tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: outer sunset

in the low, low branches, a songbird sings

the morning of a big football game in san francisco (football games take on a kind of holiday feel in the united states) i walked out from my dolphin (r.v.) nest and went to buy coffee. i was feeling kind of rich because i made money the day before, i wanted to buy coffee instead of make it. my rig was parked one street off of the great highway in the outer sunset of san francisco. i’m breaking the law by sleeping in my vehicle at night, “they” don’t like people not owning homes here in the good ol’ U.S. of A, “they” want you to own some significant stuff so “they” can stick you with significant fees. it just doesn’t pay well for folks to be getting by with little. not to mention the fact that, “if you’re poor, you’re probably lazy” (for substantiation of the existence of this idea, just listen to any privileged politician as they address the what-to-do-about-the-poor. it would become especially noticeable in a private conversation where there is less a chance that public image might be tarnished.)  i just noticed that i’m starting off here with some pretty harsh sarcasm, i’ll try and straighten up. on with my story, i’ll curb my nasty little tongue.

i walked up 46th toward trouble coffee. as i passed the 7-11 i saw an old timer with a large, service style ruck sack. he had that thing stacked tall, his bed-roll tight with the tarp folded and dressed on top. i notice things like this. i love the ones who really know how to make it and make it right.  he had a tin cup riding just over a canteen that was dented and old. some beat-up, obsolete issue from days gone by. the man might have been 65 but he might have been 75. the only space for expression was between his huge white beard and a set of grizzled eyebrows, and there, peering out were his sharp and shining  bleepers. he was lean and strong and i was surprised at the way he handled his loaded pack. he set it down and gave it a once-over. he glanced into his reflection in the window, ran his hand down over his irrepressible beard, gave his tucked shirt a quick smoothing and then loosed his canteen and walked into the store. they must know him, i thought, and he came out and took a snort of water from his now-full container. he handled himself like a professional, in every way. there was a moment when we locked eyes over the 30 feet of distance between us. i smiled in a fashion to show appreciation, not pity, and, i’m not sure, but i think he smiled back from under that life-built beard. his eyes certainly did twinkle. he is a fringe human and he is in no way famous. his life is movement between bivouac sites and water sources and a way to get food. i may be his only fan.

on that same morning, a 20 year old professional football player that makes millions a year, rolled over and woke up. he might have ordered coffee from room service. he might have moved from his room to get his massage that will prep his muscles for the game. he would decide on what clothes to wear, and he probably gets paid to wear certain ones. he gets paid for the way he moves on the field, the way he runs and jumps and passes. he does those things real well. when asked, he says he’s better than the other guy and he believes it. he really is good at football. he does not need to drive but he has several cars. he has many friends and thousands of fans that will scream his name and wear his jersey. he is proud and sure of himself. there will be handmade signs at the game that ask him for marriage. commentators will talk about him. papers will write about him.

these are two different people on the same day. they are both living and valid. i am talking about them both. i am saying that i like both these animals. i am also pointing out that they are both worthy of our attention. there are things to worry about on both sides. will this young athlete ever find a way to connect to the earth that wrought him. will he learn to be humble, i mean really humble, so that he can grow as a human. it is so dangerous for him off of the football field! i wonder if he will ever be able to figure it out.

and what of the forgotten one. the “lazy” old man. i saw him again, you know? i did. i asked him if he had ever used a cell phone and his reply was, “i’ve seen one work.” he is a veteran. he does not have family. he has been on the streets and in the woods for 35 years.  he walked from santa fe, new mexico 20 years ago. he has lost everything many times. “things get stolen when they’re outa sight,” he told me with a smirk. he gets a government check once a month that would make a rich person scoff and toss it. he is hard and gnarled. he takes care of his teeth and uses thread to floss. the world is his space in which to live. i asked him when he last had a conversation like the one we were having and he answered me with an “i don’t know.” he has figured it out, but his reality is difficult. i asked him if he needed money and he told me no. i imagine him sitting now in the cliffs by the sea. i imagine him sitting there and listening to the songbirds sing in the low branches by his bed.


there’s this one girl. she knows a lot. she walks with a long ropey braid clear down her back. she is made from two people that are both wonders of the world. so she is too.

yesterday, she crawled through the back window into the patch of sun where i was drawing. she brought me an umbrella with a duck-head handle. she brought a smaller umbrella for herself. there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and i asked if she thought it might rain. she said that “it could” and, when i thought about it, i figured her to be right.

she saw that i was drawing a sand-dollar. i had a real sand-dollar from her yard in my lap. she smiled and clasped her hands as she realized what i was doing.

