city · neighborhood · people · writing


Jamira is maybe in her thirties, I don’t know. She’s mentioned ‘my babies’ a few times, so I know her at least to be a mother. But ‘black don’t crack’ as the saying goes, so, with her flawless mocha skin, her age is of mystery to me. I like her youthfulness, though—the other tillers at the Chevron are stubbornly white-haired and have white-hair proclivities. John—who I like—has his homespun aphorisms, my favorite being:

Me: How are you this fine day, John?

John: (halfway drawling) Well, been shot at and missed, been shit at and hit.

Both afford me free coffee on the regular seeing as I go to the Chevron near daily for my Brazilian medium-roast, every other day for my smokes. I’ve put Jamira to the test: upon entering the store and announcing that it is, indeed, a ‘good morning’, I ask her, “So what am I getting?”

Jamira likes this game, though she gets it wrong every time. “Wait, wait—don’t tell me!” and she scans the cigarette display for my brand, which is bottom shelf and to the left. Every single time she hovers over the Cowboy Killers, which are top shelf, before invariably settling on the silver Marlboro lights: “These ones!” I shake my head. “C’mon, Jamira—I told you it’s the ones Kurt Cobain smoked.” (I found out this factoid in one of my internet searches of Kurt—we share the same DSM-V diagnosis and brand of cigarettes apparently).

“Ah—here you go!” and she plucks the Newport 100s from their place on the display. (I learned to smoke 100s at Casa Palmera because with only five cigarette breaks a day, one cigarette per session, you needed a longer smoke. Never have I seen people so eager to hit off re-frys as I did at Casa. Take away substance, addicts need SOMEthing and cigarettes do the trick).

“That’s the one, Jamira” and she smiles pretty. She’s got the best white-toothed grin this side of Cheshire, and lashes that are almost unnaturally long (they’re real, though). Jamira always wears a head wrap so I haven’t seen her hair, still I know it to be short. Her wrap resembles a Sikh turban—maybe it is, our conversations haven’t wandered into theological territory yet—with a large knot in front.

“Someday, I’ll getchoo,” she says, and I trust she will. An impulse comes over me.

“Jamira, I’m going to hazard a guess here,” I say as I pass her my monies, and she raises an eyebrow while still punching keys.


“You’re a singer aren’t you?” She looks up and Cheshire grins again.

It’s a writer’s intuition. ‘The human-sense antennae’ David Foster Wallace called it, as if we were an army of intelligible ants with probing feelers a-twitch, sussing out the people-scape with the energy of a thousand solar cells. Twitch twitch. Mary Wells face. Twitch. Sonorous speaking voice. Twitch. Would look natural as a Vandella or Supreme behind an RCA ribbon microphone. Twitch, twitch. Jamira.

You know, my favorite word—or at least among my favorite words—is ‘sonder’. It’s one of those terms that succinctly labels an inclination or feeling, in this case the ‘realization that each passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.’ Sonder is engine to my writing, an innate curiosity for people, which eventually and inevitably makes its way onto the page. If I’ve sketched you, it’s because I’ve taken the moment to ponder you the manner in which an artist contemplates a subject, clothed or no. That human-sense antennae furiously at play, sending sensorial details by way of synaptic connection to the brain, at first feeling out gestalt, then deconstructing a subject into its sum parts. Like a leafcutter ant segmenting a leaf into convenient triangles, something mandibular, it’s parsing a person into digestible pieces. Do they smell of bergamot? Have a Brobdingnagian nose? Do they gesture with brio? What, when riding a lift, would their “elevator story” be? That is, how would they, in between the lobby and desired floor, take twenty seconds to describe themselves?

“My name is Jamira, and I’m a singer.”

