tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: san francisco

A Message to Freckle-face

It’s so easy to get stuck on the inside. That inner world where I am the center of everything, where I think too much about me. It’s in there where the fears are formed, where the heavy rocks keep me from moving freely. Sometimes I don’t know I’m there until it’s too late, and then I’m stuck. I know it sounds silly, but the inside is real with me and I have spent enough time there to know that there is a limit. Some people die from staying in there too long.

I’ve learned that it’s good to crack a window and allow the wind to blow. It creates a stirring and helps me remember that I am small. My presence is special, but in a tiny, simple way. It’s so beautiful to be small. That’s where the ocean comes in, the Ocean, the magnificent sea. To swim from the shore and into the expanse is to be made small, the ego all but goes away. My place in the vastness of space is known down in the marrow of my bones and in the little riverine veins that hold the blood so that it doesn’t spill. And how about the mountains? Yeah, the stones that are a part of the world from it’s days before man.  We use words like inanimate to describe mountains and stones. I wonder about that. In those moments that sit in the middle of weeks of solitude, I have pondered whether this earth  has a voice. She certainly seems alive to me. And the rivers are rolling and singing and the wind moans as it bends the trees. Stones wait. Mountains see across thousands of years. The sky herds it’s storms and cradles all the wonders of the things that lie beyond our vision. I ain’t sure about that word inanimate. Maybe the stones are absorbing our every thought and word as a record for when we are gone. There’s a lot of maybes and no amount of science or religion can change that. Ain’t it great?!

I left Oregon on the train. Three Russian kids from Moscow asked me questions about the things I drew in my big ol’ black book. They were so honest and inquisitive. All three were 16 years old. The trip went by in a flash, mostly because of the company and the open conversation. I felt so privileged to be included in their world…me, this scraggly, stinky dude in the end booth!

Days in the mountains. Days on the Trinity River. Time to think. Something made me slip back inside, I didn’t want to, it might have happened in the night. I woke up and felt pinned down by my own selfishness, my own opinions. My mouth had the wicked cynicism that it has practiced for so many years. I avoid the mirror when I’m like this, it’s too telling. I see lovers kissing and I find myself hissing statements like, “oh yeah, one of you will screw the other one over…just wait and see.” I forget the openness that filled me up just a couple days ago and I am lost in heavy thoughts. It’s easy to hurt yourself when you thrash around in the dark like that, things get broken. The bus driver is an idiot and doesn’t use words, just hand motions. Someone behind me is berating an author that I like. He is saying things to his daughter, maybe his student, that make me disgusted. I glance back to put a face to the voice and I see that he’s been in a terrible accident that has left his face incredibly scarred. Something softens inside me. I cut him some slack. Then I remember that I can choose what to think, and that I’m not alone in this universe, and that life is short, and that we all get hurt. I feel the wind blow in through the window that is opening just a little. I pull the cord to stop the bus. My enormous bag goes on my shoulder and my backpack tags along willingly enough. Off the bus at 19th and judah, getting close to where I’m headed, I know the N will be coming along the tracks toward the ocean. A woman walks past me, she was on the bus. She is beautiful and walks in that way that is both athletic and purposeful and makes my heart pound. Her hair is long and raven black and the wind is blowing it just perfectly. She stops there where I must stop and she whirls around with the greenest of eyes and a face full of freckles and I can see where the sun has kissed her face and the wrinkles have started. She looks me full in the face with a giant smile and says, “Well now, where you goin’ with that big, heavy bag?” And I am surprised at her openness. And I am happy with who I am. And I answer very simply, “The ocean.” And she laughs at my answer and we are talking and I am slightly in love with her and then her bus comes. She wrinkles her nose at me in the most heartbreakingly beautiful way and tells me to take care out there in the world. And she is gone. A tiny love affair right there on a random street in the city, on a Tuesday, in the world. I’m not inside anymore. The window is wide open and the wind is blowing in and out again. I’m breathing. Life is bound to happen.

train tripping

Please be aware that I’ve written this as it happened, or as close to that as my little mind permits. Due to the nature of all that transpired, there will be some things that are considered crass by some. I see it simply, as life. There is cussing and sex and naughty statements. Be forewarned and read or don’t…or whatever. 

