in my boots
I’m brought closer
to the ground
I found a tiny, dark, subterranean garret for $125 a month on Vallejo near Webster on a hill in Pacific Heights. I was on the bottom of a four-story Victorian, whose landlady was Roselee, a Jewess married to a prominent Jewish lawyer—liberal Democrats involved in city politics and owners of 49er season tickets. They lived on the first and second floors above me, rented out the other two floors. Right off, Roselee, a tiny woman with big brown intense eyes, was pressing me to find a job, recommending sales since I evidently appeared clean-cut and impressed her as a normal young veteran on the right path to a future of structure and success.
My priorities were finding a good watering hole, a woman, and a job, in that order, since I did have what I assumed was a three-month nest egg. Early on, I patrolled Pacific Heights, hitting the Bus Stop—its clientele consisted of smooth, elegant men from the financial section in vested suits and handsome women in pants suits; the Marina Lounge—an “IN” crowd of fluff and enamel, huddled together laughing joyously while sneaking looks at my shaggy ass; the Horse Shoe, a step below but almost as snotty as the Marina Lounge; and Danny’s, a hallway-sized, hole-in-the-wall, just dark enough, with a pool table; not a pickup bar, but a hive of friendly cab drivers, longshoremen, school teachers, mailmen, hardhats and a scattering of amiable, used women older than me. The owner, Danny, a small, balding man around 40, worked most nights and employed a chain-smoking, used-to-be-sexy barmaid working days and let me mooch off the free buffet on Sunday football as 49er fans yelled at the TV. I had no TV, radio, or phone.
After about a week of drinking beers every night and feasting on his cheap hot dogs, I notified Danny that I was in the market for a bartender job. He said he’d keep me in mind, but I’d have to join a union. If I wanted to drive a cab, I had to join a union. San Francisco was a union town. I realized right off that no woman would have a thing to do with me if I didn’t have a job, unless I hung out at Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park and passed myself off as a leftist panhandler with a line of bullshit. I ventured to a bar in this area one evening and several hippie/biker types surrounded me and accused me of being a narc while their women made persecuted faces and hissed at me and called me a pig! I left.
I began hunting jobs with serious intent, entering several over-crowded employment agencies in my newly polished Army low-quarters, Harrah’s Club black slacks, Harrah’s Club white shirt, and thrift-store, clip-on black tie. At one agency, a middle-aged woman behind a desk motioned me over.
“You look like a sales type,” she declared, looking me up and down. “You’re a fine looking lad. You a veteran?” When I nodded, she sat me down and asked did I have any college. I told her two years. She nodded. “I have to give you tests. Don’t worry about them.”
I took a test determining whether I was dim-witted, another determining whether I was a team player and psychologically sound, cheated on both, and was offered several jobs selling surgical instruments, insurance, appliances, cars, all of which were long drives to places like Burlingame and Petaluma. Finally, after turning down several jobs, I settled for a desk sales position at a national electrical supply company in the Market Street industrial area across town.
Roselee was all smiles, observing me in grown-up garb. “I knew you’d find a good job. You’re such a handsome clean-cut young man.” She unnerved me with her bulgy eyes and anxious smile. “Sidney and I hear your typewriter,” she went on. “Are you a writer?”
“I’m trying, Roselee.”
“What are you writing about?”
“I have a novel going, Roselee. I’d rather not divulge its content…it’s bad luck to do so.”
Her wiener dog, a male, began to mount my knee, and Roselee pulled him away. “Sebastian likes you. That means you’re a good person.” She continued smiling. “I bet you’ll find a nice girl soon enough. It’s too lonely trying to be a success without a good partner in life. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” How would she know this? I was a renegade Jew, a disgrace to the Jews, kicked out of Hebrew school, a heathen, hated by all Jews where I grew up.
“I bet you’d find the perfect girl at our synagogue.”
I had to break away from Roselee’s suffocating gaze and retire to my garret, where I put up a dart board above the fireplace so I could fire darts when my writing was so horrible it plunged me into despair and I started hating everything and everybody.
