The man danced the Tango in the evening. At six o'clock, he dressed, combed his hair into place, and in the foyer he put on his coat and his hat. The man's son was sixteen and played guitar in a rock band which rehearsed in the adjacent room. Before he left one evening, the man stood in the foyer and watched his son, and a smile of contentment was borne on the man's face. For not so long ago, the man had been a boy. He too had played the guitar in a band, and he remembered watching his father dress by the door in coat and hat on his way out to dance in the evening. The man stood watching his son, who looked up from his playing to the man, suddenly unsure of himself and his instrument. As the band played on, the man smiled lovingly at his son, and approached him to whisper into the boy's ear:
"No te aflíjas. El Tango te va a esperar."
At dawn I made tea, put on D'Angelo's Voodoo and sat with Eliot's Four Quartets. I first read it in my youth with Kimmy, laying on the warm brick by the water, just beyond the rose garden.
All in good time, we say, and then get back to the bustle. Only now our haste has been halted, stiff-necked notions of productivity spinning in the mud.
It's funny for me to think about the first time I heard this music, because the very first time I heard this music, I heard very little. I was with Ollie Rombus, watching TRL, and when 'Untitled (How Does It Feel)' came on, I just remember the tantrum of two adolescent white boys staring at a naked black man, exasperated, aroused. In good time, it came back around, sans visual stumbling block, and I heard it like I heard Money Jungle. I heard J Dilla, a sound that bucked quantization, retained disequilibrium, embraced imperfection. I heard musicians in a room together, playing for the muse, not yet minions of their machines. I heard a sound in and out of time.
'Time past and time future Allow but a little consciousness. To be conscious is not to be in time But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden, The moment in the arbour where the rain beat, The moment in the draughty church at smokefall Be remembered; involved with past and future. Only through time time is conquered.'
Outside my window, there is the birdsong over the din of construction down the street. The erection of luxury condominiums is an essential service, of course.
In the shadow of the church, a cat--black--patrols the passageway, and sitting in the window with her book she calls to it. Don't you know about black cats? I said. Her head turned unhurriedly to face me. Don't you know about black cats? she said. She turned back to the feline. Matagot!
The girls in espadrille wedges wobbled over the cobblestone as Mauro rolled spliffs beside me, leaning on the statue of Giordano. I was busking Campo de' Fiori that evening in the summer heat, feeling blue about Sahara. And then a group of girls walked through the square, and I was roused by her swarth. From within the crowd she was self-contained, and as they passed she looked back at me, looking straight at her, and she flashed a resplendent smile. I forgot the song I was playing, reached over and took a big swig from our flask, handed Mauro the guitar and walked off into the alley.
Her name was Anousha. I walked with her, trailing behind the other girls, as they looked back and whispered apprehensively. They ducked into a bar; I ran back to fetch Mauro, blotto and banging out Stones tunes right where I'd left him, and we joined them for drinks.
The following afternoon Mauro gave me a lift on his vespa up to Piazza Garibaldi. Anousha and I sat on the ledge overlooking the city and then walked beneath the sycamores to the Fontana dell'Acqua Paola. Her father had fled Iran during the revolution and moved to the south of France, where he met her mother and they started their family. They'd move to Paris some years later, and after her mother passed, Anousha took off to travel, finally settling in Rome two years previous. She walked with a long and graceful gait, and her skirt tangoed with the merciful breeze. At the big fountain I jumped up on the lip and she proceeded to push me right into the water before laughing and jumping in behind me, throwing her arms around my head and kissing me hard.
She found me a little apartment right behind Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and negotiated a fair price with the landlady. It was the hottest summer in many years, and so we spent most days in bed or reading in the window. In the evenings I'd play guitar in the piazza and then I walked to meet her at the restaurant. We'd hang with the crew out behind the kitchen, have beers and a smoke, and then we'd spend hours traipsing the eternal streets and sharing gelato. By dawn we arrived at her place by the Ponte Sant'Angelo and lay on the rooftop to watch night become day, and then it was time to feed the cat, matagot, so she'd stuff some clean clothes into her bag and we walk back toward the sainted shadows.
There's a black cat creeping in the shadow of the steeple
There's a black cat that's creeping in the shadow of the steeple
Searching for the yarn
to thread the needle
Sahara gave me an ultimatum while I sat on a toilet in Paris. Her timing was impeccable; I was in no position to parry and riposte. She brushed her teeth and made the bed, zipped up her bags, and walked out the door.