This is a story about trains. I say it’s a story about trains, but really it’s a story about trips on trains, so really it’s a story about people who take trips on trains. I guess this is a story about people, which is kinda the same as it ever was. One thing I’ll say about the following stories are that they did not all happen on the same train ride, that would just be ridiculous and I might as well include a unicorn with a tribe of Lilliputians on it’s back — although that may have been the reality of some of the characters riding these various trains. If there’s one thing I learned about trains, it’s that the folks on them are more likely to be marching to the beat of a different drum, than say, your average American. Most of these stories take place in the United States and I think that separates things further because trains are more of a common travel mode in other countries, at least the ones I’ve visited. So there, you’re prepped up. The following events are as true as they can be although they’ve been stored in a rather faulty compartment I call my brain. And I gotta say, that there is a good bit of correlation between a story reader (you) and a train rider (maybe you) because they both require patience and an inquisitive nature; the former because you gotta wait out the ride, you ain’t in charge of the gas pedal and you can’t just stop when you want, the latter because there are other, more accepted ways of travel and you really have to make a decision to go on a train ride. With all that in mind, climb aboard, the doors are shutting and the tracks are laid out, all gleaming and parallel into the distance.

Sounds that stick around

I’ve heard a conductor yell, “all aboard!”, but it was fake and on a train in the mountains of Colorado that was imitating the way it used to be. I never like them kind of things, like everyone dressing up and acting like it’s some other time. I know it’s fun and I should lighten up but I find it annoying within about 5 or 10 minutes and I just don’t know how to answer someone who asks me, “Woulds’t thou like a frothy grot?”  Uh, yeseth? Nope, not for me. Besides I stink bad enough without pretending to be from some other century, dressed in leather underwear and a thousand year old hat. But yeah, I’ve been on trains where they didn’t yell all aboard, but they sure as hell did start screaming at me for being late as I ran with too many things, including a rubber boat toward the waiting attendant. Once I got left, but that was a bus, and buses are a whole different can of worms. Maybe I’ll write about buses after this little ditty about trains.

I do love the sounds that are synonymous with trains. The swoosh of air from the brakes as they engage and disengage, the whistles that come from out of the past and feel lonely when you hear them in the distance on a summer night by the river in the mountains of Colorado and you are on your bicycle and have been burnt by the sun and are waiting for your ass to stop aching so you can finish the ride and get home to your mama because it’s been too long and the world mighta got too big while you were gone so you will go home and sit with your ma and shrink things back down again. And then, there’s the train when you are lying there as a child of 12 years, or a child of 34, or a child of 47 and you put some change on the tracks and that giant engine passes and the conductor blasts his horn at you for being too damn close but you squish your ears between your palms and endure the fury of the engine and the engine-man and then it is strangely peaceful with the clunk-unk-unk clunk-unk-unk of those huge steel disks as they roll with strange squealings and high pitched whinnings. After, you find the coins and they have the feel of the heat still in them from being crushed like something from the guts of the world where like things are formed from the freight-trains of stone, all the pressure from above.

Inside the train, the sounds are less. Inside the train sounds docile and easy with big and little snorings from travelers in every varied position and in every different part of their journey, some from just outside of New York, some just aboard in Susanville. There are now the apparently oblivious humans who have decided to watch their fav show on their smart phone at top volume, thinking that the whole train wants to listen to Houston Housewives as they squabble over who dissed who at the last gala event. There are folks who’ve had something slip and are conversing with the invisible person plaguing them. There are those who’ve let something slip and you hear it before you smell it and then you wish they would go find a restroom to reduce the possibility of a second slip. There are the attendants who are way cooler than flight attendants who come by and answer the ridiculous questions from the smokers about when the train will stop again and if it’s possible for “just a quick smoke stop, I won’t even leave the train, I’ll just lean out and smoke a couple super fast.”

(in the unlikely event)

I think about the announcements that no one pays attention to at the beginning of a plane flight. Now, I personally think about the plane crashing every time I get on there. I’m not a fatalist, but I would try to live if there was a water landing, and I’m pretty sure it would be every person for him/herself because I’ve been involved with simulated crashes and I’ve seen trained marines panic once the cage is upside down in the water and everyone is still strapped in. If you’ve trained like that, there are still sometimes complications. If you add a bunch of people who won’t look up from their iphones long enough to let you get into your seat and who haven’t done anything physical since playing dodgeball in the 8th grade, well, it’s gonna be bad upside down in the ocean. I like it that trains don’t talk about the unlikely event of crashing. They’re more like, “you’re on a train, if we crash, we’ll all scream and run away from the fire.” I’m down with that. And I think people on a train would be more likely to band together and help one another. I feel like I have proof.