I lasted three days at Graybar Electric. I sat beside an ace desk salesman with a framed picture of his wife, kids and dog and stared at the secretaries as he attempted to “train me.” I could not imagine myself nailed down to a desk five days a week leafing through a telephone-size catalogue and talking to faceless beings all over America. At lunch the secretaries huddled and snuck looks at me and made sour faces and nodded emphatically. I got drunk two nights in a row and reported the third morning half an hour late, my face nicked badly from shaving with quivering fingers, my Harrah’s specials rumpled from passing out in them, and had a panic attack, a complete meltdown that had the supervisor ready to call the paramedics as I flung my snap-on tie at him and fled from the vast premises, tromped across the railroad tracks, took a bus to Danny’s, and got drunk.
I decided I needed to tend bar, but most of my nest egg would be sacrificed to a union, with no promise of a job, so I concentrated on writing, reading and hanging around Danny’s and rambling around town in hope of getting laid, regulars in Danny’s telling me there were so many homosexuals around that women “were drooling for straight men.”
Once, as I prepared to set off on my prowling, which took me to all parts of the city—North Beach, Marina, Nob Hill, Downtown, Golden Gate Park, Fillmore—searching for the right bar with a prospective woman who might just talk to me, much less fuck me, Roselee, ambushed me outside my door.
“Did you lose your job?” she inquired, concerned, fretting, hands clenched together.
“I quit, Roselee. I’m not cut out for sales.”
“I see you’re growing a beard and haven’t got a haircut. You’re not going to be one of those awful hippies, are you?”
“No, Roselee, I hate hippies.”
“What kind of job are you looking for now, honey?”
I was really squirming. “I want to be a bartender, Roselee.”
She sighed, her face filled with suffering for me. “But…that’s a …dead-end job, honey. You’ll never find the right girl at such a…well…uh…questionable profession.”
“Excuse me, Roselee, I have a job interview.” I tried to scurry off as her wiener dog was about to ejaculate on my knee, for he’d been scratching on my door lately and sneaking into my garret and making himself at home, but Roselee snagged my arm.
“Lately, Dell, I’ve heard, well, this sound coming from your room, like something bouncing off the wall…”
“I have a dartboard, Roselee, throwing darts clears my mind for writing; relaxes me.”
She pulled Sebastian off my knee. “You’re not…destroying the walls, are you?”
“Absolutely not, Roselee. Bye.”
I concentrated on North Beach. In Vesuvio’s, next to City Lights Book Store, and supposedly once a hangout for Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, I sat nursing a beer, hoping to engage a literary conversation with a woman of intellect and appreciation of the arts. I’d been reading Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Instead, as I sat at the end of the bar farthest from the front, three girls on the opposite end, all looking like prime prospects to discuss Sartre and Knut Hamsun, sent the bartender over to request that I put out my cigar, as the smoke was bothering them. He seemed a decent sort, and I’d already tipped him a dollar a beer out of conscience as a bar person, even if I couldn’t afford it.
“That’s a pretty nasty cigar,” he said, trying to be reasonable. True, it was the cheapest cigar made, a big, nasty one. I gazed down at the girls. They had long hair parted down the middle, big billowy brightly colored sun dresses, multiple beads and bracelets, no bras, and a proprietary attitude, as if this was “Their” bar. I took a big puff and sent it in their direction, the people alongside me waving at the smoke.
“Tell them no,” I told the bartender. “I’ve got a right to enjoy my cigar.”
“Come on, man, be cool, huh? They’re cool babes.”
I continued gazing in their direction. As my cigar started to go out, I re-lit it and sat staring forward, puffing, and one of them shouted, “ASSHOLE!”
I tried every bar in North Beach—Gino & Carlo’s, a cozy 1950s bar with Italian male bartenders and city girls smoking cigarettes and hobnobbing with men in white shirts and loosened ties or local blue-collar types shooting pool. I was ignored. The Saloon was overrun by hippies blathering, hugging; dancing to a rock band. A bar on the corner of Grant and Green had a jazzy blues band but the crowd was comatose to the point of paralysis as they danced in ultra slow motion, grins plastered across faces, heads bobbing slowly, the bartender so glazed he didn’t see me beckon for a beer. I was invisible. I tried the Golden Spike on Grant. Three men in berets, smoking cigarettes through long-stemmed holders, turned to watch me sip my beer a few stools down and broke out laughing. They repeatedly huddled, stared, guffawed. One waved with a limp wrist and beckoned me over. I left, finished with North Beach.