I met Lester at a bistro down by the Canal Saint-Martin. I had my parlor acoustic and his harp was always in his coat pocket; we drank beer and then found a spot by the water to play music. As evening fell we split the take and said adieu and I caught a train headed south to Italy.
In the mountains of Piemonte, perched above the village of Aisone, I found work on a small farm. I slept in a trailer on the mountainside and was tasked with caring for the horses and dogs, along with general upkeep. Across a lush valley was the old village, and in the evenings I'd drive a battered Fiat sans rear doors through the trees, trailed by two loyal Saint Bernards, down the mountain and across the valley for a few grappas at the village tavern.
They'd grown up together running the sinuous cobblestone streets, and both still lived here with their families. Valerio and Gianna were always at the tavern in the evening, and before long we were sharing a wobbly table and drinking grappa together. Valerio's mother was a pianist, had a beautiful grand in their tiny apartment, and so our congress soon drifted up the hill.
Valerio stood on the terrace, looking out over the village and valley, smoking a cigarette and sipping grappa. Gianna and I sat together at the piano. When her rhythm would falter, or when the note selection was too dissonant for his taste, Valerio was quick to call her out, which invariably saw Gianna spring up to unleash a vicious invective before collecting herself and returning to the music with an amplified fury.
Drinking coffee della nonna, from her Moka pot. I think of Bebe and Aldo on Easter, read their bible, though likely not in the way they read it.
I talked on the phone with Hank yesterday. He and Elena planted the beans together, as they do each year around this time. Her nonna in Albina taught her about the beans, and she and Hank keep it going in Mariposa. The way Hank layed his brick and planted his garden once pissed Aldo off--"What the hell, you think you gonna reinvent the wheel?!"--and Hank laughed, grateful for the elder's counsel and content to ruffle a few feathers while he stepped to the music he heard.
From my open window there is the birdsong, and invocations from the neighbor's yard. From Joseph Campbell: 'Jesus left his mortal body on the cross...to go to the Father with whom he was one. We, similarly, are to identify with the eternal life that is within us. The symbol at the same time tells us of God's willing acceptance of the cross--that is to say, of participation in the trials and sorrows of human life in the world... Thus the cross has a dual sense--one, our going to the divine, and the other, of the divine coming to us. It is a true cross-ing.'
'What has always been basic to resurrection, or Easter, is crucifixion. If you want to resurrect, you must have crucifixion. Too many interpretations of the Crucifixion have failed to emphasize that. They emphasize the calamity of the event. And if you emphasize calamity, then you look for someone to blame. That is why people have blamed the Jews for it. But it is not a calamity if it leads to new life. Through the Crucifixion we are unshelled, we are able to be born to resurrection.
'...In the Prado is a great painting by Titian of Simon of Cyrene as he willingly helps Jesus with the cross. The picture captures the human participation, the free, voluntary participation...in the Easter-Passover mystery.'
May you find yourself at crossroads that link the liminal and eternal...
I went to the crossroads Easter, 'round the witching hour
I went down to the crossroads On Easter 'round the witching hour
But there was only the wind
blowin' through the wildflowers
Huckleberry P. Jones was a pimp and narcotics dealer in Venice, California. With the birth of his first child--a girl named Sahara--he resolved to go straight, and moved his young family up north. He purchased a modest home on a suburban street and set up shop as a general building contractor in a seedy district of industrial San Francisco.
Fayez Pascal was an enigmatic guru with a devoted following in Marin County and San Francisco, and subsequent to making his acquaintance I became mixed up in beguiling circumstances. I was being groomed for glory as a performer but displayed an uncanny knack for parrying my potential; I was still standing at that moonlit crossroads. And then there was the moonshine: drink and dope and the starlets in my orbit. I'd been working as a bellhop at a Tenderloin hotel--one that'd seen Billie Holiday the victim of a 1949 Anslinger drug bust--and playing guitar on Hyde Street, but Fayez got me moving in swankier circles, and when I wasn't in pursuit of promising ingénues I was playing posh cocktail parties for the moneyed denizens of the Bay Area. At one soiree, I noticed a girl that looked like a tawny Natalie Wood with a singular and ravishing nose, smiling at me from across the room. And this is how I met Sahara Jones. Sahara was a painter and law student living in Chinatown. She was resplendent and grounded, a blue-collar bohemian who gussied up to hustle the well-heeled and live life on her own terms.
