Coming out of Blondies’ Pizza with a smoldering cheese slice fresh outta the oven and there was Sasquatch next to a pay phone bent over double with his face almost touching the ground. Doing that universal junkie slow motion waltz as he tried to put his jacket on and keep his hat and his lit smoke in their respective places and in his mind at least still looking somewhat cool. I had that inevitable two seconds worth of dilemma – act like I didn’t see him, which in the long run I ‘m sure we’d both prefer, or acknowledge his dope-fiend presence with a nod and be on my way. Only the pizza made the decision for me as I bit into it and why oh why do I put something that I just saw coming straight out of a burning hot oven into my mouth?
Eyes watering as the napalm infused tomato sauce and cheese topping takes several layers off the roof of my mouth, I stumble in agony over to the disheveled newspaper racks putting down my slice on the grease soaked wax paper that it was served to me on. Jesus that hurts, and I look up and like an aberration there’s Sasquatch eyes slit half in a nod scratching his nose and talking away like it ain’t nothing and we always see each other out here on Powell Street.
“Hey man, how’s it going dude? I’m doin’ really really good man! Swear to god. Things are real-ee going my way. Can’t complain though…”
Of course I’m choking here on cauterized nerve endings. We’re talking three degree internal burns minus some gums and dental work and he’s busy slurring on about how good his life is while at his feet is a tattered old duffle bag that undoubtedly holds everything that he owns and of course a good many things that he doesn’t.
“Hole up um sec, mutha fucum ott piza!” I mumble back at him and wipe my mouth with a fraying miniature napkin in a futile attempt to alleviate the carnage that’s taking place inside my mouth.
But he just keeps it up unaware. Rambling on about how great his life is. No specifics mind you to back up these seemingly bold statements. But plenty of expletives and feigned attempts at enthusiasm with beaucoup hand gestures and that non-pulsed expression surrounding pinned eyes staring out to nowhere from under the brim of his hat.
How do you tell a junkie’s lying?
His lips are moving.
If I was to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes and take a really good look around I’d probably know half of the dissolute souls that are walking by us. Though this is not my neighborhood, it’s the edge of downtown and even though I never hung out west in the Tenderloin, I still know most of the dissidents that live there. For a major metropolis San Francisco is not that large. Take the addict population and divide it by the ones still alive by the ones still using and you end up sooner or later knowing every damn hype in this city. Of course this is the hope-to-die dope fiends were talking about here, not the weekend warriors or the future mainliners coming up in the ranks of the casual partiers. But in the end we’re just talking labels amongst the food chain of the drug world and of course there’s that moniker of “Functioning Addict” but does that really describe someone who collects aluminum cans so that he can smoke crack for a few hours at night? Besides, it certainly doesn’t apply to Sasquatch who wouldn’t be caught dead picking up rubbish and furthermore, what the hell is Sasquatch still doing out here on the streets alive? I know he’s like only twenty five but there’s not an un-ruptured vein left in his body and I can see that weird skin thing of his is finally creeping onto his hands and even though he’s six feet and climbing he’s skinny as a rail looking like death reheated in a radiation leaking microwave.
“Are you gonna eat that pizza or just sit there and stare at it?”
Actually I’m thinking of smacking Sasquatch upside the head with it. But he really isn’t worth wasting a two and a half dollar slice of pizza on. And besides I’m going to eat this slice if it’s the last thing I do! Of course now I can’t taste a thing and it might as well be sizzling cardboard and I really don’t like Blondies’ pizza that much in the first place. It’s just that almost anybody’s pizza is Ok straight out of the oven and I saw them pulling the pie out as I walked by and, well, we all know the rest of the story by now.
But it’s getting late and what am I achieving here anyway? I’m only out downtown walking around because I’ve been cooped up all day in my apartment writing and doing yet another couple a loads of laundry one at a time because all the other dryers except one were broken. And what shoulda took me an hour or two turned into an all afternoon ordeal because I was busy battling it out with my neighbors over the available appliances. You’d think that with your laundry in a machine that you’d sorta be in possession of said machine. But not in my building. Soon as the dryer stops turning, whether your clothes are dry or not, if you’re not standing there waiting, then the person who is takes your clothes out and puts them on top of the machine and loads theirs in.
