Journal entries from 2001

1.  A lady calls me at the Hayward library asking for symptoms of nerve gas exposure.  Apparently a year and a half ago she was “gassed”.  She thinks gas because she heard walls rumble.  She’s been farting ever since.  Lately she’s been having panic attacks that end when she starts farting.

2.  A barefoot and drunk woman sits next to me on a bench.  I can feel her looking at me.  I’m reading despite her distraction.  From somewhere a man yells at her to “shut your legs” and she does so quickly.

3.  Sitting at the Brown Jug in the middle of a Libra party.  “Hey, I’m a LIbra too” I said to myself upon entering.  Two drinks into the party, consecutively, a woman spittles on me while asking if I want a date (she needs money) and a gay guy looks me up and down and says “I’m going to get you.  I always get what I want.”  I also talked to a Merchant Marine there that night.


Brown Jug

One of the first times I went to the Brown Jug I stumbled into a Libra party. Hey, I’m a Libra too. It was crowded and intense, much more busy and shady then it gets now. There was a merchant marine there trying to tell me about his job but it got too hectic for that kind of talk. At one point I was sitting between a ragged female prostitute spittled while asking me if I wanted a date (“I need money”) and a tall black gay guy saying to me “I’m going to get you and I always get what I want”. I finished my beer and went home alone.

