“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” — Juan Ramón Jiménez
In early November 1988 the Gypsy and I were down and out just east of Beverly Hills. We had crash-landed there after a 2700-mile sojourn from the East Coast.
When we left Virginia in early October we thought we were going where the climate suits my clothes, as the old song says. We were wrong. While there is no snow in Southern California, it ain’t the tropics. We were ill-prepared for the temperature drop.
We barricaded ourselves in our hotel room: a suite, so-called, in a bedbug ranch called The Saint Francis Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. Not the good part. If the St. Francis had seen better days there was no sign of it when we were there. There were bars on the windows and a desk clerk behind bullet-proof glass in the lobby to prevent tenants using the hotel as a distribution center for various recreational pharmaceuticals.
The Gypsy got a job waiting tables. I filled out paperwork at the Employment Agency and schlepped my resume around town, hoping to use my degree in Television & Film Production to shoehorn myself an entry-level position somewhere.
Los Angeles is one of those cities which can be a ton of fun if you have money, but without it can turn into a shithole. It’s a land of broken dreams. A city of fallen angels.
There was a small wooden table with one short leg outside what passed as a kitchenette. Some nights I sat at that table and scribbled in my notebook whilst the Gypsy was off serving specials to tourists. Those sketches usually trailed into nothingness. What I finished was often trimmed in black.
On the nights she was home we did what we could to take the edge off the cold dankness of our circumstances. One particular night—I think it was the same night the band U2 surprised LA with an impromptu concert outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater—we broke out some refreshments we had picked up outside the Grateful Dead concert in Miami. I wrote furiously.
What follows is the unedited product of that evening’s scribbling:
A man was born. No one gave him a name. No one cared.
His early life consisted of crying for food and then crying to get his diapers changed. When he slept he didn’t cry. People liked it better when he was asleep.
The man grew. Or, we should say, the baby grew to a child which grew to an adolescent. Finally he became a man.
As an adolescent his body behaved in a way he didn’t understand. By watching animals he learned that there was more to life than eating and sleeping and shitting. There was also sex.
The man found a woman. They had sex. A new baby was born. No one gave him a name. No one cared.
The man died.
George Herbert Randolph Richman lives in a big house on a hill. The house is surrounded by a wall. Atop the wall is a twisting length of barbed wire. A man in a blue uniform lives in a 4’x4’x8’ Plexiglass box near the only break in the wall.
George Herbert Randolf’s parents call the man “Davis.” George has to call him “Mr. Davis.” When George turns eight he’ll call the man “Davis,” too.
Davis stands in his box all night and all day. When the metal gate blocking the only break in the wall opens, Davis checks the identity of the driver of whatever limousine enters the gate.
Davis never checks Santa’s I.D. Santa flies over the gate and lands on the roof.
Billy and his mother live in an old house with ten other people. Billy only has one name. Billy has no father.
There is no wall around the house where Billy lives. There is no barbed wire. There is no Plexiglass box holding a uniformed man. Billy’s mother has taught him to avoid men in uniforms.
Santa doesn’t land on Billy’s roof. He lands in the front yard. Billy knows this because on Christmas morning his mother clucks about the “reindeer shit.” To Billy, the reindeer shit looks just like the dog shit and the cat shit and the people shit that usually litters the area around the house.
Santa brought Billy a bicycle.
Santa brought George Herbert Randolph Richman a 10-speed bike and an electric train and a football and lots of clothes (that George Herbert discarded in a pile under the Christmas tree) and a chemistry set and a camera and a color TV.
Billy didn’t have a tree.
Billy doesn’t have a bike, either. A man in a blue uniform came and took it away. He said it was stolen. Then he took Billy’s mother downtown in his car and many hours later she returned with ink-stained fingers after the Public Defender arranged bail. All because of the bike Santa brought.
Santa Claus is a mean-spirited motherfucker.
Something of our earlier insistence on freedom struck a chord in me at just that moment when I was most likely to surrender that freedom.
George is a man of no securities.
What is this shit?
Time has struck again. Can we never escape from it? In a line. Straight forward. Never back. The lines once written can never be erased. And why is that? I can very easily scratch through these chicken scratchings to eliminate a recorded thought. But something happens when time records an event. What is it?
Can I write my own history?
Is life a blank page? Somehow, I think not.