When I wasn't working solo, I was sitting in with Lester Rosario. I'd seen him playing a hotel lobby and thought he was a hoot, felt the keys like Otis Spann. He lived in the basement flat of an old mansion on Laguna Street, and when we weren't gigging, we were there, writing music, getting high and drinking wine. We were playing at a bar on Polk Street one night, and during a break in sets we popped outside for a smoke. A man in a rumpled suit was sitting on the hood of a '64 Impala, parked in the red, a cigarette dangling from his lips. This was Gordon Parker. He was a legendary tickler of ivories and onetime Booker protégé--and embroiled in a torrid love affair with Lester. He was none too pleased to meet me that first night, but he relaxed and warmed up once I introduced Sahara, and I soon began dropping into his gigs and learning everything I could from him.
Fayez was leading a spiritual cult from a Mill Valley cabin, and I was playing ball to drum up work and romance, bouncing between beds and balconies until that night in Tiburon when I'd met Sahara. We'd smiled at each other and then slipped outside after my set, wandered down to the bay and out onto a boat dock with a bottle of champagne and a blanket and woke up to the foghorn and gulls overhead. I spent the following week crashing at her spot in Chinatown, which she shared with a Castro party boy who bore an uncanny resemblance to Corey Allen in Rebel Without A Cause. Thrice during my stay, he returned home and interrupted our fornication to crawl into bed with us and bitch about boys. In the early morning dark, the three of us lay awake, talking softly, as the cable car tracks hummed and rattled in the street below her window.
I ponied up and rented a loft in the Dogpatch. Lester was moving to Paris, and so I gave him the rest of my money in exchange for the upright grand that had been in his flat. Sahara and I transformed the upper level into a studio space, and spent our days writing and painting, sitting together on the bench to play the piano, or in the window with our books, listening to the train and the waterfall.
The way I first heard it, she was 19 and working in a watch factory in her hometown of Besançon. He was 22, from a small town in the Northeast of Italy, and had come to France to work as a brick mason after the war. The city had been battered by the Nazi occupation and bombing raid by the Allies, and so he found work there in the years that followed. In the spring of 1953, he was patching the facade of a building, working on scaffolding 20 meters off the ground, and that's where he swept her off her feet.
She worked in the watch factory across the street. Her station had a window that looked out on the building being repaired. They're making it right again, she thought. One of the men caught her eye. He was lean but sturdy, animated in the conversations he was having with the other men, dexterous in his maneuvers on the rickety planks.
And then from up on his scaffolding, he noticed her, down in the window, looking up at him. And he removed his paper hat and danced a little dance, smiling at her. At the end of the day, as the factory emptied out, he waited for her to walk out of the double doors, stubbed out his cigarette and swung down to catch up with the group of girls walking the narrow street. He introduced himself and asked her to the town dance to be held the following evening.
He spoke only the essentials in French, and she spoke no Italian whatsoever, but they did their best to communicate and slowly became proficient in each other's native tongue. They married within six months and soon after she'd give birth to a little girl they'd call Marina. After the baby was born, they decided to return to his family on the farm in Albina, where they'd live for two years. And then one day he received a letter from his cousin in America, telling him of the good life and a spare bedroom. And so, with a twinkle in their eyes and a baby in tow, they left the old country for the blue skies and golden promise of California.
Zoning on the turntable, rain on the windowsill. Bridging worlds, or trying to, as she waits for the bus with scarf masking her face. As he waits for the train, wool gloves in spring. As they feign smiles and stock shelves with the free-range grass-fed gluten-free organics I need to survive. As they remove ventilators and load corpses into refrigerated trucks.
The sun is coming up now. It's humans and the human experience that've consumed me--but it's oceans and rivers and forests and birdsong too. This morning, I'm thinking about families, neighborhoods. And in the grand scheme, we've been a toxic species despite impressive grandstanding, which doesn't negate Mary Lou and da Vinci and Democracy and the Blues but attempts to put the genius in perspective. So I'll beat on, still rooting for us and playing those blues, and if I'm to expire, I am life feeding life, life keeping on. The rest is hot air.
My father got run over by an Amazon truck Whispered his last words with a wry smile
My father got run over by an Amazon truck Whispered into my ear with a wry smile
He said it's gonna be alright because
I'm my mother's bad luck child
These were the days, before the boom, before it was all more connected, as they say. Hard to believe we knew the world before. The boys were in the pocket and found each other, or else they didn't, and this happened every so often, too. There was an April evening...