“i cleaned that sand-dollar myself,” she said, “and i held it carefully in my hand, and i appreciated all it’s shapes and everything.”

that is what she said.

leithian is her name, she is 5 years old.

i am better because of her…and so is the world.

a day.

first of all, you might have something better to do. i’m sure there is something else to read. for sure there’s something else that you can watch on youtube. someone jumping upside down, face first off of a urinal. someone talking about something that is so stupid you can’t look away. so this is a disclaimer. if you have something better to do, do it. otherwise here’s a record of a day. it started this morning at 5:30 when i heard my kid brother go out the door to work.

up when it’s dark. colorado. i have a hand grinder for my coffee beans and it’s my early meditation. so yeah, i did that. and then coffee. i bought heavy whipping cream to celebrate the new year, i guess, but it might be just because i like heavy whipping cream. i grabbed my computer and stepped over the dog gate at the top of the stairs. (my brother, josh, and his wife, farah, own a great dane that’s bigger than me…so a gate is necessary in order to keep the furniture in place and stuff). i took two steps and missed a step and fell down the stairs. ’twas 5:40 a.m.

the bump on my elbow is a by-product of falling down the stairs with two things you’re not willing to lose. coffee in one hand+computer in the other hand= bump on elbow. no worries, i like it.

i have a condition. it’s some weird thing that makes me mull over products in the grocery store. i look for non-gmo stuff because i, personally, am planning on putting monsanto out of business. i’m also obsessed with truth. truth about origins and sugar and time and fair trade. i can’t prove a godamn thing but i sure as hell do read the fine print to see if i can bust one of these businesses trying to lie to me about whether or not they shook some farmers hand or not. i’m probably an idiot, but i eat with a decent conscience…pretty much.

so you probably figured out that i went to the grocery store. i got the makings for my food for the day and the drink i wanted to have tonight. then i called my mama. she was at home. it’s my real home because it’s where i spent my entire childhood. it’s still on the same street. it’s under the same sky. what has changed is that my mom is older and my dad is older and i am older. i asked ma about using the sewing machine. she said she only had one bobbin. i went by the jo ann’s  and grabbed 10 bobbins. i was gonna buy 5 but there was a 50% off deal and the lady selling it to me had just had heart surgery. (i ain’t sure why that has anything to do with me buying 10 instead of 5 but it did…maybe because she seemed excited that i was buying bobbins for my ma and that it was a “singer 600 touch and sew” machine, which is old and cool) i bought the bobbins and some needles for other stuff.

ma was waiting for me, i could tell. she loves it when i roll in. she helped me set up the machine and i sewed up my sweater. she said i did a marvelous job and looked handsome with my custom fitted garments. ma’s cool. she really is. i found a picture of her with my older sister in her arms in the sewing drawer under the buttons. it is a tiny picture, maybe 2 inches by one. mama was probably 23 in that pic. soooo hot! i stole it and told her i had pocketed something from the drawer downstairs as i was leaving. she said what she always says when i do something like that, “tobe, you’re so naughty.”

this friend of mine is a bartender in san francisco. he works in a cool little spot called “outerlands” it’s in the outer sunset, where it belongs. anyway, christian, made me this drink once with whiskey and chartreuse and orange rind that might be the best drink anyone has ever had in the history of the world. that’s what i wanted tonight. just one of those. so i stopped and tried to find the chartreuse he had used  that also happens to be made by monks in the mountains somewhere (maybe france?), but i couldn’t find it. it’s pretty integral to the drink, christian said so and i believe him. i did manage to find an orange.

for about an hour i sat with my nephew and picked out animals that he and i are gonna draw for my buddy, brian foster. foster don’t know i have this little art project goin’ for him because he’s busy growing a baby into a person. having a baby, come to find out, is quite a big deal. like, you can’t just work on it for a month or two and then set it down. it’s like adopting a river or something. it’s like adopting the ocean. so yeah, he doesn’t know i have this huge art project with my 11 year old nephew where we’re gonna draw rare and cool animals for him. he’s going to be stoked.

i went out to dinner with my mom and dad. i tried not to rage at all about government and insurance and how i’d like to break into the whitehouse and rearrange the furniture and leave selfies in weird places. no. i tried to be mellow and talk about other stuff. ma and pa are cool. they somehow have learned to love me no matter what. ma told me i was valuable…that’s pretty cool, coming from mom. hugs and kisses in the parking lot. 2 pictures on mom’s camera; one of me and the old man, one of me and ma.

back at my brother’s house. i’m invited to the party across the street, but i stayed back. i made a half-ass drink without key ingredients that ended up being kind of a whiskey with an orange rind in it. i called my brother and had him walk me through turning on the tele because i basically have a worm’s brain when it comes to that kind of thing. i listened to a few people talk about trivial shit and how to change your life with new year’s resolutions. i turned off the tube, which is easier because you can just pull plugs from the wall to accomplish that. i drank water out of fear of the strength of my one drink. i sat down with sleepy eyes and stitched a couple of words into a pocket i’ve been making for my pencils. then i looked at my computer. the thought occurred to me that the only way i’d be able to write tonight is if i used a good bit of sarcasm. nice that i was able to avoid that at least. so yeah, no sarcasm from this sweet lipped tulip.