The wind blew trash in hurricanes around the street, clutching to the coats of those who had no coats to clutch, drifting in piles like snow against the haggard cheeks.
Too Many Words!
Look at you—God damn it! Don’t you care anymore? You’ve let yourself become just a fucking shadow of a human being! You stand in line for hours: a meaningless number. Who the fuck is first in line? No one. It doesn’t matter where you stand when you get here there’s always someone in front of you. The social workers laugh at you over their coke breaks. No! They fucking sneer. You don’t realize that if it weren’t for you they’d be like you. You let them define you in their degenerate terms—oblivious to any sense of Reality. You stand sniveling against the wall and pretend you’re getting over on them when they channel you into streams of humanity like fucking cattle on the way to the butcher’s block.
Who’s to blame?
WHO DID IT?
Let’s tell the story of a man who got tired of letting the System define him. He has your name.
One day he realized that he is just a character in a story by some know-it-all Asshole and he decided to break out. Refused to let himself be defined. Refused to let English describe it. Sniveling coward, he retreats back into his story.
Break loose, little character.
Who are you? Why do you continue to live in my story? Write your own story. Words have no meaning anymore.
<<Que fait-il?>> dits l’homme avec des dents bleu.
<<Il boit le bière,>> je dit.
<<Mais pourquoi?>> il dit. Il n’est pas intelligent parce qu’il a un mal de tête sur son troisieme aniversaire.
Nous partons dans l’autobus. It est rouge et noir. Personne dit, << Arrêt! Arrêt!>>
Nous ne repondons pas.
Une femme dans une robe jaune arrive à Paris. Elle porte un grand chaise. Elle me regarde. Je sa regarde.
La femme et l’homme dans l’autobus meurent.
There was once a woman who could read without her eyes. Don’t ask me how.
Sometimes she went out in public without first putting on her face. Very strange.
It’s the old Question of the Tree which falls in a forest with Nobody there. Not the same Nobody who blinded the cyclops. This is a different nobody. This is you.
You sit there (or lie there or stand there—it doesn’t matter) reading these words. The point is—you’re not doing anything.
“Oh, but I’m reading,” you say.
That’s not the point and you know it. Or—more precisely—it is the point. You’re reading these words that I have written. You’re attaching more significance to them than I do.
I laugh, because you have made me a writer and I have made you a reader. But even without you I would have written these lines. But without me … well, it goes without saying.
Sounds of the city: a helicopter flying overhead, the couple in the room down the hall fighting like banshees, a siren in the street. Silence. A gunshot resounds in the dark. No—it’s auto backfire. No one notices.
A horn honks. No one notices. A dog barks. No one notices. A little boy stands whimpering in an alley with snot on his face. No one notices.
Four more people are murdered. Some people notice—but not you. The police come—but only after hours. It is cold.
Screams pierce the dark. You notice. I ignore it. I can go back and erase them if I want, but I don’t. I don’t want to. I don’t erase them. I don’t even think about it again, but you keep returning to these lines.
Screams pierce the dark.
Dark pierces screams.
The dark screams pierce.
The whimpering boy looks up at the helicopter rattling overhead. Snot is still on his face. No one notices.
They drink more beer.
They smoke more crack.
A baby cries. A dog barks. An old man dies. Screams pierce the dark.
His huge organ hummed as she ran her nimble fingers in all the right places, striking all the right chords.
“You do that so well,” he commented slyly, almost touching—but not daring—his fingers to hers as she touched the keys in such delicate rhythm he thought he would faint.
She smiled and said nothing.
“Where did you learn to ‘Handel’ so well?” he asked in ecstatic admiration for her technique.
“Oh,” she smiled coyly, “I’ve had my teachers.”
“I can tell,” he said. “I think I’m jealous.”
“You’re silly,” she smiled.
“No one’s ever been able to play my organ like that—not even me.”
“Well, I should hope not.” And she stopped. And he quivered, and desperately tried to finger the organ like she did.
She laughed him to scorn and stalked off.
The organ stood stiffly, but silent. Never had it witnessed such exquisite grace. Never again would it feel such pleasure as it felt ‘neath those fingers. Never had woman so skillfully parted a man from his organ as she did with him.
He stared at his fingers. He stared at his organ. He stared at her swiftly retreating figure.