Ed #3 My First Time in California

Ed #3

“My life belongs to the world, I will do what I can.”
James Dickey “The Strength of Fields”
August 1998
I’d been having panic attacks – shaking with tears, a feeling of imminent explosion.  I had one on the plane from New York to San Francisco.  I was wearing my wig, I was reading a book and all my favorite characters kept dying in surprising ways.  When I closed my eyes I kept seeing all the problems I was trying to leave behind.  “GO BLANK” I kept chanting but it did not work.
I was downing penicillin, waiting for a root canal in Brooklyn.  I was downing valium, my new kitten, Nunya, was shitting and pissing on everything in my apartment.  My roommate and I hadn’t been getting along in six months.  A girl I loved had dumped me and didn’t seem to care at all.
And all the people on the plane – old ladies with way too much make-up, perfume and jangly jewelry; big strapping dudes, people who take management courses; they all want to talk to me.  That’s why I wear the wig, people leave me alone.  A friend of mine who did window displays for a porn store had given it to me from her decoration stash.  A brown afro and I always pulled some real hair out so I looked real crazy.  The wig worked until the San Francisco Airport.  A guy talked to me and I gave him the look that conveyed “Why are you talking to me, I’m wearing my wig.”
I had never been to California before.  I go to the Mission.  San Francisco seemed like a city without residents: all the people had just been dropped here or washed up on shore and started asking for change.  I was aimless and everyone else here seemed to be too.
I walked around for hours, all the way to Nob Hill and back.  I knew no one here but had ten phone numbers of friends of friends.  I call them all, no one is home, it was getting dark.
I go to the Tip-Top Inn, I’ve been seeing a flyer for a show there.
I ended up staying the whole time in San Francisco with the first person I had a conversation with.  Her name was Tracy.  I saw her, tall and beautiful, the first person openly smoking in a bar here.  I was supposed to meet up with a girl named Tristy.  I thought I heard someone call her that.  “Did she just call you Tristy?”
“No, I’m Tracy.”  She shook my hand and it was gravy from there.  She introduced me to all her friend and bandmates.  I told her my situation.  “Don’t worry, I’ll find you a place to crash.  You could stay with me but I have a four year old at home”.
The show was great.  All different bands, all female drummers.  After the first band, Saint Andre, we go get stoned in the back of Tracy’s friend’s truck.  They’re talking about their ages (29-35) and bands and I’m about to throw up my Nicaraguan food.  Our feet are huddled together in the middle of the bed of the truck and I’m about to puke all over them.  I keep barking up pre-puke gas but no one seems to notice.  Someone hands me the pipe.  I’m scared to open my mouth but I figure if pot is ever going to have anti-nausea effects it’s going to be here in San Francisco.  I’m right and am free to join in the discussion of whales and sharks fighting and maternal instinct.
Back inside the Deep Throats are rocking on the floor with snotty punk eyeglares, dressed as nurses adjusting skirts.  It all ends with everybody in the room splayed on the floor covered in beer and smiling.  The drummer throws her panties in the crowd.  This is what I’ve been missing by living in New York in 1998, the drunken punk that ABCNORIO can’t provide.
Tracy was in the last band, Zmrzlina, Czech for ice cream.  She played violin, guitar and sang.  They played covers of the Fall, Devo and Jad Fair.  Heather sang a song about Japanese school girls.
After the bands, in the other room, I see a cute girl bending over pounding on a piano and screaming.  She’d with a guy who looks like Paul Bowles.  I sit at the bar.  She comes over and stands right next to me.  Her eyes lock on mine, her breasts hug my arm.  She smiles, she points out her friend, he’s drinking faster than I’ve ever seen anyone drink before, ten second gin tonics.  Her other friends come over and suddenly we’re all petting each other’s hair.  Paul Bowles comes over and starts petting my hair.  He grabs the girl’s hair and pulls her by it towards him as he backs up.  She pushes him away and he grabs a drink.  She goes and slaps the drink out of his hand, shattering glass against the wall.  He tries to punch her.  Guys close in on him, he springs again and they get him out of the bar.  She comes up to me and smiles.  “Oh fuck”, she says, “what did you think of that?”
She’s freaking out.  I try to calm her down by telling her that kind of shit happens all the time in Brooklyn.  Her friends are waiting outside but she doesn’t want to deal with them.  “Where do you live?” she asks.
I tell her I’m homeless.  She tries to figure out how to get me to her place but after a while it she seems too crazy for this to be worth it.  I get up and go to Tracy.
I saw the girl at an American Analog Set show two nights later.  It turns out she went to the University of Kansas too, she used to live on the same block as me, she knows my best friend Sara and the guy who tried to punch her is the ex-boyfriend of the lesbian who gave Sara and I matching tattoos.
Tracy says I can stay with her.  I feel imposing but it fades as we talk into the morning.  I’m smiling as I fall asleep in her out of town roommate’s bed.  When I wake up she tells me I can stay with her as long as I’m in town.
Her kid, Eli, comes home from his Dad’s.  He’s rad, smart and cute.  In the hours Tracy and I had him we wandered the city at a child’s pace.  His eyes caught everything – exotic bugs straining to limestone, diamonds everywhere, hidden in the broken glass, paper pictures and clues.  The city was a series of interlocking, magical trails we could follow to a blessed surprise if we could pay attention to one trail long enough.  I bought him his first whoopee-cushion and disposable camera.
Then it would be only Tracy and I, inspiring and complimenting each other.  She took me to see Nights of Cabiria at the Castro Theater.  She showed me the city.  Her pace almost met mine.  Sidetrips, a tour of her day to day life.
And then I would leave.  Liberated by my own pace in the strange town.  It was a menopausal city: hot, cold, hot, cold.  The shade shifts from one side of the street to the other had me scrambling back and forth.