Consequently many of my more timid neighbors sit in the laundry room all day as their clothes go round. Which if you were to see my building’s laundry room you’d know it takes a bit of resolve to do so. I myself hate going in there to do laundry let alone to try and spend any quality time amongst the humming machines in order to guard my clothes from dryer theft while also trying to catch up on my reading.
However; attempting to eat this flambéed pizza de fromage is proving improbable if not a bit senseless and without risking more bodily harm than necessary I hand the offending ensemble of crust and grease to Sasquatch and bid him good luck and a fond farewell. Besides it’s starting to look like rain is in the air and I’m not relishing the idea of being caught in a downpour so far from home. Especially if that possibility includes being stuck under a shop’s awning in the pouring rain while Sasquatch continues to expound on the quality of his wonderful life.
But my escape is not all easy going with the sidewalk an immobile gridlock as hoards of unsuspecting tourists are still crowded around the cable car turnabout and I have to weave my way through them in order to get over to Fifth Street. But for some reason the crowd isn’t thinning as I try and push my way across Market Street. And there are sirens coming from all directions as I see the pulsing lights of the police cars erupting in the middle of the intersection.
Laying face down in the crosswalk is the body of a young man stretched out and not moving while the rain starts up and the people just stand there staring. The cops are milling about and one of them writes in a black notebook while another pair by the car laughs and looks away self-consciously as a thick trail of blood slowly seeps out of the man’s side and runs down into the sewer drain. A small package or bag is on the ground next to him and another cop reaches down to pick it up and look inside. Everything seems to be running in slow motion even the raindrops and everyone is standing there and staring and waiting it seems. But for what I don’t know. Maybe for the man to get up wipe himself off and demand his package back from the cop who is now intently fumbling with its contents.
I look up and notice the dark silhouettes of people staring down from the windows in the buildings above. And I’m getting wet, but it doesn’t feel that important right now.
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Sunday, November 14th, 2004 at
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Think about it. What in hell does an unemployable-once-addicted-loser-in-love-with-a-misdirected-attitude do for a living? Or too be more exact: What does he do in order to pay the rent and keep himself stocked in organic tofu and baby carrots while living in the lifestyle that he has become so accustomed too?
Going out and getting a decent job that actually paid money was one of the most burdensome and complicated things that I have ever had to do. It wasn’t like there were a ton of people out there begging me to come to their firm and handle money.
“Do you have any references from your last job?”
“Well the District Attorney says Attempted Murder. But it was really just an Assault or at best a slight case of Mayhem!”
“No, no, I mean don’t you have any past employers that will vouch for your character?”
As usual it was not going well. Dressed in some demure costume that wasn’t me, I’d be spastically fidgeting on a chrome and leather couch in some receptionist’s office as the highly perturbed secretary eyed me like a soiled piece of pork on ham hock day.
“You ever thought about a career in ditch digging?”
Strangely enough I had. Actually, I’d thought about it a lot. Out in the great outdoors, sun shining down, nursing a hernia, nursing a Guinness, nurturing a major resentment against society. Yeah, I’d thought about it. Can’t say I much cared for it as a future. But I’d thought about it and when I did it was soon followed by those fleeting thoughts of suicide that had been coming by every so often to visit me.
“I guess I could try the waste disposal position. Just what kind of degrading behavior does that entail?”
The few jobs that I was being offered were not what anybody would consider overt smart career moves or coveted nepotism slots. They were not even bad last minute second choices for most college graduates. They were however the dead end jobs of futility and I was rapidly becoming the favored first choice to fill these positions and I had the nonlinear resume with numerous unexplainable gaps in my employment history to prove it.
“Wow! Portable chemical toilet technician! Say it isn’t so!”
After another insufferable day of misspelling my own name on job applications, I’d wander home through the streets of San Francisco feeling dejected as the endless parade of Mercedes and BMW’s sped by with the REAL PEOPLE inside leaving me trudging along – a parody of a pedestrian out on the sidewalk of life with THE people.
Close to home on the block behind my apartment building, there are no less than three single disheveled male… ah, panhandlers I guess you’d call them. But no, that isn’t right because only one really asks for money. The other two, well, they just sorta sit there drinking and of course the one shouts out a one-sided conversation with the world. The other one just smokes and draws portraits with his body fluids. I’m waiting for some art critic to come discover him and then they’ll take away his chunk of concrete sidewalk and display it in the Louvre across from the Mona Lisa and the next time that I’ll see him will be on the cover of Time magazine as Artist of the Year or something.
