ISSUE 3: QUARANTINE
m a r c h 2006
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During the 1990s, I met a homeless man at the corner of Parkman and Sunset Blvd. “When I was young,” he said, “I knew things. I could still remember. There was ugly but there was amazement too. Everywhere is amazement. Inside of us is amazement, but most of us don’t see it. Everything is amazement but nobody remembers anymore. But I do. I still remember when I was young. Now I am a person of extremes. Sometimes I engage in wickedness but sometimes I am good. I don’t hurt anybody but, you know, I go back and forth. But, the important thing is, you gotta remember both parts.” “When I was young,” I said to him, “we used to crawl into the cracks in the sidewalk and disappear for hours or decades. It was a whole other universe down there. Back then, you still knew exactly where you stood in the world of quicksand and mud. I can still taste gasoline in my mouth. I can still smell it on the backs of my hands. You dip your hands in gasoline and it seeps deep into your pores, a kind of urban plating, a protective coating. Above us the sky was sliced by telephone wires and helicopter blades. Below us the sidewalk crackled and sparked in the sun. When I was young the air was saturated with greed. It carried a meanness. You learned to duck and keep low to the asphalt in an environment like this. You learned to skate below the congealed haze of spectacle, violence, pollution, hate. Things I remember: Pockets jangling with quarters. Pac-Man. Dig Dug. The cadences of Donkey Kong. Pixelated retinas. Detached, dangling. My dad, drunk. My dad, wailing. My dad in a Members Only jacket; in a prison cell; in a maze...” “There are embodied souls among us who judge me for the wickedness I engage in. But I’m just another person trying to get through, and all my ugliness is out there for the whole world to see. That’s the difference. There are embodied souls who try to hide their ugliness. Husbands cruising for prostitutes, Internet addicts, stuff like that. Not me. Me, it’s all out there. The good and the bad—” “The amazement and the ugly—” “Yes, the amazement and the ugly, it’s all out there for the whole world to see my struggles. There are embodied souls who try to hide their struggle. They’re afraid of judgment. They’re afraid of rejection. But when they were young they didn’t hide it. Before they learned to be ashamed. Before they learned to be afraid. You know, there are people lying in the street who have more power than somebody with a big house or a fancy car. Only, we just don’t know how to see it. Only, we just don’t open ourselves up. You have to open yourself up to receive. You’re sick, ése. You have to open yourself up to the ugly and the amazement. You have to open yourself up.”
Summertime summertime, evening comes, you pick each other up while the sun fades and the wind cools and then you drive around and around and the air slaps at your face. You drive from one end of the valley to the other. You carve a great oval around its edges. Ephemeral perimeters that dissipate as quickly as they’re drawn. You stop, eat burgers and tacos and fries, drink sodas. You say hey what’s up let’s go park someplace and kick back. You make circles with your car in an empty parking lot that looks like every other empty parking lot. You call the circles donuts. The car moves around and around and your tires squeal hot black marks down into the pavement and you laugh and hit one another on the arm and you think you feel alive. No radio in the car, but propped on the dashboard, a pink one-speaker battery-powered tape cassette player swiped from somebody’s older sister’s room. Trinere. Stevie B. Shannon. The Cover Girls. When I Hear Music. Johnny O. Spring love. Funky Little Beat. Later, parked: Windows open, radio fading, batteries dying. The air calm and dead with night’s last breath. The night glowing orange. Saying things to each other, saying nothing—waiting, until morning comes crawling back in, and the orange melts again to gray.