Once upon a trainride…

We left Emeryville at some reasonable hour before noon. I’m not sure about the connecting trains and all that, I only knew that I had made it on time and that I was on my way to Portland from San Francisco for some necessary business. I was not, nor am I ever, in a hurry. I don’t like being hurried and that’s probably why I despise heavy traffic, because everyone in heavy traffic seems to find solace in riding about a foot or so off the rear bumper of my toyota dolphin — news flash for the misinformed : my dolphin is topping out at 60 mph, if God was riding shotgun, we still wouldn’t go faster because, well because it’s just against the laws of physics is all. So, the next time you’re jockying for position to flip the bird to the idiot in the little dolphin RV for going so slow (in the slow lane, mind you), save it. It’s probably me, and I cannot go faster, and I’m also not having a stroke from needing to get to the next stop light before everyone else. I’m slow and I like it. Uh, yeah, the train ride, we were on a train ride to Portland.

From Emeryville we went to Sacramento and an announcement was made that the trip to Portland was not possible due to a train derailment somewhere along the line. This prompted a mass exodus by all those who had the money to find another way. Those of us who were broke simply looked at one another and remembered the cliche that misery loves company. About an hour and a half later an update came over the speaker, barely audible, saying an alternate route had been negotiated with Union Pacific and the train would leave in 20 minutes. There was a little weird cheer from us derelicts and we boarded as soon as we could. There was an overall feeling of we got one over on all those rich idiots who took a flight or rented cars. Once underway, however, we all soon realized that we were all buffoons for having taken the alternate route. Since Amtrak rents the use of the tracks from Union Pacific, they must give the right-of-way to the work trains. The cargo trains are constant and they are often miles long, so within an hour or two we had stopped 3 times for almost an hour each time. The trip to Portland began to look similar to what I imagine the first trip to Mars will look like — we were all about to lose a good portion of our lives aboard an Amtrak. Even I, with all my I-ain’t-in-hurry righteousness, was a bit taken back.

I’d like to take a side trail from the story here, I won’t wander too far as I am prone to, but just a little ways out. Maybe if you’re still reading you can use this time to stand and stretch or make yourself a drink or use the bathroom. Go ahead, I’ll wait. ———————- So, I wanna say something about cigarette smokers. Don’t worry if you smoke, this will be surprisingly uplifting to you. Smokers are savages when the time comes to smoke. Like, if you’re used to a pack a day or you’re used to a cig when certain things have happened, say maybe after breakfast or sex…or both, then it’s basically impossible to keep you from it. Smokers become part magician, part professional negotiator, part mixed martial artist when it’s time to smoke. If you handcuffed them to a rail to keep them from smoking you would come back and find them with their hands gnawed off, smoking with their feet. The look in their eye when it’s time to hoarf one down is akin to what I’ve witnessed in a male goat’s eyes when he is ready to mate; there is nothing else on earth but that next little smoke.