He’s got some unknown affinity with the local pigeons who clique up as they crowd around him sharing their chirped secrets until right before he passes out and then he tells them to go home and they do. Whether it’s the numerous hours of lying in the sun or the prolonged months of not bathing, his skin that is exposed has turned a rather rich fertile shade of brown and in the late afternoon when he pulls his knit cap down over his face he sings this song:
“If you walk out on me now. You’ll lose the best thing that you ever had…”
Sometimes I wish I had his confidence.
Though I could never do his job, well, to be more exact, I’d never even pass the initial interview.
“Wanted: Self starter interested in claiming his own territory – low overhead, must be able to drink 211 Steel Reserve Malt Liquor all day and not barf.”
Call me a wuss but even ditch digging seems a tad easier than what those three guys do for a living and begrudgingly I have to somewhat admire their stamina if nothing else. Yet I knew while trying not to end up as a disgruntled shovel handler/dirt technician, there had to be other opportunities for a guy of my qualities to make ends meet and still not dislocate his back in the process. Why was it that I was so adamantly against being a laborer? Did I think I was I too good to get my hands calloused and dirty? Or was it those slightly repressed memories of past lives on some errant construction crew, just one of the guys mainlining dope and hanging off of scaffoldings with heavy machinery that made me want to attempt something new?
But no matter my conscience objections or the apparently prophetic way that I looked at it, I still had to keep asking myself: What was it that I was really qualified to do?
Gunrunning, drug smuggling, document forgery, interstate trafficking and the bank robbery industries, just to name a few, had really taken a downsizing in these post 9 11 days. Not to mention that the State of California was still trying to measure me for that three strikes jumpsuit that they had graciously offered me back in the nineties. So as far as my choices were concerned it was either gonna be ditch digger, homeless person, or… dope fiend? Nah, believe me I’ve already tried that countless times and it had never really worked out. Especially not the last time when weighing somewhere around a hundred and ten pounds I slipped into a Hep C coma and that was it, career over, with a prolonged medical detox stay an imminent probability in my immediate future.
Possibly you’d think that with all this illicit knowledge and my heretical past experiences that I’d be able to pull off a gig as a consultant. Or better yet, how about trying my hand as a counselor to my former fellow dope fiends? Like being a counselor as in the sense of someone to help the wayward dope fiend – not help ‘em be a better dope fiend, but just maybe help him not be a dope fiend at all! Yeah right, what in hell was I thinking? Like there’s really a job like that! I think it’s called either being a really righteous dope dealer or a mortician – both of which were jobs possessed of skills I didn’t have. The mysteries of embalming were just as daunting as the idea of not using all the drugs you were suppose to sell. And anyway what was I gonna tell these said drug addicts? Just say no? Don’t do what I did ‘cause look at me?
Fortunately somehow the idea of sitting around drinking endless cups a coffee and running group therapy sessions without a therapeutic clue while posing as an unlicensed counselor held that almost criminal enterprise feel that I had tried to maintain throughout my life. And as far as I knew no one had done any prison time for working in a rehab while ignorantly dabbling in the psyche of addicts – unqualified or not! This could be it! Me behind a battered desk in a cramped shared office in a grungy nondescript building while vacant eyed junkies wandered in and chatted about the weather, the price of heroin and their next court appearance. Maybe I had finally found my niche in society. Maybe I’d finally arrived at where I was supposed to be.
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Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 at
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Excerpts from – The Week of the Walking-Pneumonia:
After five unbearable days of a hundred and two degree fever, I was fast approaching a vegetable like state, or more like a baked potato sans the sour cream and chives state—if you will. So in a desperate attempt to stay this unrestrained degenerative progression and hopefully regain my health at the same time, I tried implementing a regime to bolster my immune system by eating better: I ate bananas. Well, three to be exact, like actually bought three down at Whole Foods. So far I’ve eaten one. With the meds or the pneumonia itself, I can’t really taste a thing, so it was just sorta mushy. The banana that is, not the meds or the pneumonia. The meds are crunchy and taste vile if you chew them and the pneumonia goes in a variety of stages. However on a literary high note: from having to counterfeit an untold amount of doctor’s notes for work, I’ve also learned how to spell pneumonia, a word that until recently I’d never had much use for.
