Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Shut Up, Memory

A friend of mine in Belfast said once "A beautiful day in Northern Ireland is more beautiful than a beautiful day anywhere else." That seemed at the time to me to be true, because I had a passion for Northern Ireland, imagining I might be able to help make things better, the hatred that characterized that at once poetic and brutal nation still roiling beneath the surface, and me being in my peacemaker mode. Besides the fear of saying anything too loud even when walking along the shore, lest it fall on adversarial ears and you finding yourself shot, the weather was so foul when it was finally a sunny day, it seemed like unrequited love returned at last. Also that pronunciamento came in that thick, almost undecipherable brogue, less mellifluous than that of the south, so when you could brain your way through the thicket, and understood what he was saying, it did seem, indeed, that a beautiful day in Ireland was more beautiful than a beautiful day anywhere else. So I had to agree.
But we did not take into account San Francisco. There is a glitter on the water that is absolutely Shakespearean, glister you would have to say, on a beautiful day, which is not as rare as a beautiful day in Belfast, but is rare enough. Last weekend I went to the Bay Area to visit my friend Ed, the retired cop and writer, who helps me, always, with plot, and often with life. Ed and his wife Diane and I went into the city Saturday night to hear Bob Dorough, my personal jazz man,--he played the Mars Club in Paris when I sang there, and accompanied me. North Beach, where mailto:Jazz@Pearl is is unchanged, City Lights Bookstore still chugging along next to a head shop, and all the same people on the streets as when I was young there, only they're still young, or young again, there being always a new crop who will want to hang with Kerouac, even dead. The old manager of City Lights, our mutual friend Joe, was always highly articulate and fun, so Marshall Naify, one of Forbes' 400 richest Americans in 1995, took a shine to him, I mean, really a shine, sent him to law school, so Joe is now handling Naify's estate which includes racehorses and oh, maybe a billion. Some there are who make friends with all the right people.
Zapping around the glistering bay on Sunday, my whole life, or at least a number of times in it, passed before my eyes without my even having to fall overboard and drown. I went on that same ferry as a graduate student at Stanford, when Stanley and Kristiana Kubrick came up to visit me, and knowing Stanley's favorite thing was the evil underbelly of man, we whipped around Alcatraz, and in that somber moment he told me: "I'm in big trouble. I just bought Lolita, and Dwight MacDonald(the #1 film critic of that day) is going to give me a great review because Nabokov is a literary genius. But he can't write one line of dialogue." Pause, a black-eyed glower at the water. A sort of smile. "You're the best writer of dialogue in America. Would you come help me out?" (unspoken) Oh please, use me use me. (spoken) "Of course." Full story told elsewhere.
Further along the coast, San Quentin, where Kesey and I did our vigil the night before they executed Caryl Chessman, full story told elsewhere. But you remember these things when the ferry glides around that corner, and you wonder if the wind still whips so fierce and chill on that hill at night. Talking to the ferry-ticket-taking man on the dock at Larkspur Landing, you believe him when he says that is the choicest piece of real estate not on the market, what condos could be there, with that view, what a golf course! But they won't move the facility to the desert because the trial lawyers don't want to have to drive that far. So San Quentin it will stay.
There is a statue of Gandhi on the dock by the Ferry Terminal when you leave San Francisco, with the sentence "My life is my message," which is both inspiring and intimidating, since I don't know yet what my life is, and I better hurry up. By Larkspur Landing, just down the road apiece from the prison is a tall metal statue of Don Quixote, armor flashing in the sun, and a very impressive round metallic ass facing the water, which Ed and I puzzled over, the positioning that is. Why wouldn't they give him the view? So Gandhi at the beginning of my journey, Don Quixote at the other end. Somewhere in there is who/what I am, I think.
Am watching the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell, so it dovetails with my struggle to forget myself even as I write about me. He is very sanguine about letting go, following your bliss, watching pieces of yourself fall off as you get older, like a car, without feeling bad about it. I would struggle and am struggling to get to that, but always in the back of my mind I hear "Do I have to?" Especially as i know from Jack, who taught with Campbell towards the end of his life, that Campbell wanted more than anything to be famous. After he died, which is letting go in the deepest sense, the interviews went on the air, and he became as famous as a spiritual teacher could be. But, by his own appraisal, the hereafter would be so ablaze with being in the presence of God, one would lose oneself completely. So the time to do something with whatever is YOUR gift is NOW.
Meanwhile, check out a tree. A sunset. A child. The warmest place in your heart. Or catch San Francisco on a dazzle day.