Blind And Dirty
And as we went up into the mountains we met a blind man.
Where are you going, my friends? he asked.
Into the regions of the mysteries, I answered.
One Thanksgiving I spent in the jail.
I was then in the pharmaceutical trade. There were apparently laws governing my trade. And I had transgressed them.
In the jail I learned to eat everything on my plate.
My parents for more than a decade had tried everything up to and including holding me down and forcibly shoving pudding past my lips, to get me to eat everything on my plate. Always I had resisted.
By day three in the jail, I was avidly eating whatever they gave me.
It's not like I was underfed. It was more that I had no control over what or when or how I was fed.
It just came to me, the food. On a plate. When the people with the keys decided to feed me. If they decided not to feed me, I would starve. Because I was in a cage. I could not get out. I was wholly dependent. On the people with the keys. Who brought the daily bread.
I ate what they gave me.
And then, like Les McCann, I hummed.
Food had never been, and never has been since, so magical. I can, to this day, thirty years on, picture every meal, slid to me through the bars, in that jail. I was absolutely at the mercy of the people with the keys. Who slid the food in to me. When they did so decree.
And on Thanksgiving, they tried to do their best. But they could not. There came turkey and mashed potatoes and yams and rolls and cranberry sauce. I had never before eaten a yam. I had always believed yams were creatures not actually of this earth. And I had resolved not to eat extraterrestrial foodstuffs. But in the jail: I ate yams. I ate everything. Whatever was on the plate, I ate it. Maybe if there had been something wholly beyond the pale—something like mayonnaise—I might have eschewed. But I never eschewed. I chewed.
They tried to give us Thanskgiving. The keepers of the keys. They were not bad sorts—so long as you are the sort who earns your crust in the business of keeping human beings in cages.
But you just can't have Thanksgiving. Or any other thanks, or giving, or even dirt-dull normal day, so long as you're in a cage.
The basis of a jail is that you have no control. You are in a cage. And you stay there. People with keys decide if and when you can come out. Mostly you can't come out unless someone out in what you soon, there in the cage, begin to think of as "the world," comes up with what is basically a bribe to the court that is called "bail." If outside people can't come up with this bribe, you stay in the cage.
If you stay in the cage, the key-people then decide what you eat, and when you eat.
Because there is no way to really clean yourself in your cage, the people with the keys also decide if and when you can come out for a shower. Generally, if you've been Good: once a week, for ten minutes.
The people with the keys additionally decide if you can come out to look at a corner of the actual physical world, the one with the air and the sun and the birds in it: perceived through barbed wire, just a glint of it, at the far top of a narrow yard. Generally, if you've been Good: once a week, for ten minutes.
But if it rains, you stay in the cage. No outside for you.
Too, in the cage they nightly shut your mouth & all else at a certain hour, because they've decreed you need then to go to sleep—though the lights then are only dimmed, never darkened. Some hours later, they flood the place with the sickest strong unreal light, to wake you up. If you're like me, you're lucky, because you have a bodhisattva fellow the next cell over—a person who, because of the cage, you've never seen, and never will see—who each wake-up gently, kindly, says: "wake up, and do your time."
In the cage, the one thing you can do is stay in your mind. This can be a good thing. Or; not.
When I was in the cage, you could also smoke cigarettes. I can't imagine what it's like now, when you can't do even that.
There isn't really anything like being in a cage.
And it doesn't leave you.
Twenty years on, I was in a room in my house, and I went to get out, and the door stuck. Nobody else was at home. I could have further fiddled with the fudged-up door, or fairly effortlessly climbed out a window onto a laundry-porch roof, and from there easily ascended to the ground. Instead, the adrenaline instantly, insanely, spiked, to mad and crazed and panicked and blind, and I kicked the shit out of it. The door. Splintered it into nothingness. To get out.
The first time I went into a cage was because I softly blew a kazoo while seated on the winding circular stairs between the first and second floors of a university administration building. I had not realized this was a Crime. When once my "case" reached a judge, she too decided there was no Crime.
But that was later. For what is a Crime is always first determined by a police officer. Who is a very strange and sad sort of human. A police officer is a person who voluntarily signs up for a job that involves every working day endeavoring to put human beings in cages. There is something deeply wrong with any such person. What kind of terminally psychologically ill human would want to work all day and all of the night shoving other human beings into a cage? These beings must first of all be pitied. All of them should be relieved of their duties at once, be then given Treatment, and, probably, Medicine.
Three of us were put in the cage for the kazoo criminality.
I went into the communal cage with Dale. He was a Marxist. And so perhaps had dreamed of someday going into a cage for something Worthy, like tossing a spanner into the works. But now he was caged as an accessory to criminal kazoo-blowing.
