May 16, 2007
I yell as I walk in my door.
the cats greet me at the door; if not they’re most likely both zonked out somewhere. Zzyzzy is on the writing studio couch swaddled in the Mexican blanket I got in 1988 because it was unheard of to go to Mexico without buying cheap blankets. Zazu prefers the bed.
if I will ever yell the same to a man who’s lounging around waiting for me to come home? Hello, I love you! Let me jump in your game, your arms and your bed, in that order.
WHY IS THE BUS SO CROWDED?
I woke up at 5:54 a.m. the other day and, according to my new morning rule: if you don’t fall back asleep within fifteen minutes, get up and get with it, I went to the gym instead of rolling over. Though I’m an inveterate night person, I’ve discovered it was only to go to a job I didn’t want to do that I couldn’t stand getting up in the morning. When the day is mine I am eager to get a start on it. On the way back, I caught the 71 Haight Noriega at Stanyan around 7:30. The bus was packed full. Where are all these people going at this hour? I wondered as I boarded. Of course the ugly truth is they were going to work.
AT HAIGHT AND FILLMORE
I get off the bus where I used to get on to do the same, and breathe deeply of the sweet air of freedom. Many Americans feel entitled to breathe this air and take it for granted, but on the bus I’d been reading an interview with Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Iranian actress (from “The House of Sand and Fog”) who fled Tehran before one with her “big mouth” would surely be killed in the political conditions under Ayatollah Khomeini. She and a friend drove for 31 days from Tehran to London. She begged him to stay with her, but he didn’t want to give up his television job and returned to Iran. She never saw him again. He was jailed for a year and upon his release, committed suicide.
Nicholas D. Kristof’s New York Times column of 5/14/07, “The Witness Next Door,” tells the tale of “one of the most unusual people in New Jersey these days…a tall 34-year-old black man named Daoud Hari. Others may lose their tempers at traffic jams on the turnpike, but he’s just glad he’s no longer being tortured.” Hari had interpreted for Kristof in Darfur and routinely risked his life to shepherd a journalist around, so the story of Darfur would get out. People there are killed for much lesser offenses, like existing.
“It is disorienting to be with him here, where we are both clean, rested and safe.”
MY MOTHER IS ONE
who fled like Aghdashloo and Hari did. In a mission to rescue Germans and refugees from the Red Army in Eastern Prussia, the Wilhem Gustloff, formerly an entertainment cruise ship, took off from the Baltic port of Gotenhafen (now the Polish city of Gydnia) on January 30, 1945. My mother was told she could board with her family–only mothers and brothers did not count as “family”—that was reserved for husbands and children. She could have boarded alone, but refused to go without my future grandmother and two uncles. Had she boarded, you wouldn’t be reading this column, because I wouldn’t have existed, because she would have been killed in the worst loss-of-life maritime disaster of all time. Though this was a wartime, not a natural, disaster, just for comparison, 1500+ people were lost on the Titanic. As many as 9400 souls perished on the Gustloff when it was struck by three torpedoes from a Soviet submarine. Unlike the Titanic (5th worst peacetime disaster), the wreckage of the Gustloff has been declared a memorial, with the remains not available to salvage crews. On Polish navigation charts, it is known as “Obstacle No. 73.”The larger historical context is that I would not exist but for WWII, or my parents, independently of each other, would not have come to America and met each other. But that’s a long, long story—a novel, in fact, not a column.
THIS IS WHAT I LIVE FOR
My mother worries about me, of course. I confound her by being completely confident about my future. She doesn’t have faith in my writing because she has never read it. I’m sure she’d get a great big kick out of my sexual (mis)adventures or my George Bush essay, “Fuck You You Fucking Fuck.” She told me she’d never want to be George Bush, because everybody’s so mean to him! She feels sorry for the guy. “Stop right there,” I warn her, my blood beginning to percolate. I couldn’t bang a ray of light into her head with a hammer and chisel.
MY MOTHER HAS SEEN THE WORST
of the world, in WWII, and tends to anticipate the worst outcomes, but I in no way forecast doom for myself. I spend zero time worrying “what am I going to do?” I am too busy breathing the sweet air of freedom from unsatisfying soul-crushing employment. And yet any number of people around the world would give anything to have any job at all, and be grateful to go to it each day.
I STILL DON’T NEED
to be entirely sensible with my money, so I granted myself after about five minutes consideration, four days in June in Jack Kerouac’s hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts—but not the train ride there. Flying this time at 1/3 the cost of train passage with sleeping car. Of course it galls me I am not making a road trip, but that is only the ideal condition, and conditions are not yet ideal for me. The On the Road scroll begins its three-month stay at the Lowell National Historical Park in June, among other events. The town is a near-constant Kerouac festival. There are three coming up in June, July and October. The apartment he was born in is for rent or sale. Wouldn’t it be trippy if I bought it and moved there?
