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Little Did I Know




   Yes, well, finally — it’s time, it must be. Of course, in a more poetic, even mythic world, you know, a magical world of omens, oracles, augury, and purpose, I suppose this whole thing would've begun, even burst forth on some portentous, cinematically stormy, first day of a new year, or, I don't know, maybe an important birthday, the day my father died, or some other such moment, arbitrarily invested with empty, manufactured meaning — meaning more a product of romantic superstition than reason.
   But the world is really much more ordinary than all that. Guided by intelligent retrospection, all of those presumed meaningful events, anniversaries, and harbingers add up to little more than repeated illustrations of the Flitcraft Parable.
   Whether appreciated or not, we live in a world of cold, unbending logic and causation.
   Yes, this day, March 23rd, and into the 24th now (it's getting late), is as appropriate and meaningful as any other. It's as worthy of being that point in time on/in/during which I begin this thing I’ve delayed doing for so long, as worthy as New Year's, or any other day.
   And, just to offer context, I’ve procrastinated with admirable, even staggering stubbornness — talked endlessly with friends about it, made hundreds of preparatory lists, scribbled copious notes, and sketched innumerable ideas, most of which have since been misplaced or lost. Also, so that they'd be close at hand, immediately available at that moment of inevitability, I very diligently and carefully arrayed in my apartment, all the tools I’d need for the project and then completely ignored them, for months, years now — until today.
   So, again, with all the requisite and necessary appropriateness, today is and was, quite ordinary, as are most of the days that make up the bulk of our lives. This Sunday has moved along almost exactly as I planned and imagined it would. I love predictability. I'm not waiting to become or acquire anything. I'm exactly what I want to be. All I want is more of what I already have.
   Anyway, about 4:00, I loaded up my 8x10, as usual, and headed down to the Saloon to hear Blues Power play, and possibly make a photograph or two or three or four. The music was great, as usual. I interacted with all the usual people in the usual ways, and I made a few photographs, another one of David, that I think I’m going to like, one of Michael Rinta, and one of Mckinley that I've been trying to make for a couple years now.
   Then, around 8:30, I started home, listening to familiar music on my headphones, following my usual route through the narrow alleys of Chinatown, where I stopped off for a last drink, as usual, at Li Po, before negotiating those steep stairs, 40 of them, that lead to the top of the Stockton Tunnel and my apartment.
   It rained earlier and now it’s cloudy and cool. I’m sitting at my desk looking out the window at the building on the other side of the courtyard, watching the skinny, bald-headed guy who perpetually seems to be wearing the same tattered, yellow T-shirt, another one of us night-owls, as always, stretching across his window, so that he might have some privacy, that old pink sheet that has acted as his curtain for the last ten years.
   I moved in here almost fourteen years ago now, and because I'd lived in the building before, and because I had a good friendship with the manager, John, he gave me two free weeks to clean and paint until the official rent started. But the paint was some sub-standard, surplus shit that Louie (the slow-witted landlord) had stashed in the basement a few decades before (who knows where the fuck he got or stole it). Plus, this is a one hundred year old, lath and plaster walled building, so that, between the cheap paint and the moisture that seeps through that porous, old plaster, it wasn't more than a year or two before the stuff started to crack, then curl and peel, until it finally started to fall off in little, jigsaw puzzle chunks. So now, in assorted places, bare to the white, water-stained plaster, the walls have a sort of Byzantine mosaic look to them. And that was before, a few winters back, the roof and, therefore, because I'm on the top floor, my ceiling, started to leak. And Louie, that cheap fuck, refused to fix the damn thing because it was going to cost 35 grand, and so for the six or seven months that the thing leaked, whole chunks of paint and plaster fell off, leaving the ceiling exposed all the way down to the lath.
   When he finally fixed it, toward late summer, he used some of his legal/illegal alien, cut-rate, shitty workmanship, no talent buddies. So it never was really fixed. John and I had to keep going up there with roof-goo trying to patch the holes they'd missed. But before the fix job I had to sleep with big photo trays next to my pillow to catch all the crap that rained down whenever the weather turned soggy — big chunks of plaster and paint.
