23 January 2014

A Morning Commute Starting in a Post Apocalyptic Hellscape

"Love is the infinite placed within the reach of poodles." - From Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Walking to subway in the early morning dark. In a drought and the wind is blowing and its so very dry and it feels like the apocalypse. There is a fire truck down one street with very bright multi colored lights swirling and noiselessly blaring. Just a few cars whoosh by. Turn a corner and now a car with a flat tire paddles by and pulls to a stop. There is a fellow pedestrian eerily behind me looking far too normal in his non descript jacket and heavy backpack and big glasses. Homeless man pushes a shopping cart in the middle of the street. Maybe he was once wealthy but got bombed out and this is the post nuclear holocaust and I just forgot because I’m in a drug induced haze because I’ve been heavily medicated since the blast and my breakdown or maybe I really am trudging to the subway at this hour.

I walk past my gym where I will be be later today and there it is crowded with early morning exercisers and this seems more like life than the seeming hell I’ve been walking through. Reach the subway steps walk down their agonized urine soaked bricks  to the brightly lit area where people rush about and one pathetic looking creature mumbling insanely asks for money and he reeks.

Down to the platform where it is five minutes before my train will arrive and the usual bench where I sit is littered with shards of broken glass from a liquor bottle that has been smashed nearby and there are sullen looking people about staring at their i phones or newspapers or the stained ugly walls or their sad functional shoes and soon it is four minutes until the train comes. Not enough time to bother getting my book from my backpack and opening it and start to read and so I am trapped in my brain with my thoughts and there are too many so I sift through and select some important ones and by then the train arrives and I get on finding a seat not too close to the man talking to himself near an old couple chattering much too gaily for this hour but what can be done about such people. My wife is always ready for happy conversation once she opens her eyes but I need time to get accustomed to being conscious again and all that entails like the reality that comes pouring in to my brain and all the processing I must do.


My nose is not buried in a book and never is. My nose always remains attached to my face as it should be serving vital functions like allowing me to smell and holding up my glasses. But I do read. The driver of the train makes long-winded announcements at every stop particularly the transfer stations. Reading is thus interrupted as he rambles on feeling helpful and dutiful. A few people get on and a few people get off and we zoom through the tunnel under the bay and in 20 minutes are in San Francisco. I take the escalator up past the bustling station to street level where my trolley is already waiting. I rush on sit and open book again. After a few minutes I am drowsy being at the tail end of a cold and so I close the book and close my eyes and fitfully sort of sleep until my stop which is conveniently at the end of the line. I buy two bananas and walk the few blocks to work and there I start my work day.

Full of energy and life and dedicated to the proposition of a day’s pay for a day’s work. Amen.

22 January 2014

Just Two Days Ago

I'm going to be a happy idiot And struggle for the legal tender Where the ads take aim and lay their claim To the heart and the soul of the spender And believe in whatever may lie In those things that money can buy Thought true love could have been a contender Are you there? Say a prayer for the Pretender Who started out so young and strong Only to surrender - From 'The Pretender' by Jackson Browne
(Author's note: This was all after work a couple of days back. A day where I showed up despite a nasty cold and used adrenalin to push through the achy sneezy discomfort to teach because that's what I do. I provided the planned lesson except for postponing meeting with students about their writing as that would have assuredly been pushing it in terms of exposure to my cold. After work I took a melancholy ride on a wistful trolley to the urine scented subway station looking forward to home and rest. Pretty much worked out. And oh by the way I'm feeling a lot better now and will be back at the gym tomorrow.)

There was a surge of people forcing their way on the subway car. Chubby Mexican women and fat African Americans and angry old white men and a spaced out kid with a mohawk and a confused middle aged white lady and me. I got one of the last seats as others twirled around in angry confusion. Quickly got book out of backpack to lose myself in its pages and avoid looking at my fellow passengers.

