Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23rd, 2009: Middle Street, Portland, ME

On the sidewalk passing by, the bald fellow speaking to his female companion: "Because you're not really who you are."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

February 2, 2009: Between Cabrillo and Balboa, San Franciso, CA

He jogged from house to house attaching menus for a local pizza restaurant on to each door handle with a snap of a rubber band. It took him less than three seconds to advertise pizzas (with such cryptic names as "Green & White Tandoori " and "White Sauce Special"), more or less continuing his jog, never missing a beat.

I walked my usual gait alongside him for nearly ten blocks, trying to discern his age (graying and saggy, though with a glow) and his nationality (certainly Eastern European, uncertainly Polish). He wore a matching track jacket and pants, red with yellow and white stripes down the sides, which could be the colors for some formerly Communist country, but I couldn't say whose. On his shoulder he carried a small nylon bag with the same colors, most likely filled with innumerable menus like the stack he held in his hand.

At first, it seemed as if he was running in slow motion, so purposeful were his movements. But then I realized after a few blocks that his pace quickened. A thin film of sweat formed on his brow and his thinning hair flopped and fell to one side of his head or the other.

I picked up my pace too. We were racing down the block, although I don't know if he knew it. He certainly heard the click of my boot heels, but he choose instead to look straight ahead of him, at the next door to overcome.

At last we reached a point where he turned a corner and I continued on. He finally acknowledged me, smiling broadly, his wrinkles forming in the corners of his eyes.

"There's always one more door!" he said, running away from me. "There are doors everywhere in this city!"

"It's a good job to get a run in, isn't it?" I said.

"I'm always running!" he yelled. "Always!"

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January 25th, 2009: Some house in the East End, Portland, ME

Four or five punk chicks with ripped-up leather skirts and jackets, with chrome-studded lips and distinctly-dyed hair, sit in a clutch sniffing mittens--honest-to-God mittens--on some house-show living room couch, noses to the wool and rabbit-eyed when we catch them in the act.

June 29th, 2007: Strange Maine, Portland, ME

The awkward loudness of his voice—the lank, sweaty hair in his eyes—his laughter like a bucket kicked down the stairs—his seemingly unstoppable ability to lead all threads of conversation back to Star Trek or things of its ilk—his flinching eyes—his obvious discomfort among strangers—his obvious discomfort among friends—his stutter and his shakes: all of it melts away when he steps up with his guitar and his pre-recorded backing band, when the electronic kick-drum starts pounding in double time, when he glares down at the strings of his axe and starts to fucking shred man, huge theatrical riffs that make Iron Maiden and Savatage look like a bunch of melodramatic sissies plinking second-hand Fenders in some dad’s garage, and when he finally looks up to make unwavering eye-contact with all eight or so of us and sings straight and unadorned stories that remind us again why dragons have been and always will be awesome, it becomes clear that this kid’s in his element, that this is the only place he can be himself—with these songs, with these licks—this is the only way he can look anyone in the eye, that this is his only chance to be free.

This is his only chance to be free. He knows this. He rides that horse until its legs are bloody stumps.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cielo. (english= sky, heaven)

Personality type: generous, pedagogical
Age: middle
Nationality: Dominican-New Yorker
Accent: Italian
Praxis: sales
M├ętier: showmanship
Joie de Vivre: visible
Catch phrase: "Roll Tide!" in deep baritone

This cosmic Paisano gave everyone behind the counter at Murray's cheese in New York a bottle of red wine for Christmas 2008. No other gifts were potlatched with such devil-may-care largesse, perhaps not anywhere along Bleecker St or the whole of Greenwich Village for that matter. As John Henry was to the steam-powered hammer, so is Cielo to the laser barcode-reader; his instant recall for thousands of cheeses and their associated PLU codes is becoming the basis for a growing body of soul-stirring urban folklore. After fifteen years of cheesemongering, he harvests 80 lb. wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano with a sickle that Death himself would envy, and wrangles bone-crushing Provolone torpedos with greater skill than Buffalo Bill. We're talking nuclear-age retail cheese cowboy. The Horatio Alger of cheese, complete with self-mythologizing aspects. Glittering grandpa eyes behind nerd spectacles, pug nose, and big round cheeks strangely evocative of William Carlos Williams' famous plums. Occasionally he wears a large medal he won at the 2008 Caseus awards in Lyon (aka, The Cheese Olympics) for mowing through a wheel of Parm in about four seconds. Inexplicably a serious fan of Alabama Crimson Tide football (see above). Otherwise endearingly soft-spoken.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

November 15, 2008: Richmond Bound BART, San Francisco, CA

On the way over to Berkeley to see a dance performance I don't want to see, she and I have a quiet discussion about what's pissing me off while she sits on my lap with her wild blue dress and pink little shoes. The discussion abruptly ends when a handsome, solid black man sits down next to us. We don't necessarily want to air out our dirty laundry for him, after all.

After a few moments of taking us in, he says, "I hate to say this, but y'all look like something out of a movie."

I ask what kind of movie and he says, " You know, the romantic kind."

He points at her. "She like Greta Garbo and shit."

He points at me. "And you're like the guy with the big ears. Whassis name?"

We think about it. "Clark Gable?" she asks.

"Yeah, that's it. The way you're sitting on his lap? That's sexy as hell."

She and I smile at each other, reveling in our public sexiness.

"Point is," he says, "y'all are doin' it right. You're keepin' it real pretty."

He tells us that he had to be tougher than he wanted to be, growing up in Oakland, that he was a thug when he wanted to be a lover, that he let too many good women go because he felt obligated to be that kind of man.

"But," he says, "I learned that you got to be keepin' it pretty with that good woman, more than anything. It doesn't matter if you've got that cash or you're funny as hell or you're that incorrigible sonofabitch that some ladies love. Give her those presents and the massages, rub her feet with the oils and the cocoa butter if she wants it."

I nod, understanding that it has to be that way and not the way of five minutes earlier, where I complain about something not worth complaining about and we sit in strange silence for a half an hour train ride. He looks at me with pleading eyes, knowing I understand.

"This is my stop," he says at 12th Street. We shake hands, Michael St. Clair and I. She and I made up his name because he never told it to us.

"I like you man," he says. "You've got a good thing. You keep it pretty!"

And I have.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 18th, 2009: Middle Street, Portland, ME

Outside the Nickelodeon theater, a man stopped me to talk about my beard.

"Nice beard, man. Good one."

"Thank you." Over a foot of snow had just fallen and was still falling and none of the passing plows seemed to have their blades down. I could feel a stiff white rime of breath collecting around my mouth. It was going to be a long walk home.

He looked young but like he'd earned each of his years the hard way, and his grey jacket and hat looked worn and dirty. I wondered if he might be a street person. But then again, he might have wondered the same about me. My jacket was worn and dirty, too.

After muttering some things I didn't quite understand, he said, "I'm trying to grow mine out, too," and stroked his own cheeks, which looked bare and freshly-shaven and raw from the blustering wind. Then he patted the crook of his elbow. "I'm growing my beard from my arm."

I thought it might be a joke, that he might be holding a bottle there. "Okay." But he wasn't holding anything.

"But no dreads this time." He wasn't kidding about this: "They don't keep you warm for shit."

Do you know what people mean when they say "a thousand mile stare"? I didn't before. Now I do.

"Well," I said, watching him stroke his elbow, "good luck with that, man."

"Hey, thanks!" And he seemed genuinely glad to have my well-wishing as the snow drifted and spun and we each went our separate ways.