It is surprisingly difficult to forget which city I live in. There are places in Seattle which could be New York, New York window scenes which could be LA, apart from the weather, Portland could be just about anywhere and nowhere at the same time, but looking out the window here in the TL there nowhere else it could possibly be. In the far distance the hills peek over the horizon, empty and pale brown green, ripe for the burning.
The road that stretches up and down in front of me slides at an angle more alarming than usual for the generic American metropolitan panorama. The early twentieth century apartment buildings with the ornate bay windows and plasterwork loom over the street colorfully. New York exists in red brick and sandstones, glass and concrete, a muted pallette, whereas San Francisco is all creams and pastels, brights and color. Don’t take my kodachrome away, mama! Even the light falls differently out in this far far west city on the Bay, diffused through fog, or amplified by the bright bright blue Californian skies. It fades softly in the evening clouds, blown eastwards by the San Franciscan breezes, scatters holographically in memory of a million trips taken down Franklin and Haight, up Ashbury and Balboa. The light wraps itself around you here, blanketing souls in temperate days, brisk breezes and cushioning drug-spent eyes from the harsh realities of the sun and the daytime and the impossibility of Californian expenses.
California costs people everything. It costs souls. It costs lives. It costs dreams and it costs sheer vast quantities of cold harsh cash. California charges a toll on bodies and lives in exchange for this sunshine and the promise of the dog days of summer when San Francisco hurtles into the height of it’s heat in September and October. The girls might kiss the Pigs on Sunset in LA, but here on the Bay the cops keep their distance until the bullets have stopped flying. They work their jobs, they collect their wages, and when the bodies fall on the Boulevards they are there picking up the pieces, but no Bay Area girls want to kiss a pig riding a Segway gliding down Polk in a whole herd of two electric wheeled swine, leaving the trace of the scent of bacon and discontent. There are no heroes out here. It is not so much that the cops don’t need the people on the streets, don’t need criminals to catch and bad guys to send to a DA who releases them back into the alleys and the parks to get back to the hard work of burglary and shoplifting.
Fuck knows there is nothing else to do nowadays. Perhaps if I wasn’t writing, I would be out there relieving shelves of toothbrushes and washing detergent. I was never the kind of trash to rob civilians. Maybe that is what this city needs? Free paintbrushes and canvas! Pro bono guitars and drum kits! Notebooks with colored pages, little plastic sticky strips to bookmark pages, and compulsory library cards with instructions to catalogue and write the story of these days and that which will follow. Maybe what San Francisco needs is a careful cultivation of the Beats and the poets, the artists and the musicians. After the techies ripped the soul out of this city on the Bay of creativity, came in here from their mid western values and deeply conservative money grubbing, the blossom of artistry crushed now needs to be coaxed back into life.
I prescribe tumbling rents, free parties in the Parks, the Dead broadcast from every public address system, and LSD in the water supply. Ok, so I am joking about the last one. I never did like the kind of trash that dosed the fragile. Magic mushrooms available at every pot shop? I would do my bit, I think I’d enjoy giving out free guitar lessons in Golden gate park, dispensing knock off copies of The Velvet Underground and Nico, Loaded and the one with no name and the black and white cover of the band sitting on a couch. As the old urban myth goes, not many people listened to the Velvets, but each one of them started a band. We need to resurrect that spirit, before the whole damn ship goes under.
Serendipity, baby. Sometimes the whole scene that passes is a ballet of beauty. Sometimes the right song comes over the airwaves and hits as a plastic bag finds it’s wings and dances up the hill into the legs of a disgusted man. Sometimes a desperate woman, desperately out of her mind stands on the middle of _____ Street and hurtles all the clothes from the boston bag she is carrying onto the intersection while the cars drive around her and she screams into the wind of another blustery day and I stand in my window not knowing whether or not to run down and pull her out the way. I don’t do it. She would probably try and stab me, but someone should. Someone needs to care. If I am not careful it is gonna be me. She fades into me, I fade into her, as we flux in and out of each other’s lives in waves of fury and empathy. I could be me down there, apart from the fact I managed to keep a few shreds of my mind intact and I never did like crack anyhow.