I drank too much, dollar beers in dive bars switching my wallet from back pocket to front.  Not knowing anyone I felt myself a mark.  In parties that I infiltrated I would make quick friends and establish how we should have known each other a long time ago.  Rich conversations into the night that I couldn’t quite remember as I stumbled back to Tracy’s.
Tuesday I took a bus to Napa then hitchhiked to Petaluma.  I went from bar to bar and took my penicillin.  I finished Lonesome Dove at Gale’s.  A guy called me Bill Gates and demanded I buy him a pitcher.
The next bar, The Hideaway,  a guy tells me I look like a “devlin – something that acts without thinking about it consequences.  Like a cat that just runs across the road when it sees the mouse.  Doesn’t see the cars, doesn’t see anything but that mouse.”  I laugh.  He grunts as he drinks bitters and water out of a pint glass.
He takes a long drink and lights a cigarette.  “I got a letter from my ex-wife.”  He pats his breast pocket and pulls the letter out.  “Everytime red ink, everyone always already knows but me.”, he yells.
He makes me play pool with him.  I resist, I suck, I haven’t played in a year.  He sets up and explains 9-ball, a game I’ve never played.  Within five minutes I hit ten lucky shots.  I walk out of the bar triumphantly as he pleads for a rematch.
There’s all these teenagers hanging out on the streets.  I ask if they know if it’s cool to crash in a field around here.  They say I can sleep with them under the bridge.  I buy us some beer and we drink it on a pier on the river.  They’re talking young and stupid.  Eventually we end up sleeping on mattresses under the bridge.  I fall asleep even though their words and pee echo loudly.
The next morning I wake up early and head straight for the laundrymat, visions of scabies burrowing in my head.  Why didn’t I just find a goddamn field to sleep in?  Why did I hang out with those dumb kids?  I guess they weren’t any worse than the adults.
It’s all my friend Abe’s fault.  He made a movie, Max, 13, around here about a bunch of teenagers.  I was paying homage or something.  As I walked out of Petaluma, in the chalky green hills, Abe’s soundtrack (Erik Satie) tinkled in my mind.
But no one would pick me up.  I counted the cars as they passed me.  At 130 cars a lady stopped.  In a van with her kids, smoked and bitter.  She told me everyone is California is an asshole.  She’s going to move to Montana.  “Yeah, I’m sure everyone’s real nice there” I say.  She drops me off and makes the turn to Tomales.
Two minutes later an old man, smack lips and long glare, picks me up.  He’s going to play golf in the fog by Bodega Bay.  As we enter the fog he tells me to stick my arm out the window.  “Feel that?  The temperature just dropped ten degrees.  That’s the Northern California air-conditioner.”
He dropped me off and there I was – the coast. I wish there was more to say.  The seals sounded like they were laughing at me.  They were the hidden soundtrack, I never saw them, only the vultures above waiting for me to die.
I took a shortcut through resort room patios to get to the shore.  I walked in the marsh, in a field of cattails taller than me, till my shoes were soaked.  I squatted there shaking with stimulus and indecision.  The unseen ocean roared.  I took a self-portrait with a disposable camera that I later lost.
I head back to the highway.
I’m at the bottom of a hill.  I watch cars appear and disperse into the mist.  I see a convertible come over the hill.  I know it will stop for me.
“Santa Rosa” we both say.  I hop in.   Red Pontiac 1961.  I’m in the song I heard Jonathon Richman sing the night I left New York.
The driver, Sean, drives off talking; grizzled and hungover, dressed like a cowboy.  I give him Lonesome Dove, it had fallen with me into the East River.
He didn’t have anything to do.  He said, fuck it, he’d take me on a tour of Sonoma County.  Blasting Mariachi music, divining the border between fog and quarry dust.  First stop Occidental.  We ate on a restaurant porch.  He brought out his violin from the car and fiddled me a song, well sung but many sour notes on his instrument.
After lunch a second beer.  He talks about his wife and their upcoming divorce.  I talk about my ex-girlfriend.  We’re both about to cry.  I would have loved to sit and cry on a porch in Occidental about lost women with someone but it wasn’t him, not yet.  In lieu of tears we went to the Russian River for a swim.  Perfect temperature, baby ducks swam around our heads.
He drives me around a bit more, then it’s back to his place.  It’s nine acres of redwood land between Calistoga and Santa Rosa, a log house built around redwoods, four guest houses.  A meadow on top of the hill.  It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen and I don’t mean fancy.  They’d gotten it from a drug dealer on his way to prison.  Nine hundred dollars a month for the guy’s two years in prison.  Then the government appraised it low and they were able to buy it.  He was losing it in the divorce, hence half the tears or so.
“Let me show you my office”, Sean says.  I follow him for a long time into the woods.  His office is a slab of wood laid over a creek with a bed on it.  He fools with the bed and takes his clothes off.  I begin apologizing to my butt.
But he just wants to clean off from the river.  The creek is pristine, the source is on his land with nothing but organic wineries around.  He leaves me there to relax.  There’s a hanging chair and Sixties comics.  It’s over a hundred degrees out but down here it’s like eighty.  I get so relaxed, I guess I’m meditating.
Sean comes and gets me and we take the “smuggler’s road” to Calistoga.  The old and sickly drive their carts through the heat in hope of hotspring salvation.  Sean buys me beer and we drink it to Santa Rosa.  “Have a nice life,” he says as I leave his car.
photo   I hit a string of good bookstores-A Little Original Sin, State of Grace, The Maniac Responsible.
Met up with friend of friend Jason Kelly and local girls at a margarita joint.  He had a brand new cowboy hat, big and white.  We drank into the night and got to know each other.  I slept in Jason’s neighbor’s bed.  She was out of town and I hoped I wasn’t giving her scabies from the night before afterwards.