Dale was nervous; he knew, there in the cell, that he was among the proletariart; but they did not seem to be people like he. Before Dale could have a full-on asthma attack, one of the proletariat politely inquiring as to why we were with them, there in the jug, and Dale baldly confessed the kazoo criminality. At which point we became the full-on favorites of everyone on the block. No one could believe the State—which all among them knew capable of anything—could have descended to such absurdity. Locking people up for blowing a kazoo. All these people who had been accused of actual real crimes—burglary, assault, mayhem, the like—adopted us wholly.
They then proceeded to teach Dale the card game of spades. Dale at first was hesitant: a card game seemed too much like fun, and he Knew from Marxism that fun was frivolous, and therefore Wrong, and should be eschewed.
(Dale had many a night tried to explain to me Marxism, but there seemed to be money involved, and I already knew money didn't exist, and so I tended to nod off, even when there wasn't any opium-hash.)
Dale now proved to be a natural master of spades. Our cellmates were delighted, that this complete geek had instantenously evinced the instincts of a card-sharp. Dale, he was actually dejected, when the key-people came to say we were being let out into free air.
The third person put in the cage for conspiracy to kazoo was the witch.
She lived in the same house as did Dale and I. Dale had a wife, and the two of them were the actual renters, who dealt with the Normal who owned the house. The witch lived in an upstairs bedroom; the other upstairs bedroom was a stop on the Underground Railroad, through which various fugitives passed through on their way to the southland. I lived in the basement, which was like something out of the prison in The Count of Monte Cristo, and in which I contracted tuberculosis, black lung disease, and various other maladies not yet known to Science.
The household survived on truly putrid communal soups concoted by Dale's wife, who could not cook; no one really knew about food in those days. Between meals, I munched "survival crackers," which we stole from various nuke-bomb survival shelters around town; these crackers had been stashed there and forgotten ten or twenty years before. They always tasted fresh enough, which in retrospect I find alarming, and so to this day I periodically examine myself in the mirror, to see if I have begun glowing in the dark.
Anyway, the witch divined people's destinies with Tarot cards, and smoked long cigarettes and drank strong whiskeys. In the course of things, she and I came to convene sexual congress. One night Dale wanted she and I to go out and celebrate with him what he called "the rise of Saigon," which was his term for the North Vietnamese at last prevailing in what the nation of Vietnam calls "the American war."
The witch and I were not much interested, because we were anarchists, and libertines, and we knew that the Vietnamese that would that night be celebrating their new boss, would soon enough be experiencing the old boss, and besides we were all aroil in psilocybin. But we nonetheless went out and began the beguine with Dale, because he was a nice guy, and that night he was happy, and so it was good to be happy with him.
Not many years on, Dale was a husk. He'd traveled down to UC Davis to major in some Science Man thing, and thereby erased his brain. Some chemicals in some experiment smoked into him and did therein the real dirty, cooked his cerebrum, convincing him he was a completely different person, who had been a secret stab-and-shoot special-forces killer. He became adament his "real" name was some endless unpronounceable thing that I cannot recall because it was worse than Polish, or even Welsh. He had a Paper that was the response from some governmental agency to which he had written demanding the records concerning his delusional personality, and the Paper said the agency could find no such records. He would flourish this Paper as "proof" that all his delusions were True. In this he was like any CT person; anything will do.
The first time I saw this Paper was when I was waiting as a journalist for Jerry Brown to come into a small senior citizen's center to there beg for votes for him to be a US Senator.
I was feeling bad for the fellow, Mr. Brown, because I had gotten to know him, some, while he was governor, and I knew him to be a non-ordinary human, who had no business being in politics; he was there only because his dad had been; and in this senatorial contest he was about to get his ass whipped.
Humans the world over, today, have absolutely not moved beyond the days of the sun king, when some goober would be appointed the be-all and end-all of the tribe, for one bright shining year, at the end of which he would be killed and turned under the ground in hopes from his blood and bones the crops would grow.
This same shit goes on now, where whoever, wherever, is elevated to the top office, with everybody bowing and scraping believing s/he will be the Wonderment, then only a couple years later those very same supporters not able to stand the sight of him.
This is where Brown was, as he was coming into the senior-citizen's center, doomed to be defeated by a thing called Pete Wilson, who would go to Washington DC as California's senator, and not he.
What most occupied my attention that day is that Bob M----, Brown's campaign guru, had allowed what was clearly an insane man, my old friend Dale, to come into the room where Jerry would soon be coming. Dale darkly mumbling about his Rambo-esque adventures, while holding in his shaking hands the sainted Paper that proved he was a delusion. Had Bob not heard of Taxi Driver? What if Dale ran amok?
A couple more years around Bob, and I figured it out.
Bob went from Indiana: into the Vietnam War: because John Wayne.
In country, all his senses immediately ramped up to to warp nine. Then he got shot to shit. In all those years in the hospital, he moved from reading people, as he had in country, to reading books. He understood how he had come to be where he was. He had meanwhile learned—first-hand, up close and personal—who was a killer, and who was not.