I WAS TELLING A FRIEND
on the 71 bus on the way to see the foundered, buried clipper ship that partially surfaced on the beach, it’s not as if I don’t have to be careful with money, but hey, this trip is just what I do—it’s what I live for. For all I know it could change my life. I could probably buy a modest little house in Lowell with the proceeds from my SF flat.
I IMAGINE LOWELL IS PRETTY HIP,
but is it weird and wild enough for me? San Francisco is nothing but fodder for a writer. The other day I was early for an event at the new SF Conservatory of Music on Oak St., just a roll down the hill from my house, and stopped in for coffee at the All Star Café at Market and Van Ness, with a picture window people-watching perspective on that heavy traffic corner. I wondered what weirdo sight I would surely behold from this vantage point. The usual complement of San Francisco misfits happened by, but at one point a horde of unruly youngsters entered the frame and a woman ran in and asked urgently “Do you have ice?” The clerk looked mystified and she hurriedly elaborated, “I have a child who hit his head—it’s an emergency—I need a plastic bag with ice in it.” And on the sidewalk was a wailing little boy with a bloody knot on his head, and his dozen or so classmates in various states of boredom, impatience or misbehavior. While the woman tended to the boy’s injury, two girls skipped in tandem, others were sullen, two adults attempted to herd them, and two cheerful little boy-devils stuck their heads in the door and sang me a song, punctuated by the injured boy’s caterwaul:
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will sock you
Dunk you in the toilet
See if you enjoy it
We will, we will rock you.
And then the group moved on. And it was time for the concert.
in the window of a children’s store on Haight I spot a book entitled “Everybody Poops.” That reminds me of what my fellow Bach-freak friend Paul once said when we went to see Mark Mostovoy and the Concerto Soloists perform. Paul’s father, the curator of a prestigious music collection at the Public Library in Philadelphia, introduced me to Mostovoy and later reported through Paul that Mark had called me “charming.” I was raving on and on about this when Paul, who was, sadly, hopelessly in love with me, exclaimed, “Hell, his shit stinks too!”
BACK AT HOME I CONDUCT AN ARCHEOLOGICAL DIG
of a large wardrobe moving box that’s been in the closet for three years, uncovering layer after layer of previous lifetimes. Clothes I wore when I was someone else. My shiny form-fitting black spandex jeans, which I had on as my friend Nick and I were watching a movie, and which prompted the out-of-the-blue question, “Can I feel your pants?”
THE BLACK COLUMN OF A DRESS
with buttons all down the front, which I told a coworker I had picked up in New York. “It was worth the trip,” he said. Many of my dancin’ fool dance dresses, low-cut and narrow or flouncy and full. I love to twirl on the dance floor, and kept an eye out for bias cuts with plenty of horizontal swirl. A red sequined body-hugging number I wore on Valentine’s Day when I was thin as a pencil (the women raved over it, the men were scared of it). A dozen cute-as-sin sundresses that will never encompass my bustline again.
of earth-toned, pattern-upon-pattern dresses from my ethnic wear days, which I would now not be caught dead in (too fussy). Conservative “office” clothes I intend never again to have a use for. The Evan Picone suit I wore to a job interview, accessorized with an ace bandage on my ankle from falling off a three-legged chair while attempting to throw up out back of the Trout Lake Inn in Washington (I got the job). Hippie clothes, the sort the Café International is awash in, I would now feel like a poseur in.
SINCE I LET MY HAIR GO GRAY
my closet is almost entirely black and white, clean cut and unobtrusive, designed to not call attention to myself. When I was a redhead, copper was my element and rich variations of orange and rust (but not orange itself) my wardrobe staple. All that stuff’s moving out the door, and any minute now I’m going to start taking Centrum Silver. And silver, after all, is the element of the changeable moon, my soul sister.
and congratulations to my actual sistrocity Cruella, an animal lover who just scored her dream job with the National Greyhound Adoption Program, which rescues former greyhound racing dogs. The NGAP reports that thousands of dogs are killed each year “because they cannot run fast enough to make money.” If you have room for a “retired” greyhound in your home, check out http://www.ngap.org/. If animals matter to you, join the Animals Matter to Me campaign, http://www.animalsmatter.org/code/the_campaign.asp, to create a Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare at the United Nations.
The author breathes the sweet air of freedom on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. Photo by Jon Crow.
If you don't like your life
May the winds of fate blow in your favor...
copyright Alexandra Jones 2007