I know this. I’ve got a nose for such things. Comes from eschewing television for the sake of real-life interaction. The sun, after all, “don’t shine in your TV,” and I prefer color to Technicolor. Cathode projections of people can’t compare to the original. We are light, but not the synchronized lights of cinematic monochromes. I mean, was Humphrey Bogart’s coat brown in ‘Casablanca’? I don’t know, but I know Jamira wears a burgundy polo. It says ‘Speedee Mart’, but I can just as easily imagine her, knowing her in real life, wearing a maxi-dress and regency gloves, and clutching a ribbon mic.

Jamira doesn’t say, “How did you guess?” which I had expected. Instead, she steps back from the register and tells me that, once in a drive-thru, she was awarded the same assumption. ‘There’s the singer!’ Four faces pressed through the fast-food window. ‘You’re the singer! We know it! You’re the singer!’

“Somehow, they could guess through the intercom by my voice!” Jamira exclaims.

“So, I was right!” I cooly remark. I want her to break out in song—this was an ulterior motive of mine—but she doesn’t. She tells me what I know, and what I confirm: that people exude things, like she exudes the spirit of a songstress even with lips sealed. Rarely are people completely je no se qua—if your antennae are properly on point, people reveal their essence. Some people read auras—I’m apparently ‘yellow’ so it’s been said, something ebullient—some people read eyes, which is helpful in this time of masks and Pandemia. I read voices, which is why I’m so quick to lure people into conversation. How they say things as much as what things they say. This is how my friend Billie read me from across the room at group therapy, knew instantly that I am bipolar. “Game recognizes game,” he famously says, and I—in turn—am radar to his manias. Just like Jenny can tell instantly if I have been imbibing, I know when Billie is riding the fulgurations of an electrical storm. Also, addicts know each other. Simple as that. There are tells. Why Residence counselors are famously shrewd, particularly if they’ve had the sickness. Of course, it doesn’t take having cancer to be an oncologist, but you know a counselor is legit and worth their mettle if they in turn fly the junkie flag. They are the best counselors. Try and pull your usual rhetorical tricks on them and you may as well be lying with a polygraph sensor directly affixed to your tongue.

(Addicts are at heart liars. We gaslight as second nature, even if we don’t intend to. A recovering addict is simply an addict that has taken up truth-saying for a change, a reverse Apostle Peter, denial something en absentia. Why the First Step, though only 8.5% of the Program, is in fact 90% of the journey).

Jamira is a singer. I’m a writer. And we are evident to each other. “I knew you’s write something,” Jamira says when I reveal my occupation, “You look like it.” I get it all the time. I’m either a ‘writer’ or a ‘professor’. My coats don’t sport elbow patches, so it’s usually the former. I don’t mind the professor label, though, seeing as professors are part and parcel to the pedagogy and I am a pedant for sure. No one guesses I spent twenty years as a zookeeper, though. I have an out of place penguin tattooed among my lithographical ink, but this is in no way a tell (it IS a Picasso after all, so it matches the gallery of High Moderns which decorate my forearms). I don’t talk like a zookeeper; don’t dress the mode—no lifestyle REI for me, no North Face; and aside from the Picasso, don’t wear badges of service like the ubiquitous dolphin pendant and/or ring (or ankle tattoo—every blond wet-suited trainer at SeaWorld sported the ankle tattoo).  Being a zookeeper remains my curveball reveal, but let me around your animals and you will see the St. Francis come out. There’s a particular brand of sonder reserved for fauna alone.

A man waits, maybe impatiently, behind me at the Chevron Speedee Mart, so unfortunately Jamira and I wrap up our conversation, and unfortunately without her showcasing her pipes. Maybe if I show Jamira I’ve written about her, she’ll sing for me. People have mixed reactions to being written about or being watched, why, David Foster Wallace argues, people sometimes evade the human sense-antennae and hunker in their living rooms to watch television. They swat away pesky feelers and watch something that cannot in turn watch them back. It is the safest voyeurism, watching television. Writers on the other hand can be very dangerous, transgressive even. “Don’t fuck with a writer—we will describe you,” the saying goes. (Once I posted this as a veiled threat to someone on the interwebs. They recognized they were a potential target, and pensively asked, “Do I need to lawyer up?” I digress). I’m mostly harmless, though: I, reminiscent of David Sedaris, collect stories like a “friendly little junkman” and deliver them as would a wet raccoon with half a frog in its mouth, depositing them here and there for the consumption.