Dale was crazy, a sadsack, but no more threat to Jerry Brown than a snail. A hundred Dales, Bob might surround around Brown, without a threat. And at least a hundred Dales, Bob, to my knowledge, has tried to see through. To this day, Bob gathers round him the bungled and the botched. He is bodhissattva. Convinced the UN to direct big money to a guy in Cambodia working in a little shattered shack who builds prosthetic limbs for those whose lives have been destroyed by mines laid by China, Russia, the United States.
He's now for Hillary Clinton, Bob is. Am I going to thereby say he is a fuckwad? No. I am not.
I was first paid to be a journalist when I was sixteen years old. And I will tell you this. A journalist's job is to find out who someone is.
And if you manage to witch that, your obligation then, as a human being, is to lay down your pen. And write nothing.
Wednesday night I'm on the bus. Two rows up is a wharf rat. Not just a mere drunk, a sot, a tosspot, a heaver, an embarrassing stumbling drunken shredding-of-pieces of human.
A wharf rat.
Actual wharf rats are rare. Especially where I live. Which is about 150 miles from the nearest wharf. I've been riding the bus for four years now, and this is the first wharf rat whose bus I've shared.
The wharf rat is completely gone on alcohol. His eyes are slits. There is a nose, but otherwise the face is scars. Ecxept for, down below, a jaw, which works up and out, up and out, extending, when out, far farther than it seems possible to extend. I'm feeling that when it extends, it's to try to keep the vomit in.
I have been there. I have been there. Trying to keep the vomit in.
He's wearing a knit cap, and he pats it down on occasion, with hands that are just . . . black.
He is mumbling. I can't understand it yet. He is mumbling. I can't understand it yet. I can smell him. I can smell him. I know this: he drinks. And he drinks. And he drinks. And that's all he does. He drinks.
When I first get on the bus I hear him talking, and of course these days I assume he's talking into a cell-phone, but he's not, because he has no phone, and no one to talk to, except to whoever's he's addressing from deep, deep drunkenness. He has from years drunk his voice into that deep ruined place that is the voice of below the ravagedness of Tom Waits.
I am on the bus with a corpse. He just happens now to be alive.
As the bus bumps up the hill, he is mumbling things no one can understand, but periodically I hear him say "alright! alright!" in this really happy, cheery, vomitious way. Which is doubly unnerving for me, because I have a bird who says the same thing. When, like this wharf rat, she is trying, yearning, to communicate in the realm of the humans.
This is his refrain—"alright! alright!"—but he is meantime addressing all and every devil, and this requires him to pronounce, on occasion, "fuckin'" this, and "fuckin'" that.
Which causes the 400-pound diabetic obese woman strapped into the wheelchair cripple seat just ahead of him to have a prune-face and complain to the driver. About the wharf rat's "language."
One of the rules of the bus is you are not supposed to swear. Various drivers have various applications of this rule, but this particular driver, though a really nice guy, I think might be some sort of Christian, or maybe even a virgin, and so he really has a Frown if there is swearing on his bus, especially if some woman complains, even if it is hard to ascertain that the complainer is an actual woman, encased as she is in 400 pounds of fat. The driver, loyally defending this alleged-feminine 900 pounds of blubber, vows that if the wharf rat "fucks" again, he will be heaved off the bus.
We get into town and the wharf rat has a brief moment of shared-with-us consicousness, in which he realizes we are in a town 20 miles from the town he had hoped to be in. But—"alright! alright!"—he is cheery. He says he can be dropped off at the intersection of C--- and P---. A woman, he says, will meet him there. Then he returns to his mumbling. Amidst it he says, "i'm just really fucked up." He therein is trying to apologize. But the driver just hears the "fuck." And stops the bus. In the middle of nowhere. Where the wharf rat will freeze—it is 30 degrees—or go to the jail.
The driver, conveyance stopped, turns and faces the wharf rat.
"You have to get off," he says.
The wharf rat is uncomprehending. He believes the driver to be his friend, who is going to drop him at the intersection of C---- and P----, where he will meet up with his woman, who is then even awaiting him, and all will be alright. "Alright! Alright!"
"C'mon," says the driver," you have to get off."
Generally, I do not get involved in the lives of bus people. Such could quickly become a full-time job. And I am currently a zookeeper. And thus have no time for bus people.
But then, to my complete surprise, I hear myself say: "he's just really drunk."
"I know," said the driver, "but he woudn't watch his language."
"The last time," I said, "he said, 'I'm just really fucked up.' He was trying to apologize."
The driver nodded, and went back to his seat, and said he would proceed on.
"Alright! Alright!" said the wharf rat.
A wharf rat is a special being, a dark star, a holy fool. And if you got no dime, and got no time, to hear his story, it is incumbent upon you to do something, for the fellow.
Eventually, the whole bus understood this.
And so, in the end, all of us, united with him, there on the bus, we idled, thirty minutes, there at the intersection of C---- and P----, where he swore she would, he knew she would, be true to him.
"Alright! Alright!" he said, many, many, many, many, times.
Before finally she weaved in out of the fog. And then they weaved off together.