Jasper and Kimmy were out by the water, laying in the truckbed and listening to her father's Blue Note albums. Oscar had driven across the bay to be with Flora in Berkeley. Carlo was shooting a film with Rex in the condemned and abandoned high school building. Leroy had ballet class, and then would likely meet up with Ace to cruise the lagoon with a stockpile of water balloons.
At the witching hour, they slipped from street lights into a crepuscular state beneath the oaks, and silently the game began. Throughout the park--on the old wooden play structure and in the dark of the padlocked Japanese Tea Garden--they engaged in great contests of their collaborative creation. To restless passerby, it was a vision of specters and shadow dancers, phantoms dropping from trees and emerging from the dark of the Koi pond. Indeed, this was how it appeared to Caroline Kennedy. Jasper had invited her if she could manage to duck curfew, intending to sneak into a downtown rooftop pool after the game--but when the rains came, they devised Plan B.
The Sycamore was a historic moviehouse that showed adult features down by the railroad in Mariposa. At any hour, you might spy a model citizen duck in after a quick glance over his shoulder. My grandmother and her friends despised the place and supported measures to demolish it and make way for condos, condos to deliver their men from evil and steady their marriages. It was rumored that the features were twisted, but since none of the boys had ever managed to get inside, the degree of depravity remained unknown.
Abe sat behind the counter with a Miller High Life and mixed nuts. Better get the next one going. He did nearly everything there was to do at the Sycamore on his own. He had an assiduous Salvadoran around to clean the bathrooms and the theatre and wipe down the vinyl seats at closing, but he did everything else there was to do on his own. Business ain't what it used to be. He sighed, and had just gotten to his feet when a young man breezed into the lobby, tousled and sopping wet. Jasper stood tall and steadied himself before stepping to the counter, in the formidable shadows cast by the vintage beauties prodding him from the walls.
Quarantined in the time of COVID-19, in an old railroad apartment by the East River. King of the Delta Blues Singers spinning, and from the open window there's birdsong, the train, and the waterfall, soft-pedaled a bit these days.
Four blocks away, a hospital is bursting at the seams, tents outside lining a closed street, accommodating the overflow.
It's all so disorienting. Days run together, stuck inside, anxious. Outside for a walk, or a trip to the market, we're on edge, scurrying away from each other. Death toll--in NY alone--is staggering. Tens of millions of people out of work. Autocrats emboldened, ruling by decree. Plutocracy fortified, looting the treasury.
I reckon it's prudent to put things in perspective: in the grand scheme, as Pete says, we're a fuckin' speck of dust. Prevailing theory puts Earth at over 4.5 billion years old; Life (in water) came about 3.5 million years back; Homo sapiens--name strikes me as quite ironical today--appeared some 300,000 years ago. So, like Pete said, a fuckin' speck of dust.
But here's what I'm thinking, as a fuckin' speck of dust, here in this apartment by the East River. Cynicism, not pessimism, has always offset my optimism, and while in the grand scheme I'm not deluded enough to believe this is anything other than a counterbalance itself--what's befallen 99.9% of the other species to exist on this planet--I am still inspired...
COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system. It challenges our most basic life force, as if asking us to reconsider our rhythm, one that's seen us walk on the moon and pillage the planet. We are, quite literally, being made to effect a slow down, to change the way we live...
So what can I do? That's what we're all asking, or most of us, anyway. Doctors and nurses are risking their lives. Grocers and bus drivers and delivery people are on the front lines, seeing to it that our life goes on. What can I do?
A breeze blows off the river. I can do that which inspires. I can live according to my inspiration, rather than the dictates of dogma and industry. The silver lining in all of this is that it may reconnect us with our life force. Literally and figuratively, it is our connection to that which inspires that will see us through.
'7:23 On the bridge, [Evans] returns to short, dissonant chord clusters.' (W.W. Norton)
'If any reader, therefore, should say that the book is "autobiographical" the writer has no answer for him: it seems to him that all serious work in fiction is autobiographical-- that, for instance, a more autobiographical work than Gulliver's Travels cannot easily be imagined...Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose.' (Thomas Wolfe/Look Homeward, Angel)
The garden, the womb revisited, paradise lost and found--and the apples have about two weeks to go, Hank says. My father and I, tricksters and sinners, banished to his Edenic little parcel out back.