I ventured across the bridge to Zack’s down in the Marina in Sausalito, where the truly beautiful people cavorted so gracefully, and skulked out. I was shot down right and left, from the Richmond district to the Tenderloin, where hookers propositioned me. On Polk, I stumbled drunkenly into a gay bar and was accosted by a man who grabbed at my thigh. I stumbled out. Snoozing in Lafayette Park, another gay man propositioned me. I politely told him I was straight. He tried to convince me that I should explore new avenues since I couldn’t find a woman. “How do you know I can’t find a woman?” I asked. “I know,” he said. “Believe me, I know.”
Like a mole, I stayed in for a few days during a nonstop heavy rain, reading “Hunger,” by Hamsun, and “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” by Hubert Selby Jr. I tried to write but instead furiously hurled darts and ate canned pork and beans and petted poor lonely Sebastian. I emerged in the downpour like some bundled scarecrow and hustled down the hill to Danny’s, where the crowd welcomed me and began offering ideas on finding a job. Danny gave me free beers and hot dogs. I drank and farted and lost at pool. I was in no-man’s land. I wanted no job. I was ceasing to give a shit.
One rainy Saturday night I sifted like a ghost out of Danny’s and down a block to the Marina Lounge, with the intent of infusing my hatred of women with new ammunition so I could continue my stalled novel, “Woman Hater.” I was clad in soggy sneakers, torn Bermuda shorts, T-shirt, and my Army field jacket. The bar was packed, warm and steamy, the crowd broken up in gaggles of high hilarity as locals and city people joked and laughed with easy familiarity and an affectionate camaraderie, folks not afraid to show their true emotions, in the very prime of their social lives, getting laid, falling in love, doing things together, a nonstop surge of the mating ritual.
I stood scowling by the door as I eyed up a vivacious girl so cute and charming that several men were trying to impress her—an ex-cheerleader type—when I caught the gaze of a very large blonde in a black dress clinging to a thick solid body—all thighs and hips and buttocks and broad shoulders and small breasts, her blunt features and square chin lending her a jock aura. Her friends were hobnobbing with a group of black men in trench coats who sported Afros and muttonchops. Word was from the boys in Danny’s that these jive asses were down in the Marina to fuck classy white girls from the financial district who were dissatisfied with white stiffs and gays and sought a little forbidden fruit.
The big blonde and I continued a stare down. She disengaged from her crowd and I sauntered over, and without thinking, I sneered, “I hate this goddamn place.”
She coolly looked me up and down. “Why is that?”
“It’s phony. The whole goddamn scene’s phony. I can’t play it.”
“Then why are you here if you hate it so?” She held a mixed drink.
“I’m desperate for a woman. I’m a forlorn basket case on an endless famine. It’s contributing to the downfall of my soul. I’m nearing a vortex.”
She sipped her drink. Her blonde hair was thick and plentiful and her complexion smooth and healthy. “Want another beer?”
Her name was Hillary Marshall. She’d graduated from Sarah Lawrence. Her brother was a tackle on the Army football team at West Point. She was a broker at the stock exchange and roomed with a girl who’d inherited a Victorian home on a hilltop in Pacific Heights. I bought another round and continued a palaver of castigating everything—the so-called revolutions, hippies, fraternities, sororities, the establishment, music, sports…I didn’t dare flirt with her. Every shred of venom stored up in my starved, wrought-up soul spewed forth in a tirade that had her frowning quizzically and at times laughing. Finally, out of breath, I suggested we go to Danny’s, where I planned to show off the first girl to actually talk to me for more than thirty seconds since I’d moved to San Francisco.
“No,” she said, shaking her head emphatically. “Let’s go to my place.” She told the bartender to call a cab, and we stepped out under the awning in the rain. I didn’t try to touch her.
The front room of the Victorian was appointed with ornate furniture, framed oils, a wet bar and a spacious window with a panoramic view of the Marina, the Golden Gate bridge, and Coit Tower. The bay was dull under a driving rain. Hillary poured brandy into huge snifters and handed me one. I checked out the bookcase of handsome first editions and informed her I could NEVER live here because it was too nice.
“Why don’t you take off that odious jacket?”
I took off the jacket and flung it on a couch and began expounding on my nihilistic feelings. “KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN!” came a voice from another room.
“That’s my roommate,” Hillary explained. “You don’t want to meet her.” She watched me refill my snifter with Hennessy’s. “Why don’t you take off those hideous rags?”