I only ever touched it twice. You see when you fail to get high, and that habit needs kicking down, and the H gets you well, not soaring, then there has to be something to make up for the fact. If you expect another junkie to give you a hint you would be sorely disappointed, those motherfuckers would never help you even if they could. They would watch you die given half the chance. D_______ turned to me one day as I was trying to get the warmth back in my belly, and the ice out of my veins, and suggested the answer might lie in Columbia. Powder fish scale was a rare beast in that part of the world, invariably cut with icing sugar and magnesium salts. Put that in your spoon and cry your heart out because the whoosh would last two seconds in a weak dirty hunch of a tease, and you would be $$$$$ out and none the better for it.
The first rock I got hold of didn’t enamor me. I mean I had a fetish for pricks of the metal kind, a total needle freak, and hated smoking shit. I was not to be trusted with a blow torch or a heat source, dope clumsy as I was. I never got the hang of chasing the dragon, and smoking crack just seemed far too Ronnie Woods and not enough Keef for my liking. Sorry Ronnie. Helped out by the nasty little long hair hippy boy with the goods, the hit smacked me upside the head and put me into the stratosphere. I was Cassius Clay. I was Lilith. I was Alice ten feet tall. I was David Bowie at that birthday fucking bash with Lou Reed destroying Going to Meet The Man with an electro drum beat. Looking down at that woman in the intersection throwing her belongings at cars and screaming all the cocks cunts and motherfuckers her mind could wield, we melded once more. She was at the logical conclusion, whirling at windmills, throwing shoes at Teslas, banging on the hoods and smashing herself upside the head. Life just doesn’t get it and women like us don’t get life unless it is down in a federal prison for the crime of survival.
I did it once more. Just once. Did my wake up shot, threw on that black dress with the red paisley kimono sleeves that hid my arms, and went to meet an old friend. He wandered up up to me in the shopping mall. Play it cool Paltry, I thought, play it cool. No one will know. No one needs to. It is just so scuzzy. I gave him what I thought was a winning smile, noting his neatly pressed suit and shark tooth smile, and started chatting. Coolly. Carefully. Gently, while my fingers built towers out of creamer cups and sugar packets, drinking tea from a metal tea pot and a chipped white cup in a cafe near the river. He took one look at me, and once he got a word in he asked, very politely “Are you on crack?” “Yes S___,” I replied icely, “Yes, I am.” I never touched it again.
It is karma, I swear. Walking up the streets, getting chased by crackheads and crazy people, shouting after me, trying to fight me, as I am running, I see that last rock I ever smoked and sigh. I sometimes consider stopping and turning round, holding out my arms and shouting “Look, I’m fucking sorry, alright! It was a dumb idea! But can you just fucking STOP CHASING ME!”
The sirens are blaring again. For a moment I think the bright orange cones atop a truck is a fire not plastic shapes, I look again, find my glasses (damn middle age), and realize the garages kitty corner are not aflame. That much is a relief. A woman walks past carrying a tote that proclaims “read LOCAL!” The sun is ablaze in the late afternoon, warming my face and bleaching my screen, it shines on a man tagging the wall with a spray can of blue paint. He seems far too old for such artistic vandalism, though I admire his spirit. As if to prove me right, just as he finishes the last swirl off on an unreadable word, a tall kid in combat boots hurries on by carrying a guitar case with the sales tags still on. I want to wave some kind of prayer over him, or artistic dispensation, or at least throw him down my spare copy of Marquee Moon, but he is moving too quickly to target. I think I have been taking a few too much inspiration from the clothes-scatterer. The disc would probably hit him in the head, from up here – such a blow could be fatal. I have standards despite living in the gutter – art should never cost you everything.
An airplane leaves a chemtrail of white straight across the blue horizon. For once I don’t have the need for going. For once I feel no need to move on. I guard my perch in this city of the cusp of either renaissance or destruction jealously. It is mine. It is mine in all it’s terror and glory, in all it’s sunshine and fog and chemical hazes. I want to dance down the streets capering and laughing. I want to sail down the bay getting wind burnt. I want to sit without a mask on looking over to the Easy Bay, breathing in the salty air into grateful lungs. It feels like summer, and for once that feels good. It might be windy, but we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.