Out of work? Never! Like the apples, I'm only ripening. And just wait until you taste me later this summer. She whispers this to me from Valparaiso. She whispers it to me from New Orleans. She whispers it from Jerusalem and Vilnius and Rwanda.
She whispers it to me from Mariposa. She was the Castle Road princess, and for me it was a love supreme at least since our first remembered acquaintance, in the old-growth forest, when we were seven. I was the wastrel from the wrong side of the tracks. Her parents smiled politely and even extended her curfew to midnight---but when the Debutante Ball rolled around she was advised to set her sights higher and look elsewhere for a date.
I ride my bicycle in the moonlight alongside oaks adumbrated, garages and lumberyards, across the railroad tracks, through the park and up into the hills. The family home was a gargantuan compound bordered by tall black gates and garden walls which I'd scale in the dark to sneak to her embrace, or else she'd hop them to come to me, but some nights we'd just lay on the hood of her classic Mercedes in the drive, daring her daddy to make a scene.
In the service alley along rear of the property, I leave my bicycle shrouded in ivy covering the garden wall. She's taken up residence for the summer in the apartment above the garage, just inside of the back gate, our secret place above the trees. From the shadows of the alley I look up to the kitchen, ceiling fans spinning, a horn--that mystical tenor in 'So What'--wafting out of the open windows. Just as I had so many years ago, I scoop up pebbles from puddles of moonlight and toss them gently up at the glass. She appears in the window, inscrutable. The gate is unlocked, she says flatly, and then betrays the specter of a smile. I bite my lip and drop my head, kick rocks to the gate and scramble over it anyway, ripping my t-shirt on the dismount.
Children in the forest Redwoods, tall and true Before I first saw you I'd seen you before Always been in love with you
I'd given a formal education the old college try and two weeks later found myself driving north on US 1 with new clarity, back into the fog. On a pier in Sausalito, I met a degenerate bluesman. He'd once been something of a sensation, but it all got to be too much for him and he'd just wandered off. He was playing that night at a little bar on the water, just a few hundred feet away, and told me to come have a beer and sit in with him. So I went over there and we played a few tunes together. When we'd finished, he packed up his guitar, extracted a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket and put it between his lips. He grabbed a matchbook from a crystal bowl on the bar and slipped out the back door. An ebullient man in a white three-piece suit is suddenly in front of me, effusive with praise. The man spoke of a path to stardom, sold me on it right there; I took his card and promised to call the next day, and then stepped outside to catch up with my new friend. But there was only the fog, thick off the water, and the moon shone bright and illuminated the pier. It jettied straight, intersecting with the harbor halfway out, continuing on into the bay.
Winter in New York. In the depths of winter, per Camus, finding my invincible summer. One more crack at it.
Snow fell last night, and down the street the dilapidated docks on the East River have the white carpet rolled out, from promenade to the icy pewter of the water.
A woman is walking down the promenade with a young child as a light rain begins to fall. The child says, what happens if it just keeps raining and the water gets higher and higher?
The seafaring societies of Austronesian peoples in the Indo-Pacific--the Moken, Sama Bajau, etc--have exhibited genetic adaptations conducive to their pelagic livelihood.
One afternoon in New Orleans, while tossing the frisbee in the empty lot on Brainard Street during a torrential downpour, Keith says only half wry that we're drowning in the jungle.
I believe metamorphosis is a matter of entelechy; it's a wayward hustle that's my fodder here. But I still look to the night sky and say a prayer to Polaris. One fine morning--
So I beat on. It's a practical matter when you get down to it. Bound or blogged, from inside the amber, to write and to live, to walk that line...
I was climbing the apple tree while my father tended to his garden. I was four, five maybe. I remember hearing the train, the birds, and then another sound, a steady and resounding roar in the distance. We lived less than a mile from the highway, and I was old enough to put that one together. Why ask the question if you already know the answer? So I asked my father what the sound was. He tossed some clod to the side and looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye. That's Yosemite Falls, he said with a wink, and then he put his head down and got back to work. And I climbed higher into the tree, listening to the waterfall, thinking. Even then, I'd understood the twinkle in his eye, the wink, his work. And he'd understood me, that I knew the answer but wanted the story, because the story is interested in more.
He went down to the water to have himself a swim
He went down to the river just to have himself a swim