Saturday, April 30, 2005

Signs & symbols

To my right on the bus yesterday, an old woman with one wrinkled palm open, writing invisible words on skin with her finger. To my left, an elderly man makes tiny chops at the air with his open hands.

Across the aisle, a young Indian woman, exquisitely dressed and made up, an expectation of deference in her look. She pouts her ruby lips, pushes her brows together, and shakes her head minutely. I look around, is she talking to someone else? No, her eyes look inward. She mouths silent words; piety, disgust, shock, seduction, in miniature expression across her face.

The doors open, and I get off. A man sitting alone at the bus stop claps his hands together, loudly, deliberately. Once, twice, three times.

The signal has been given.

A blog quiz has finally gotten me.

I have a commitment to my dear readers, not to fill your days with meaningless shit, unless it's my (homegrown) meaningless shit. But I have finally come across a blog quiz that I could not resist:

You're Prufrock and Other Observations.
by T.S. Eliot
Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic
and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying
to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really
heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


Boyle looked at his knuckles, opening and closing his hands.

That little guy on the other side of the counter would go down in a second under these hands, thought Boyle. He could feel it, see it, the weasel's teeth biting into the skin on his knuckles, then giving way like bowling pins, like marbles, like pearls around a woman's neck, the bones around his eye giving, going soft. He knew how it felt to deliver a punch to the kidneys, to hear the breath foosh out of a guy, you watch a fight and it only takes a second, you can look away at your beer and it's all over but when you're in there it's hours days years the sounds coming out of his mouth with the teeth and spit, he's wound all around your feet and you're standing it's all yours, everybody knows to be afraid of you, they get out of your way when you walk away, the girls looking at you out of the sides of their eyes, their cheeks pink and you're all of it, you're everything in that moment.

It was almost enough just to know it, almost enough today for Boyle as he took the deposit slip from the little guy. Give him the receipt or take a shot, dole out the cash or go, launch across the counter and into the light, no going back.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Night walk

A Russian market we'd never seen before ("Piroshki!" handwritten on the window); beautiful old brick service station that had survived at least one major earthquake; café advertising HAMBURGERS and SUSHI in neon; shiny red brick Chinese joint, the big round tables packed to the gills, a hundred families eating out, the waiters tripping from table to table, we stood outside in the dark, light from glittering chandeliers edging our faces; Aladdin Radio, open by appointment only, dark recesses full of depression-era cabinet radios, a crystal microphone, the walls papered with ancient ads.

A full moon behind the radio tower, clouds dragging across its face.

Tired men bent over the counter at the all-night donut shop, the smell of sugar and grease heavy on the street.

What stinking writer's block?

Mr. Billy framed this picture for me, and put it on my writing desk:

Where's my gun, dammit?

The Yosemite Sam Effect

So, you know in cartoons, when someone like Yosemite Sam would get whacked in the face with a frying pan? He'd vibrate from the impact for minutes afterward.

Or, like the Ball Thing in I Heart Huckabees?

This week I got smacked in the face by my Day Job, and I'm still feeling like a dish of mold. So, to all you lovely readers, my apologies, I should be as close to human as I get...soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

George plays the concertina

George played the concertina. Don't call it an accordion. Dad's lessons came out for something, anyway, he could pick up maybe $40 on a sunny afternoon, George squeezing out the tunes, eyes half-closed, he's back in his old room, red rugs and dark lavendar wallpaper, Edith Piaf on the record player, George is eight, his hair slicked back, suit with short pants, squeezing along with Edith, Uncle Toots slapping his knee, sour cigar smoke drifting to the brown ceiling, drink on the little table, Mom clapping along in her Sunday dress, flowered hat in her lap, Dad just nodding, yes, lessons were going well, George played along with Edith.

A fire truck passed.

George didn't know how old he was, now. His fingers black on the keys. He lifted a knee and hopped in time to the music.

George played the concertina.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What Shondelle doesn't know

Teenagers on the bus.

One girl sits beside me, then pops up onto the seat, I can feel all her muscles jump at once, she hauls the window open and screams.

"Tiff! I'm gonna fuck Shondelle up! I'm going to her school!

She plops back down in the seat for only two seconds before getting up and moving to the very back seats. I have a good view of her pugnacious expression as it fades. She shifts, primly, and picks invisible lint off her knee. She's wearing black tights with big, round holes cut in careful randomness, her skin showing through. A neat mini-skirt. Sweet little pink slippers and matching purse. Hair straightened and held with a scarf. I call her Pinky.

Shondelle can't know what's coming her way on the 43 bus.

Pinky checks her purse, then checks it again. Her certainty is ebbing away. She licks her lips and brushes at her knee again. She gets up and stands at the back door, and I think she's going to get off at this stop.

