people · writing


I meet Magnus today, who resembles at first Jonathan Franzen, were Franzen to be the unofficial fifth member of ABBA. And, as it so happens, Magnus is Scandinavian who just flew back from Sweden the night prior. He’s the librarian (“of sorts” he’ll be quick to add) at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. We both agree that flying is strange.

“This may be lore,” he says as introduction.

“Go on. I like stories.”

“Well it was during the Eisenhower years, chieftains of the Lakota tribe were flown into DC for a meeting over land. It’d been their first time in an airplane, right? When they were summoned to meet Congress, the chiefs said ‘we can’t talk or pow-wow right now. In six days, once our spirits catch up to us, then we can meet. That’s how I feel right now.” I laugh.

“That’s a great story. I don’t care if it’s true or not.”

Magnus has a cup of coffee and a slap-happy look suggesting that this noontime may as well be midnight.

“The TSA harassed me, you know. Said what was my occupation. I said ‘librarian.’ The agent looked up at me, put a finger to his lips, said ‘shhhh’, and handed me back my papers.”

I like Magnus immediately. And he has a quiet befitting of a librarian just without the air of taskmastery. There are flying mobiles and posters and books all around us, and this is the place where purportedly ‘nothing ever happens.’ But we continue talking, and at conversation’s end he hands me a card and says: “Send some of your writing to the Henry Miller Library,” and I am honored and glad to have met him. Things do happen here.


alcohol · people · prisons

How Phil Got Sober

old-big-book-white-background-bible-52328831Spooty lost a tooth that day, and it was in the back of Phil’s head. A black Lincoln, leather interior, T-boned in an intersection. It wasn’t Phil’s fault, but he was drunk, so he’s the one that went off to jail. Spooty was a cocker-spaniel/dachshund mix, long-hair black and white, and she was thrown from the backseat into Phil’s skull and dislodged a canine. Phil was wearing a Nike T-shirt, swimming trunks, and flip-flops and was set on picking his wife up from work. Pilloried, he never made it, and Tammey bought pizzas that night; she cut the pizza slices in half, carefully, and stored them in the rented freezer. She would have pepperoni and sausage, September 7, 2001.

“Do you want to stay in my house?” Tammey’s friend asked, while Phil langoured in prison—a six month sentence—and Tammey agreed. This was in Ypsilanti, MI when the factories were closing, and dilapidation was relevant. The house was terrible, but Tammey had pizza.

On a phone call, trying to settle legal matters, Tammey was cut off because that’s when the second plane hit.

Phil had to move off of general pop because he was mouthy, a wordsmith and wordy. His fellow inmates couldn’t figure out his insults, in return threatened to just kill him instead.

Ypsilanti was a town populated by Muslims, and the mood was tense. Hate everywhere and accusing eyes. Tammey lived in a slum-house and when Phil kept calling her for cigarettes, dry-drunk, and demanding monies, Tammey just eventually unplugged the phone. Money had run out.

Spooty was ok, but minus a tooth.

Spartacus: And what does one dream of when he’s no longer a champion?

Phil was released when it was snowing, Christmas Eve, committed to a 90+90, and Tammey picked him up outside the walls; Phil was released in the clothes he came in.

  1. A Nike t-shirt, hot pink.
  2. Swimming trunks, drawstrung.
  3. Flip-flops, black.

They ate at the Coffee Manor for X-mas Eve, and it was alright.

city · home · neighborhood · people

Mr. North Park

His name is Dennis, though I refer and have referred to him as Mr. North Park for years. I see him everywhere, riding Kermit on his bicycle with spindles for legs, often clutching a walking cane in defiance of his ten-speed, and sometimes an umbrella in defiance of the weather. The other day, there was a slight sprinkle, but the umbrella that he clutched was ultimately beachy, like a tasseled parasol, and he pedaled his bike with one hand, his shillelagh on point.

Dennis always wears a felt beret, either green or burgundy. His thin but longish hair coils out from beneath the hat like greying payot and sometimes he smokes a pipe, though it’s usually a cigarette. When I met him, the fact of his tobacco was obvious in his dearth of teeth, the remaining ones brown-tinged and worn, like miniature ice cream sundaes in his mouth.