Maybe Jamira will like my story. I’d certainly love to hear a note or two.

city · mental health · neighborhood · people

Harder as Anything Else

Supplement Tablets Have Started to Crumble & Break |

I’m up early by nature though sometimes I burn the midnight oil. Come 6am, I’m awake, maybe hit a snooz or two, then answer the call the morning briskness provides and make my way down beneath the extinguished cold-cathode lamps of Park Blvd. toward Twiggs’ coffee house. Park is my new beat—it cuts through University Heights and south toward Balboa Park proper; it is dicier than the pastoral-by-comparison Thorn St. where I was Honorary Mayor for fifteen years. There are fewer dog-walkers than the North Park T-32–decidedly more homeless—and it can best be described as exurban. I have a good rapport with the enclave of homeless who have set up a makeshift camp north of my residence, always wishing them a fantastic day as I pass. They spend the night beneath the covered patio at Rare Society, which—during the day—is a steakhouse catering to the carnivorous well-to-do.

This morning, on my way back from Twiggs, I ran into a man swathed in patchwork quilts. His hair was plastered which, by the smell of it, was not the only part of him plastered; he held a beer bottle, and a contemptuous sneer. I greeted him regardless and he stopped me with an outstretched hand. I paused, cocked my head, and he slurred something unintelligible. I said, ‘Come again’ three times over while patiently waiting him out. When his words failed to register, he sighed and reached for my headphones that I had slung round my neck.

“Whoa—no thank you, Sir!” I said, backing away. I turned and retreated toward the Rare Society encampment where a number of jacketed and similarly quilt-swathed people were watching the exchange. Out of nowhere, the beer bottle came flying my way, narrowly missing my head; it shattered in an explosion of shards on the sidewalk in front of me and like a pharmaceutical pinata, out poured a cornucopia of pills, about a hundred amber capsules.

“What the fuck, Man?” I turned back toward him and threw up my hands. The addict in me briefly remarked the ill-spent pills as an incredible waste of a high. “What the fuck, Man—you just blew your stash.” He barked an angry, “What?” and mirrored my tossed hands. I quickly returned to a more placative posture, spun on my heel, and walked on. The troupe over at the encampment regarded my passing—“Shit, Man—he be breaking everything.” There was another broken bottle on the sidewalk in front of ‘Rare Society’, another confetti of pharmaceuticals, maybe two hundred amber capsules sum total. I just shook my head and walked on, not without wishing my (non-violent) homeless friends a ‘fantastic day.’

So, happy Monday. I wish the man well, regardless. I strap on my headphones, which he so greedily pawed, and mutter a mantra calm myself down. “It’s hard to be a human being; it’s harder as anything else.”