Instead, a pack of boys push on, four midgets and a giant, they're all the same age, but one got hit with hormone roulette early. Pinky sticks to them and follows them to the back of the bus, working herself up. She's talking a hundred miles a minute, but I can only pick up bits, "Shondelle," and "Shut the fuck up."

The boys are in slow motion, blinking their eyes and looking at their shoes. Pinky's volume grows. She's back on her feet, moving toward the door again.

"I said, Shut the fuck up shut the fuck up shut the fuck up, bitch."

At the next stop, they all empty out onto the sidewalk, and as the bus pulls away, I can see the giant has taken his coat off and raised his arms, slapping his chest, he's a whole person taller than Pinky, but she dances around him like she's going to take a shot.

And then I can't see them anymore.

I get off and walk toward work. In the sidewalk, someone carved this in the wet cement:

"I love you anyway"

I love you anyway, Pinky.


This morning a tiny woman ran for the bus, skinny legs wrapped tight in high heeled boots, face above them a floating calm, zen meditation, eyes downlooking, not a foot wrong, exquisite rhythm clip clip clip, a perfect score in the Running-for-the-bus-in-high-heel-boots Olympics.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Screaming chihulys

We went out for dinner, Mr. Chemical Billy and me, that's Out for Dinner, to a fancy-eatin' place, not our usual fare, but a save-up-and-dress-up kind of Dinner Out. This because we also had tickets to a Play, so it was the whole show, dinner and a play, (where later we would meet an Armenian playwrite and his Russian travel agent wife, the playwrite disappointed in the American stage, but that's for another blogpost).

The restaurant - which was supposed to have some kind of a deal with the theater, so if you had tickets to the play, you got a break on the bill, which was attractive to us - suffered from an affliction we like to refer to as the "screaming chihulys", (best exemplified by the lobby at the Bellagio), though actual Chihuly sculptures are not required, the aspiration, the stench of chihuly is quite enough.

There is something about a place like this, I told Mr. C B after the host seated us at a tiny half-table in the waitstaff thoroughfare, that inspires rebellion in me, but I tried to keep it down, not to make a scene. I did try.

We looked around the room and saw acres of old white men in black suits, everywhere old white men in black suits, one or two glossed-up women but everything was about the old white men, and one might say we stuck out.

If you were there, had looked around the room at the OWM making their deals over dainty little plates of food, you would have stopped at Mr. & Mrs. Chemical Billy, Dressed Up to Go Out, bright colors where the OWM were white and black, laughing while the OWM chortled or scowled. You would have seen Chemical Billy reach for her scarf - they keep these places frigid - but the scarf had fallen to the floor, and under the chair, and Billy, rather than standing up to retrieve the scarf, keeps reaching for it, really an impossible contortion but she keeps at it, bravely, stupidly, the chair tipping, and you might have even seen her face, that half-second when she thought, "Fuck it," and let the chair go while she tumbles ass over head into the path of the oncoming waiter, who loses his own composure and cracks up.

It was worth it, just for that.

But the bastards, the poor, sad OWM, didn't crack a smile.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Stan said that's how to find a job, just look for the cranes, Verl, wherever you see a crane, you know there's a job site.

Verl drove around with his face scrunched up to the windshield, There! There's one, just one crane, but you never know, they might need someone, they're always looking for labor, Verl was a good worker, his ma always said he was a good worker, she could give him anything to do and he'd keep at it until he was done, no matter how long it took, or how many blisters he got.

Yep, Verl was a good worker. He just needed to walk up to the trailer, there, where the supervisor is, and tell him what a good worker he is, and he could have a job, just like that, and money to walk around with, money in his pocket that he didn't have to ask ma for. That's all, just knock on the trailer door, it would be easy, Stan said they were always looking for good workers.

Verl sat in the car, looking up at the crane, bouncing his fingertips on the steering wheel.

Just knock on that door. They were always looking for good workers.

Tomorrow, Verl thought, turning the car around. He'll come back tomorrow.

Sunday scratch fiction

Monkey 0 started it; fragments of fiction written about as fast as one can type. Sounds like fun to me. So, on Sundays I'll try my hand at it too.

Most of my fiction juice goes into longer projects, but this might be a way to gas up, who knows.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I am my own character

Some nights on the bus, there's entirely too much material.

The boy sitting behind me, on the phone in a luxe voice, "I was makeup artist for 3 weddings today. My fake-smile muscles are worn out, darling..."

The stoner chick next to me, dangerously beautiful, eyes spinning in her head she's so high. Giant earphones plugged into nothing. She talks to a girl in the seat in front of her, fried hipster voice spilling out of cherrry lips, punctuated at random points with a fatuous giggle, "Yeah, hehehehe, a job, that's an idea heheheh, employment, I should hehe get one of those...I'm just heheheh couch-surfing right heheh now.."

