11 September 2012
Out Walking #3
Out walking this time of night means I'm not in Seattle anymore. Though I've just seen Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers, the venue is not Tractor Tavern in the formerly autonomous township of Ballard, WA. I've left the Starry Plough which is, from the name down, just about Berkeley enough for me. There's about a quarter as many people in the place as there were for an open mic I attended last winter, which devolved into a regrettable level of hipsterism. Impersonating gifted singer/songwriters is apparently more appealing than listening to gifted singer/songwriters.
I keep Zoe in mind, the motivation for staying out so far past my bedtime. She looked much the same as she did when last I saw her, shrugging off a flannel jacket, her Danskos moving in time with the bass (it's possible I'm being harsh, they might have been cloggy boots).
I've Instagramed her for more orange, a color of romance since Fish Tank, one that follows me down the sodium lamplight on Telegraph. In her finest moment onstage Zoe sang "Before the Night Is Gone" in a hush not completely undone by the chatter of onlookers. I'll follow her advice here to stay inside the lines and mind the sideways wind.
For moral support I compelled my roommate to attend the show with me. With the infallible buddy system we wouldn't have any unplanned incidents with one or two of the late night hijackers whose robberies and home invasions have put Rockridge on edge. Or as on edge as you get in the least edgy Oakland neighborhood. My roommate suggested I might wear a jacket with shoulder pads, to cut a more intimidating silhouette. I scoffed and said I'd bring my Glock (har har har), as if the way my extra small, slim fit dress shirt threatened to rend at the seams over my thick trapezius muscles wasn't intimidating enough. Even besides her roughneck sartorial suggestions, her insights were invaluable. She sweetly pointed out that when I described the Lost High Roller playing the fiddle I meant to say the Lost High Roller playing the mandolin.
My Raskolnikov coat does not (yet) exist and the roommate had to leave early, so I'm swiveling my way home alone. I try to focus on the recurrences and rhymes that please me on the near empty streets. That dirty and American grill smoke fading into the smell of that potent Ethiopian bread (its name an arrangement of consonants I'm always uncomfortable pronouncing). The discarded foil of single serving pseudophedrine and the steel of razor blades.
I like to believe that my life is not completely run by fear and anxiety. So I revert to childhood.
I remember the temporally-appropriate Patsy Cline "Walking After Midnight" commercial. Alex Mack (well, Larisa Oleynick), at the apex of adorable girl-next-door-ness, has a then revelatory but now quaint "AT&T WorldNet" online flirtation with her fluffy-haired boyfriend. The ad reveals just how laborious sexting would have been in '97, given the need to scan in pictures and the swaths of baggy clothes everyone was wearing (such distance in volume and connotation from the PINK sleepwear preferred by present-day maidens). Sadly, Oleynick's recent life has been touched by tragedy--she will next appear in Atlas Shrugged: Part II.
This evening strikes me as close to the redheaded night in Julio Cortazar's formulation From the Observatory. A strawberry-blonde night at least. Immaculate slabs of the prose poem wander through my mind. I wonder whether the swirl of stars is likewise invisible in Jaipur, sunk in summer cloudcover and city lights.
For months that sea foam Archipelago book has been on my bedside table underneath Swann's Way, which I keep close for when I need to reach over for the word. I'm crossing the sidewalk adjacent to St. Augustine Church, frequently tagged and repainted beige in unevenly sun-lightened sections. An excuse to say the word palimpsest. Now there are fresh tendrils of hot pink spray paint on the playground wall like Proust's violet-cheeked fuchsias pressed against Combray's blackened churchfront. Made holy or not?
In Seattle I would have driven this mile home, at a time of night that required many circuits of tiny roundabouts in search of a parking place. To the denizens of the weekly (and hourly) motels a couple of blocks from my place, this circling movement also resembled the desire for late night companionship.
One confused midnight I found myself pursued by a woman, platinum-haired with inch-long roots, her heels clicking like press-on nails over Formica. It was not until she pushed her face meth-disheveled face into my passenger side window that it occurred to me she was a prostitute. And did I want a date?
No, sorry, that's not what I want, no. Though a parking spot would be useful.
The saddest thing about the incident was that she was wearing eyeglasses. Most of the places she would have stayed are gone now, or were gone by the time I was.
That woman's face was like something I'd find in Cindy Sherman's SFMOMA retrospective. Her near-life-sized portraits satirizing reality television--the housewives and mob wives and hoarders and fiends--all seem redundant. The show suffers terribly in comparison to the brilliant one it followed, by Francesca Woodman. Both photographers are relentlessly their own subjects but where Sherman comes forward in caricature against K-Mart backdrops, Woodman recedes into her surroundings: the cabinetry, the wallpaper, the trees.
Sherman is nevertheless worthwhile for the uncanny resemblances in her Untitled Film Stills series, where she is perfectly Monica Vitti or Janet Leigh. Or Ari Graynor in the trailer For a Good Time Call....
I need an iteration of myself as a trenchcoated Bogart, a small man puffed like the black lizard on the spine of those noir paperbacks. Thieves are unlikely to be intimidated by the small "Imported from Detroit" logo on my sweatshirt (my murder mitten t-shirt was in the wash).
I'm thinking I'm almost home and I wish Zoe had played "Starlight Hotel" and I'd heard my favorite of all her lyrics "you turned my heart a lighter shade of blue" when some distance down Alcatraz I spy what, in post-race Rockridge, Oakland, CA, would be described as two "young males in hoodies," the description given for the gentlemen stealing cell phones out of strollers and holding up au pairs on their way home from BART.
I do not have the trenchcoat with shoulder pads or the Glock or the ease of a local. I have only a burst of adrenaline and what my father describes as congenital chicken legs.
I've been highly amused by the Olympian controversy over racewalking. High speed cameras see what the eye cannot--top walkers do in fact lift both feet off the ground for milliseconds, though it's against the rules. I wonder how fast I can move without appearing to run. Probably not as fast as I'm going.