city · home · Uncategorized

New Home

Kairoa Rooftop Bar at University Heights - Kairoa Brewing Company

The Children’s Moon disappears and is replaced by an itinerant blue, temperature leveling out in the low San Diego 70’s. Regardless, I’m wearing my sartorial coat and tie in some nod to Sundays past, feet bedecked in blue suede shoes. 20,000 steps in the new neighborhood (and perhaps the shoes could’ve been reconsidered, Carl Perkins be damned). I now live in University Heights, North Park’s westerly neighbor. It’s a short two blocks to University Avenue, one block west of Park Blvd. Essentially I’m in the city middle and can alligator around (h/t Berninger) past the myriad bars and storefronts; the shrouded Alano Club; numerous coffeeshops and  urban churches, which are incongruously gothic amid the cold-cathode streetlamps and stainless steel bus stops. I choose a direction. Magnetism has me going south toward the Boulevard’s beginning. A neon sign denotes where the Boulevard begins its leisurely sprawl into the East County nether lands a good twenty miles or so In this part of town, phosphorescent beacons demarcate the neighborhoods: The Boulevard, University Heights (the sign shaped like a trolley), Hillcrest, Normal Heights and North Park. This is my range, my hood, my urban respite. I pass Lestat’s–my caffeine and lemon bar dispensary—then Twiggs Café where serendipitously I run into my friends Leah and Rick, Leah being my best friend from SeaWorld days. Leah is buying a skull ring from a silversmith outside the storefront (but of course ‘sklllls’, as Leah would say) and Rick is half-hidden by his mask. Leah, I notice has dyed a streak of her hair purple, which I dig, and Rick is sporting a Duchenne smile above his covering. Good to see them, and it ferries my mood as I turn left on Adams Avenue. Adams is the outlying thoroughfare on the mesa, Mission Valley thrumming below in all its Big Box vainglory. Adams is more humble than either University or the Boulevard, characterized by petit restaurants, consignment stores, and antique shops. It’s a mile or two to 30th Avenue, due east, which is portal to my Old World: North Park. This is where my circumambient and daily wanderings have earned me the title of Honorary Mayor. I turn right, now headed south, to check on my constituents. It’s been a month since I’ve haunted the avenues, North Park a veritable borough in its own right, restaurant capitol of San Diego. You can’t throw a rock on 30th without hitting a good eatery, let alone one of the seemingly infinite brewhouses with their chattershot curbside patios. By this time, the blue suede shoes have me singing a tune defiantly un-Elvis, but I push on into North Park proper, past the thermionic emissions of the North Park sign, and into the T-32 district (Thorn and 32nd). This was my daily for sixteen years, the district home to a brewhouse, a barbecue pit, a liquour store, a mom-and-pop grocery store, a ceramic collective, an art expressive studio, a barber and a stylist, a pizza joint and Santos coffeeshop—all within a two block stretch. I end my meander at the coffeeshop, happy to see my favorite baristas Lis and Maya closing up shop for the day. I was touched to learn they had noticed my month-long absence, missed me even, so I ended my urban safari there. I had to call a Lyft due to my pained feet, and cruised past Balboa Park (now closer to me than ever, maybe a mile trek) with its sculptural eucalyptus and sprinkler spoilt lawns. This altogether, all the various communities in concrete glory is Home now, a Home just redefined and with different and sprawling parameters. Home is where I want to be. I guess I’m already there.

city · home · neighborhood

Lent by God and Gardeners

On one of my walks this week, I saw an astroturf lawn being watered by a sprinkler, and briefly I thought I was in Los Angeles. AA Gill wrote that in LA, everything is “[l]ow creeping faux family friendly, built in a vernacular of amateur whim and sentimental detail, patched onto functional boxes with occasional touches of eccentricity.” He continues to say that “the major architectural direction is lent by God and gardeners”, and that “the overall sense is of hasty impermanence, a city thrown up on a whim while they thought of something serious to put in its place.”

But North Park is not Los Angeles. Excepting the sprinkler watering refined, green plastic (in actuality also watering a bed of blooming and triumphant agapanthas), North Park is more like Pasadena with its vintage Craftsman homes, gables, and porches.

I pause in front of poet Maggie Jaffe’s old house on Granada, the one that used to be hemmed in by deep hedgerows and planted with citrus. Many nights I spent there with sheafs of letters and poetry, erstwhile scotch, and the company of compatriots, every room in the two story house lined with books, every room potential for a Mary Shelley-style soiree, writers retiring to individual spaces to pen their novels and craft their poems, inspired by bound novels and carefully selected furniture. Now the house is naked and without greenery, a seemingly disused basketball hoop perched on a dead lawn, a sign saying ‘in escrow.’ Memories.