   And just to catch you up, this place is very, very small, so, when I built my darkroom, I had to make some drastic changes and do some substantial rearranging. And to accommodate all those changes, I built a platform, five feet off the ground, for my Queen Size mattress, kind of like a bunk-bed without the bottom bunk. That let me put my desk and table underneath. So I have a very functional work area that I would have otherwise not had room for. But by the time Louie fixed the fucking roof, there was a huge plaster and paint-less gouge out of the ceiling. So now, between the crappie paint, the Byzantine mosaic, and the moon roof over my bed, the place looks like a step down from the worst Section 8 housing in the city.
   And the bathroom has not either been spared. The paint, the same shit quality paint, just a different color, peels off the same lath and plaster walls because of all the moisture and humidity from the shower.
   But comically, when Louie wouldn't fix the roof I wanted to threaten legal action. I told John I was going to do it (which sent John circling high above the planet, into orbit, because he's the one who okayed my building the darkroom: see below), but it was an empty threat because I wasn't about to run the risk of drawing any attention to my little photo lab. If Louie knew about it he'd blow a fucking head gasket and try to evict me, or at least get me to dismantle the thing (which would be like cutting off a necessary limb) being certain that I was the source of all of his water problems, which is ludicrous. They started long before I ever built the damn thing. But the building, for reasons that any number of qualified, certified, plumberized professionals have been unable to figure out, has quite serious water usage issues.
   According to the city, we are using three times as much water as would typically be expected from a building of this size. And Louie has changed all the plumbing, down to the faucet washers and toilet bowls. It really is a baffling mystery of hydrology. And, as I was saying, even though I built my darkroom after the water problem was already raising eyebrows at City Hall, logic plays almost no role in Louie's life, so he'd blame me, even though I know it isn't even part of the problem. I know because, many years ago, when I built my first darkroom at my parent's house, my mom, who did all the household bookkeeping, said she was going to be curious to see what happened to their water bill. But it made almost no discernible difference. Plus, in the spirit and honor of Western aridity (meteorologically, not intellectually) and John Wesley Powell, I use substantially less water here than I did at their place. I've gotten very good at conservation. Maybe it was from going to school in Arizona.
   But back to my point, which is, other than my having begun this?. . .this?. . . .Hell, what is it? A book? A diary? A journal? Valiant attempts at a bunch of eventual photographs with very long captions? A comically narcissistic over-estimation? Alright, for now, let’s just call it my work, since, this early in the process, it's hard to say what, exactly, it will end up being. And, I suppose, to call it work isn’t particularly accurate either. I mean, I have no job, no boss, I have no wife, no children — I’m able to do as I please, which is precisely what I’m doing right now, and what I intend to do for the rest of my life — my work. But other than this beginning, the day was wonderfully ordinary, ending in my miniscule, very ordinary apartment that I've lived in for fourteen years of mostly very ordinary days.
   And, anyway, my central point is, whatever this thing turns out to be, however long it takes me to consider it finished, even if I never finish it, at least I’ve begun, my work (beginning being so difficult; although rarely thought of as so, as difficult as finishing).
   Tuesday: Last night was a particularly late and long one. I met T in North Beach around 3:00 for a beer and something to eat at Sam's. Afterward, Pearl's, where I sat at a table next to the window, with my whiskey and Coke, and watched the traffic on Columbus while T put together his drum kit and warmed up.
   Later, as I was starting to fade, the highlight of the evening was that Kenny Washington stopped by for the second set, which woke me up and put an end to my otherwise thoughts of getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
   Now, ordinarily, I don't much care for Jazz singers. But Kenny? . . . Well, I suppose the way I would describe it is to say that everything about him, his singing, performing, even the way he sweats seems to me authentic, in the same way the tone of a muted trumpet, or a tenor saxophone (invented by Adolphe Sax, even though, and in spite of the fact that it makes no sense, for many years I thought the saxophone was named after the Danish writer Saxo.) sounds authentic to Jazz music. There's none of the "Cool" pretense and artifice that so often annoys me with most singers. And with the authenticity there's a kind of humility that allows Kenny to appropriately be just one more of the many instruments that are there for, that are there in service of, the music, rather than, in their typical and sometimes view, the music being there simply as a vehicle for the personality and ego of the singer. With Kenny there's balance.