Next day we bummed around.  I shaved Jason’s head in his backyard as his wolf/dog puppy jumped around eating locks of Jason’s hair as they flew off the clippers.  His new hat didn’t fit as well.
We took a bus down to Oakland drinking two free bottles of wine from his parents’ house.  Too drunk once there, we slept on Jason’s friend’s floor.
Next day wandered and I made it to Tracy’s while no one was home.  Her band was supposed to play the French consulate that night.  I made myself my West Coast King of France crown, cutting and gluing construction paper with visions of drunken, bossy belligerence to froggy diplomats.
Tracy and Eli come home.  She tells me she missed me.  The show at the consulate fell through so I give Eli the crown and let him boss me around.
The next night Zmrzlina play again.  I drank till they ended and it was time to go.  Tracy and I thanked each other.  In the airport I ate three hot dogs in drunken haste, spilling everywhere.
Drunk in my wig, miles in the sky, I’m heading home, back to my troubles.  I did not go blank, I will not stay blank.  But I got some of my faith in myself, my luck, back.  With this I could sleep and stupidly smile.

Sf nite

Last night I walked all over town. In the Excelsior I watched Colombo with a bar full of old men and we all hooted at his brilliance and shushed those who would keep us from hearing it. At a Mexican bar all the lady bartenders had to have a huddle in order to get me a vodka on the rocks.
In the Tenderloin an older lady named Kay Kay bought me two drinks and tried to kiss me. The bartender got both my drink orders wrong. San Francisco I still love you.

Brooklyn Haircut 1998

She broke up with me.

The next day I called in sick.  I walked North.  Ina  back room a Puerto Rican man washed my hair.  I tried to relax.  I held my glasses in my hands.  I wish he would scratch harder.  I wish this would never stop.  I wish he was Jess and she loved me.  I wish I was dead.

He cut my hair two inches.  He brushed it back.  He blew it up.  He held up the back mirror.  “Now, you are looking good”.


Krunke & Book

Martin Krunke and Paul Book, proprietors of a traveling carnival but also the originators of the mysterious spoiler-flip hairstyle popular in the last decade of the 19th century.
They lived like brothers.  They slept in the same room.  They both had the same dream of each running against the wind in some woods of their own conjuring.  After some time they would reach an abandoned cabin.  The first thing they do is light a candle and check their appearance in the bathroom mirror.  Their hair, usually sculpted into a crisp brim, had flipped up from the running and the wind to for a tiny wall of hair on the top of their forehead.  They woke up panting.  They finally realized how innovatively handsome they could be.
Everyone that saw it was affected by their new hair.  As the carnival reached a new town they supervised as usual but once they were open for business the two friends would wait until the peak crowd would arrive.  In their identical European suits they would wander amongst the crowd separately, smiling, two gentlemen-the future.  After making the rounds of the grounds they would meet in the central square, nod at each other and say “Nice hair” while beaming.
They never spoke of it but each of them imagined leaving a wake of spoiler flips, as they came to call it, in their path.  They imagined a town full of men running to their mirrors and coming up with a way to look as sharp as those two fellows at the fair.
They were right but it wasn’t as conscious as that.  Men just tugged their hair higher each day.  A photograph of an average man’s profile everyday for two weeks after the Krunke & Book Carnival left would reveal the front end of the hairdo rising slightly like half of a drawbridge.
Another dream ended it.  A celebrated strong man, both fists wrapped in the thinnest of gold, below him a young girl drowned in an inch of water.  The man stood motionless.  They awoke at the same time.  “He hates her, she has betrayed him.  Murder!” Krunke said.
“He is mesmerized by the fragility of life, despite his love” Book said at exactly the same moment.  Shocked they stared at each other in the moonlight through the window of their sleeping cabin.
The mirror shattered, the symmetry they had based their lives on was less than complete and rendered it to them completely invalid.  Within minutes they got up and left-one North, one South.
They both died alone, but honestly so (they honestly believed).  They never stopped sharing dreams, each morning waking up to a partnerless argument.