I also bought a mo-fo’n immense mango. Did I mention that the bananas were hand-picked/tree ripened/organic from some rainforest type location? Well, so is the case with this mango, which is now sitting on my shelf like a complacent Inca refusing to ripen. That’s sorta one of the main reasons that I don’t like fruit! It’s on its own time schedule. Like sure it’s gonna get ripe at some point and yeah I coulda gotten one that seemed to be ripe. But at a supermarket, even a trendy pretentious overpriced one like Whole Foods, how do you really know with a mango? It may feel ripe with the little bits squishy here and there, but if a hundred people came through and gave it a good squeeze to see its exact state of ripeness? Well, the break down of firmness, the natural disposition of animal/plant/pet type things to please humankind, the world food chain, dominant carnivores with teeth and all and, well, need I go on?
In my opinion fruits are basically spineless posers! No, maybe not spineless. No, maybe more like timid. No, more like ne’er-do-wells, or simpletons at the very least. Going all—“pick me, eat me, I’m harmless, I just sit in trees or hang around the vine.” And then you got the bugger home and what? It just sits on your shelf and meditates like Buddha or something staying that same irradiated green until you first turn your back and then voila! It’s a pool of slime as it biodegrades back into the earth from whence it came, decomposition to compost, dirt to dust, ashes to ashes—end of story! An easy way out if you were to ask me.
I also picked up a bag-o-ricola, “the original natural herb cough suppressant”, so it claims. Because the small/petit almost midget like nurse had suggested I do so as she sent me along on my way back home meandering aimlessly all drug crazed on an azithromycin overdose. And though the ricola are somewhat boastful yet tasteless hard squares they do do the trick when the throat/cough/scratch bit works its way in and I start hacking like Sweaty Spice or whatever that disheveled girl who sings name is. But to tell you the truth I am only too sure that their nutritional value is somewhere below even a banana!
I just got off the phone with my younger sister who called to confide in me her own current health issues and I guess to also commiserate the fact that we’re both a tad under the weather. Seems she’s down with an infected toenail that had to be forcibly removed and—this is where it gets a wee bit dicey! She’s got a case of the hives! Like the one she had for almost a year before (?)!!!! Like who knew? I certainly didn’t! But I have always thought that hives were for people whose health was questionable or at the very least people who are under a lot of pressure from things like stress? Which she is neither. Maybe the fact that she hasn’t been on a Caribbean Sea Cruise in more than a month is finally taking its toll on her psyche.
In the meantime; the organic mango—shithead that it is!—Hasn’t moved an inch all day toward ripening, except for a slight glow of yellow around the scalp of its, well, cranium I suppose? I think that I am going to give it a wee bit of a squeeze and then after it’s recovered from that I’ll bask it in the afternoon sun on the window ledge as a sort of inducement to ripen or start learning how to fly.
As with this concept of acquiring fruit in the attainment of nutrition I’ve also gone to great lengths to keep myself properly fed during this horrendous week—the week of the walking pneumonia, as I like to call it. So I’ve been trying the takeout from the local restaurants and thankfully the new Indian/Pakistani shop across the street has turned out to be quite decent and a tad tasty. I noticed it because all the turbaned taxi drivers double park their cabs out in front of my apartment building to eat there. However, whenever I do go over there they all sort of stop eating mouths agape with varied dining utensils frozen in midair and stare at me sideways as I stumble in and out gracefully accompanied by an obscure score of their Hindustani music with a must-get-takeout-food-trance-like-stupor plastered across my face while sweating like a dope fiend on the jones.
Though I must confess, I really only want to eat simple tofu/vegetable dishes and rice, something about them seems more desirable/palatable right now in my fevered condition. But the sullied Chinese place next to Jack’s sleazy liquor/porno store is very, well, questionable to say it politely. They write the specials on paper plates with a black magic maker and then tape them to the window and some of them have been up for months and are turning a kinda greasy yellowed transparency and insects are getting caught in the scotch tape so that you gotta wonder just how special they really are. Instead I’ve been looking both ways before crossing the street for a little Palak Aloo and Naan and a Mango Lassi or two. And I’ve got to say that their windows are always clean and free of unprofessional advertising.