   Anyway, after he broke down and loaded up, T dropped me off at my place around 1:00, but I sat up and listened to music (Don Cherry — Multikulti. I must have listened to "When the Rain Comes" a dozen times.) for quite a while after I got home. So it took me hours to get started today — well after noon before I even got out of bed. And the only thing that got me up then was the old air-raid siren the city of San Francisco fires every Tuesday at noon. I guess it's a holdover from the days when people needed assistance keeping their clocks set with pinpoint accuracy.
   Before that, however, as always, I woke up about 6:00 and had to take a leak, but went right back to bed and right back to sleep. After that my dreams were bizarre and seductive, about my wanderings in search of something I either can't remember or was never aware of, in some city that was supposed to be San Francisco, but thinking back at it, was more like something out the similarly inward mind of A. G. Rizzoli (A man I think about often).
   And even after I struggled down the ladder, I got only as far as the chair in front of my amplifier, chased down five Vicodin with a beer, plugged in my headphones, and stayed there listening to music until 4:30. I saw the phone ring a couple of times, but didn't answer it. I knew who it was or was likely to be, and just didn't have the energy to talk about Jesus, drugs, or constipated dogs.
   But even through the room-darkening shades that leak the perpetually faint, hermetic light that fills my room, I could tell it was sunny and warm out, which was, finally, the only thing that got me moving and productive.
   Productive — yes, back to last Friday. I was down at the waterfront and saw that the dry-docks, Pier 70 had a rare full house, and, as a result, figured they might be unusually photographic.
   So, even though the sun was out (I really don't have much use for direct sun photographically. Simply in terms of the quality of light, I much prefer foggy or cloudy days with a kind of glowing, cold light — which may say something important about my personality, but that doesn't interest me at the moment.), so I rallied my strength, gathered up Dino (T calls my 11x14, that $9,000 piece of hand-crafted wood, Dino, because he thinks the thing is as big and as out of date as a dinosaur), and headed on down to the Powell Station to catch a Third Street train, the T, out to the water (which reminds me, as I suspect would be the case with any male of my emotional maturity level, my fascination with and love of trains will come up frequently over the course of this journal. Just a warning and disclaimer.). And getting a hand truck loaded with 150 pounds of photo gear and a huge tripod, although I do it frequently, onto a subway train is always something I look toward with dread.
   First, I have to catch the elevator from up on Market Street, which means vying for a spot with all the mother-guided fertility clinic, double baby strollers and all the people heading to the airport with ridiculously large, rolling suitcases, as well as having to allow room for any wheel chairs. Hell, sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to get down to the station. And once off of the elevator, I have to snake through the crowds and strategically position myself to have a chance of getting on the train, meaning, really, I have be ready to cut in front of people so I can get over against the wall and out of the way, in anticipation of the other stops. If I don't get in at the first, there's rarely enough room for me to force my way in the door afterward.
   But I got down into the station and positioned myself right next to the boarding platform, as close to the tracks as possible, and sat on the camera case watching the electronic sign overhead. Finally, it said a T was coming in 14 minutes. But before it got there, a K, an M, a J, and an L came through and cleaned out hundreds of people.
   You can look up the tunnel and see the train leaving the previous station, Civic Center, the headlights getting brighter and closer, until the leading wind the train pushes in front of it through the tunnel announces the impending arrival. That cool, fresh wind. The stations are always so warm and that air so stale and filled with the odor of flesh and anxiety.
   I like to stand or sit close to the edge of the platform, so as to feel, not just the refreshing wind, but also the rumbling vibration of the wheels rolling up the track, and then, as the doors fly open, watch the hustling, shoving, jostle of people getting on at the same time others are getting off, a hurried, poorly choreographed and very brief dance, as the doors slam behind those getting on and those who got off sprint toward the stairs and escalators, until the train speeds off, blurry faces staring out from the windows as the cars accelerate back into the tube, pulling behind them in a vacuum the same wind they blew toward me only moments before. And then, as the sound of the train fades toward the Montgomery Station, the platform is empty, oddly so, until, soon after, there starts the thick liquid flow of those looking to get on the next arrival.