I said that to say this: the way trains work these days is that there ain’t a smoking car any longer. That car is called the Observation Car, but it’s where the smokers (and me) go to talk about the good ol’ days before everyone decided that dying from smoking was a bad thing. I always liked the smoking car because it was full of good conversation and folks were crazy on nicotine and booze and had a ton of stories to tell. I don’t smoke, but I guess I was second-handing it with the best of ’em, and hell, I love a good story. Well, on this trip to Portland I happened to be privy to the mutiny that was arising amongst the smokers. It was awesome. Even old men and women were in on it, not just the punks and ex-cons (there were 6 ex-cons all playing cards throughout the majority of this story) and meth-heads and pill-poppers. The requests to stop were no longer cordial queries, they were aggressive and demanding. When the announcement came across the intercom that the crew had run out of hours and would not be able to continue to drive the train, we were in the deep Oregon woods, on the side of an incredibly beautiful mountain. We were also informed that it would be approximately 6 hours before replacements would arrive. The crew, suspecting mutiny, also made it clear that we would be opening the doors for anyone that might want to smoke. Cheers, followed by a surge to the lower level. Before the doors opened, the conductor made it clear that we were on a very steep slope and that passenger would need to wait for the crew to figure out how to get them down. When the doors opened I watched as the smokers leapt from the train and into the air while lighting cigarettes in mid-flight, down the steep, scree slope to the landing made from the days when they built the tracks. It was a thing of beauty to see them folks sliding and rolling down the talus and finally smoking contentedly in a pile at the bottom. By this time, I decided I liked the smokers and I wanted to be among them. I made my way to the doors where a new situation had developed. An enormous old woman and her tiny husband were at the door, and they were smokers. From the door to the beginning of the slope was a distance of about 6 feet, in other words, too far for a big old lady to simply go for it. She was perched and had one leg out in the air with that goat-look in her eye and she was gonna go for it. The old man was encouraging her with a goat-look in his eye. I started to intervened but I knew it was for naught, they would not listen, and I kinda wondered how this was gonna end up. Ugly, I thought. Broken bones are uncomfortable and trains are uncomfortable. At this point I began to witness what would prove to be a theme from that point on. Several tough smokers from down below, including the ex-cons, formed a posse that would eventually cart that big ol’ gal to the flat ground below. They even came back up and helped the old dude down as well. Within minutes there were men with their shirts off, tanning in the evening sun and smoking like old west characters. I shed my shirt and started writing in a notebook, jotting down the things I was seeing. I watched a dude with facial tattoos from the pen as he went from person to person, telling them that he and another couple fellas were walking the 3 miles to a little town to buy liquor. To my surprise, they had a list that had quite a few names on it along with the amounts given. After I saw an old fella and his little wife give them cash and order a bottle of jack, I put in my order and gave ’em a 20. They were back in about an hour and a half, right as the sun was setting. I told the fellas to keep the change and I’m quite sure the other’s did the same, everyone was stoked. People shared and, as dark began to descend on us, the crew (who, by the way, went and fetched liquor as well) began to herd us all back on board. The system for remounting the train went seamlessly. The “Observation Car” took on a distinctly retro feel as one enterprising fella set up a little business selling $3 martinis and $2 beers in the long-unused service station on the upper level. This 60 year old San Francisco hippie who called himself the Junkman began to play his guitar and sing. People began to dance. One fella came in from another car and informed us all that there were two people “going at it” in the next car. Several gawkers authenticated the statement with raised fists and shouting, “yeah, we crazy now…people be fuckin’!”

Now, I’ve been on trains in many countries. I’ve taken trains in Peru and Ecuador and Chile and Argentina. I’ve been on subways in major cities north and south, but I’ve never seen the stuff I saw on that one trip between San Francisco and Portland. At one point I closed my eyes and imagined myself to be living 100 years ago, it worked. I felt like it was an easy jump in time. When the gal who had been having sexy time in the next car came back, the car exploded with cheers and she raised her arms like she had just won a gold medal. The Junkman began playing “backdoor man” and those who knew the song began to sing along. The sexy time gal was dancing close to the Junkman, her glass of white wine in a clear plastic wine glass was clutched and sloshing. As she hooted the song she leaned down and said in a solidly seductive tone, “I love, love, love, love, love…to give blow jobs.” The Junkman had one blind eye that he kept closed, but when she said that in his ear, his blind eye flared open and I saw the moonish white eye inside. Other than that, I saw no reaction. The new crew arrived and saw the debacle and there must have been a decision made that they would ignore it for a while and see what would happen. The lower level bathroom became the smoking section, not limited to just cigarettes and weed. All manner of smells came boiling up from down below. One fella who had found romance with a tough looking gal with a nervous disorder came up from the depths with a full cucumber cream facial, with him the gal in a cucumber mask. They were high on something speedy and they were suddenly very helpful with everything. The dude had a plan for me to make millions with my art and he wanted to record the Junkman because, “he was a godamn genius with music.” I had a bit of a conversation with him, but mostly it was him talking about several things at once and me trying to keep the stories sorted out. Overall, it was good practice for if I ever get taken by aliens and need to communicate.

When the train ride came to an end, the conductor himself came into the Observation Car and allowed himself a moment to take it all in. There were many bottles of booze in different states of empty. There were folks hammered and out, some were frying like it was 1967, some were simply living exactly like they would if they were home, which was the same as being hammered and fried. He surveyed the scene like a man who just bought some property but realized too late that it actually butted up against the mouth of Hades. He said in a loud voice, “I cannot see any liquor bottles.” One of the ruffians from the ex-con card game raised a handle of Beam and slurred back, “right here’s one.” The conductor, un-phased, repeated himself and added, ” there will be police at the station.” Of course there was some back-talk but the bottles did slowly disappear as folks prepared to disembark. The last thing I remember was that this kinda gothic 20-something gay kid was whupping ass at the ex-con card game and everyone was in the best of moods and the woman who had sexy time was shouting,”let’s hear it for my prison peeps” and the old man with a plate in his head was cuddling up to her while they all danced to the songs by the Junkman and the young girl named Jay was showing me her glass eyeball collection and the dude, high on meth, was making out with his new girlfriend at breakneck speed and the rest of the goths were dancing on the table and on the backs of the booths to beats from someone’s little speakers and the lights in the car were dimmed as we rolled into the station and the people in the other cars were sleeping. There weren’t any cops. Some folks got off, some stayed on. There were goodbyes and hugs and fist bumps and bleary eyes and little empty cups under the seats.