I placed my snifter on the bar and began undressing. She watched, nodding her approval. Naked, I walked over and pulled her dress up over her head. She wore no panties or bra. She was all meat and every bit of it was firm. After one long kiss, I was on my knees, squeezing her enormous thighs, my face buried in her blonde muff. She lay back on the sofa and wrapped those thighs around my neck, squeezing my ears, cutting off all sound as I lapped and groveled and growled like a ravenous mongrel devouring a perfectly seasoned meaty bone donated by a soft-hearted butcher. Her groans came in shudders as she pulled me up and atop her and soon the roommate, a severe woman of around 30, was hovering near screaming at us to “take it to the goddamn bedroom!”
We fled to Hillary’s bedroom. In time, I was back for the bottle. We snuggled and wrestled and she rode me more than I rode her before we eventually passed out. I awakened to sun pouring through a dormer window. The bed was empty of Hillary. I heard the shower and minutes later she came in wrapped in a big fluffy white towel and suggested I take a shower and meet her in the kitchen. I wanted to shove my snoot between those rhino thighs one more time but she was in charge and I obeyed her wishes. In the kitchen, she fried eggs and bacon. I asked about the bitchy roommate.
“How’d you like to go to the Ram-49er game at Kezar Stadium?”
She perked right up. “I’d love to go. I love football.”
We took the bus to Kezar, where I managed to secure two cheap end zone tickets from a scalper. The end zone was where black folks from Oakland and the Fillmore sat. Wisely, I’d secured a pint of brandy for the chilly afternoon. Hillary wore a herringbone coat with elbow patches and tight, faded jeans and turtleneck sweater, the eyes of every brother feasting on her big-boned torso. These brothers nodded at me, approving and respectful of my trophy. I was “The Man” and felt I could fall for Hillary and forge a relationship of romping sex and snug companionship and even love. We sat surrounded by brothers in trench coats and fedoras and berets, and their women, who were decked out in tight-fitting garments and loopy hats. The goal posts were very near. Halfway through the first quarter the brother beside me offered up a flask. Hillary and I swigged. I passed my bottle around and they offered a joint and Hillary and I puffed (it was my first time), and I lapsed into a golden haze in which everything was rosy.
During the game, as the only Ram fan, I made comments that had the brothers and sisters guffawing and Hillary rested her hand on my thigh and smiled at my wit and soon the brothers were drawing hard looks from their women for talking to and paying too much attention to Hillary, a marvelous sport. Before I knew it, Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel was barking orders from the one-yard line below us in the final seconds and we were all on our feet. The Rams scored and the game ended in a tie and we all said our good-byes and soul shook. Hillary and I took a couple buses until we ended up at my garret. She took one look at it and announced she was exhausted and had to go home and would I please call a cab?
“I have no phone. I’ll drive you.”
I hadn’t driven in a while and the battery was dead so I pushed the VW downhill until it caught and jumped in. At the curb of the towering Victorian in the plushest area, I asked her out, only to discover she had an out-of-town boyfriend. “I like you, and you’re a lot of fun,” she said. “But I’m not sure many women can take you in anything but small doses at this stage of your life. Thanks for the game. I had a great time.”
“Get a hold of me when you’re ready for small doses,” I croaked, my voice barely audible.
As my money dwindled and the rains came down harder and harder, seemingly nonstop, day after day, I ceased trying to find a female who might take me in small doses and became a shut-in. I paced my room, typed angry, self-pitying, pious, pretentious, plagiarist garbage, tore it to shreds, read, tossed darts, ate pork and beans, drank Brown Derby beer, scurried down the hill sans umbrella when I became claustrophobic and nursed a lone beer in Danny’s, waiting for him to hire me, waiting to hear about job applications from the post office and recreation department.
I descended into a black vortex of morbid and bitter rage directed at myself and the world and its occupants. The vortex swallowed me whole as a whale swallows a minnow and I swam about blindly in the soggy stinking darkness until I was spewed out upon the wasteland of desolate America, a crippled crab isolated from the kingdom, unwelcome, wallowing in the self-imposed morass. I began hulking through the streets of San Francisco, anger and sorrow oozing from my every pore as people wielding umbrellas and brief cases dodged me, eyes averted. At Danny’s, I settled at the far end of the bar, a morose figure hunched over a warm beer, uncommunicative.
