Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Charity Begins at the Eagle

So I decided to run a marathon, for whatever reason it is that compels an otherwise "normal" human being to run over twenty-six miles at a pop. Well, for one I noticed that my spare tire, one of those skinny bottom of the trunk jobs, had inflated itself up to BF Goodrich T/A All Terrain Radial. I'd recently done the Bay Area Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk, a three and a half mile stroll around the post-nuclear wasteland some wiseass (Captain Hook, perhaps?) named Treasure Island. I raised some scratch for a good cause, I had a nice stroll in the sun behind my daughter in her stroller, and she got to rock out to some taiko drumming at the "afterparty." When I saw the brochure for the SF AIDS Foundation Marathon in Vancouver, I was intrigued. The fundraising minimum was a whopping $2800 in order for the Foundation to fly you up there to run about foolishly for hours on end until your ball and socket joints grind together like a mortar and pestle, and they promised that even the most slovenly sausage eater would become a marathoner through their training program. I took it as a challenge, one of those things that I should do before I die, like jumping out of a plane, climbing Everest, or kicking Steven Segall's ass in a streetfight. Okay, maybe Van Damm. The fact that the actual marathon was on my birthday sealed the deal.

After a couple of attempts to book a benefit featuring the Jack Saints fell through, I finally set up a show at the Eagle with Ludicra, Nigel Pepper Cock (that's three words, motherfucker), and High Tone Son of a Bitch. Actually, the event kind of put itself together-I asked Aesop from Ludicra if he wanted to do a benefit, he talked to the rest of the band and then contacted the other bands and Doug at the Eagle, and voila-I'm an altruistic pervert, Mr. DNA.
I threw a flyer together, hit Kinko's, then bought a tape gun and went flyering the Mission, SOMA, and Haight at four in the morning after I get off work at the End Up. The tag end of the tape kept slipping out of the feed path, or, worse yet, when I slapped it across the pole in what I thought was a commanding and decisive professional mover manner, the whole combobulation would backlash and leave me with a sticky, cellophane rose. The darkened streets of a major metropolis in the pre-sunrise hours lend themselves to moments of clarity, and I had mine: I am thirty-one years old. I have a master's degree. And yet, I do not have the job skills to put up flyers for a living. Every passing partied-out club-goer, homeless person, and crack addict transmogrified into the Voice of Reason business majors I met in college: "Just what are you going to do with a creative writing degree?" they asked. "Just what are you going to do with two creative writing degrees?" Well, professional flyering, at least using this NASA tape gun, was clearly out of the question. It's a good thing I was doing it for charity. A guy with a hair gel helmet and one of those sheer polyester Friday night party shirts stopped hurling in the gutter, wiped the gack off his lower lip, hopped in a convertible BMW and shook his head at me, the yutz on the bicycle fiddlefucking with a tape gun. Let's see, salable skills: can throw drunks through doors, great conversationalist for sweaty speedfreaks to work out their social aggressions on, can spot fake I.D.s and GHB overdoses in the dark. Some trouble with adhesives.

The night in question rolled around, Thursday, March 6, and I rolled up to the storied Eagle on my bicycle, tres leather daddy, visions of midgets freeballing in chaps in my head. After ten years in the city I can't believe I'd never been to The Eagle, though, I must somewhat shamefacedly admit I've sent legions of drunk tourists in khakis there. When I worked security at Slim's it was a running joke that when jocks asked where "all the chicks were at," the Eagle was the no-miss spot for the hot ladies. I like to think I broadened a few minds, but my friend Adam tells me he used this line at the front door of the DNA so frequently that one of the Eagle bartenders walked the block to 11th Street and ordered him to cease and desist darkening his door with horny farm boys and mullethead homophobes with B.A.C.s higher than their IQs.

I was standing in front talking to a friend when a dingy gray molester van whipped around the corner, the driver half out the window yelling at a cabby to get the hell out of the way. The door opened and The Village People spilled out. "Nigel," my friend said to me. That's right-Nigel Pepper Cock arrived at the show in full Village People regalia. Not the type to put on costumes in the bathroom when no one's looking, they were rocking headdresses, helmets, and ten gallon hats in the van, man, with a confidence that made me think that maybe they wear that type of shit 24-7.

