April 21, 2005
“Don't Write That!”
yelled h, pointing daggers at me, startling whatever it was he’d said right out of me on the spot. I mark that moment as the official starting gun of my career as a columnist. As soon as someone fears you will do something they can hardly stop you from doing, you know you’re being taken seriously. This was a while ago at his friend Jens’ room in the Tenderloin, where a lively crew had gathered around beer and schmoke and lips were loose. In a few minutes he offered, in a conciliatory tone, “You can say whatever you want and say that I told you so.” Well I’m glad you feel that way, h, because I enjoy the same first amendment freedom of pissing people off as you do. You did rightfully with a subtle shake of the head chastise me for making notes while talking to you. It’s a scholarly habit, and my guiding light all my writing life has been Virginia Woolf’s “It is fatal not to write something at the moment of wanting to write it.” So easy to fail to do when you think faster, or hear faster, than you write, or type, or for that matter, find a pencil, etc. That’s why I like to wear one behind my ear, for those occasions when the quick draw makes all the diff.
Someone used that ploy at my high school, on a student council campaign poster. I was surprised it went up and more surprised it stayed up. But I sheepishly admit to at least in part using the same tactic to get h’s attention when pitching this column to himand yours, anonymous reader, whoever you are, if indeed you exist, because I know about you only through h’s claim that you “want more sex.”
KEEP IT SEXY
He wanted to see some writing samples and I sent him a couple of as he put it “really bawdy” pieces I knew would prick up…his ears. I warned him, though, it’s not all going to be about sex. Nah, said the gnome, leave it alone and “heavier on tits next time.” I suggested that his own column provides the ideal forum for that discussion. Just remember my mission statement: to write “whatever I want.” That’s the genius and power of the web, after all. I once bought a book on the strength of its title: I Write As I Please. My subtitle for The Ax Files. I’ll make it “damn well please” though.
And by the way, h, bawdy? Bawdy? Has that word been used by anyone since Henry Fielding? I’m sure there were bawdy, saucy wenches aplenty in Tom Jones but with the spread-eagle fare available here, there and anywhere, it’s a rather quaint turn of phrase. Makes you sound bashful. Strangely, though, I did see bawdy used recently in a Design Within Reach newsletter: “quirky as the bawdy Fontana di Nettuno,” referring to this Bolognese lactating Charybdis. Bawdy says it just fine. I came across a curious story on Frommer’s online about this 16th century bronze by Bartolomeo Ammannatti.
“The original of the muscular marble god has been in the Museo Regionale ever since the statue was ‘castrated’ by some roaming youths from Palerma who set out to ‘raise hell on their visit to Messina.’”
Ya gotta love it. Those pesky boys have been at it again. Reminds me of the night my friend John Beck and I rented a silver Mercedes Benz to drive the Autobahn to the East German border and spent the night in Fuchstadt (that’s right, Fucktown), where our sleep was disrupted by “Der Rowdy,” a bunch of hooligans making lively in the town Platz. See, h, you got your tits after all. h has forgotten all about me anyway, with visions of Krissy dancing in his head, and Rachel Foulmouth doing whatever he wants for him. I on the other hand told him to behave himself, even though I too am a serial flirt.
“THERE’S GOT TO BE A BOTTLE OF BOURBON BETWEEN HERE AND CITY HALL,”
I say on Market Street to John, who happens to be here visiting from Sweden where he has lived for the past twenty years. I’ve known him since…wait a minute (during which I will pull my old journals out of the trunk under my bed)…March 21, 1980, a Friday, roughly 6:30 p.m. That’s when he, then a student of piano at Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, came to my house on Naudain Street to tune my piano. I wrote in my journal while he did so, that I would “rather listen to the tuner play Scottish harmonies than venture into the humid night” to go to some party in Germantown.
I can hardly believe the coincidence, looking at the date, that he arrived in my life, on my doorstep, on a March 21st. Exactly five years later, in 1985, the two of us would travel to Eisenach and Leipzig, East Germany (then still behind that curtain made of iron) to celebrate the 300th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach by visiting the cities of his birth and death.
BUDDHA IS MY MENTOR; BACH IS MY RELIGION
Bach freaks naturally gravitate to each other; there’s some kind of force field drawing us all together. It’s like sports car drivers who wave at each other. John and I literally screamed in astonishment when we realized as if struck by lightning that John Beck (which, like Bach, means “brook”) and Johann Bach are the same damn name! Talk about a true calling, to coincidentally be given the same name as your muse.