There is a crow that rides the spokes of an abandoned bicycle, with a flutter of wings circuitously jumping the rear hub, centrifugal, turning circles on the wheel in corvid enjoyment while the city wakes up, a low sun reflecting off eastern clouds and turning the palms golden. The squirrels in urban rodent fashion trace the telephone wires with tails flicking; they grip the cables and chatter at every passerby, chastisement of the less arboreal. They are responsible for all the broken fruits on the pavement and somehow survive the buzzing power lines while practicing their thieveries, scrabbling from wire to tree, tree to wire and, with scratches of nails, bursting across the pavement in mad scrambles.

A woman in a blue parka walks a bloodhound who’s snuffling the pavement looking for urban truffles. His ears drag through puddles from the morning rain, nose working overtime in houndian fashion, eyes down , tail pumping happy else intrigued by the smells invigorated by the brief rainfall. “Good morning, Pupaloo,” I say because I say good morning to all the animals when I walk like some modern day St. Francis—the people too-because for us early-risers, there is something special about the dawn and why we’re awake when everyone else has yet to percolate their coffees and toast their bagels.

I recognize all the buses now as they vacuum up their early patrons, accordion buses with whooshes of air brakes to interrupt the cloisters of bus stop culture, disparate peoples surrounding benches and smoking their first cigarettes, drinking cuppas while they wait. Nomad Donuts where the patisseriers are rolling the first crullers, down to a sleeping Carnitas’ where I met my friend Sara with her culinary tattoos, where when I was down one day and where the sign proclaimed, ‘Sold Out’, I still got foie gras poutine and a smile.

Past Influx where Holly walks out and says, “Good Morning, Thom,” and she opens the Qwik Stop for me and I help her grab items from atop high shelves and unload groceries from her truck.

A sit outside of Alexander’s where they still feature the walnut gorgonzola pasta that Jenn and I shared on our first Valentine’s Day in North Park, pregnant with Cayden. The Lynhurst, the North Parker, Saguaro’s, Paesano’s, St. Pat’s and St. Luke’s in quick succession, Pigment with blades of mother-in-law tongue in the front window, the army surplus building, the bridal boutique and the Ray St. galleries. All these places, all the memories that I have—a decade’s worth—living in a city where I know everyone by name, my peripatetic wanderings past the edifices and storefronts, the gardens and gables. All this: my North Park, and—like the crow riding the spokes of the abandoned LimeBike—I turn circles in the morning, round and round the neighborhood enjoying enjoying my home.

city · home · neighborhood · people

Duchenne Smile

“Oh, is this your bench?” she apologizes, and I poo-poo her.

“It’s not MY bench, perse, I just like to sit here. Please don’t leave on my account.” I thumb back to my right. “There’s also an Adirondack chair around the corner in the weeds where I can sit for a spell.”

She has dramatic eyes: orange and plumbago above a plain surgical mask. She is pretty, I can tell.

I pet her dog, which has the broad and intimidating head of a pittie, but is puppy-breathed sweet. Brindle with tail wagging.

“I’ve seen you,” she says.

“Oh yeah?”

“31st and Thorn, I think.”

“I’m all over this joint” I say, waving vaguely to the city, which I have fastly considered my home.

This is becoming more and more a thing: I get recognized for simply being the perambulist of Altadena, the outskirts of North Park. I have made so many instant friends, it’s crazy.

“What’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you, Pam,” and we don’t shake hands because we’re mummified in masks and decorum., but she smiles.

A Duchenne smile has two components: a contraction of the zygomatic major muscle, which raises the corner of the mouth; and an elsewhere contraction of the orbicularis oculi muscle, which results in crow’s feet.

Pam’s smile meets the Duchenne requisite: the orange and plumbago make a sunset out of her eyes. Though I can’t see her mouth, I know she’s grinning.

There’s an opposite, you know: the Pan Am smile, which involves the zygomatic muscles only. You know who showcases this grin? Beleagured flight attendants, threatened chimpanzees, and Botoxed out injectees.

A chalk drawing outside the Art Studio says: ‘What if six feet and a mask made us all closer?” I love this sentiment. There’s a certain kindness these days, more ‘hellos’ and waves. Duchennes smiles for days, which you can see above masks, smiles reaching the eyes.