Absolute Napoleon

Sixty-eight thousand
How much steam we talking about here?
Absolute Napoleon
X-rays and all
Wooden hand cackle
Thump thump
Against the castle walls

Curie Son

     She never glowed.  I always have to explain this to people.  She worked, she loved, she died.  She was gray the whole time.  But even I checked for luminescence, after we knew about her “radiation poisoning”.  I would be up late at night, as children of doomed mothers often are, and I would walk to their bedroom to peak in.  There was no glow.
     Once I caught them making love, two esteemed scientists struggling with their work.  I could feel the equations of pleasure, pressure, limited time and loss.  She was crying.  She stroked his face.  She wished for uniform flesh instead of his beard.  I remember they were wearing glasses.  I think he worked it right.  She began to moan, but she never glowed.
     She was cold, she was gray but I never held it against her.  She was a scientist, she was as loving a mother as she could be.

Joy Williams

I was a dishwasher working and dating a waitress at a restaurant in Kansas and she gave me three gifts: Mavis Gallant, Amy Hempel, and Joy Williams.  I had never heard of any of them before.  Hempel and Gallant have made my life a better one, however Joy Williams has for thirteen years has become my paragon, my obscure gift to share. 

              It’s difficult to describe what her books are about.  She recreates the detail oriented distraction of her somnambulant heroines and heroes so well that it is a deeply compelling blur to the reader as well.  Her works are marvels either line by line or taken as a whole.    

              Her characters paint elaborate, powerfully emotional still lives of the world around them-what we take for granted framed artfully.  Her characters have an exalted mastery of composition.  The details frozen before the swoon.  The big things, the people and unseen forces in their, our, lives are so unknowable that we have to cling to these details or have nothing else to hold on to.     


              Here there is not even wind.  There is scarcely any air at all in these woods where Grady and I live.  There is no wind or sound and nothing moves.  My boy husband lies flat and prim beneath the sheets.  He looks two-dimensional.  When he opens his eyes, I may find they are painted on his head.  Perhaps I can dress him myself, cutting out paper trousers, shirt and Levi jacket, bending the cardboard tabs to pass and cling to his ankles, hips, waist and shoulders.  Perhaps I can press some tea down his throat or drive to the coast and place him in the sun.  I don’t care to watch him sleeping and always leave the room immediately.  It confuses me, his lying there, his mouth dry at the corners, foam from a punctured pillow gathered round his damp cheek.

              Time does not move here.  I do not change.  Only the baby changes.  I want to be rid of them all.  I want to be rid of this terrible imposition of recall.

              One wants and wants . . . I used to lie constantly, but now, I assure you, I’ve stopped.


She has written four novels, three collections of short stories, a book of essays, and a spectacular travel and history guide to the Florida Keys.  I was first given State of Grace by the waitress and it was a defining moment in my life, like a moment out of one of Williams’ books.  I was just out of college and somewhat mindlessly coasting.  A humid summer, working 60 hours a week at multiple jobs and little hope had knocked me for a loop.  This book was a revival.  This book changed the way I see things, even to this day.  It changed what a word, a sentence, could be.  I wrote too, or at least I thought I did, and it gave me something to strive for like nothing else has.

Because of this, I look for, buy, and give away State of Grace to promising people I come across along the way.  I’ve given away over twenty copies in the past 13 years.  It was one of my first librarian acts.  The book is a story of a college age woman who flees her incestuous preacher father, and finds herself in Williams’ Florida as a sorority girl and, later, a young wife living in a trailer.  An amazing car-crash is the lynchpin of the story.  “What?” and then “Wow”, I said aloud as I read the passage four times in a row. 

I give the book as a gift and it is a test.  Friendships and loves have continued after a negative reaction to this book, but they have not passed the litmus test nor the test of time.  Yet I can understand not liking her, often I am scared to read her myself.  It can be a lot to take in, to behold. 

From State of Grace I moved on to Breaking and Entering, Taking Care, and Escapes-reading them all over and over.  However, the missing Holy Grail was her second novel, The Changeling, which had only had one printing after reviews as devastating as the ones for State of Grace were rapturous.  I had only read excerpts of the terrible reviews and from them I could tell that this book would be right up my alley.  I searched for four years (pre-Internet book dealers, at least as far as I knew) to find this book, scouring bookstores and coming up with only copies of her other books to give away instead.   Finally, my friend Johnny, a librarian at the Queens Borough Public Library, found me a copy weeded from their collection. 