We are walking down Market St. heading over to Mirkarimi’s art party so I can give h his birthday presenta tin of schmoke and a bottle of Old Crow. I couldn’t find any Wild Turkey but I figured, same diff. h at 61 could pass for either. I had told him my Thanksgiving story of feeling silly riding the 49 bus with my Whole Foods boxed turkey on my lap and feeling sillier when it spilled out of the box in front of my house and a passing driver looked out at me bent over a frozen turkey on Page St. “I hope that was the last of my silly turkey encounters,” I wrote, and he said, “Lucky the turkey who fell on the ground wasn’t your date. I hate it when my dates fall on the ground.” He must be dating himself (via Rachel?).
I HAD A DREAM
I’d read earlier that day that photographer Luke Thomas had been made co-honcho with Pat Murphy of the Sentinel, and I knew as soon as I saw him in Room 282 that the party was over before it had ever begun. I had had big plans to write ridiculous captions on Luke’s photos of public figuresfor instance Luke told me he and Pat had laughed together about the inane spoof I put together with some sanctimonious pix of a fervorous Newsom first preaching gospel, then confusing it with MLK’s I Have a Dream speech and finally beckoning Peter Ragone to come check out the tits in the third row.
Sure enough Monday the politely professional email arrives regretting that he “cannot endorse” the use of (his) photos for my collage projects (understood: for satiric purposes as no one will want him to take their picture anymore) and hopes I won’t take it personally. No, why should I? Yes, I suppose it wouldn’t be kosher for a media rep to take a picture of a Supervisor and later lend me its use for comparing that Supervisor to a lodgepole chipmunkbut as one who has been known to value wit above kindness, I can promise the SOBs (oops, typo) the BOS that they will certainly all be hearing more from me. I have a camera too ya know. Nyah. I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to consider my actions and their implications from the standpoint of my position as the So-and-So of the Whatever. All I need to think about is what I want to write nextand I’ll write it as I damn well please.
NO PUNDIT INTENDED
I’m no junior pundit though. I gladly leave all that crap to h. Bulldog thus far has been heavy on politics and light on the rest of it, and I’m here to balance the scales. The Ax Files is the festivus for the rest of us bulldoggers who don’t live, eat, breathe, and have incestuous sex with San Francisco politics. Like anyone I have my ideas and issues and priorities and outrages; I give a shit what happens. I stay tuned. But when it comes to the “insider” scene I’d just as soon be outside. h sails way over my head and even if he didn’t I’d duck to get out of his way. It’s too bad he wasn’t around to skewer the comedy team of Schmitz and Ruef back in the Barbary Coast days. But my interest in politics is purely…no, wait a minute, I have no interest in politics. In fact I resent politics for stealing time from the things I really am interested in. I have to cram it down my own throat. One is simply forced to deal with it; it’s protest or perish. As Nader put it, “It’s time to turn off that third rerun of Cheers and get moving.” I’ll borrow a phrase from Berkeley artist and silver fox Doug Minklermy interest in politics is “self-defensive”you don’t have to be paranoid schizophrenic to think that “they” are after usthey are!! Check Doug out at www.dminkler.com. “The com,” he said on March 19th at a SOMArts panel on political art, “is for communist.”
¡Y ATENCIÓN H!
Doug has described Fidel as his herohe (and I) also belong on your Cuba field trip. To you it’s a fantasy but I can make it get real in a hurry. I get to go so I can write whatever I damn well please about it and the rest of you. Plus I’d get to hang with Matt Gonzalez whom you refuse to fix me up with (fed up, is h, of women asking about Matt, Matt, Matt, when he wants us all for himself). Assuming the rest of you did come up with the time and funds to actually go, I’m already there mixing the cuba libres, I’m already framing the mental picture of myself leaning on an old Chevy in Havana smoking a cigar.
DAMN THE DAMN KING!