A trip that would have been somewhere around 12 hours had taken 30+. Folks that would have never spoken to one another had become aware of one another, in some cases friends. There were barriers that broke down and there were strange liaisons and there were deals made. There were, as always, the darknesses that we cannot seem to eliminate, but there were streaks of light that make me wonder about the future of our race. Above all, I am aware that we are all capable of great good and great evil. I’m not so sure that living a life of leisure brings out the best in humanity. I believe that mutual suffering tends to make us see one another…and that’s a start.

please collect your items and check the aisles for debris

I have more stories. This will have to do for now. I have a feeling that I may be writing to myself at this point. That’s good as well, it’ll match up perfectly with my internal dialogue and the voices in my head that I know better than to talk about. After all, that could end me up in one of them places with padded walls and the long sleeve shirts with buckles around the back. This train is in the station. See ya on the next trip.

Hoofed Beasts and Hurtling Cars

In the heart of any city, desperation is always only a few steps away. I slept in an illegal parking spot on Lincoln, right next to the park last night. I looked for a while for something better, but finally gave in and decided to risk the ticket. Before I went to sleep, I stepped up into the thicket of low lying bushes and watched the city as it happened. I like to do that kinda thing, hide and observe. I know it’s kinda creepy, but so is watching the News on television.

From my spot in the park I could see the long row of houses on the other side of the street. I could see that kinda blue-ish glow of all the flat-screens at once, some windows included the back of someone’s head with the t.v. beyond. It’s easy for me to get sad when I’m doing this kinda thing, easy to make the world into a kind of relentless tragedy. I see them human silhouettes and the mainline that is filling them up and up, I see the branches of the trees outside their houses and the coughing person that is slumping in the doorway, I see the cars hurtling down the lighted streets as they hurry towards the parking spots that will be created as another car leaves to find another parking spot created by another car leaving. There is a madness that I feel creeping up on me when I’m watching all this, it’s creeping, but it sure ain’t quiet and I am looking over my shoulder.

I don’t sleep so well when I have these kinda thoughts, so I didn’t sleep well last night. In the morning haze I tried to put together some kind of plan for the next few weeks. I couldn’t even get past the morning, I couldn’t get past wondering if I had a ticket on my windshield — wouldn’t be the first time.  My planning fell apart. Depression will follow soon if I don’t take action. I know this worn down path all too well, my footprints are everywhere. I should get in the ocean, she always sets me straight.

I love it when I find the sleeping spots of animals, especially when they’ve just been vacated. The heat from the body of the beast still lingers in the ground, and the smell hangs in the air. It’s like a little bit of the animal remains, can be felt. Sometimes I look around for the remnants of their dreams. Those things that cause eyes to roll under velvety lids while wet noses pull down all manner of smells that form colors and stories in wordless languages that are formed from spiraling DNA and patterns passed down through evolutionary reincarnations. The tilting of the head. The feigned indifference. The dances and gifts and displays. All these things must be a part of each animal’s dreams, along with their fears and dreads. I wonder about all that when I feel the heat in the grass that was mashed down by the body of some marvelous ungulate as they slept.

This morning I noticed a human sleeping spot just a few steps away from where my r.v. was parked. There were bloody napkins crumpled all around. Trouble in the night. I’m sure, more than a little misery. I moved the dolphin to a better parking spot, vacated by a work-goer. Coffee at the local shop. Outside the 7-11 there is heavy talk among several homeless folk. One had very little voice left, I wondered if he’s maybe losing it for good. They were talking of displacement and the good ol’ days and people that have been taken away. One caught my glance and we say hello. The old Thai man that haunts this world and this block on Judah street was there, outside the coffee shop. I said hello and he smiled and recognized me even though it has been 6 months since that last time we nodded to one another. He is coughing more these days and his smile seemed strained. I sat and listened to the hubbub and the gossip. Every block in every city is a tiny world.