Next stop more people crowded on including one stoned black kid blasting his music so we could all hear it so I put on my headphones so that I was drowning out noise now as well as sights. Did glance up and see that same jerk and he was rolling a joint right there in front of everyone on the crowded car. He didn’t care and wouldn’t care about anything or anyone much until the day he woke up in jail and was all like what the fuck and angry/depressed/confused and suddenly quite bitter but not curious about how his life got that way it just did and sheeet. Maybe he’ll avoid all that and turn his life around and go to school and get a job and be productively happy and fruitful and contribute ideas to a better society and good positive energy. Likely not though. Not a lot of people successfully change their directions in life most going down one way streets and a lot headed the wrong way. Bam. All those head on collisions in life.

I got off the train at my stop which is what I usually do because getting off before or after my stop is fucking ridiculous and I may say and write some ridiculous shit but rarely do I do anything so ridiculous as get off at a stop that isn’t mine. I’m kinda normal that way. I was in the throes of a nasty cold so had arranged for oldest daughter to pick me up and she wasn’t there yet coming as she was from work herself and so I waited cause what else was I gonna do? She arrived and I got in the car and we talked and listened and then were on our block and parked and then were in the house where my wife was glad to see me and sorry I didn’t feel better and made me tea and rubbed my back and I wanted to cry because she was so sweet to me but instead I sat down and numbly watched some TV but not too much because I’ve gotten to where I can only stand a little bit of it unless its showing me a movie without commercial interruption or a really good soccer match. Otherwise TV makes me want to pour my brain out and fry it and then let it cool on the window sill before feeding it to a hungry dog which is what you might as well do if you watch too much TV.

I went to bed early and slept.

11 January 2014

Stuff About My Day So Far But More Stuff About Elliot Gould as the Great Private Detective Marlowe in The Long Goodbye

"Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.
I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high". - -
From After the Goldrush by Neil Young
I was looking for something on the internet but I forgot what and got lost looking at nothing and “everything” all at once and I got confused and depressed and giddy all at once but ultimately the purposelessness of it overwhelmed me and I picked up a book.

I read for awhile. There were a lot of words strung together in such a fashion as to form sentences and paragraphs and even chapters. I read some of the chapters and I thought about what I read and related it to my own experiences and opinions and ways of looking at the world and it was all okay.

So then I went and spoiled it all by going back on the internet which had too much which equated to too little and sucked up my time with its maddening trivia and again the world purposelessness.

So I took a nap.

I felt well rested and refreshed and happy. Then in my email was a message from a cousin telling me about one two three deaths.  All of older people not at all tragic and none unexpected and none of people I’d seen in decades although to be honest and truthful I wasn’t sure who one of the people was. One died on Christmas and another on New Years and the other I don’t know when and she’s the one who I’m not sure who she is. People die all the time. Others are born. I was born. Just the once. I imagine I’ll die too and it’ll be just the one time.

Life is finite. In case you didn’t know.

My wife made me poached eggs on toast and it was really good and then she made coffee and it was really good too. And I watched a movie called The Long Goodbye (1973) directed by Robert Altman starring Elliot Gould and it was oh so 1970s a decade I lived in and very much liked and please it was so much more than disco. Man please.

Gould played Phillip Marlowe a fictional detective created by the great Raymond Chandler from his hard boiled -- not poached -- detective novels.

First of all Gould made an excellent (Jewish!) Marlowe. Quite unlike the Bogie Marlowe of The Big Sleep (1946) or the Dick Powell Marlowe of Murder My Sweet (1944) or the Robert Montgomery Marlowe of Lady in the Lake (1947). Different. Vive la. So many Marlowes is he such a compelling character or is he in such good stories? Yeah there's a bit of both there. We sure like out private detectives provided they're in interesting circumstances. They are loners facing dangers often representing good and combatting evil. But they don't have the stain of being of the establishment like cops. There is usually some action gunplay but the private eye is usually a contemplative soul so there are more musings then special effects. In fact a good cinematic private eye is often a complicated sort although he can be pretty straight forward about doing the right thing and following a strict code. Oh yeah and they don't take shit from nobody be that somebody a cop or a hood or a dame who's lying.