Speaking of travel h admirably held the fort for me and my cat Jacksonhe was even vacuuming when I got homewhile I was in Portland raising hell at the Red Dress Party, and he’ll do the same in a couple more weeks when I hit the road on a mission from my other muse. Little Jackson sends his love to you, h, and looks forward to licking you again soon. I had originally planned to go trekking in Nepal for this, my 50th birthday, on May 3rd, but the damn king picked this moment in history to overthrow the government and declare a state of emergency! So instead, my great friend Jon Crow (whom I just saw in NY this February for The Gates installation) will fly here, as the crow flies, from Brooklyn to drive me to, where else, Las Vegas. Actually, it makes all the sense in the world, at this milepost in my life, to make a pilgrimage to honor the writer who has most influenced me, Jack Kerouac, at the Las Vegas Public Library (well, why not?), where lies in state the completely unfurled manuscript of On the Road. In fact I am going to read On the Road to Jon as we speed through the Nevada desert in our rented Caddy convertible. Road trip! Half-century road trip to bow before the Bible, just as at age 30 I kneeled at and kissed the grave of JSB at St. Thomaskirche, Leipzig, the power vortex of the world. Forget PGE, SF, plug your cord into that outlet!
For once I know exactly where the book I want is and run to the bookcase to retrieve my battered copy, which I first read quite natch “on the road,” on New Year’s Day, 1987 and again on the road in 1988 from Portland to Ashland to Yelapa, Mexico to Osakis, Minnesota, to Philadelphia and back to Portland, Oregon, and then again, and again and again. I like to leave it lying around so I can paw through it at random. It has achieved a finely-fingered distressed patina, its binding flexible as my cat. Among its pages I find a yellowed street map of downtown Puerta Vallarta with a “Spanish Helper” on the back. I see that en español the first line of my ongoing novel is “¡Dejame solo! ¡Dejame solo!”
By the way, h, I found your upper plate in my underwear drawer.
WHY DIDN’T I FALL IN LOVE WITH JOHN BECK WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE?
He: Will play the piano for anyone who knows how to listen for as long as they care to listen.
I: Will listen to him to play the piano for as long as his fingers allow him to play it.
If you’ve never been awakened by live Bach drifting up the stairs followed by wafts of coffee and toast, you need to be pampered. If you’ve never heard Beethoven from beneath the soundboard of a Steinway grand, make it a life goal. This happened to me decades ago at John’s freezing cold stone house in Chester Springs, PA, where we moved his kerosene space heater with us everywhere we went, and as we inevitably went to the piano, I lay on the floor to be near the heater, and ended up rolling myself right under the piano. An avalanche of sound plummeted down on me with wave after wave of voluptuous orgasms of the ee-ah. (Many years later I was walking down Market Street when the photo of a striking man on the cover of a newsstand periodical caught me eye; Downtown I think it was called. I didn’t know him, never heard of him, yet a week later I found myself similarly lying beneath the Steinway grand at his gallery on Powell Street. That was crazy man photographer Bennett Hall. One of those San Francisco things that happen, you know.) I believe George Sand takes shelter under Chopin’s piano in the dreadful movie “Intermezzo” with the dreadful casting of Hugh Grant as Chopin. Rivals Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezukhov in King Vidor’s “War and Peace” and John Garfield as a violinist in “Humoresque.” A stevedore, maybe, but a violinist?
John Beck is in the living room of my D5 flat tuning the $100 upright he counseled me on buying from Nickel Ads in Portland back in the 80’s, which I’ve spent 6 times that moving, including the $300 in tips to the movers who got it unwedged from between the stairs, the railing and the wall on its way to my flat. To effect the tuning we have had to remove my 6” long reclining Buddha from the piano top to the sofa, where I wrap myself around him and get comfortable, for soon the command performance will begin.
YOU WANT BRAHMS?
You got Brahms, Brahms and more Brahms. You want Chopin? I’ll give you Chopin! The Fm Ballade, the Fantasie-Impromptu? At your service. Beethoven’s last sonata? A finger snap. Horowitz’s devastating piano arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise? I could literally die of affective overload listening to thistwice, by my request and his accommodation. Bach? Forget it! The P&F IV WTC BK I? You betcha! How about the entire Goldberg Variations? It was worth the trip from Sweden (for him) to perform this for me and (for me) to hear him perform it. If you know me, call me and come over and he’ll do the same for you. He’s here through the end of April. But don’t fall in love with him, ladies, he’s taken. Sometimes it helps to know the score before sitting down to play.
The author emulates her mentor.
Short Attention Span Poetry Corner
Don’t Write That!