“Hi. I’m Thom—” I offered, “What’s your name?” Dennis was cooly smoking a Nat Sherman on the street corner with a paperback novel tucked under his arm. He wore his typical moustache, which was Burt Reynolds minus the Grecian Male. We shook hands.


“I see you all over town. Thought I’d introduce myself.”

Because you see, I’m also Mr. North Park, the neighborhood being my peripatetic beat and I can quote to you all the architects that built this town in concrete slab and inspiration—the Requas and Gills and Meads. I’ve been to every establishment, and everyone knows my name: from Dougie, the homeless man who lives by the Qwik Stop; to Tomaso the acne-faced kid at the defuncting coffeeshop; to Timothy the fire-pit boss at the BBQ joint. Gabe, Lauren and Mike; Rose who mixes my ras el hanout at the spice shop; and Tony, who like Dennis, has worn-down teeth over at Holiday, just from eating too many sunflower seeds. He can be caught speaking Aramaic on the phone, heatedly, with his who-knows-who friends, but Aramaic was the language of Christ.

“I’ve lived here ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” Dennis said, in which case both he  and the grasshopper have grown—just like the city—and we talk about looming gentrification. We talk about the ashes of old establishments gone the way of the dinosaur, and the new eggs which have appeared in their stead.

“So long as it doesn’t become downtown,” I complained.

There, however, is a concept of amor fati, in which case you wouldn’t have it any other way, the idea of eternal recurrence, and looking at Dennis’ semi-myopic eyes, we see each other for a second, and shaking hands, Mr. North Park meets Mr. North Park and I walk back into the city.

city · home · neighborhood

What People Leave Behind

wet raccoonMind you, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a friendly little junkman like David Sedaris says, collecting stray pieces to tell stories.

And forgive me, Jenny, I bring things home like a wet raccoon with a half-eaten frog in its mouth running across the bed. I collect things from the back alleys I walk through, to marvel them momentarily, before returning them to alley pasture. These things I find.

It’s like looking through jeweler’s loupe with one eye squint shut. Yesterday I found an abandoned photo album: a leather-bound volume with pictures, water-stained, of a 1970’s trip to the Carribean, followed by a trip to the LV desert when the buildings were rare, but raised high by the roofbeams.

I found a 78 rpm that read, A-side, ‘Girl of My Dreams, and the B, “A Man Comes Around.”

I found a spilt bag of cosmetics and a brassiere at a bus stop, as if the Rapture had happened to a 36B.

I found a box of books today, and collected twenty; there were pictures in there, of a daughter lost: an abandoned frame with a little girl, maybe eight, and a grip of high school portraits. I pocketed them and hung them on my wall. I took the books.

I found a flower growing in the sewage; I found a contrail that grew suddenly bright pink as the sun rose and it made an arc across the sky.


I found me.

bipolarity · home · neighborhood · people · sobriety · writing

Restless Heart Syndrome

I have a few friends with restless leg syndrome, which is in reference to Willis-Ekbom disease. It causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

Not me. Although I have the urge to walk everywhere, I have diagnosed myself instead with restless heart syndrome.

Over a prosciutto and gruyere sandwich, I espy the bookstore—Verbatim—where I have looked for Denis Johnson to no avail and where a man offers me a leather coat to sell at the Hunt and Gather.

“I’m looking for forty—if I get $40, I’ll give you twenty.”

“I can try, Man,” I say, “But I’ll just give you the $40.” He has no identification because most likely he has no address. I try and sell the coat for him—he found it on the street—to no reward, and I walk on.

People with faces—it is Sunday—and like a moving Seurat painting, they dot the street, faces moving with hats and without; it is cold and people wear coats.

I am overdressed. I wear a blazer, a chartreuse shirt, purple tie, and olive peacoat. I deny the weather for the sake of being dandy, dressing for a clime not my own but boasting grandiosity as I carry the whole of the world on my shoulders. The coffee was excellent, and I am sober. Roses, they are thrown for me.

How to describe this? This feeling. When it is, you discover the combination to a lock that has been locked for years—click—how to describe this?

I write funny words in my head: “penguin dust and roman coin soup”; I call my friends with abandon and kiss the old ones, Gidget who has visited with sleeves rolled up to reveal her sleeves, ink of phoenixes and naked women.