I liked the film which I’d seen before decades ago when those people who died recently were still alive and the babies and toddlers and small children and teens of today were as yet unborn. (Isn’t being born the best? I don’t mean the physical process just the fact of it -- being ahh-live! Baby!).

Altman set out to capture the California of the Seventies and succeeded. You wanna know what it looked like felt like back then there’s your movie.  It was fun how Gould as Marlowe stumbled and shambled and tottered through the film. This was intentional he was supposed to be a sort of Rip Van Marlowe awake again after decades asleep. Smoking smoking and smoking like a chimney and driving a car from the Forties and sorting through a murder suicide second murder case although who is really dead and who is not and who did it is not a certainty and Marlowe is being lied to by some and that sure is the lot of detectives in movies and maybe in “real” life too.

Sterling Hayden plays a Hemingway like writer. Director Mark Rydell plays a Jewish hood and one of his thugs went on to be governor of California (guess). Former baseball player Jim Bouton plays Terry Lennox Marlowe’s old friend who is suspect and a person of interest to our mobster friend.

The movie moves nicely as does Altman's cameras which takes no static shots. Everything is sort of off kilter and confusing like the way Gould mumbles yet it all makes sense and easy to follow. The off centered ness of it all could make one queasy but doesn't. We're engaged in the story and character and the way it remains true to its own purpose and vision and visual sense.

This. Is. A. Good. Movie. Largely because its so damned unique in its style and look and Gould is such an interesting choice and effective one to play Marlowe. And now maybe I’ve got to buy a Chandler novel and read it even although I’ve got stacks of unread books to get to which I never will if I spend much more time being on the stupid goddamned internet and its time wasting. Ness. Proclivities.

Thank you poached eggs and good coffee and good movies and good books and good health and birth for making life so bearably wonderful and possible.
"A dreamer of pictures
I run in the night
You see us together,
chasing the moonlight,
My cinnamon girl" -- 
From Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young

08 January 2014

The Next Drink Was on Me and in Me and of Me -- Golden Memories

"I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste
was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test"
-- From Changes by David Bowie
Ever been hammered? I mean totally out of it? Looped? Bombed? Incoherent and gone man gone? Been shit faced? Feeling no pain? Three sheets to the wind? Yeah you know what I’m talking about. And you acting all innocent when it is precisely your experiences I’m writing about. The way you used to power down the brewskis and steadily sip the scotch then snort the line then mellow it all out by getting all toked up on some serious Panama Red. And trying to hit on some chick but you can’t really because the words come out all out of order and jumbled and you’re giggling and there’s too much perspiration in your armpits and you can’t remember how you got to the bar and who with except that one dude looks kinda familiar and oh yeah hey he’s like your roommate and where did that chick go you were just talking to and might as well get a beer and there’s a bunch of crumpled dollar bills in your pocket and shit there’s already a beer in your hand and goddamned the lights are bright in this bar except they’re not they’re like really dim. Or in between shit it don’t matter and maybe you can talk to some other chick and is that a chick or a dude over there and well hello I do know that girl over there she’s Kayla’s sister and is hot but doesn’t she have a boyfriend and better chug that beer and then get another one and did the room just spin or was that the inside of my hand and what the hell is Kayla’s sister’s name and oh man she’s walking over to me smiling and yes I better get my shit together but quick and she said hello and do you remember me I’m Kayla’s sister Courtney and that is so awesome cause now I know her name and so I better tell her mine and I actually forgot it for a second and giggle/snorted but come up with “yeah I’m Richard” And she’s all like I know and she laughs like I’m trying to be funny and I go with it and I’m not really a stoner and should never smoke weed and I like start thinking about the high I’m on instead of talking to this totally bodacious chick named...Courtney! Good for me I remember and now I’m confident and it helps that the band has stopped playing and there’s a David Bowie song I know on -- or shit I’m just remembering that song from yesterday -- no for sure its playing and and and I did hear it yesterday or today. How weird is that? And thank god Courtney is talking but I say some some shit too and check out her legs which are really totally perfect legs and thank you for wearing such a short fucking skirt and shit what if she likes me? Right idiot why else did she come over and talk to me and there’s Dennis who I came here with and he’s talking to some buddies and things are getting clearer and I’m super high but together and I can talk to this Courtney chick and fuck the hangover I’m going to have tomorrow I mean why would I even think about that? So Courtney and I are talking and and she’s smiling and we have a lot in common without me even faking it.
We get more drinks. Then more. I’m totally fucking blasted now but keeping it together because -- what’s this chick’s name? -- digs me and where the hell are my legs? What was in that coke and that weed? Man did someone spike my drink? And where’s that chick I was talking too and where am I? And what time is it and why am I seeing the sun and oh my god my head it’s like my brain was poured out and replaced by molten lava and I’ve got my jeans on and am laying -- sort of -- on the sofa. Least I’m at home but wait what happened with Courtney? And I cannot get that high again that’s ridiculous. Shit it’s only 9:00 or is already 9:00 I don’t know. Only. Already. It just is I guess and it’s Saturday so I don’t think I need to be anywhere. What the fuck is in my pocket? One dollar just one and a paper with...Courtney’s phone number! Score! I will be fucking calling her later. It’s in HER handwriting but I sure as shit wish I remembered what the hell happened last night and this may be one of those deals where I never know least I made it home and if I got her number then it can’t be bad. But no way can I get that loaded again. Got to take her easy.
Six hours later I was sitting in the backyard drinking beer and getting ready to light up a joint with my roomies. Onwards and upwards my man.
Yeah that was totally you so don’t be all in denial and pretending that you don’t know. You know. You. You were there.