I went inside for High Tone S.O.B. They've got one of the best band names going. Aesop thought it was "High-Toned S.O.B.," and that it was some sort of gearhead, hot rod lingo. Being a Hank Sr. (really-is there any other Hank that matters?) fan, I knew for a fact it was honky tonk, not hot rod, and High Tone-no 'd'-as in, "Mindin' other people's business seems to be high tone/ I got all that I can do just to mind my own." But they're not all name. I once attended a party where a guy in a Navy pea coat strutted around with his chest puffed out, starting shit with everyone. When someone called him on it, he threw off his Popeye the Sailor coat in a dramatic gesture to expose arms like Olive Oyl. "Aw, man," his would-have-been sparring partner laughed, "you're all jacket." Then he walked away. High Tone are definitely not all jacket-they've got plenty of reason to be high tone. They kick ass much like Hank on a week long speed binge, but uranium heavy instead of twangy. Hunkered down low, creepy crawl style, the boll weevil lurking in that fluffy cotton. I met Scott and Ron after the show and we had a chuckle over their uncanny resemblance to the regular biker/bear crowd at the Eagle.

The whole time High Tone was playing, the Pepper Cock crew glided in and out of the crowd in Village People get ups, standing out from the hoodies-and-spikes metal and punk types, but somewhat camouflaged against the gay bikers on acid décor on the Eagle's walls. They set up their gear in V.P. duds. But when they were announced, it was as though we'd all been watching one film and the Pepper Cocks had spliced in a different reel. There they stood in bowler hats, lederhosen, and mustaches, Oktoberfest beer band meets teutonic Clockwork Orange droogies with an inexplicable tinge of Irish pub. They rolled up as the Village People and completely changed their look when no one was looking-and I mean no one. I talked to several people afterward and none of them noticed the changeover; I wouldn't be surprised if they threw down magic pellets and in a cloud of smoke and fairy dust their outfits morphed into whatever pleased Beelzebub. Maybe it was a collective hallucination, but was brilliant. Add to this songs like "Sleepover at Neverland Ranch" and "Who Wants a Massage?" and the only word I'm left with is Visionary, with a capital 'V.' Oh, and I can't forget that they threw out porn store paraphernalia. One lucky lady caught a Nugent-style zebra-striped gift set, complete with zebra thong and zebra vibrator. Aesop scored a vibrating thong for his girlfriend. Well, that's who he says it's for.

Before Ludicra came on, I was standing out front when a girl approached me. She kind of squinted at me and bobbed her head back and forth minutely, as though deciding if I was who she thought I was. "You don't remember me, do you?" she said.

I squinted and bobbed my head back and forth back at her before being forced to admit, that, no, I didn't remember her.

"I didn't think you would. My name is L-, you used to let me sleep on the floor in the lobby at the Lusty Lady."
I immediately remembered her and gave her a hug. She was young and homeless a few years before and used to come into the Lusty to hang out, sleep under a roof for a little bit, albeit under a roof in the lobby of a peep show. We all liked her a lot and were pulling for her to get off the streets. She seemed to have a lot upstairs and was just missing that crucial bit of luck to get a job and a place to stay. Before she disappeared from the neighborhood she did score a job at Jamba Juice, but it was short-lived for whatever reason. After that she started hanging with a punker girl and her boyfriend, both obviously strung out, and their dog. When I tried to describe her to Aesop, who also works at the LL, after the show, he drew a blank until I mentioned the junkies with the dog. "Of course," he said, "there's always a dog." I don't know-I'm in danger of looking like a complete asshole here, and I in no way want to insinuate that homeless people are deserving of their situation and not having a run of shitty luck or whatever, or that they're incapable of loving and caring for a pet. But "there's always a dog" made so much sense-seems like the blow it cases that are the most blown out on the streets are the ones with pets. It's Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If you can't meet your own, what are you doing with that dog? "Hey, can you spare a quarter that my girlfriend and I can split between food, dog food, and the yawning chasms in the crooks of our arms?" (In reverse order.) In the end, of course, luck or not, we're all responsible for our lives-our homelessness, our addictions, our lack or dexterity with tape dispensers, and our dogs.

