Sunday, April 17, 2016

Coming home

I was reading in Archaic Revival: “The experience must move one’s heart, and it will not move the heart unless it deals with issues of life and death. If it deals with life and death it will move one to fear, it will move one to tears, it will move one to laughter…” Earlier, my friend Jean sent this message: “Magical it all is. Is it life or is it death that is a mystery? Perhaps both?” Yes, and everything in between.
So fine to find one of these little temples. Dry, strong walls.
What else could you want? Photo Kim Ki Sam 

Coming home

Near Lang Vei, where I slept with rats. Photo R. Merron
There was a last formation somewhere near Danang – 30-something Marines standing together where there had once been 180. The ones who were not there had been killed or wounded too badly to return to combat or wounded three times (it was a three and you’re out deal) or been too sick to fight (with malaria, etc.). All of us in that formation had been wounded at least once. We were what was left of C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. We had all gone together as a landing force, first been truly blooded at the DMZ in Operation Deckhouse (Prairie), fought for months at Dodge City, fought on Highway 1, and ended up at Khe Sanh. I had also gone on TAD (Temporary Assigned Duty) with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and several other units in the Hill Fights, the “First Battle of Khe Sanh,” Gio Linh, Con Tien, etc.
Resuscitation failing. Henri Huet

And now here we were, 30-something of us – sallow, skinny, nervous… real warriors – no muscled up or tanned or beer-bellied or tough guy REMFs (rear echelon mother-fuckers) in this formation.

They flew us first to Okinawa where we did what we always did when we could – got drunk and so on. I had a moment of glory in a brothel when I hit some old REMF lifer (actually he was probably all of 30 or 35 years old) hard enough that he literally went through the wall and then somehow, I and my mate, Carver, got away from the Shore Patrol (military police). It was the perfect end to my tour of duty.
Cigarette! Photo Oliver Noonan

From Oki, they flew us to Camp Pendleton, where I drank endless glasses of cold, cold milk, ate chocolate cake, and those sorts of things. The mess hall for returnees actually had a juke box that was playing over and over again,

down a crowded avenue
Anything we’d like to do

We’re gonna talk and laugh our time away…

Peace. Photo Associated Press
We were given the opportunity to re-up (no takers on that deal!) and processed out of the Corps. Adios mother-fuckers.

I flew to Dallas. There was none of the airport harassment one heard about. In my mind I was scary looking, but probably I just looked like a nervous, skinny guy who wouldn’t look anyone in the eye – because, in my mind, I didn’t want to frighten anyone.

Welcome home. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

MD Anderson moments, words seen walking around San Francisco (Viva la Vulva!), thoughts on Madame George

Castro Street
Photos are of words seen while walking around San Francisco – “the city without an end.” Click photo and drift on through the slideshow.
Sitting in the lobby at MD Anderson Cancer Center (with a friend), a few feet from a baby girl about two years old, sick with cancer – like a poster child for chemo, like a flower, like a dream. People walking by, many with their own problems. They look at her and I’m looking at them and I can see some of them sending waves of love and sorrow to her and her Mom and Dad. Oh!
In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed

When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold

When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me.
Somewhere else in the lobby a woman leans over. A lovely view. I smile at her, she at me. A break in the day.

MD Anderson is overwhelming. More hope and fear and love and and and and than can be imagined. And at the same time, a familiar and comfortable environment for me. I feel such pride in my students who work at MD Anderson, at Parkland, at Children’s, Baylor, Africa, India, all those places – saving lives, giving hope, feeding the poor, cleansing the lepers…
Last year the city installed plaques on Castro
honoring gay men and women of note
Walking along Castro, behind a couple sharing a vape. He was wearing a Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks jacket. A plaque set into the sidewalk commemorates a week in 1998 when the Castro gay community newspaper (Bay Area Reporter) had no obituaries. In the 1980s into the 90s there had been an average of 12 obits every week as AIDS ravaged this community more than any other.

