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tearing the rag off the bush again
San Francisco: Cabby, or Shots from the Hip PDF E-mail
I was driving.  I was very feeling low.  It had been a rough day. It had been a rough month.  Hell, it had been a rough life!  It was very late at night, and the streets were deserted. I hadn't had a fare since I couldn't remember when.

 


 

 

He was a salesman, he told me.  He sold vacuum cleaners door to door and his commission was $100 per machine.  He made twenty calls per day and usually sold one machine.

"Don't you get depressed by all that rejection?" I asked. 

"What rejection?" he replied. "Everyone who opens their door gives me $5."

                                                                                         ***      

        He looked like a homeless guy after a cleanup night at the mission.  He still looked bad, but not hopeless.  I picked him up early in the evening on Christmas Eve.  He was going home to his ex-wife.  They got divorced a couple of years earlier, after he had lost his job and they had gone through their savings.  She finally kicked him out. 

He hit the streets--hard.  He was forty-two at the time and very down on his luck.  After a few months on The Streets, he was down to two sets of clothes and jobs were--impossible to find.  He told me he hadn't been much of a drinker before he hit the street, but, once out there on the cement in the cold, you couldn't help but start drinking hard and heavy--just to stay numb and keep warm.  I looked at him and shuttered.  All that separated us was a single DWI, or a minor fender bender, and I'd be out there on the streets with him within two months.  The illusory shield of security is so thin...

He told me he hadn't seen his ex-wife since their break-up, but he'd spoken to her on the phone and finally she had invited him over, it being Christmas Eve and all.  He was sure that once they talked things over, they'd get back together.  This was his positively, absolutely, utterly last chance--at least in this world.  Yes, yes, he was sure everything would be fine, once they "talked things over."  (I wasn't so sure.) 

I pulled up in front of the apartment on lower Russian Hill, a nice looking place.  As he started to pay me, I noticed a corner store still open down the block. 

"Keep the money," I said, "it's Christmas Eve.  Buy her some flowers".

"Yeah," he said, "Flowers, that's a good idea.  Well, wish me luck".

As he struggled to crawl out of the cab, he seemed so hopeful--and yet, so hopeless.  Sometimes life is hard and then it just gets even harder...

***

Fate intervenes only when man is not following his destiny.  When a man is not fulfilling his destiny, fate will drag him along like a dog worrying over a bone in a stranger's yard.

***

I was driving.  I was very feeling low.  It had been a rough day. It had been a rough month.  Hell, it had been a rough life!  It was very late at night, and the streets were deserted. I hadn't had a fare since I couldn't remember when. 

I glanced over while stopped at a light and saw someone stooped over, rutting through a trash can. There was a purple poster on a wall over the person's head advertising a dance.  The color was striking because everything else was cement and faded wood, grayish in color. The person raised "it's" head from the trash container.  It was an old woman; a bag lady, a street person.  Around her neck she was wearing an old scarf the exact same shade of purple as the isolated purple poster on the building behind her, the color sort of jumped out because all was so grey, except for the two swatches of bright purple. 

She looked at me with a sly quizzical grin and raised up completely.  In her hand was a piece of trash‑‑an old box or piece of wrapping paper and it, too, was the exact same shade of purple as her scarf and the poster.  As she looked at me, her eyes momentarily "sparkled" and she raised her eyebrows in an exaggerated arch, as if to say, "Isn't life really something?"  No words were said.  I slowly drove off down the street as the light changed to green, but for some reason I no longer felt sad.

***

The spirit sports with time.  The soul is the light that shines through and all of our earthly desire and ambition is nothing but shadow play on the cave wall.  There is a secret here that we have all sworn not to reveal.

                                                                                   ***

"He was living on attitude", the policeman said.

"He wasn't even looking", said the woman.       

"From the absence of skid marks I'd say neither were you", said the policeman. 

"His head was looking the other way", said the woman.  "It was as if he didn't even care.  I had the green light.  I just assumed...?" 

The policeman covered the body and pushed the onlookers away.

"You can live on attitude", he said to no one in particular, "but you won't live very well or very long..."