I raged in the garret, felt myself spinning downward into the vortex, seeking bottom. I considered walking around the world penniless until I expired. I kicked and tossed my worthless possessions and hurled darts at the board like a fire-balling baseball pitcher, ripping it into tatters and chipping away the painted brick wall when missing. I wept. Steinbeck, my idol, died, and I wept some more. I spent Christmas and New Year’s walking the streets, passing illuminated windows of homes and bars and restaurants out of which poured the bubbling party voices and rich laughter of those in harmony with the universe. One night I picked up my typewriter and surged into the street in a blinding rain and bashed it upon the asphalt, shattering it, kicking it down the hill. In the morning, Roselee banged on my door. I opened it and she jumped back in a state of fright. She gathered her courage and asked to see my room as Sebastian slithered in and jumped on my bed. I motioned her in and she gaped in awe at the tattered dartboard and massacred wall above the fireplace. She was speechless.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I told her. “I’ve got two weeks left on my rent. I HATE San Francisco, and it hates me. Take the damage out of my security deposit. I’m sorry, Roselee, I’ve become unhinged.”
I had a $103 to my name and decided to drive my VW back to LA, hit the open road with thumb out, head for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, try and find a job on a river boat, and forget about women. I no longer cared what happened to me. It was a feeling of mountainous relief. §
Dell Franklin writes from his upscale hovel in the beautiful seaside town of Cayucos, Calif., where he resides with his rescue dog, Wilbur. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice.
young women sit
at a table across
from each other, drinking coffee,
into one another’s faces.
with goon smiles, they
talk of men
and dating and god’s
how, in the midst
of all the confusions,
despite all the wrong choices,
god still loves us. their
earnest desire to please
god, to check on each
other through probing
questions — “how are you,
really?” — to pray
through their young-woman
hardships fills the coffee shop
like coffee beans
a hard floor.
by Dr. Steven Sainsbury
Ask those people who are close to me, and they will tell you that I have a great sense of humor. I love jokes, remember them easily and tell them well. I love to laugh and smile. Having worked more than 20 years as full-time emergency physician, I have learned to use humor to cope with the stress and tragedies that surround me on a regular basis. But with all due respect to my friend Dell Franklin (founding publisher of the Rogue Voice), there is one subject that I cannot joke about, cannot take lightly, and find clearly and distinctly unfunny: That subject is drunks.
San Luis Obispo County is awash in drunkenness. And I don’t mean the homeless alcoholic, living beneath the freeway overpass, scrounging every day for a daily fifth of hard liquor. Even though we have plenty of those. And I don’t mean the sad, “functional” drunks whose lives revolve around their daily descent into an alcoholic oblivion as their pitiful lives slowly but inexorably evaporate into a hepatotoxic hell.
Instead, I think of the Cal Poly coed who binge drinks after midterms. This is the same person who hours earlier meticulously calculated her engineering problems to the tenth decimal point, but fails to consider, for even a moment, the huge cost that her drunkenness will impose on her future.
Jane is a straight-A engineering student who went out bar-hopping and binge-drinking with her girlfriends on Saturday night after a grueling week of midterms. By 11 p.m. she was grossly intoxicated, and could barely walk without falling. Nonetheless, she managed to hook up with a new acquaintance at one of the downtown bars, and left with him. Her so-called friends were so drunk themselves that they allowed her to leave with a total stranger. I met Jane later the next night in the ER. She had awakened earlier that Sunday afternoon, hung over, achy, and miserable. But even worse, she woke up naked, her tampon pushed up against her cervix, and knew immediately that she had obviously had sexual intercourse with the stranger she had met the night before. Yet Jane had no idea who he was, where he lived, or how he could be found. Tearful and fearful, she came into the ER to be tested for STDs, pregnancy and AIDS.
I also think of the SLO professional, who attended four years of college and another four years of postgraduate training. A smart, well-educated fellow, he must have slept through that day in biology class when they discussed the effect of alcohol on judgment and hand-to-eye coordination.
John, a middle-aged, married father of two, attended a barbeque one evening, along with several of his friends. Carelessly, he drank too much and decided to drive home. Soon thereafter, he lost control of his vehicle, injuring himself and killing his front-seat passenger. His blood alcohol of 0.18, coupled with his subsequent felony manslaughter conviction, landed him in prison. In addition to losing his freedom, he lost his business and professional license. He killed his friend, destroyed his family, and tossed aside his happiness as quickly as he had guzzled down the original 12-pack of Budweiser.