The walk back to my rig was slow and easy. I saw a kitty-cat, orange and white,in a comfortable window. He was looking down at me and I looked up as a raven following the roofline dropped just low enough to pass within a foot or two of the cat. As the raven passed, the kitty couldn’t help himself and he lifted a paw and placed it on the window. The raven flew on and the cat dropped his little foot back into place and looked back at me, embarrassed. I smiled at him and shrugged.

The grass that grows along the dunes is gray and brown, kinda green in places. There are marks of the scurrying animals in the sand at the base of the grass. There are lost feathers and broken crab shells. There are sand dollars and polished sticks. The foam on the beach is being combed by the sand pipers and their kin. Seagulls are making themselves at home in the air all around. There are two-leggeds and they are running and some are walking with leashes tied to their pet dogs. The ocean looks wild and gray, on the horizon the sky is a lighter version of the ocean it holds in place. I wonder how the whales are doing today, way out there in that massive cold sea. I wonder if they slept well last night.

conversation with cmor

cmor&i

i guess maybe i didn’t have quite the eye you did.  i didn’t see the bikes in the pile of junk someone was calling a garage sale. i do remember we were done with a solid stint in the valley. i was worn out and scuffed up from the way i’d been living. cook fires to climbing spots to swimming holes.  weren’t we in groveland when you saw the bikes? the one you got was a bigger schwinn, like an old paper bike. the second was that girl’s bike with the sparkly banana seat and the streamers coming outa the handgrips. all for twenty bucks.

“you need some wheels, man, and so do i.” you said it with that one smile you always had when you were about to be amused.

then into the city. cole and carl. san francisco’s promises and lies displayed on the streets, in the parks, floating in the air. it was ’99. and there you were in your tweed wool trousers and your new york slant and there i was in my best and only pair of jeans and some shirt that was what my ma called a part of my uniform. i guess i don’t vary in what i wear, at least not much.

but we were sipping whiskey on the second level where the vinyl was snapping and popping on the player and the books were holding the works and words of people named melville and stienbeck and sedaris and plath. and you were smiling, still smiling. and then, as if we had spoken about it or as if i already knew, we polished off our drinks and went to the bikes in the failing light. east on carl to clayton and then left on 17th. the street lamps had just popped on and that street is scary steep and the plastic streamers were whipping at my elbows. below us, the castro. i recall wondering about the tires and bolts on my little bike as the tears built up in my eyes from the wind. i was tapping on the brakes to make sure they functioned at higher rates of speed. you were whooping and laughing at the site of me, the site of us. drops of water in the ocean of crazies in that city by the bay.

the little bar we went to, remember man, that long, little bar? and the sparkly eyed people with the easy coolness about them, like they were born to it? and my awkwardness seemed to blend in fine. and you used your silver tongue to share a table like you always seemed to do — the same silver tongue that spoke silver castellano and talked our way onto that fishing boat in puerto natales as it sailed to puerto monte and you told them we were experienced sailors and that we had the strongest backs and could sleep anywhere. and we drank pisco with the cooks and, like fools, chased sheep and cattle between the trucks while the workers laughed at the prank they had pulled on us. and then we laughed with them and hugged them all before we disembarked  — and the way i never could.  but there, in that little bar, we were fine and dandy.

i never knew whether the things that happened with you were luck or were something you had secretly planned. you never let me in on that secret. that was the night that mirissa rode in on her motorcycle, and her giant smile and black leather and her long legs. that’s what i mean, was that luck or did you call her? i hadn’t seen her since fire island, but there she was in real life. that night went on and we danced and i remember going home with mirissa on the back of her motorcycle. days and days of dancing and singing and bombing hills on a little girl’s bike. late night, single gear pedaling back up way-to-steep hills using a zig-zag technique that added miles to every ride. losing argument after argument because you were so much smarter than me. i wonder now if maybe you just argued with me to pass the time and you were also thinking about other things in your head while you argued, like the geniuses that can write with one hand and draw with the other.