When L- disappeared from North Beach, I figured she overdosed. Turns out she cleaned up, went back to school, lived in NYC for a couple of years, and at the time I ran into her at The Eagle, was on a scholarship at Mills majoring in Literature. (Just so long as it's not Creative Writing, L-.) And she thanked me. For letting her sleep in the dingy lobby of a fading porn landmark, and for "treating her like a regular human being."

It was with these words and a couple more hugs that I went in to see Ludicra, the cockles of my heart sufficiently toasty. (Turns out the girl with the dog even cleaned up.) And Ludicra ripped my heart out, cockles and all. Completely pulverizing black metal, with epic, intricate song structures and tempo changes, intertwined guitars, pounding drums, hammering bass lines. But the thing that makes Ludicra is the dueling lunatic howls of Laurie and Christy. There's the purity of white light in their screams: sunyata, the shining void. Nothing is one way or another in the midst of one of their screams; everything just is. There's really no room for interpretation in the midst of it-it's pure experience, black metal meditation. Black metal isn't usually my thing-it seems to verge on silliness much of the time, without enough self awareness to at least be ironic. Ludicra aren't silly, they're symphonic, but not in any Cradle of Filth/Nightmare Before Christmas cartoony way. They rocked shit to its foundation, including Ross's bass, which he destroyed at the end of the set. Apparently it was a gift from his girl who'd recently kicked him to the curb. Well, a man's got to relax somehow, I guess, but that was a pretty new looking bass. Don't get me wrong-it was a powerful gesture, but one he might've regretted in the clear light of day. Or not. Aesop seemed pretty miffed about it though. He ashed his smoke on Ross's suede jacket after the show.

He also introduced me to Laurie and Christy. For screaming like valkyries, they sure come off as sweet and nice and charming and regular. They actually thanked me for the opportunity to play for free. I guess I didn't expect them to rail at me in their black metal stage voices, but witnessing such smiling good cheer coming from vessels of unadulterated power was a bit like staring down the barrel of a howitzer, blinking, and discovering it was really only a cuddly kitten. I became instantly smitten with Christie. First off, I'm a sucker for redheads. Second, any girl in leather pants, with a foot long spiked armband, playing a flying V, who can scream like a typhoon and still come across as someone who could have a pleasant conversation with your mom is marriageable material. I told Aesop as much, and he introduced me by saying, "This is Scott. He wants to marry you." Of course she has a boyfriend, but he struck me as a lanky, somewhat metalled-out, mopey Beck type. I'm gearing up for a marathon here, I'm ready to fight Segall. I can take him. No mere street fight would do, however: to win the maiden from a band as epic Ludicra would take a swordfight in full chain mail.

After the show Doug, the booker/bartender at The Eagle, and former guitar player in Bomb and Gift Horse, handed me an envelope with $1,000 in twenties. Righteous. Great night. I rode by the End Up to pick up my check, then headed up lustrous Sixth Street on my way to the Lusty Lady to pick up my check there. Somewhere around Sixth and Howard it struck me: Here I am, riding a bicycle through the most abysmal cesspool in San Francisco with a grand in cash in my backpack. To be honest, I wasn't too worried about the baseheads, bedlamites, dopers and dealers on Sixth as much as SFPD. I wasn't doing anything wrong, but I did have that inexplicably large envelope of cash-how was that going to pass the shake down test? "It's from a benefit for the SF AIDS Foundation."

Right, buddy, sure. Well, we'll let you go, but we're keeping your dealing proceeds here for evidence. How was I going to explain that to the people in High Tone Son of a Bitch, Nigel Pepper Cock, Ludicra, and The Eagle, let alone the people at the Foundation? "The benefit made a thousand bucks, but I got rolled by the cops on the way home." Sounds a bit far fetched, I know. I don't drink, so I was stone sober, and besides a pocket knife (and that envelope), I had nothing remotely questionable on my person. But I do have "HELL BENT" tattooed on my knuckles, meaning the first thing cops ask me is, "Who's your parole officer?" And I'd been stopped twice on my way to work in the weeks prior for not having reflectors on my bicycle. Haight Street on a Friday night after ten, who knows what all going on, and the cops are going to sweat the guy with the dangerously dim bicycle. I decided not to crowd my luck and to head home forthwith and hastily.