Mhuah,” she kisses me on the lips and I say, ‘Thank you,” for it is Sunday and there’s no need for coins in the meter and my sponsor has called me.

He wears a creaking leather jacket and an Unwritten Law tee-shirt: “it’s the law of eternal recurrence,” he might’ve said,” which is amor fati, and the fact that you wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You use active, not passive voice in writing, and I write in present active in denial of the past, my restless heart my restless heart.


How We Can Die

Frankie had asbestositis, terminal, but he told all the nurses, “See I still have all of my hair!” And he had a full head of fine black hair, coifed despite his pillow-rest.

“And all these are mine,” he said smiling counting the teeth in his head.

He was a dancing man, but was bed-bound. His nurse climbed into bed with him the evening before he died, and she flung her weight up and down on the bed so that Frankie could dance again, and one last time.

He died the next morning.

This is a true story.

cancer · neighborhood · people

How To Put Down Anger

Anger is my sometimes default mechanism. Generally speaking, I am patient. Comes from having to stare at hospital walls for so many hours. But I can be angry, and a few days ago I let my anger out. On the mechanic. My car has been put in the shop and has remained so for nearly a month, which is absolutely and fucking ridiculous, but.

Marcelino, who runs the shop, is a kind man. I trust him. It used to be that we were just transactors, interlocuters, but now—as he said—“We arefamily.”

I got mad at Marcelino.

“Prioritize this,” I yelled, pointing to my car. “It’s been a month.”

And he took me into his office and closed the door so we could talk.

I told him that I need my car for my recovery, that I need to make it into meetings. That I’m tired of walking everywhere. I walk so much my feet are blistered and my thighs chafed.

“I need my car, Marcelino.”

He responded by saying to be positive. He has had a mechanic who has fallen ill, and another one with a busted hand. My car is being worked on by a one-handed mechanic.

“You see this?” and Marcelino lifts up his shirt to show me his scars. He was literally gutted by cancer the other year, and had his insides lifted out and put on his person while the doctors scraped away the disease.

“We need to be positive.” And he thanked me for the patience I wasn’t in the moment demonstrating and for my compassion.

I wound up thanking him, for I don’t want anger as my default mechanism, and want only to be kind.

We hugged, with his shirttails untucked.


DJ and the Make

makeThe night ends like this, weirdly. Vince is a blowhard, and DJ and I look at each other with quiet eyes and say, “WTF, Man?” Vince keeps saying, “off my rocker,” and DJ and I are starting to believe him.
“The way I see it, DJ,” I repeat myself after Vince leaves, “Is that there are three rules in life. Henry James. 1) Be kind. 2) Be kind. 3) Be kind.”
And DJ has his own rules. His brother was in Afghanistan after 9/11 and Brother’s best buddy got his head shot off in a firefight. DJ’s brother is reticent but healing.
“The way I see it, is this: 1) Make life. 2) Make mistakes. 3) Make change”
I like his use of the verb, ‘make’ and say so. Free will is what happens in the pause between circumstance and choice.
“You’re wise for thirty,” I say.
“He brushes me off.
“Naw. Shit happens.”
And we sit quietly for a second.

mental health · people · sobriety

Getting Rid of Things

Tammey gets rid of her car, Valentina, because it has been a week and her husband died on Valentine’s Day.

Who gives a damn about a car?” she says. “It’s just a thing.”

Phil—her husband—used to call her up when he was dementiac in the hospital.

“I was making a coconut phone, so that we could talk whenever; but the cocnouts went bad.”

Things Phil left behind, all wrapped in paper like Christmas gifts:

  1. His toy cars from when he was a kid.
  2. A joint.
  3. Teeth that he pulled out of his own head.
  4. A six-pack of Diet Coke.

He kept his sobriety until he died. We drunks have a way of keeping promises, having broken so many over the years. And Phil loved Tammey.

“Tammey,” I say, “I can help you get rid of things.”

These are just things.

Her voice is soothing on the other side of the line, and I realize that we have the same cadence, the same prosody of voice. One friend speaking to the other with a mirror in the middle.

“You ok, Tammey?” and I’m asking myself.

“I just need to get rid of things,” she says, and don’t we all.