man, the years have passed like the street lamps on 17th, downhilling towards the castro. i know they’re passing but they blend together, don’t they? there was some in-between that i’m sure i’ve forgotten. there was that once when you yelled that we were kings from atop that tall piece of granite somewhere up the valley de frances, and i believed you. there was more time in new york where we rode different bikes in that other city. that wasn’t long before you fell down. remember, man, when you pulled that last stunt? remember how you went in and turned to dust? i gotta admit, i was shaky for a bit after that. i’m not sure but that the sky didn’t lose a little of it’s blue on that one day that stuff changed. i look for it, the most brilliant blue that is, and i’m pretty sure it’s gone. what’s left will do. it has to.

there’s a raven on the line overhead and he’s croaking at the little pack of warblers that are jungle-gyming in the bottle tree. i’m stealing wifi from johnny thomson’s house while i write in his driveway. johnny remembers you too. we still bring you up when we swim above the kelp beds along the cliffs. we talk about what you might be saying, what you might wanna argue about.  but yeah, not much has changed, christian, i’m still moving from place to place. still spending time in peoples’ driveways and in their orchards and in their backyards. still showering in the hose when no one’s home. alive, man, but getting a little longer in the tooth. i got your back, for a while longer yet. the stories i tell about you hold you up. hell, they hold me up too.

i know life is now, but it sure is colored by then.

leithian

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.

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.

re-souled

the sun above san francisco is patient. he must wait and watch for any opportunity to find his favorite places. he waits for a chance to trickle down through the cyprus boughs in golden gate park. he waits to touch the kale growing in the community gardens near land’s end. he waits to warm the people waiting for an egg sandwich at outer lands. he waits to come through the window of the apartment where i sit and warm my shoulder up. he’s patient, that ol’ sun.

the saw grass waves on the dunes across the street and beyond that the ocean pushes and pulls at the outer edges of america. in a few minutes i’ll pull the out the to-go cup from yesterday and uncrumple it and watch the folks at trouble coffee fill it up with a beautiful breve…a tiny one please, so i can maybe have two. huge lilies are by the pond behind the sign that tells us not to release turtles. my dear friend, Eamon, waits for dirt from higher up the hill. he will tell the fellas where to dump it and then he will pack it for the hikers and the bikers and the deer and the skunks. he will make it perfect because he’s good like that. i will walk to Tuesday Tattoo and see my old friends. somewhere, somehow, i’ll probably get my grubby mitts on a chocolate croissant and it will last for a minute or two.

sarah showed me a pair of old shoes that she has that she loves. i did an old repair job on them and they look good, just a bit older and more worn…like me. they are brown leather and have a broken lace (she says she’ll just cut the other lace and splice it) and they have a look of something that isn’t really made anymore. i love faithful objects. good old shoes. favorite spots. the sun. the sea. clunking hearts. i struggle with guilt when i think of the things that i take for granted. on days like today i struggle less. the list is long for someone like me; someone who stands so comfortably under the san francisco sun. the memories of yosemite valley are only two days old, they are mixing with the coffee and the ocean here in the city. there are some wonders that are simply too big to cover with words.

sarah said she had them old shoes re-soled. she does that so they’ll last. it’s good for me to come here every now and again. you could say i get re-souled kinda like those shoes. it helps me last.

and since i was trying to be all cute with words, here are some definitions…not that you need them, but, you know, i’m just trying to help…or whatev’s. it’s kinda like trying to explain a joke and then it’s not funny anymore. oh well, what the hell.

soul — noun — 1. the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.• a person’s moral or emotional nature or sense of identity: in the depths of her soul, she knew he would betray her.• emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, esp. as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance: their interpretation lacked soul.

sole — noun — the undersurface of a person’s foot: the soles of their feet were nearly black with dirt.• the section forming the underside of a piece of footwear.

last–noun–a shoemaker’s model for shaping or repairing a shoe or boot.

last — verb [ no obj. ] 2. continue to function well or to be in good condition for a considerable or specified length of time: the car is built to last | a lip pencil lasts longer than lipstick.

 

living furiously or (i think i might smell pretty bad)

sometimes (most of the time) i stink. don’t go and pass heavy judgement on me right yet, i’m not filthy. i just like to play and i play most of the time and so i smell like a human that has been playing. sometimes it’s a little too tart and i know it and i try to get to a shower and knock the smell down a bit with soap and water. i don’t perfume up and get all snazzy afterwards…i just wash and that’s gotta be good enough. i have some friends, mostly guys, that stink as well (hunter, you know who i’m talking about) and i don’t mind their smell. the truth is, i like humans to smell like humans. i know, i know, when it gets too much it’s no good. i mean, i don’t wanna run people off. it’s hard enough for me to gain someone’s interest without handicapping myself with a body odor violation. i just don’t think we humans should be quite so finicky. our temperaments are so damn sensitive. at the very least we should not mind a little sniff of one another.