Everything was cool until I was nearly home and passed a cruiser in the shadowy recesses of Golden Gate Park. It slowed, but the train kept a rollin' and so did I. I decided to stop at the Jack in the Box on Geary a half block from my house. I ordered a sourdough grilled chicken club, chili cheese curly fries, and chicken breast pieces with three kinds of sauce through the bullet proof portal. Training for a marathon, you know. Makes a body hungry. Something about the glow of fluorescents at three-thirty in the morning and the cryptic message posted on the milkshake machine ("DON'T LET ANYBODY IN. ASK FOR I.D. AND SHOES") revived my paranoia. When I got my food I figured out what the problem was. The thousand in cash wasn't really the issue; if I was going to get jacked by the SFPD, it'd be now, as I rolled down the sidewalk to my house with a steaming bag of greasy food in my hand. Good thing I didn't order the fajitas.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Return to Ground Zero, Che Pt. II

Okay, so I'm at back Mission Grounds, all set to re-read this morose, unwieldy tome of woe I'd written "to" my current ex-girlfriend, which I'd probably never send her anyway, so I really wrote it to and for myself, when who should I run into but the Che Guevara bike violator. He was missing his red beret, so it was one of those-is that him? is that not him?-kind of deals. But then he said, "Hey, sorry about your bike." I assured him that it was "all good," which it decidedly was not, the only thing making it approach the vicinity of even "partially good" being the fact that I nearly broke my hand pounding him about the skull. ("It's all good." Who came up with that boner? I'm reminded of my security friend White Trash Gary's line: "It's all good? No it ain't. Some of it's downright stank.")

And that's when the scene became comic. I mean really comic, sublimely so-somewhere between Shakespeare and the early episodes of Three's Company, before Chrissy left. (Which were really just a modernized version of Twelfth Night anyway.) The guy behind me, who Che had previously given the "hey what's up?" to, said:

"Why are you sorry about my bicycle?"

Che may have been waiting for me to clarify things, to tell the confused man behind me that it was my headache-inducing bicycle that he was sorry for. He just smiled cryptically. A good revolutionary, I suppose, sews chaos and eschews clarity.

"It wasn't my bicycle," the man behind me continued. "It was my guitar. You messed up the tuning pegs on my guitar." Apparently my Gordie Howe style, jersey-over-the-head drubbing was the first beating in a long line of petty vandalisms. Maybe the first beating would prove the end of said line, but you can't beat common sense into the clinically stupid, and to be sure, I had no idea how many beatings Che had received before I jumped on him on 16th Street. Maybe it was only the first of the week.

There was a bit of silence, then the man went on: "You got in a fight with some lesbian in a bar. That's what messed up the tuning pegs. They're stripped out."

Wow. Amazing. Che's trail of terror has widened to include some unsuspecting reader of Rubyfruit Jungle trying to mind her own business while sipping Guinness, or perhaps chamomile tea, at the local watering hole. Che, like most revolutionaries, seemed to have more of a knack for stirring up shit that for actual violence. Maybe he was the one who drew the picture of the telephone with the Anarchy circle 'A' on it and the words: "Freedom: Dial 1-800-AK-47" on the wall of the crapper in this very eatery. Clearly, this café revolutionary, this potty Trotsky, wouldn't know an AK-47 if it crawled up his ass and shot him. And Che? If you're going to swing a guitar at something or someone, clearly the idea is to swing it by the neck, down near the head stock and those easily damaged tuning pegs, and smack the body-especially if it's solid-up against the object of intent. Maybe he was Eastern Bloc. He'd evidently missed rock 'n' roll from the time Elvis smashed his first guitar, through The Who, and past Sonic Youth and Nirvana. But if The Velvet Underground could inspire Vaclav Havel to start a revolution behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, what the hell was Che's excuse? He was too primitive to even use a club correctly. And that's pretty fucking primitive.

You might say that it's so primitive it's advanced and that Che is some kind of quasi-enlightened Coyote trickster character, stirring up the shit pot with the wrong end of the stick so us normal folk can see the humor and folly in our attachment to things of this world. Good spin. My counter to that would be: "Uh, I don't think so."

