus ivory and employing gold wire springs and brass screws holding human teeth.”
Ideas of pulchritude aside, at least my teeth are all my own. Plus, I park better than most valets and presidents.
With catastrophe predicted, I sought emptier places, and, like some toothpick salesman from Roanoke, I took the bait of solace out on pier 14. Thinning outside things to a scrappy intensity, the atmosphere was obscene with artificial instrumentation, and my cautious strides were out of line with strabismic perception, clogged gutters of my visual stimulation now washed, I felt the razzle of some hang-dog sentiment’s dazzle. A big harrumph for me, I guess — to fight a war that can’t be won.
The American Dream is a feathered blonde toupee dropped in a gold toilet filled with shards of diamonds floating in coal-slurry vomit.
So clattering and skidding go the cars over the hose-soaked pavement. We are suspicious creatures replete with malcontent ruminations. I pondered rising tides that would mount higher in coming years, eventually erasing this pier from the world, this wood-and-cement terrain I was embarking on, currently, drooping my easy way out to the rounded edge of. Counting my steps (curbing the fear of not having a solid, rhythmic connection to the world’s tangible effects) as I circled and lingered there, classifying birds in ornithological thought bubbles, I mistook a tern for a skimmer, cursed my clumsy brain, and checked myself in to a transient state of mind. I began singing, low and light, “I’m in a transient, transient state of mind. Yeah. Yeah. Transient, baby. I’m a transient at heart. Not here, not there. Just between one place and the next. I’m a transient. Yeah. Yeah. In a transient state of mind, baby.” A great deal of time passed.
People who do not appreciate others enough, who fail to take into account the ultimate reconciliation of the spirit, emotional or otherwise withheld, are mostly assholes. This was a tidy recollection of mine, wavering there out at the end of that damn hokey pier. There were no cigarettes left to smoke, thank whatever you conceive of as God for that, and so I played it vest-close with some nice, generous thoughts. People stopped to pose for pictures with The Bay Bridge’s western span in the background — smiling too big, too happy and eager to please, ventriloquist dummies of themselves — and then moved on. Call me reconciled, or whatever sticks best. I should’ve been a lounge singer, crooning over the sound of clinking cocktail glasses and hushed small talk, swaying and turning on my heels with a pencil mic curled between my fingers. I could’ve had a chance at it all, or some of it at least, instead of all of this “not much” I keep myself floating in on.
So, after a return to drier land, I moseyed on into a deteriorating clapboard structure with room for a few more inquisitive bastards at an oval drop-leaf table. I squeezed into their fold between two gate legs and pulled up to the scuffed-oak top on a cheap vinyl folding chair that sagged and teetered under my weight.
“You don’t make much of a first impression, do you?”
“Out of cards and cares, I figure.”
“Consider me off the case until your assistant honcho comes around to sniff the elephant crap you keep eating by the bucketful.”
“Another cheapskate cutting up the ice. Whipsawing dimensions of right-doing. Take the day off, Melrose. The Dow’s sunk. We’re all stinking of ginger here.”
And so, again, I was on my way. Where? That was a question I was intent on not asking.
In my natural state, off-put with awkward strides and a rummy slouch, I hitched and hobbled over Market Street’s constant clangor, aware and not so too of all that got throttled and went haywire-wild in the bogus constructs of sight’s onus; and I paced myself with the anthemic strings and horns of Vista-Vision oaters. I was calm as a straitjacketed basket case. It was time for some deliberation. Chasing a few badly constructed sentences through the jail of a paragraph’s hold, I cleared some debris from my esophagus and tried out this hot air: “Never is a hard word. Nothing that’s left is less than it. Too. I’ve been granted a stay in these green pants with yellow piping, for now. Charged extra for lines like this: ‘The cracked squinting cockroach eyes slat sun through laundromat windows on woodbench foldingroom dives abrupt to catch the California bus redwood-heavy lumbering up Clay Hill filled with coughers and fidgeters and I am not well…’”
Still determined in my preconceptions, I cleared a few wastrels and laughers from pitiable misrepresentations of “barring all that” stupidity. Until then no celibate flautist with a dirty collar had come up to me chanting, “Time is only one side of a tesseract. Pearl buttons on her blouse. Breathe. Breathe. Hold your breath. The soul is not on an anatomy chart. Love is what you bring to it. Spreading out one’s life like a rug for her to step all over. A barroom brawl broken up by a preacher. A hat torn from its plumage. Something pulled abruptly from the bizarre turquoise of your life’s dullest tones. It’s not the story you tell; it’s the way you tell it that matters. Ahem.”
My self-imposed alienation was crafting a plywood bunk for the brains of this casual operation to take a nap in. Clearly I was in under my knees, and the thought of dodging oddball victims of inoperable tameness made the withering vines of veins in my legs constrict and knot and wend around each other in a most uncomfortable manner. There were other previously cleared avenues to plead with for manipulated relief. I opted for calculated indecision, hands stuffed like handkerchiefs in my coat pockets, reeling with the realization that boredom ages better than wine.
My phone was about to die. It had forgotten who I was again. I could’ve plugged it in to its unique adapter to a charger, resurrect its spirits until it recognized me again. But perhaps a bit of amnesia wasn’t the worst thing for it just then. The screen dark, the volume fallen to mute, its background photo of a flower sprouting from a coffee cup gone. I sang it to a dreamless sleep: “Paul the barber runs a union shop. An apron tied for a shoeshine. A gas can for your dreams. Just a little off the bottom, leave a lot on the top. Take this homemade bourbon with a drop of maple syrup. Peel your eyes under that slouch hat and say goodbye to The El. We’re cheapest when we’re flush, and give whatever we’ve got when we’re broke. My prayers have gone electric, you can hear them sizzle in the wires. Come home, Johnny, just this one last time, so you can finally leave this place for good.”