one christmas i came home from a fairly long foray out of the country. i’d been climbing and living out of a bag for about a year. i went home to see mama and the fam. i hadn’t really thought about it but i knew i’d been wearing the same pair of pants for a long time (yes, i washed them…no, i didn’t have two pairs. hey, i was living cheap, don’t judge!) and i only had a couple shirts. everything kinda smelled like a forest animal, lets say a river otter. my sister, adana, has a very sensitive sniffer and she pulled my kid brother to the side and asked him if he thought i knew that i smelled. i hadn’t quite made the shower for crying out loud! once i had cleaned up my brother, who is my dearest of friends, told me what my sister had said. we had a good laugh and i told her i’d be more careful with my stinkiness in the future.

i’m a little off track here. i’m really not that interested in writing a bunch of stories about myself; besides being a little egocentric it’s kinda boring…like, i’ve already told most of them (my stories) and in order to make them better i’d have to lie and that’s just stupid. also my friends, most of whom are the only ones reading this shit, would call me out.  and they already have enough ammunition without me lying a lick. so, umm, i’ll move on.

what i wanted to talk about was some of my favorite stinky friends. i don’t care that they stink because i know why they are that way. it is because they know how to live. they just plain rip! they don’t burn their days waiting for the big once-in-a-lifetime to come along. they live every day because it is once in a lifetime. they are cave dwellers and tree climbers. they are wave seekers and river walkers. they are lantern jawed blacksmiths who drink coffee that would float a horseshoe. they are dirt diggers and goat breeders. they are tiny sprites that wait for rides from one backcountry hideout to the next. they are squinty-eyed, desert fire keepers. they are seed carriers and flower eaters. they are wild dancers that have the music already built into their hearts. they are barefooted, long-distance runners who would be a draw at any public showing. they are the people on the cusp of what is accepted because what is accepted is, for the most part, a weird pile of words that someone made the status quo. i’m not talking about laws, i’m talking about the way we think we need to look and act. must we really be anything outside of the awesome animals we are? honestly, do we need smell like a chemically enhanced petunia? do we need to be the skinniest waif among the skinny waifs in the beauty magazine?

i’m not trying to be all hard core. if we have bad teeth and they can be fixed in order to make our lives better, then let’s fix ’em. i just don’t think every single tooth needs to be perfect and as white as a supernova. i like gaps in teeth (yes, nick, even your’s) and i like bent noses. i like girls that are happy with their shape, a set of fake boobs is not needed…it’s just not. i’m sure there’s a bunch of frat boys that would call me an idiot. obviously i’m stating an opinion, it’s just me being honest. folks, we’re pretty cool as is! i love the wrinkles around the eyes of a beautiful woman. there is grace in age. the idea that youthfulness is the only form of beauty is absurd. you think i’m wrong? go to the redwoods. go visit the ancient bristlecone pines. go walk in the fall across the appalacians. look into the eyes of an old-timer, look past the red veins and the wrinkles, look into the windows that hold the light of the soul. you’ll see the longest of roads, and personally, i find that extraordinarily wonderful.

when i go visit my friend hunter, i do trade work. i tattoo his big ol’ hairy, stinky carcass and he lets me work in his forge. he’s a blacksmith. his name is Hunter Dahlberg  but i call him heavy d. he’s all long armed and raw-boned with a thick beard and a knack for drinking good whiskey and strong coffee. he lets me crash upstairs in the library and at night i pick and choose books from his iron clad bookshelves. he’s as classic and as smelly and as real as they come here on planet earth. not all that long ago, when i was suffering from a bad case of brokenheartedness, he came to san francisco to see me. lo and behold, old Heavy D was in the same state i was. it seemed as if we were shipwrecked sailors, each from our own separate catastrophes, and we saw one another floating among the flotsam. we got on our bicycles and road from the panhandle down through golden gate park to the sea. it was raining a little and we peddled fast and jumped curbs and swerved in and out and laughed at each other because our hearts needed to be bound up and held together. hunter is a savage. sometimes, when the rest of the world is sleeping, hunter is squinting into a fiery forge and waiting for the metal to glow just right so that he can snatch it up and swing his hammer and make it sing that furious sounding song. and that is just how he lives…furiously.

give me that…just that, and that’d be real good. give me a furious life.