   I suppose it's something in common with di Chirico, the enigma of arrival and departure, the visceral experience of it, over and over. Some people sit at airports, I sit in train stations.
   Once I got on the T I pulled out my headphones and started listening to a bunch of appropriately moody songs (Pat Metheny) I keep compiled for just such wonderfully melancholy train rides and occasions. But when we shot out of, erupted from, the Market Street tunnel, just as I had adjusted to the underground dimness, the sun came blasting in the car and made my eyes hurt (just like shooting out of that dark, beginning tunnel on the Giant Dipper, that old, white-wooden roller-coaster at the Boardwalk, the one I grew up with, and still, occasionally, ride. Yes, the Boardwalk, there's an entirely complicated and tangential subject, for example, most importantly, and most recently, it being the place Julie and I went to see The Fixx last summer, after which, in the dark, at night, we rode in the very front car — but back to the point.). Yet with that pain came the flooding beauty of the waterfront, the bridge, the Bay, the East hills, and the slanting red sunlight reminding me, once again, of the immeasurable physical beauty that is this place I was born into and have chosen to live most of my life, so far.
   I sat back to enjoy the view. Rolling, almost gliding along so peacefully on the seamless rails it sent a dreamlike wave of emotional rupture through me to look up at the stunted, claustrophobic traffic on the bridge overhead, the entire scene warmed by the soft, Vermeer light of a failing sun.
   The bridge towers cast long, ominous shadows out into the Bay, like predatory, Pleistocene Cranes searching for something to rip from the water and devour, but the two decks of crawling traffic above me seemed misplaced. I mean, to imagine that much commotion in the world as my train moved steadily and gently through the afternoon seemed almost surreal, as though it were some sort of unintended performance or movie I was watching on wide screen in a dark room.
   When we got to the ballpark stop a young Mexican kid, his mother, and another woman got on and sat down across from me. I figure he was around 9 or 10. His face, his smile, wasn't happy so much as content, without worry, the sort of serene detachment that only occurs for a kid when he feels secure, unafraid, protected. He sat staring out the window as the two women talked in Spanish, and the moment, the scene, made me think of how childhood is that time during which we are given an opportunity to amass as much knowledge, experience, strength, and dignity as is made available to us, every bit of which will be absolutely necessary to survive the onslaught and implication of adolescence. Soon, troubled looks and wrinkles will replace that smooth skin and soft smile, as girls and women, themselves in for a terrible, terrific ride, descend, by invitation, upon his life like a race of particularly bloodthirsty succubi, to torment, and perhaps even kill him — if he isn't driven to kill them first.
   And it never gets easier, no matter how old you get. It never occurred to me that this late in life I'd still be going through the same mental anguish, riding the exact same emotional roller-coaster (pun-like reference intended) I first experienced in my teens.
   We just don't change all that much. The experience of life doesn't change all that much in the course of our time in the world. No matter how much therapy, no matter how much wisdom and understanding, no matter how many books read, nor however much illuminating sadness and disappointment, we end up, pretty much, just as we began. Yes, let me be honest, we end up, once again, or remain, fragile, naive, and vulnerable: it just never changes.
   Each romantic disaster feels just as painful as the first, or at least, allowing for circumstance, has the potential to be as painful as the first. We never outgrow or learn our way out of that sort of agony. We remain, every day, vulnerable, which is all a way of creating an opportunity to admit to myself, "And here I am again." Surprise!
   And as I sat looking at the kid, I thought of that first afternoon I met Julie at Lou's. She came in with Donna and Tresa and a couple others, if I remember correctly, all of whom I knew, except for Julie. And, as opposed to the unbridled flamboyance and graceless bombast of her co-conspirators, as I would later come to describe them, Julie seemed elegantly reserved, subtle, knowing, and beautiful in an understated, confident way.