06 January 2014

I’m Streaming I’m Beaming Notice I Ain’t Screaming (It’s My Day Today)

"Tell me, why? Tell me, why?
Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself
When you're old enough to repay
But young enough to sell?" -- 
From Tell Me Why by Neil Young
On the subway to work a man was sniffling like so continuously I wanted to cry. Put on headphones instead and listened to Neil Young live from 1970. Read Kerouac. Biffed and bopped and scooted and occasionally had a thought about work and the day ahead and not about bed where I just was an hour and half before snoozing and grooving and going my way in dreamland where the dreams were nice with pretty girls and fame and fortune and no guy sniffing like crazy with a silly cold and a cherry on top -- be bop. People got on and off the train and I looked up at the stops to see them. This one Asian woman got on and just stood, man she stood the whole way into SF, not wanting to sit down. Whatever works. Most people getting on and off were magically non descript, not cosmic, not like me with my magic blonde hair and pug Finnish nose and the nice tie and all all dressed up for like work. Like work l like my work and I like working cause it pays me cash money in automatic deposit form and get all that psychic income to go with my psychotic self up on the shelf. I’m so cool when I go teach the English lingo to peeps from all over the world who want to dig on speaking better and reading better and writing better and understanding more. No chore.

Got off the mfing subway and escalatored up to the street. Market -- park it. Waited for the trolley. Too long as a matter of fact with it being chilly and all. There it came and I hopped it and sat on down and opened the book back up and read some more and didn’t look up much until I could scope out (dope doubt) that we were near the end of the line which is where I get off and in fact some day when my time comes it’ll be the end of the line for me. Whooppee! Least I got to spend some time on subways and shit and doin’ my thing and digging the ladies and the music and the words and the books and the cinema and the sports and the shorts. Soze got off and ambled over to work and worked. Boy howdy did I. Lot to do and people to say hi to and thinking and photocopying and talking and listening and nodding and being glad and drinking coffee and checking it all out baby. Had lunch too then more yakkin’ and frackin’ and correcting and talking bout things like prepositions and articles and verb tenses. Menses.

Ooooh off I went at the end of the work day ambling back to the trolley -- hey baby no wait -- and scootin on over to the subway and very short wait and packin on a super crowded train. Insane. Way it goes -- mose. To my dest-i-na-tion. Escalatoring on up to the street neat and then strolling home hello wife and here was my day how about yours and whats new and dinner is good and a little TV never hurt and then peckin’ away on this here macbook pro -- copyright infringement -- yowzah!
Nice day all told. Bold.