We’re all in this together. May your smile crest the edge of your nosepiece, may it show in a twinkle of the eye. Blessings.

Nice to meet you, Pam.

city · neighborhood · people

Convos with Chris.

Convos with Chris in the morning can be like this:

“Are you a better man today, Chris?” I ask Chris, which is our way of greeting.

“You know it, Thom.” And I get my ginger ale, and because the store is empty, we talk while leaning elbows over the counter.

“Whatcha doing this weekend?” Chris asks.

“Got some writing to do. Isaac Asimov was asked if the world were to end today, what he’d do,” and I pop the tab to the Bundaberg.

“Know what he said, Chris?”


“He said: I’d type faster.”

Chris leans back and laughs: “Got a question for you” and points. “You’re always walking and thinking,” and he gestures in a circle, “Is this, like, predetermined what you write? Like, do you figure it out, then put it on paper?”

“A little bit. I get a sentence or two, and then,” I make a swooping gesture, “It’s flow. Taking the walks is readying the flow.” There are a thousand bottles behind Chris on the shelf; I haven’t bought any.

“If I knew Braille, Chris,” I say, “I’d write with my eyes closed.”

Chris has hands that are hidden in his sleeves, but suddenly they’re out.

“Thom, it’s like video games, like, the reality ones where you have to think and build and it’s on the fly. I’ve always got a PLAN,” he emphasizes, “But there’s a point you gotta think or act on instinct or something.”


“Do you play chess?”


“Me and my brother Sly play,” and Sly is the reticent son who mans the shop in the evening, hair knotted behind his head, never a forthcoming word.

“Chess is big at our house,” Chris continues, “And Sly once set up a chess board in the house and said: one move a day. He and my Dad play all the time.”

“One move a day? I like that.”

“Yeah—he’s like a mathematical genius. He said, ‘Let’s slow our play.’”

And I snap my fingers, and swig my ginger—“That’s a brilliant idea, Chris.” And for two seconds I think.

“I’m gonna do that with my Kid. He’s already beating me at cards. I can’t take the humiliation.”

Chris laughs.

“But slo-chess…I like it. What’s your favorite piece?”

“Oh—the knight. I like the ‘L’s. My dad calls the bishop ‘The Minister.’ What’s yours?”

My eyes do a chessboard, and I think to all the little men moving their moves.

“The Minister,” I say, “Like what your Dad calls him.”

Because moving fast and moving slow requires the middle, which is, as the Bishop goes, diagonal.

Chris and I knuck; at home, I set up a chessboard, magnetic, one that I inherited from my Grandpa, the pieces clicking into their starting points. Click, click.

“Cayde: I’ve got a new game.”

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.

alcohol · city · mental health · neighborhood · sobriety

Sing This With Me, This is Forty

Some days, it’d take me an airplane to get off the ground, though I’m not usually lying down. I just feel prone, as if my body’s debated the ground and found its position at once immutable and irrelevant, the ground fast becoming something of metaphor instead: a nethermost, a bellwether, some other fancy word that hints at bottom. Regardless, my two feet are still of rough employ, and my head still meets the sky at the same six-foot mark, so I’m upright at least, standing outside the Twiggs’ coffee shop in University Heights, five p.m. on a Sunday evening.

I get bored sometimes, and this is the main distraction, ladies and gentlemen, of my particular three-ring circus. Would that the boredom cease itself without me having to act its opposite, that would be ideal—just indolent.  I, after all, tell Cayde that ‘only boring people are bored’, so to continue as such, to languor in ennui, makes me not only terrifically dull right now, but also resolutely lazy. I should listen to myself. Stop being boring.