I had a weekday off when I first got it and I had little money and, perhaps out of fear of what I was getting into, I wanted to get high.  I drank a bottle of Robotussin and went from my home in Brooklyn to the city.  I went to a Francis Bacon show in Soho and boarded a ferry to Hoboken.  I remember being on the ferry and opening the book and being grabbed and throttled.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten high.  It was overwhelming.                        It was the release day for Bruce Springsteen’s box-set of b-sides and outtakes.  I like the Boss okay but these seemed like the real dregs to my cough syrup ears.  In Hoboken, every bar I went into was playing these aborted attempts of New Jersey transcendence as I read The Changeling.  I alternated between the book and my own notebook as I furiously wrote a Joy Williams knock off, a fist person story of a pregnant woman.  Reading Joy I felt like I could know what this was like-what it was to be truly possessed.  It was passages like this that made me think such a thing:

This house was her home.  It seemed improbable even after all these years.  But it was the only one she had unless she could consider her body her home, a disheartening thought-this shabby tower of bones and waters in which she more or less permanently resided, a lonely place and yet one always occupied to say nothing of visited continuously, shared with guests and occupied by travelers, full of tumult and disturbance and greed and sharing.  Some visitors lingering only briefly, others staying a long, long time; one guest being fantastic, another quite dull.  Prudes and incontinents, mommies and murders, philosophers and mice.  The body the home.  One could entertain almost any notion there.  Poor dump. 


Visiting Austin, Texas from New York my best friend, Sara Kitchen, woke me up and asked if I wanted to go get free matching tattoos.  Her friend was an apprentice.  I had just loaned Sara my copy of  The Changeling.  We walked downtown and took turns laying down and reading The Changeling while we got rabbits tattooed on our asses.

I told Joy Williams this story when I finally met her.  At a Paris Review reading in Manhattan she read and was introduced by George Plimpton.  Afterwards, I stood in line waiting for the signing and found myself amongst other Joy Williams fans.  I had thought I was the only one.  We got giddy and talked about how great The Changeling is and how we had managed to track down a copy.  The line for George Plimpton was empty and he held up his new book to us and said “Capote, get your Capote signed”. 

I gave her some of my writing as I stutter-babbled on nervously to her.  A month later she sent me a nice postcard that I cherish.

Again in New York I found myself with time off and little money so I bought a cheap flight to Tampa and hitchhiked down to Key West.  She lived there part of the year and I had managed to get her address.  I left her a note and never got a reply.  I heard later that she was out of town.  So I spent the rest of the time walking around her world, drinking it in.  Drinking too much and having strange, haunting conversations with strangers.  Running from racists that I didn’t want to hear anymore, I stumbled upon a gospel service on a Friday night and sat on the curb and listened to it while the lizards ran over the street.  Going from ocean to gin and back again.  I should have brought a radio.  But it wasn’t her world anymore, when I met her again she said the Key West she had loved was over.  But it was real enough for me for that week.

I later went to Tucson, where she lives the rest of the year, to visit a friend on my 30th birthday.  I found Joy in the phone book but chose to leave her alone. 

The turn of the century proved productive for Joy as she published three books in three years (The Quick and the Dead, a novel, Ill Nature, a collection of essays about the relationship between humanity and nature, and Honored Guest, a book of short stories) after more than a ten year absence.  Many new people have been introduced to her work, her world, and, apparently, gone looking back for more.  I still look, but I haven’t found a State of Grace in years.  I don’t have anything to give anyone anymore.  I love other authors too, but nothing like this.    

A couple of years ago when her last book of stories, Honored Guest, came out I was visiting Sara again in Austin.  Joy was reading at a Barnes and Noble in the strip-mall outskirts of town.  Sara, her boyfriend John and I were the only ones there besides the overenthusiastic store lady and Joy.  Joy read and we were able to speak with her for quite a while.  She didn’t remember me and I didn’t remind her.  I had found a copy of State of Grace to give to my roommate and had her sign it.  She asked if I had a hardcover copy of it and I said I didn’t.  She was going back to Florida to vote and she would send me a copy.  After Thanksgiving I had almost lost hope in her, but then one day in the mail I got it.  I got back what I had been giving to everyone else.