04 January 2014

No Explosions No Sex No Supernatural Just Great Cinema Aki Kaurismaki's Proletariat Triology

When I taught middle school I would occasionally meet my father for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Once he brought my older brother along. All meals there started with soup. It was hot. Both my father and brother loudly slurped their soup. They weren't doing it in unison. Father slurp, brother slurp, father slurp, brother slurp. Somehow it was more piquant than annoying. Both my father and brother are dead now and I no longer teach at the middle school. 

Who knows why we do anything. Sometimes the more we think about things before taking action the worse our decision is. This is especially true when things happen to us. The unexpected. We are often reflexive. Not always wrong. Or right. Just are. We also don't necessarily need to engage in long discussions. There's ultimately very little that needs to be picked over. It's done or being done or will be done and that should be that. Talk is cheap.

I got what is called the Aki Kaurismaki Proletariat Triology  DVD set for Christmas. I just finishing watching the three films. Two today. The set consists of Shadows in Paradise (1986) Ariel (1988) and Match Factory Girl (1990).

In these films people do a lot more smoking than talking. What's to talk about anyway?

I am Finnish so these films resonate with me in a particular way. I haven't been to the old country in many years but it is in my blood. The stoicism. Blank faces. Hidden emotions. Understatement. Silence. Irony. Even perhaps ironic silence -- that I can't say for sure.

I grew up in an extended Finnish family. We didn't hug but we loved the hell out of each other. We didn't talk about everything. Like no one discussed my mother's insanity. But we did things. We were honest.

The films that make up the proletariat set are all short. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes each. Tell the story and get out. No reason to hang around. They all involve people who make changes. Fairly sudden ones and pretty big ones. Murder spree, marriage, new career. This is a kind of just do it, but not Nike style charge into the breach, more with a shrug of the shoulders. Its the next thing in front of the character, the logical move, what you have to do. Or so it seems. It'll probably work out. We'll see. No need to worry about it.

These are working class people. A miner. A garbage collector. A factory worker. They don't feel trapped in their lives they are of them. If there is something better they'll take it. If adversity strikes then deal and move on. Adversity does strike. Hard. A father's suicide and then life's savings stolen and then a prison sentence. Or how about a friend and partner's death or an unwanted pregnancy? Shit happens is the existential observation  about the nature of how you never know and you often have to deal. No one in Kaurismaki's films folds up. One character sheds a few tears but there's neither weeping nor wailing and no one throws fits. Anger is not expressed, it is used to fuel forward momentum. One clearly bitter character just calmly exacts revenge.

Most scenes takes place in Finland's capital Helsinki. These are not attractive depictions of what is in fact a beautiful city. Kaurismaki was not working for the tourist industry. The environs were selected and shot in such a way as to add to the mood.

If all sounds too bleak. I'ts not. Characters get what they want, whether they want it or not. Whether freedom, love or revenge, it is served. It is all done with passion. Nothing you can see but there it is. Passion is not always a fiery speech or even any speech at all. It isn't just broad strokes or loud chords. It's just as likely keeping a head up and pushing on.

I don't recall a single character in any of the films bursting into laughter or for that matter laughing at  all. There may have been a titter but I doubt it. There's cuss words mixed into dialogue but there is no profane tirades. Sex is strongly implied but not seen. We get a kiss or two but not for very long. There are no flourishes, no exclamation points, no goddamned explosions.

Characters. We get characters. They drive the story. They are why all of Kaurismaki's films are so compelling. There is nothing more interesting in this world than watching what our fellow travelers in this life do. This is what Kaurismaki understands. Shine a light -- but not a super bright one -- on a person. A person without extraordinary powers -- just the ability to be.

To be.

I love the hell out of these movies.

There is a Finnish parable. A man is being chased by a bear. He finally gets to a river where he can swim to safety. Half way across the river he sees a bear standing on the other side. The man laughs. What are you gonna do? Am I right?