The intersection outside of Twiggs, I remark while cradling an Americano, is far from being boring. I take a seat at one of the patio tables to watch the simple crossway present itself as a Bermuda Triangle of sorts, one of its eerie if ephemeral powers being the ability to erase the right of way from all users’ minds. Sedans start and stop, horns blare (generally two seconds longer than is necessary), pedestrians leap back on curbs with middle fingers on point. There is a bar across the street, but its doors aren’t open yet for business, so imbibition can’t be blamed for this otherwise normal intersection gone punch-drunk. It’s just a University Heights phenomenon, a neighborhood cock-up on constant repeat, and I watch while my coffee cools and while the neighbors to the left of me discuss Norman Mailer, a white dog sitting resignedly at their feet.

It’s 5 p.m., which means most the morning papers are now overflowing the recycling cans. It’s enough to make me fidgety again, as if the news has expired for the day and that it’s now the unexceptional slouch toward bedtime, nothing more to report while the presses sleep. This of course is nonsense, as news is always happening and while a billion screens phosphor with electronic updates. The day just sometimes seems neatly divided, like a smartly creased morning tribune, there being daybreak done up in newsprint and evening set marked by its discard.

I open my laptop—the intersection has since corrected to an agreeable flow—and scan my feed. There are updates from two hours ago, twenty minutes ago, iterations and imprints of the morning’s headlines. The only important news is old news: that Bertolt Brecht has once again been proven correct when he said, “What times are these when a talk of trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?”   But I read, regardless—my cup of coffee is at a perfect temperature—and assign boredom away to be manhandled by the Fourth Estate gangsters, my guys in the press pool.

The news unreported: it’s been forty days since I’ve had a drink. I glance up from my laptop and catch sight of that bar under construction again. It’s going to be a New Zealand themed eatery with a selection of taps, and were I not presently sober, I’d be excited about its opening. Now it’s just another establishment with questionable parking, a door I won’t frequent, and an unrung tab for unpoured drinks.

Forty days is automatically biblical. For forty days, it rained while Noah’s Ark weathered the Flood. For forty days, Moses’ spies surveyed the Land of Milk and Honey for its eventual conquest by the Israelites. For forty days, Jesus walked the desert before the Ascension. And, most relevant to the recovering alcoholic, for forty days Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness.

The evocation of forty appears in Deuteronomy as well, when after forty years in the desert, Moses reiterates God’s code for his chosen people before they are to enter into the Promised Land. Moses, of course, isn’t allowed entrance—that’s another story involving drawing water from a stone and Moses showing a rare display of intemperance in the face of a miracle. God only allows Moses a glimpse into the Promised Land from a hillside vista, Moses’ reward? punishment? for four decades of messianic governance in the wasted and wanting desert. Moses got a raw deal.

My deal is not so raw. Aside from periods of crashing boredom, where my coffee grows cold before I realize that my hands have disappeared their proprioception, before I am left with phantom fingers around my mug, I enjoy a certain if uneventful relief. I’m free of the mornings where my vista was the broken-toothed back-alley fencing, green like the green of a faded pine freshener, me Lazarus puking himself back uncertainly into life amid the leaf litter and spent cigarette butts. Five o’clock every morning, the pre-echo of Jenn’s alarm in my head though it wasn’t set to go off for another half hour, I would hear stupid and repetitive chimes, a savant orchestra in my head. It was seeing inside my eyes, hearing inside my skull, a world reduced to the interior, acetaldehydes sluicing the brain and making perverse golems of chemistry. I was animate mud:  isoquinoline-addicted, amine-addled mud, shocked through with pathos and desirous of dirt.

Forty days. The lights click on outside Twiggs and the cars, in deference to the approaching dark, follow suit, their headlamps suddenly an orderly display at the intersection, the drivers only nocturnally amenable it seems, much like my chemistries these days. I feel a wash of relief, feel my lights click on, too. I’m still a synaptic mess, so I’m like the urban cliché of a streetlamp that buzzes on in three blinking attempts. Sometimes I fail to light, remaining extinguished instead, and it’s the aforementioned nethermost of being without stimulation, a kind of nothing where I am simultaneously grounded and groundless.