"So now what's wrong with it? It needs new strings?"

"No, it's the tuning pegs. The things at the end of the neck that the strings go into. They're all stripped out. You went to a bar and got into it with some lesbians"-ah, the plural-I'm sure Che had tried to crowbar his way into some kind of sapphic seraglio-but would a man who couldn't use a club show any aptitude with a pry bar?-maybe he attempted an unflattering Janis Ian cover at open mic night at the Lexington-"and now I've got a guitar with strings that I can't tune."

And in that, I'm sure, there's a metaphor for this whole fucking thing. And maybe a moral to the story: The guitar of the revolution is always out of tune (and thus, all the more revolting to the establishment)? You can't keep a good lesbian down? If you're going to smash the state, you'd better know how to swing a guitar? Don't sing it, bring it…and if you're going to swing it, better know how to grip it? ("This machine kills fascists.")

You can't play guitar with a broken hand?

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Che Part I

Everyone tells me they're crazy.
Crazy people aren't so fucking boring.

Friday night and I'm sitting outside in front of Mission Grounds on 16th Street. Coolin', drinking a cup of coffee, reading my book, getting ready for what I hope will be a smooth evening in the drug-addled, sweat-soaked, 200 b.p.m. terrarium of my "day job" working security at The End Up. Just relaxing, you know-trying to have a quiet, contemplative moment so I can maintain my Zen from ten p.m. until six in the morning in a possibly stressful environment: house music and tweakers may go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but it's a horrible combination to be around for those trying to approximate sanity.

I also work graveyard cashier at the Lusty Lady. My boss there, Midnite Mike, and I have a running joke about me having a freak magnet hidden in the nether reaches of my bowels, hidden by aliens, no doubt, or maybe tucked behind my ear microchip style, a cunning CIA plot. Midnite comes in at six in the morning to pull the nut-stained bills and quarters from the machines and always asks if any of "Scott's Guys" came in the preceding evening. An example of one of "Scott's Guys" would be a character we named Gumby the Crack Monkey, who one night vigorously scrubbed his face using a mop bucket for a cistern. This mop bucket had been used to clean all the video booths in the place, probably for the only time that day. A dancer came up from the dressing room and stared at him aghast as he knelt on the carpet, trying to work the brown water into a lather. He looked up from his ablutions and shouted at her: "Do you have a stick of gum?"

See what I mean by freak magnet?

This being said, up walks a guy in a red beret, not cocked at a jaunty French angle or folded crisply a la special forces, but sort of plopped on top of his head like a dollop of strawberry sauce on a sundae, a few squiggles of hair poking out under the edge. I immediately think of the stark, hungry image of Che Guevara emblazoned across some hipsters T-shirt, except this Che seems a less like a lean, hungry revolutionary than someone who wants to affect the look of one. He is hungry, though, despite the underdeveloped, babyfat look about him: he hunkers down in a chair across the patio from me, pulls out a few cartons of leftover Chinese food from a plastic bag, and starts eating. Okay, fine. Got my coffee, got my book, got another half an hour to myself, got my side of the patio, you've got yours. Do your thing, Che.

Problem is, I'm facing him and he's facing me and I can feel him trying to project this jail-time, Bobby Badass menace in my direction. I try to pay attention to my book-Awakening the Buddha Within-but when I inadvertently glance up, Che shoots me one of those "I'm psycho-don't fuck with me, man. I'm totally 5150. Danger time. Warning Will Robinson," type looks, chow mein hanging down his chin like Genghis Khan's beard. As if it's my leftover Chinese food he's grubbing, and he's saying: "now watchu gonna do, PONK?" No doubt about it: Che wants something from me. He wants to impress me with how unhinged and salty he is. He wants to push me into a confrontation. I can feel it.

But I'm not going to bite. No, no-not me. It's all about restraint, self-control. I'm here for me. I'm here to relax, enjoy the present moment, wipe my mind free of its karmic accretions and let it rest in its natural state: pure, shining void, unadulterated Buddha nature. Sunyata and all that. I recognize the being across from me a fellow bodhisattva on the long and winding path to enlightenment, and I'm not going to be drawn into some bullshit even if he has started to whistle off key and play a coffee house Jon Bonham drum solo on the nearby tables and chairs.