I think of the young father who started drinking with friends while in college, then continued the same pattern as he developed his business in San Luis Obispo. Always limiting his drinking to social occasions, he scoffed at the notion that he had a problem with alcohol. After all, he was successful at work, had a wonderful wife and family, and was in superb physical shape. Even his golf game was steadily improving.
Nonetheless, Ted’s golf game began to suffer as the daily toll of social drinking escalated in his life. Ten years after moving to San Luis Obispo, Ted was fired from the national company that had employed him since college for his unreliability and lack of productivity. His long-suffering wife, weary of his increasingly frequent drunken binges, filed for divorce. His children soon began to dread the court-ordered visitations, which became less and less frequent. Within just a few years, Ted had several outstanding alcohol-related warrants, a series of failed jobs, no money, no home, no driver’s license, no wife or family, and his health was failing. His life and golf game were in shambles with no hope on the horizon.
Most readers see a drunk staggering out of the bar and laugh at his silly attempts to walk without falling. I see a drunk who will come to see me in the ER in an hour or two, because he actually will fall, whereupon I will spend an hour sewing up his face, trying to ignore his vomit-laced beer breath that permeates my clothing and breathing space. Or worse, I will see his wife for a broken jaw and blackened eye because she dared to complain about his drunkenness: Loads of laughs, those staggering drunks.
Many of you, as you hear your friends lament about getting arrested with a DUI, console them as if they were some type of victim. Your friend’s huge fines, loss of license, and mandatory probation time invoke feelings of sympathy and compassion. Not for me. Those who drink and drive, every single one, instill in me only feelings of anger and disgust. You see, I look at your same drunk-driver friend and see a potential (or actual) murderer—someone who willingly takes a multi-ton weapon and propels it at 60 or 70 miles per hour at anyone who is unfortunate enough to be in their path. Small child, pregnant mother, and frail grandparent—it makes no difference. The drunk driver will plow them all down equally, without so much as a blink of their eye. Twenty years of washing the congealed blood of maimed and dying bodies off my scrubs has removed all trace of sympathy for anyone who so recklessly endangers the lives of total strangers: Yep, real knee-slappers, those drunk drivers.
Consider the following statistics—just try to control your laughter.
Alcohol is a significant factor in 40 percent of all automobile accidents, and responsible for about half of all drowning, fatal falls, and house fires.
More facts to chuckle over: Alcohol is involved in 2/3 of homicides, half of all rapes and domestic violence cases, and more than 80 percent of campus crimes. Additionally, the use of alcohol is implicated in a large percentage of divorces, suicides, and regretted sexual activity leading to sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.
So you see, our alcohol-drenched society, and our acceptance of its lethal and painful consequences, fractured my funny bone a long time ago. Work with me for just one shift on a typical night in the ER and you’ll probably quit laughing also. §
Dr. Steven Sainsbury is an emergency physician who works in San Luis Obispo County. He can be reached at Stesai@aol.com.
As Americans, or perhaps humans on this planet, we have a fascination and obsession with junk. We are literally in love with junk and without it have no life and little else to live for—it is possibly more important than books or movies and sometimes friends and relatives, takes priority over almost everything and makes the world go around.
We love to shop for junk. We love to get good deals on junk. We love to walk away with a sly, smug grin after a transaction for some especially coveted and valuable junk and notify our friends that “Boy, did I get a deal on this latest piece of junk. I stole it!”
We are very sensitive and protective of our junk. If somebody does not notice our junk, or is not as impressed with it as we are, we feel offended, almost resentful, maybe depressed. We are baffled when nobody likes or cares about our junk; and even more disturbing is a person who despises all junk (especially state-of-the-art junk owners standing guard over their junk like grim sentries) and castigates it for what it really is—junk.
My own history of junk, and, worse, transporting it, is probably minimal compared to most citizens of the world. In the beginning, from 1967 until 1970, I lived a gypsy existence, bumming around the country, moving everything I owned either in a backpack as I hitchhiked, or in a sputtering VW bug. Then I settled in Hermosa Beach and lived in a studio garret from 1970 until 1978, and when I moved to a bigger studio in Manhattan Beach I needed only to borrow a station wagon and move all my junk in one trip. In 1980, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a friend, and this time I had a station wagon of my own and had accumulated some yard sale furniture, so it took me two trips to move further north in Manhattan Beach.
Six years later I moved to California’s Central Coast and it took a caravan of two pickups and my station wagon to move my junk to a one-bedroom bungalow in Shell Beach. After 2 1/2 years there I had to make several trips over several days with the aid of a friend to move all my junk further north to Cayucos—my first real ordeal.