I close my laptop, finish my coffee. This could all be regarded as serenity, were I to reframe it as such, my chemistries at last resting after a years-long St. Vitus dance. I’ve a thirty-day token and some change weighing my pocket, a brain lightened of its toxic payload, and a sober lack of abandon marked by a quotidian diet of coffee and newspapers. Not that I’m entirely comfortable with this equanimity, though, for equanimity has its creeping cousin in dissociation and if anything I’m hyper-associative. Hell, they throw pills my way to mitigate my more Icarus tendencies. To wit, last year I wrote:

 “I fell asleep on the roof last night. And some people count sheep, but I was thinking of Chagall; I saw goat-things pass the moon and I climbed the side of the house so that I could better see the illumined clouds. I was on the roof, and I tucked myself in next to the attic and the moon was something within reach, the ground unreachable, and I fell asleep with the moon on my chest. I looked at the sky all dotted with things and smiled, smiled; these things that generally rest on closed eyes, just some eyes not.”

Oh where my head has been, and my body its malfunctioning retainer, servile to the point of near oblivion; it is time to rest. I gather my things from my coffeeshop station and shrug on my satchel. It is a quiet night and I toss my coffee cup among the discarded newspapers, the waste-bin signifier that the day, too, is done, extincting itself as I extinct part of me. I walk to my car and goat-things—they pass the moon. I have to squint, but they are there, and with dull movement that is not, I am encouraged.

city · favorites · neighborhood · people · sobriety

Coffee Shop Culture

cafe-terrace-at-nightWhen I walk into Lestat’s West at midnight, Aaron is on stage running through Mingus’ The Clown monologue, sans bass because Aaron’s right hand is atrophied at an angle and it’s presently difficult for him to play. He later recounts two stories, one in which he learned Satan’s Prayer before the Lord’s Prayer having played the Devil himself in a production of Marat/Sade; then, a more comical story of how he unwittingly cursed out Adrian Belew at a guitar camp when he was nineteen. (“Shut up, Old Man! Who the hell are you?”) We find we both have a love for Tom Waits, but can’t collectively remember where Waits was born.

“NewYork? Chicago? I guess he comes from every city—that’s kinduv the musician he is. Think I heard he was born in the back of a taxi cab or something,” Aaron says hands picking incessantly at his garments. (Waits is from Pomona, CA).

Trent, meanwhile, is rotund and red-cheeked, a 12 a.m. carnival barker with a Mobile accent and a broken volume knob, larger than life and convinced of God lest everything be just “too fucking weird.” He wears an undersized plaid button-up with protruding T-shirt sleeves, is remarkably well-shaven despite his otherwise shambolic appearance, and sports close-cropped hair set above a ruddy brow.

“There’s power in prayer,” he bellows, and I, for one, agree that the Universe operates on suggestibility. Signs and omens, omens and signs.

Sam is the seemingly spider-woven septuagenarian, replete with natty ascot. He resembles Martin Landau, though more anemic, temporal veins tributaries of blue. He sports two hearing aids and has a habit of talking mere inches from his intended audience. He is very tall—one has to look up when he is talking–the only thing not suggestive of height on his person is a meticulously flattened coiffure, near-gossamer threads swept low and to the right.

“I always keep a drunk between me and the bottle,” he says, in explanation of a long-term sobriety, “Meaning, my friend, I always have someone in the way of my scotch. And now I’ve made it, after all these years, to gainful unemployment.” He lifts his coffee mug in salud.

The moon is out and Gilbert, sweet Gilbert, points to it and says: “I was in the Outback a few years ago, and you know the moon is upside-down there because you’re on the bottom of the earth. And I’m alone in the Outback and it strikes me—it strikes me for the first time in my life beneath that upside-down moon—that I am here and belong to the whole of this humanity, that we are together, all here on this earth.”

His eyes brim, and the right-side up moon plays over the patio, and there is a nocturne here, midnight at the café´.