There's a central-brain organ that sorts out incoming stimuli according to intensity, thereby directing one's stream of consciousness toward what seems most important, what needs to be dealt with now. My friends Mike and Trent used to say it was it was called the superior colliculous, but I can't seem to find anything remotely like that in the dictionary. No matter. It exists, and it does its job. Trent once clapped his hands together to distract a liquor store owner while Mike dashed out with a 70s Schlitz sign featuring two smiling young lovers with giant blowout afros that they just had to have for their apartment wall.

No matter how much I try to focus my attention on my book and my buddha nature-boom-shaka-ta-dow!-something in my mid-brain keeps making me look up when Che makes a particularly loud rimshot on his impromptu drum kit. And there he is with that Travis Bickle "you lookin' at me?" glare on his face. I'm just about to pack it in, unlock my bicycle and maybe get to work a bit early for a change, when he starts milling about the patio with shooting the same sinister look. At least he's stopped drumming. My superior whatever-ulous gets a rest, and I go back to my book.

But the brain never truly stops processing information, and maybe my work mode of unobtrusively cataloging the minute movements of freaks has kicked in early. My peripheral vision tracks Che's be-bop stroll to the sidewalk; he's about five feet away from my bicycle where it's locked to a parking meter. And closing. Yes, it seems that he's now looking directly at it. It has captured his attention.

The following happens in slow motion: Che reaches the bicycle. He puts his hands on it. I close the book, and stand up. Che climbs onto the bike, but not in a normal, riding position. It is locked up to a pole, after all. Instead, he uses the parking meter to brace himself as he stands on the bike's seat with both feet together. He lets go of the meter and stands surveying the sidewalk, king of all he sees. I have conquered this bicycle seat in the name of the people. I push some tables and chairs out of the way-I'm somewhat blocked in-knocking over my coffee in the process, and run toward him. He raises his arms up slowly to enjoy a split second of crucified equilibrium: Che Guevara, King of the Jews. I'm halfway across the sidewalk when the bike falls from under him and he hits the concrete, the tail of his mangy, untucked dress shirt raised halfway up his back.

Now, I ask you: Is this something you do if you don't want to have your ass kicked? Seriously, now? I admit that it's not quite as suicidal as sitting on the bikes in front of the Hell's Angels clubhouse, twisting the throttle and saying "vroom vroom." I also freely admit that I'm too old to be riding around on a BMX bike, but the thing did run me about $800 and it's not a public pommel horse for the gymnastics of a chow-mein chomping wannabe nutjob. I was trying so hard to maintain, trying so hard to drink my coffee and mind my business and not get drawn in to any kind of nonverbal macho challenge and well, I have lost all track of the Buddha within. As The Pixies once asked: "Where is my mind?"

I jump on top of Che and pull his shirttail the rest of the way up so it's over his head. Now his head is a nicely-wrapped, warm little package, like a kitten in a pillowcase. I start punching him, and from the feel of it, I'm not connecting with any of the point-scoring places-eye socket, nose, mouth, even the earhole. No, I'm far beyond aiming at anything in particular; I've got his shirt pulled up Gordie Howe style, and I'm punching away like a hockey fight, whacking on skull. Che, who was so bent on apprising me of his fully psycho potential, has his arms flailing about helplessly. If I could hear myself, I'd probably hear, "I'm gonna fuckin' kill you!" over and over. Course, if I had that kind of awareness, I'd probably stop wrecking my knuckles on the back of this guy's head, take a couple of deep breaths and go away.

Reality fades in. Down the sidewalk a crowd of cools is barbecuing on a hibachi in front of The Kilowatt. They're staring at the homicidal maniac-ah shit, that's me?-somewhat intently. I just know one of them has a Che T-shirt on. Che is whimpering: "I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry. I didn't know it was your bike. Just stop punching me."