typing out words. wondering what the hell i have to say. there’s a fine line between a waste of time and what’s worth while, i guess it all boils down to the heart. i spend a whole lot of my time shoveling bitterness out of my gut and looking to the stars for something that’ll keep me putting letters together. if it weren’t for the lovely souls i know exist, i’d most certainly stop this business of arranging thoughts. but they do. they exist. so this was a day. tomorrow’s another. some folks march alone to the grave, i prefer dancing with my friends till the lights go out. and with that, i’m done for the night, done for this year. looks like it all worked out.

i, passenger

this morning i’m sitting on a stoop outside the Carville Annex in the outer sunset of san francisco. it’s early enough that people are still wearing their rubbery, morning faces. the N train is cruising by every so often, pausing at 48th to re-sync, and then on forever and ever, amen. the thought of writing this morning feels difficult because i know it’ll be lacking compared to what really is. this is a common feeling of mine, i just write anyway, hoping some of the realness will rub off onto the words.

this morning i’m a passenger, like the people on the N train. the world is my conveyance and i am jotting down some things i see. my dad might call them “signs and wonders” because he’s a preacher, but i’ll just call them “things i’m seeing.” (i like what my dad says better).

yesterday i woke up in the headlands. i stayed at eamon’s house. his front yard falls away to the ocean and the cyprus are tall with mussy hairdo’s. in the evenings and mornings, during what Steinbeck calls the “pearly hours”, a big ol’ great-horned owl visits. he sits and calls out his questioning on the top-most branch of a huge mossy timber. he tips and nods and listens for a response to his calls. i don’t think he’s lonely, i’ve heard his ladies calling back from the distance. there’s a female deer that nibbles at the bunch grass in the yard. the wild is creeping in and with it, magic. eamon nurtures this communion on the cusp of things that are wild and things that are cultivated. it’s in the wrinkles around his eyes and is manifested in the contrast of his actions. the callouses on his hands are from moving stones and his fingers click as they play a sad, minor tune on his piano. he can teach music theory and show you where grow the nettles on the hillside.

we laughed at the deer when she tugged at the netting over his raised bed of beets and kale…them deer know a good thing when they sniff it. then she was gone and so were we; into the city on the other side of the Bridge. from Land’s End i can see everywhere that i will go. i can see past the Haight and on through the Mission. i’m riding eamon’s beach cruiser and it’s a big strong bike. ain’t no gears and so i’ll be testing my conditioning on san francisco’s ridiculous landscape. through the park and down onto the Wiggle, 16th to Guerrero to 24th to Folsom (whoops there’s Philz and everyone all jacked on caffein) to Caesar Chaves and under the highways and on to Evans and then 3rd…and back again. i don’t ride the same roads but the scenes are similar and urban. i don’t need to go into detail, better writers than me have told the stories of this city and the humans that define it. there are moments, though, that stand out so vividly. the glance from the tough, skinny man and the tougher looking woman at his side as they walked from under the overpass where it’s dark even in the day. every race is represented in those hidden places. and then there’s the tiny person sitting outside the vietnamese store up on 25th and Irving; here is this person who’s gender is disguised by age, a small person who is shrinking with time and who is growling and barking like a dog. i wonder at that person’s dragons. do they fill the skies and crowd the sidewalks of that tiny person’s mind? people pass and answer texts and sip coffee. the world goes on while the dragons breathe their fire on that corner of the inner sunset. i ride away and drop toward the sea.

katherine has a loop that she rides on her long board. i’m kinda scared of skateboarding. i know what happens when you fly off of one…the pavement is so damn unforgiving. katherine makes me feel brave because of the casual way she says, “i get scared too, ” and so i go. as we skate toward the park i am calling out all the different kinds of body armor i wished i was wearing. “i want a helmet with a chin-guard and a mouth piece, and some big knee-pads and those weird wrist protectors.” i can see katherine grinning and quietly laughing at my stupid banter, and she’s so cool, like really, with her dark khaki ball cap and her chuck taylors. i just kick and fear and carve (oh my, it is so fun) and laugh all the way. and then we are done and our eyes are teary from the wind…and maybe from happiness. katherine is good for hearts like mine. she’s helped put me back together before.

in the evening i cut cards and write on them as i sat outside of Outerlands. dave came out and made me feel famous by talking to me about the realest of things. we are going to draw something one of these days; i think they call that a collaboration. we will collaborate to create something. chris made me one of the best drinks of my life…something about rye and vermouth and chartreuse made by carthusian monks in france, it tasted as perfect as it could possibly taste, and then it sent me to bed.

the friends that know me and know my love for the wild country have asked me about how i cope with the big cities. i wonder about that. i know this: the city holds wild things. the wild wants to take the city back; it’s right on the doorstep waiting till the time is right. if you walk down to Ocean Beach, right there at the end of Judah, and if you swim out into the cold San Francisco water, into the savage waves, you will find all the wild you can handle. if you wanted, you could swim on out and never come back. i don’t mean that in a morbid way, i am just pointing out the wonderful truth. there is much to ponder as we pass. we are all just passengers and regardless of the seating, we are moving and moving toward something outside of what we understand. from where i sit, i can hear the ocean calling…it’s time to get in. don’t worry, i’m not gonna swim on out too far, not yet anyway.