***

I had just dropped off in the Marina district.  Filbert and Broderick.  It was a very quiet neighborhood and it was very late at night.  The fare had just walked into their building.  I was writing down the particulars of this ride on the waybill when a bright light began to shine in my eyes.  I looked up and saw a pair of headlights rushing at me at a very high rate of speed.  I was sitting there with my seat belt on, and by the time I realized that I was about to die, it was too late to move.  All I could do was sit there and watch a black Camero close with me on a collision course.  As it got ever closer, time seemed to slow, and I could see that the person at the controls was slumped over the steering wheel.  It was a very peculiar feeling, sitting strapped behind the steering wheel of a car parked at the curb, waiting to die.  I remember at the time feeling rather silly, almost giddy.  What was going to happen?

At the very last instant, the passenger in the oncoming vehicle reached across the driver and turned the steering wheel.  My driver's side window was down and I had been sitting with my elbow resting on the open window frame.  The approaching car swerved just enough so that it almost missed my cab.  I lifted my arm and my outside rear-view mirror was surgically removed, as the black car passed in the night.  As soon as it passed the brakes screeched and two women piled out.  The woman who had been driving was leaning over throwing-up in the street and the one on the passenger side was quickly trying to switch positions with the driver. In a few seconds they had reversed positions and were gone. I remained seated behind the wheel of my cab.  I hadn't moved except for my left elbow.  I slowly lowered my arm back down on the window frame.  The street was once again deserted and very quiet.  Perhaps six seconds had elapsed.  The oldies' station on the radio had been playing "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harem.

***

Like Henry Miller in the late 30's  I feel myself in need of my own Parkington Ridge.  A quiet little acre in the woods by a large splash of water about two days' walk from the nearest town.  Some place where I can live 'CHEAP!' and devote myself to creative projects and healthful pursuits.

***

Sometimes, late at night, I become griped with the fear that I am trapped in a golden trace.  Hardly a beast of burden like my forefathers about to expire from overwork in the mill or the factory or the field but none the less trapped--behind the wheel, with my face pressed up against the glass seeing things I will never have, taking people to places I will never experience and eavesdropping on conversations that I have absolutely no part of. 

I feel like I boarded a train in my youth in anticipation of an incredible adventure only to turn around a seemingly short while later to see the reflection of an old man in the window; the conductor‑‑who looks vaguely familiar and in the end has been going no where, merely passing back and forth along the track among the travelers. Punching other people's adventure tickets.

***

It is hard to change...very much.  I continue to see the world filtered through a very personal set of prejudices and pseudo‑values.  The vibrational zones and pockets of habitual conduct become so familiar and comfortable, even the most tenuous and aberrant become like warm old blankets that are permeated with my very own stench and of course, it smells like home.

***

Character is timeless.  But we do not grow chronologically.  We grow sometimes in one dimension, sometimes in another.  Sometimes there are whole dimensions in which there is little or no growth.  It is a very uneven process.  It is all partial and relative.  We can be mature in one realm and quite childish in another.  A genius in one world; an idiot savant in another; autistic in a third.  The ego attempts to serve as a mixing board to all this input, hoping to be able to distill and mix out a commercially acceptable product.  Something with a strong sound and a good beat; something you can dance to.

***

He was a homeless man.  He loved zippers on all of his pockets.  He was full and round like an over stuffed chair and yet his body was thin and pale.  He carried books, journals, photographs, notes, magazines, pipes, cigarettes, mail.  He lived and moved slowly like an old horseless carriage being pushed forward by gravity alone.  He had one special newspaper dated JUNE l4, l970 which he held over his head on especially warm days or on rainy days.  He has carried it every day for fifteen years now.  It has somehow held together.  It is his secret.

***

Paranoia is when you begin to suspect that your teeth are laying in wait for your tongue.  The problem is not really serious though until you call the police in a muffled voice to report a crime in progress.

***

The emphasis here is on time, process, mastery of the leisure principle.  Simple enjoyment combined with simple foods, clothes, exercises, pastimes, desires and goals.  The middle way; the path that leads out into the world and not to the bank, the bar, the restaurant, the analyst's office or the divorce court.  The desire is to become a master of cycles.

***

He climbed into the rear of my cab in a hurry.  The guitar case he carried exhibited many stickers from concerts, tours and capitals of the world.

"You might have heard of me," he said.  "I had a couple of hits on MTV a few years ago." 

He told me his name and the name of his hits.  No, I hadn't heard of him.  He seemed surprisingly disappointed by the fact that I hadn't heard of him.  On the way to the airport he asked if I wanted to do a line of cocaine.  I said no.  He went ahead and snorted up one hundred dollars worth of coke on the twenty minute drive to SFO.