And the guy who stepped out of a Daumier poster, and the man with the grave, mature voice who walks like a three-year-old girl needing to pee.

The bus descends into a rough-ish neighborhood, and a crowd gets on, these are people not to piss off, I could swear they're all giants, six feet tall and more, scars and burnt-out cigarillos hanging out the sides of their mouths, thirty-year-old leather jackets and thousand-yard stares, men and women, black and brown and white, don't mess with these people as they squeeze their way in to the bus, packing in tight around me.

The girl on the inside seat needs to get off, so I get up to let her off, book in one hand, backpack in the other, but then I realize I'm getting off at the next stop, I offer the seats to two of the standing crowd and now I'm standing, my hands are full and it slips through my brain that the bus is about to move & I have no hands to reach out and grab a rail, & just as I think it, the bus lurches ahead & I'm going down, no balance no purchase, I'll be laid out flat.


I never touch floor. It feels like fifty hands catch me, softly, gently, those rough characters helping me up & laughing with me, the whole bus laughing & asking if I'm all right, they right me and hold me steady, see me safely off at my stop, and one man gets off at the same time, saying, "One advantage of a crowded bus, huh?"

He moves his cigarillo to the other corner of his mouth, and saunters away down the street.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A hotbed of badminton

Tonight I learned that Denmark is a hotbed of badminton.

Downton at night, tag-ends of conversations riding on mild air currents.

A single brick wall, like the rib of Jonah's whale, standing high over the leavings of the building it once supported. Next door, a slick metal neighbor watches its last days through two hundred window eyes.

A friend explains why he's moving back home to New Orleans.

"...people are atomised here. You see people on their own, or couples, but no families, San Francisco hasn't been around long enough to grow those generations.

"...and yet, and yet, I love the musicians in the subways, the freaks and the hippies, but their ways are dying. You have to work hard, people have to work hard to survive here.

" brother in New Orleans is unemployed...he spends his days at the coffee shop, talking with all the curmudgeons that gather there, about art, and living, and all the unexplored universes..."

I can read what's playing at the movies in mirror writing, the marquis running backward in the shop window across the street.

A girl grooves down the road to the music in her head.

"I love San Francisco," says my New Orleans-bound friend, "It is, clearly, easily, the second best city in the U.S."

Monday, April 04, 2005


I often see the guy at my bus stop; he must work in the same neighborhood I do.

I think he dropped in from New York, circa 1985.

He's pale, big and fleshy, with that unhealthy green tinge that makes me think he toils in the sub-sub-basement of some big money firm, shoveling wads of cash into a large, wet mouth. He has to work fast, the mouth is always hungry, and if he gets behind, it'll be his hand next. He wears a suit of a color -- an un-color really -- that makes no impression beyond highlighting that greenish cast to his skin.

I've never seen anything but a blank, monotonous panic in his face.

Waiting for the bus, morning bagel in hand, he takes a bite, walks three steps out into the street, checks for the bus, looks at his watch, three steps back to the curb, and another bite. Same thing, every morning. Bite, step step step, check for bus, check the time, step step step, bite. Over and over, not quite precise, but with an oppressive religiosity, as though if he doesn't do this ritual correctly, if he fails to check for the bus between bites, the bus will not come.

And, maybe he's right.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Fish don't blink

A good friend, let's call him Quigley, was in town last weekend.

That meant cabs.

Ripping around town, rattling in the back seat of several different taxis, we learned that there are opium poppies in a public place (no, I'm not telling where) from a driver whose window we broke. Another told us that driving is only part time for him (he has another job as well), that he'd go completely insane if he had to do it full time.

But the king of the cabbies picked us up on Market Street, on the corner where the check cashing place is, where people on the ragged edge of the economy hang out, share a smoke, get an egg roll for 50 cents. Where we'd seen a halfassed fight in progress between two hulking men, one of them a bare, demoralized idea of a drag queen. Dancers trying to get to class in the nearest building edged around the crowd that collected around the combatants, a circle of crush space following them around as they flailed out into the street (dancers scurrying in the door), then back on the sidewalk. Finally the tiny elevator man from the dance building appears, shooing the fighters away with utter confidence, a shopkeeper sweeping his stoop.

The cabbie was monologuing from the minute we landed in his car. I heard only bits and pieces, remember even less, but it was all heroic in scale, how to bring the whole world together - did he suggest soccer broadcasts? - to when he worked at IBM, how the top executives weren't from here, you could notice, if you met with any of them, they didn't blink.

We roared bouncing up the streets toward Telegraph Hill.

Alien races, levitation, telepathy. "You can always tell the aliens, I mean, it makes sense, you come from a place with no sun you don't gotta blink.

"I mean, fish don't blink."

And you know, we couldn't argue with that.