A crackhead has sidled up to the violence: "Hey now. Go ahead and let him up, now." (It might be a tad too late to tell you I'm not a violent person, but I really try to avoid that shit. I'm trying to be the shepherd, as Jules said, if you feel me. But I can tell you that crackheads have some innate Ghandi radar in their coke-addled brains. When you want to have a quiet moment at the front desk of a peep show after three a.m., there's no shortage of baseheads yapping glass-dick gibberish up your earhole, but on the rare occasion you want to pound someone's brainpan like a raw T-bone, your local cracky is there to remind you "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.")

I let Che up. "Go the fuck away," I tell him. I pick up my bicycle, then go back to my table, and pick up my book. Okay, now I'm being stupid. I've been reading the same paragraph since dude walked up-am I really going to get a whole lot of reading done now? For some reason it's important to me to go through these innocuous, calming motions, to breathe deep and reassure myself that I didn't have a grand mal psychotic break in the middle of a public thoroughfare. Che roots about in his cartons and plastic bags, packing up his dinner. Instead of taking it with him and getting the fuck outta dodge, he leaves it there and moseys down to the Kilowatt crowd. Trolling for sympathy I guess. But first, before he leaves the patio, he shoots me a quick "why'd you have to hit me, meanie?" scolded puppy look.

Breathe deep. Breath goes in, breath goes out. Knuckles throb, breath goes in. Note to self: the knuckles are much softer than the back of the skull.

Cracky walks up. "You sure showed that guy. He knocked over your bike man-is your bike gonna be okay? Did he hurt your bike?"

Breath goes in, breath goes out: a prayer for those trying to maintain.

"Can't have that man, can't have somebody hurting your bike."

"Can I ask you something?"

"What's that?"

"Do you think I need to be fucked with right now? Could you maybe just leave me alone?"

Cracky sucks on a burnt lip and ponders. "Okay, okay." He holds a grimy newspaper towards me: "Wanna buy a Street Sheet?"
Che walks back up. "I'm sorry I knocked over your bike," he says again. "Here, man, let me pay you or something." He digs out three crumpled ones from his pocket. "You didn't need to hit me though."

"Don't want your money, man." Send it to Fidel. "Just leave me alone, okay?"

"I'll take it," Cracky says.

"Naw, man."

"No, you were gonna give it away anyhow. That money was gone to you. Now go ahead and give it up."

Che's face screws up as he considers it. He peels off a bill and hands it over.

"Oh, it's like that, huh?"

Che peels off another bill. "That's it. That's all you get." Cracky walks off with a significant downpayment on his next baking soda brainbomb, and Che goes back to his side of the patio. He pulls out the chow mein again. Unbelievable. I am determined to finish my chapter. Probably because I am an unmitigated idiot. The chapter is not uncoincidentally on Right Action, which, as defined by the Buddha, does not include rage-filled drubbing of Mission District revolutionaries. A guy comes out from inside, sets up his laptop. A guy rides up on a bicycle. They start to chat.

"Hey, what's up, man?" Che interrupts.

Bicycle Guy turns around. "Oh, hey." He doesn't seem too stoked to see Che, but maybe that's my own bias showing through. He turns back to his conversation.

"Hey, you see that guy over there?" Che points at me. "That guy tried to kill me."

My God. Maybe this guy is a revolutionary. He's indomitable. Maybe he's waiting for me to ride away so he hurl a grenade at my back.

"That's too bad," Bicycle Guy says, clearly bummed.

"Yeah, man. He's crazy."

I'm about to speak in my own defense, knowing full well that Ben Franklin was right when he said "the man who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer." Bicycle Guy saves me the trouble: "Well you probably shouldn't fuck with him, then, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Che finishes his noodles and mercifully toddles off. I think he might knock my bike over again on the way. Then what could I do? I couldn't hit him again. It's not that the intervening moments between my episode and now have impressed upon the interdependence of all phenomena, and I've realized that there's no way I can harm him without harming myself, the self being largely an illusion anyway, caused by the interplay of the senses and the "shape" of my karma. No, it's really much simpler than all that. Fact as, Che is clearly too stupid to live. In the midst of my wonderment as to how he ever grew into his late twenties/early thirties without sitting on some Angel's bike and saying "vroom vroom" or pausing to pick up an expired bus pass in front of a speeding Muni, I feel kind of responsible for him.