   I was immediately, and that's always the way it happens for me, I never grow or learn to love or desire someone, it's either immediate or it's never going to happen, but back to what I was saying, with Julie the attraction was immediate and powerful. Although it took years of trying to find her, chasing her, seeking and desiring her company, and she always running away, but only after grabbing me for a slow dance and whispering teasing bullshit in my ear, then running off, that we finally got together.
   Before that, I knew, and that's about all I knew, that she lived in the East Bay, across the water, and was a hairdresser. So, after I saw her a couple of times on Sunday nights at the Saloon for Johnny Nitro, I figured that was going to be the best chance. You know, Mondays being their day off, Saturdays being their Fridays, and so on. So I started hanging out at the Saloon on Sunday nights. And that was back when I was driving the tour bus for Grayline, meaning, when, as usual, I didn't work all that much, so I'd take every Monday off, so as to recover from the late night before. Hell, I took Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off, while still living quite well on just my pay from three days — plus tips, between $100 and $200 a day, cash. And I think I ran into her five or six times on those Johnny nights, but she was always with some guy. Still, she'd always manage to break away long enough to get me for that one slow dance. So I knew there was something to pursue.
   (Actually, later, she told me that she and Donna used to call me Mr. Clean, for reasons that I never really understood, but had something to do with me always standing by the stage with my arms crossed and a smile on my face. And, later, she also told me that she was afraid of getting anywhere near me because she figured I'd laid every desirable woman in the North Beach musical community that we both inhabited. And Donna was no help, my having known her for a long time, when she told Julie, according to Julie, "He's been with everyone.")
   But Christ, was she elusive. Which, contrary to amateur, pop-psycho, bullshit did not make her more desirable, nor cause me to quest after her with some inflated sense of importance or destiny. My feelings, my attraction remained consistent from the first moment.
   Unfortunately, given that she was the only one I saw with any regularity that knew Julie, and because, even though I was later to discover otherwise, I thought Julie was her friend, I'd gone out with Tresa a year or so earlier. So it wasn't like I could inquire as to Julie's phone number, or even her last name. Tresa would have smelled that rat rotting all the way from across the Bay.
   Anyway, the whole thing finally came to a head one Sunday night at the Saloon. She, Julie, was there with some stiff but came right over and started talking/flirting with me. I asked her about the guy she was there with and she said he was only a friend, that they'd never been romantically involved, that they just went out as buddies once in while to listen to music.
   So the slow dance comes and I'm moving in. After waiting for years, I finally saw my opening. And I'm dipping her on the dance floor, nuzzling her neck, even giving her the occasional kiss on the nape. And she's doing it right back to me! I figure I've finally reached the distant shore.
   But then the guy, her friend, her supposed buddy stands up and starts yelling, "This is horse-shit!" And he's about 6'2", a reasonably big guy, and, in spite of him being an obvious, decrepit, old alcoholic, I figure that now I'm now going to have to throw some leather — after being set up.
   And he keeps yelling at her, "You've ruined our date. This is horse-shit" and so on and so forth.
   So I don't know what to do, because it's obvious she lied about the guy, and I'm not sure what, if anything, to say. So I say nothing, watching only to make sure he didn't lay a hand on her. As long as he was just yelling at her, I figured it wasn't any of my business.
   So he's still yelling at her as they walk out of the bar together. And I feel my Prince Galahad urge, the need to take on some righteous and noble quest, one of religious proportions, so I follow them out the door and down the street, just to make sure that he didn't get violent with her, the whole time him still screaming, and, the whole time, me secretly hoping he'd pull something that would make it necessary and justifiable for me to kick his ass and appear the hero. And, you know, this story really doesn't get any more interesting, except that, for my effort, I was later accused of being a stalker — the ungrateful, later to be appreciated, self-absorbed, Narcissist!
   But I was looking at that kid, envying his immediate and soon to be destroyed peace, thinking back to that first day I saw her, thinking of myself, "Little did I know." Just like that kid. Little does he know — yet.