As I watched him uncoil his leather clad legs and drag his guitar and shoulder bag from the rear seat I couldn't help but think that the guitar that this man pounds is his own body, and the mask he wears is of one who reaches neither orgasm or sainthood.  He is merely caught in a high state of tension, which gives a false illusion of power.  In his eyes I could observe the demonic little elevator of desire sliding up and down, never passing a floor without throwing open its doors‑‑to steal whatever might be left unattended.

***

I am very cerebral.  I live in my mind.  My body is like a loyal pet that follows me around and demands to be fed and taken out and exercised.  It is like a good dog.  Thus I am often surprised and taken back when I run across someone who actually LIVES in their body and is totally unaware of the thought‑life of the mind; the thought glue that serves as the epoxy which binds the entire thing together.  The universe is a connective matrix of pure thought forms but you don't have to be aware of this for it to work.  Some people (most) live their life as animal.  Some are (most) quite domesticated types‑‑sheep.  Some are cows.  Some (few) are closer in nature to dolphin/eagle or bear.  Some (very few thankfully) are truly wild and are like hyenas, snakes, werewolves and vampires.  These feed on the herd and bare watching.

***

Some people would have you believe that we are all stranded in the dark grasping for answers.  Seems to me we are basking in the light of answer leisurely formulating questions.

 ***
          A woman looks at a man as something to ride.  The pony her father never gave her.  Her means out of the yard, off the block, away from the home town, into of the Big City.  The frustrations grow from there.

***

Sometimes I feel like a bullet shot from the barrel of a terrorist gun.  The type of weapon is the culture I was born to.  The rifling in the barrel that determined my spin and put the scratches and marks upon my psychic body was my family. 

The inescapable realization is that no one comes out of the end of the barrel clean.  The impact point that ultimately deforms the lead bullet will be the instant of my death.  The detailed pattern the distortion will take will have been my life lived. The ultimate target will have been my dream of the light at the end of the barrel.

***

I feel like I am part of an ignored "New School" of writing, rather like the primitive painters who paint the simple stick-like figures of early Americana.  I am an ideaist; an intuitalking imagineer, a corny sort of rube writer who seems utterly lacking in sophistication as well as certain basic skills. 

And yet....

***

Once you’ve been in the room within your imagination where the creative machinery lives‑‑once you've seen the creation of color and smelled the spiritual smoke given off by the wheel of life then you'll never be the same.  Your life will be transformed from that moment on. If you are lucky enough to enter this room with your work clothes on and dirt under your nails, then you will emerge an artist from that point on and you will see the world through marvelous fresh eyes.

***

If a man can verbalize his experience; his position, front, back, top, bottom‑‑all around; if he can get a glimpse of his place in the ongoing process which we call this life, this world, this universe; and if this man can verbalize it at least in his own terms, to his own satisfaction and write it down, then he is like the skipper of a small sailboat in mid‑ocean armed with the appropriate charts and  sextant.  He is not merely surviving, lost at sea on a raft awaiting rescue.  He is on a voyage.  He knows where he started and he has a past track at hand from which to judge his present speed and position.  He is a cruiser...

Attitude is everything.

***

The personal human identity is a submarine descending into the oceanic unconscious on exploratory missions and coming up again and again with bits of treasure; phrase and insight and then sliding again back beneath the surface searching for the sunken craft; the black box‑‑the interface between illusion and reality‑‑in hopes of finding the right magical incantation: the words of the pilot and cockpit crew as the original plane went down....

***

We seem to tolerate Art as either a hobby, an excuse for the terminally lazy or as the domain of the extremely rare, eccentric talented few.  We forget (or never take the time to notice in the first place) that art is initially taken up by the sensitive person as a survival tool the same way as another person might take up a club or a prayer book.  Art is the highest form of human expression, even higher than religion and prayer because it requires no intervention by anyone on anyone else's behalf.  Art is the naked act centered in the immediacy and purity of the moment.  Rather than plaintively inquire, request or plead, it serves instead to actually illustrate the Holy Presence of the living Spirit.

When The Spirit shines through the human frame it is the artful moment that is captured and not the over-educated negotiator on bended knee hoping to strike a deal or offer penance for some imagined past misdeed.

 
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