The street is alive tonight. On the corner at Castro and 18th where the shrines are, a couple is singing and playing guitars and laughing. I put money in the guitar case. At the bus stop there was a car with trance going and I walked over by it so I could hear the music better. An older man in the car was smoking a joint... 

Then a little kid almost ran out in front of another car. A man standing at the bus stop said, “That was close” and I’m like, yeah! The man and I talked a little. He and his daughters were going to the Haight. He asked me if I know where the Jefferson Airplane house is. I said, I wasn’t sure, maybe Page, but somebody will know. I looked it up when I got home – it’s at 2400 Fulton. The little boy who lives in the other apartment on my floor wanted me to watch him ride his bike. This was his second day of riding and he got going pretty good. Another Saturday afternoon in The City.

When you fall into a trance… Madame George

On Market Street
There was a time, before “I Heart Radio” – gag, when sometimes you would turn the radio on and hear something like Madame George or Sugaree or Visions of Johanna. These are great songs from the past, but the point is, you can’t hear current corollaries to such greatness on the radio today – despite the fact that there is a whole lot of greatness happening today. I’ve been listening to Madame George for days now – this version:

At the N (light rail) stop at Duboce and Church
I think I have some – some – understanding of Madame George (which, btw, was originally conceived as Madame Joy). It feels like it’s about us – all of us who came up in the strait-laced 50s and into the counter-culture 60s. And it feels like Madame George herself is a means of expressing ideas/feelings vs. a person the  song is about.

Lord have mercy, I think that it’s the cops!

Maybe it’s about you, me, Al, David, Leslie, my mate Jeff, your friend Janet, our times (times like no other, before or since).

And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar

Yes, Viva la Vulva!
As for Madame George herself, maybe she’s us, too, through time or maybe something else. It’s about what we had…

And as you leave, the room is filled with music, laughing, music,
dancing, music all around the room.

It’s about what we lost… and now we have to go… We have to go…

Say goodbye, goodbye
Get on the train
Get on the train, the train, the train…
This is the train, this is the train…
Whoa, say goodbye, goodbye…
Get on the train, get on the train…

David Robbins (sent by Jean C.): “I could listen to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” forever and never grow tired of it. Listening to it somehow connects me to a deep truth, old as the universe itself. I’ve more than once found myself listening to the album and falling into a reverie, completely lost in its time; weeping uncontrollably, grabbing my chest to slow my breathing. I don’t know what it is exactly about this album. I don’t think I ever will. I feel it so viscerally, that it has become me. I am a writer, who can often write about music with skill, but I will never touch even the outskirts of what makes “Astral Weeks” so timeless, and so majestic. There’s a courageousness in Van Morrison’s deep search into the slipstream. “Astral Weeks” flies headlong into love, finding a melancholy so true it rips your heart out. I’m bruised by the beauty of “Astral Weeks”. The world isn’t the same once you’ve really heard it. The album shows us how everything in this world is tinged with a meaning deeper than we can fathom, and that we need to embrace it. All of it: death, love, hurt, despair, elation, decay, passion, tragedy, nature, spirituality — and to ultimately find connection with all things”.
I came up out of the subway and was greeted
by this poster - I asked myself, How am I doing?
Jean C.: To me, for now, this is what I think: Madame George is an essence, a very exotic phenomenon. She is both male and female but most of all she is someone whose nature encompasses us all. Like you said she is US. She is YOUTH.
VM: Here is what Van said: "It's like a movie, a sketch, or a short story. In fact, most of the songs on Astral Weeks are like short stories. In terms of what they mean, they're as baffling to me as to anyone else. I haven't got a clue what that song is about or who Madame George might have been.

Imbedded in F (street car) stop 
The original title was "Madame Joy" but the way I wrote it down was "Madame George". Don't ask me why I do this because I just don't know. The song is just a stream of consciousness thing, as is Cyprus Avenue… Madame George just came right out. The song is basically about a spiritual feeling.”