Obviously having naught to do whilst lying around recuperating but read, eat takeout, consume massive quantities of medication and endlessly think. A new theory of mine has arisen as to the whereabouts or at least the origins of where my newly acquired lung infection comes from. So far the prevailing theory is that I acquired it from taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator; wherein lies the most obvious connection—I am forced to use my hands on such communally touched objects as: doorknobs, railings, walls and any combination of all or at least one of the above. Also, least I not forget to mention, that the ambience of the stairwell is rivaled only by the dank grungy alleyways and loading dock of the building where rats play, junkies and winos overindulge in certain daily habits as well as natural body functions and out on the second floor landing someone has hurled what looks like a very large portion of “stew.” But who can really tell what it was as it has dried up and what the vermin haven’t eaten is now becoming one with the metal staircase. Now I could be wrong here, it’s happened a time or two before, but the conditions hence described sound to me like the breeding ground for a numerable amount of diseases, viruses and your all around cesspool of apocalyptic germs, no?
Whereas the elevator: though allowing more outright exposure to said communicable diseases by actual human on human exposure, (i.e. read, foraging Crackheads) when not occupied lessens the risk of contamination. Only the touch of the buttons with one index finger outside of the car and inside and without a margin for error only once each for that matter as well as more circulation of air, less barf potential and the fact that the cars are somewhat cleaned on the occasion has brought a lot of points up in favor of abandoning the stairs as a “healthy” enterprising alternative to taking the elevator.
My sister called again—hives and infected toenail. She seems to wanna continue bonding in the mutual certitude that we are both extremely miserable at the same time, another trait inherited from our mother no doubt. And speaking of which my mum also cut in on the call-waiting line wanting all the gory details of my health or the actual lack of it really and then proceeding to tell me what to do about getting better health care out of my medical provider—like getting the test results mailed to me. So, like what? I could follow along when the doctor and I went over them together? I seriously doubt that I could make out what in hell they’re on about anyway. But she did spent a solid ten minutes telling me what box to check on what forms that will insure me to get a copy of all my results! Ah, something to file away for the future I guess. It is apparent from our recent conversations that my mother is thoroughly convinced that I am going through some great change in life. Like what? I’m going gay or something? Male menopause of my left nut? Strict adherence to the Kabala? Seriously that’s what I think she thinks. We’re talkin’ bizarre weird off the wall type stuff implied through not so subtle exclamations. Like she’s psychic or something and has a hotline to my future! Every time I talk with her she refers to this idea that—“I’m discovering myself.” And like I’m not even dignifying it by asking just what in hell it is that she is going on about! I mean I’m dying from a ferocious inhuman virus god damn it! Excuse me a second here as I wipe the spittle from my mouth and attempt to calm down a bit.
Saw the doctor today, he gave me a clean bill of health, says nothing to worry about, even my much abused liver is doing fine. However, after the midget/petit nurse painstakingly recorded my stats, she then drew on a chart and with a subdued flourish accompanied by sullen looks that may or may not have expressed that her mind was now in the process of working. She then looked at the chart then looked back at me as she sighed a sigh of complacency and then she flat out insinuated that I was overweight. Well, like she didn’t come right out and say that I was fat. She just pulled out the xeroxed weight to height graph and ran a florescent green highlighter down the grid circling the intersection of my statistics and then as she thrust it into my idle hands she pronounced me in the not so good area—like in the fat boy zone! I guess that while I was on my deathbed, they just didn’t want to tell me, like they were saving it until I was well! So now I’m at home staring at this pathetic chart of hers—hey, they weighed me with all my clothes on and my boots. Excuses I know, but, like I was 172 lbs. @ 5’10’’. Like it puts me in the fat zone by about 9 pounds and I’ve never been in the fat zone before, or at least not recently! This is really not good. See! No more fruit, too much sugar, no more dairy either, good damn fat globule laden cheeses, no more bread and sugar loaded baked goods, no more tortilla chips simmered in trans fat, no more nothing that tastes good! Its time to go back to the basics and eat tree bark!
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Saturday, October 30th, 2004 at
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