In Cayucos, I lived in a one-bedroom cottage for over four years. Moving my junk four blocks north to my next one-bedroom cottage on the luxurious “Riviera of Cayucos” of Pacific Avenue proved to be one of the most brutalizing experiences in my life. It took me a week! I filled an entire dumpster behind the local market with junk. I was seething and raging at myself for amassing the mountain of junk I had to deal with. I hurled it angrily out the door onto my lawn, cursed it, kicked it; tossed it in my old pickup, muttering to myself like a madman. There was no end to my junk. I had a yard sale and my girlfriend laughed at me along with those weekend junk scavengers who shook their heads and motored off, not one of them offering me as much as a dime for my junk! I tried finally to give it away, but nobody wanted it. People shrank from my junk as if it were a putrefying, lethal disease, for it was some of the most worthless, useless, ugly junk I’d ever laid my eyes on. How had I allowed this to happen to me?
Five years later, I moved further north near downtown Cayucos and it took two friends and me only a couple hours to move. I no longer collected junk. I drove by all yard sales and thrift stores with blinders. I bought only what I needed. I found myself jettisoning junk as soon as I inspected a smidgen of clutter and felt instant relief and gratification upon its extraction. Nowadays, I sometimes find myself refusing to buy junk my girlfriend insists I need, for I am still shell-shocked from my ordeal ten years ago.
Recently, I watched people move out of the two residences across the street. They were ‘60s people, meaning ancient non-operational motor homes in driveways used exclusively for storage of junk or occasional guest lodging. There were always a few old VW buses, usually non-operational, clogging the streets and driveways and yards. One neighbor had a shed, the other, in a two story abode, a garage. I anticipated their possessing a lot of junk, but was thoroughly flabbergasted when both parties moved within a month of each other.
The couple with the garage moved first, began extracting junk and piling it in the driveway, yard and along the street—a literal mountain of junk such as I’d never observed in my life. They held several yard sales after sorting through their junk, over which the expert junk junkies sniffed and bartered, hauling off the more serviceable items early; then returning later for passable freebies. These friendly neighbors tried to give me some of their junk as I perched on a chair watching them, but I refused to go near the place and was content to watch the parade for days. Every time I thought they might run out of junk, they managed to extract more and build a new pile and have a new sale. Eventually, the sight of this spectacle caused me to further downsize, especially when the entire family pitched in to load up the largest moving van rentable, filled it up, and then filled the last VW bus that would be towed by the rental to Oregon, where they were going to rent many acres and a barn in the wilderness to stash their junk.
My other neighbor, a single female artist, took a month to move, and managed to give me a chair, typing paper, and a cat. I got off easy. With the help of a huge cadre of friends, she extracted junk from the shed, the motor home and created a pile to rival that of the ex-neighbors, who were replaced by folks with a reasonable amount of state-of-the-art junk now that the neighborhood had been gentrified by the influx of wealthy city people from LA and San Francisco. The artist’s yard sale drew the usual junk junkies who swooped early to haul off the good stuff and then returned later for freebies, and finally, when she could no longer give any of it away, she paid a real junkman to haul the rest to the dump.
The moral of the story, and my final contention, is that junk will eventually be the end of us. It won’t be the population explosion, global warming, plague, pollution, famine, nuclear war or terrorist attacks that will end our existence—it’ll be all this goddamn junk! Where the hell is it going to go? How deep are our landfills? How vast our oceans? Sooner or later we’re all going to be smothered under a massive slag heap of junk.
And if this doesn’t kill us, well, fighting over the junk will. Crime is up because we steal and even kill for it. Countries hate us because we’ve got too much of it as well as the most sophisticated junk ever manufactured by man. Divorcees squabble, war and sue over junk. People are jealous and bitter because the other person has superior junk, so it breeds malevolent feelings toward fellow man. Worst of all, a person often can’t die in peace without worrying about how much damage his children are going to wreak upon one another over divvying up their junk.
When all is said and done, we are no match for the junk, and when the world is finally rid of humans and animals, and junk prevails, a perturbed and confused God might view the earth as a testimony to the destructive nature and soullessness of junk, as well as man’s pathological desire to possess it, and either laugh or cry at His experiment. §
Dell Franklin, founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, composed this essay on a junky computer.