Down on Cyprus Avenue

In a wall. Marilyn Chin is a beautiful romantic
With a childlike vision leaping into view
Clicking, clacking of the high heeled shoe
Ford & Fitzroy, Madame George
Marching with the soldier boy behind
He's much older with hat on drinking wine
And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar
And outside they're making all the stops
The kids out in the street collecting bottle-tops
Gone for cigarettes and matches in the shops
Happy taken Madame George
That's when you fall
Whoa, that's when you fall
Yeah, that's when you fall

When you fall into a trance
A sitting on a sofa playing games of chance
With your folded arms and history books you glance
Into the eyes of Madame George
And you think you found the bag
You're getting weaker and your knees begin to sag
In the corner playing dominoes in drag
The one and only Madame George
And then from outside the frosty window raps
She jumps up and says Lord have mercy I think it's the cops
And immediately drops everything she gots
Down into the street below
F Line stop

And you know you gotta go
On that train from Dublin up to Sandy Row
Throwing pennies at the bridges down below
And the rain, hail, sleet, and snow
Say goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
And as you leave, the room is filled with music, laughing, music,
dancing, music all around the room
And all the little boys come around, walking away from it all
So cold
And as you're about to leave
She jumps up and says Hey love, you forgot your gloves
And the gloves to love to love the gloves...
To say goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
Dry your eyes for Madame George
Say goodbye in the wind and the rain on the back street
In the backstreet, in the back street
Say goodbye to Madame George
In the backstreet, in the back street, in the back street
Down home, down home in the back street
Gotta go
Somewhere in Inner Sunset

Say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Dry your eye your eye your eye your eye your eye...
Say goodbye to Madame George
And the loves to love to love the love
Say goodbye
Concrete graffiti on my street. And it's true! 

Say goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye to Madame George
Dry your eye for Madame George
Wonder why for Madame George
The love's to love the love's to love the love's to love...
Say goodbye, goodbye
Get on the train
Get on the train, the train, the train...
This is the train, this is the train...
Whoa, say goodbye, goodbye....

Get on the train, get on the train...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Last love letter

This was the last love letter I sent to Leslie - just under three months before she passed away, more than 50 years into our relationship.

When we first started work with refugees
Dear Leslie

Written in the car parked in front Of Lucky Dog Books (Paperbacks+): I’m driving along through Hollywood Heights. Stopped at an intersection and flashed on someone running the stop sign and running into me. Listening to U2 – songs of mercy (who sings about mercy?), sorrow, joy, transcendence – Mothers of The Disappeared, Miss Sarajevo, One Love.

Leslie at memorial for Feather, hand in hand with
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at Duboce Park
Oh Leslie. I’m thinking how you and I have lived The Dream. Our whole lives working for a better world, for justice (you’re a warrior, no doubt), for suffering people, for beauty – living a world of love, navigating our way through what I truly believe were the most incredible times in history – civil rights, women’s rights, sexual revolution, psychedelic revolution, gay rights/marriage equality and the list goes on and we were there/we are here, together, each in our own way, making it happen.

January 2015, San Francisco
And now, whatever it is that’s happening is as mind-opening as anything that went before. I feel kind of like you’re taking us on a ride and I’m in awe. Not always an easy ride LOL. I feel zero need to label it or do anything other than experience it and I love thinking about it.

Leslie in a jeep in Burma, on the road to Maymyo
About the fact that he and I were warriors and then psychedelic, and now dancing beneath the stars, Jeff says in that hard voice, “There ain’t many in this class.” And I say about your and my individual paths and our paths combined where we did IT ALL, “There aren’t many in this class.“ Few have done it as fully as we have.

So I thought about a car slamming into me and I thought, if I die today, I AM fulfilled. And I thought, if we never have sex again, I AM fulfilled. I hope none of this happens for a long time, and I know, backslider that I am, I’ll be grumbling again before long. But the bottom line is – and I’ve said this before – Thank you for this astonishing life. It’s been everything I couldn’t have even imagined.

Beep-Beep! Here she comes!