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Archive for the category “Unpublished ’til Now”

how i misspent my youth

This is the second guest post from Rich Jones, who previously shared some ramblings on his place of employment, an antique store (what’s the big deal with Charles Bukowski?). Here he offers a few brief episodes from his aimlessly misspent youth in San Francisco in the late 60s/early 70s—which back then was probably the best city in the world in which to aimlessly misspend one’s youth. They may remind you of the old adage God watches out for drunks and fools.

Looking east down Geary Boulevard from 36th Av...

Looking east down Geary Boulevard from 36th Avenue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

will work for weed

When I was thirteen, I got my first job delivering the morning paper with a couple of school chums, brothers who dealt marijuana on the side and paid me a lid per month instead of cash to help them with the route. I’d get up at 3:00am and bike to the corner where the distributor dumped the papers; then the three of us would sit around inserting adverts and folding and loading the papers into a canvas shoulder bag while smoking dope. We’d hit the pavement by around 4:00am.

We delivered papers in one of the tonier neighborhoods in San Franciso—Presidio Heights—which includes a gated cul-de-sac, Presidio Terrace, on Arguello Boulevard. Among others, it was home to then Mayor Joseph Alioto and then Supervisor, now Senator, Diane Feinstein. We had to go door-to-door once a month to collect the subscription fees. Oddly enough, the greatest concentration of deadbeat accounts, those who “paid by mail,” but in fact didn’t pay at all, was within the Terrace.

Eventually, the brothers got tired of the paper route, so I took it over as a sort of sub-contractor, still working for marijuana. I really enjoyed that job; I liked the deserted streets, the cool morning air, the walking around, and of course, the dope smoking. Unfortunately, I lost it after about a year when the paper consolidated routes and began requiring car ownership for delivery people. But it was fun while it lasted.

boots in the sand (stoner version)

When I was still in junior high, I cut school a lot to hang out with an older group of stoners. They liked to hang out in Lincoln Park, near the southwest corner of China Beach, a place called Eagle Point. It was near a contemporary style wood-sided house occupied at the time by members of a local rock group known as “The Jefferson Airplane.”

One evening, some of my friends and I were out there drinking beer and smoking pot, when I felt the call of nature, got up, and staggered downhill. Coming around a bush, I suddenly found myself treading air and plummeting down the cliff face, too drunk to be scared until I was well on my way. I was wearing a three-quarter-length leather jacket I’d scored at a thrift store only weeks before, which kept me from shredding my back against the rocky shale as I slid down.

As luck would have it, the tide was coming in, and I landed up to my knees in partially liquefied beach sand. The sand was like glue, and the only way I could move was to step out of the pair of knee-high suede cowboy boots I’d spent several months of odd job wages on (earned in the underground economy of the time) at a surplus store on Market Street. Totally shaken and scared witless, I half crawled, half waded through frigid, knee-deep water to China Beach, weighed down by my wet clothes and the leather jacket. From there, I managed to walk from 28th Avenue to 10th Avenue and Anza Street in wet woolen boot socks, raising a set of blisters the size of Kennedy half-dollars on the soles of my feet. Thanks to the cold sea water, adrenaline pumped into me during the fall, and the long walk home, I was stone cold sober when I got to the front door; thus, I managed to sneak to my room, avoiding embarrassing parental inquiries.

When I saw my friends at school the next day, they all swore they’d been completely unaware that I was missing.

fade to blue

While nominally attending high school, my wiseacre friends and I spent much of our time hanging out in an area known as “the Pit,” which was located under the western side of the concrete stands of the football stadium. The Pit had restrooms that were kept locked except for game days and a windowless utility/storage room where the groundskeeper, whom we all called “Jack T. Gardener,” kept his equipment. Jack was pretty cool. He would unlock the restroom when we had a quorum and didn’t report us when we smoked cigarettes or drank beer there. He even kept some softball equipment for the impromptu games we held in the early afternoons when we were buzzed and mellow. In exchange, we kept the Pit cleaned up and carried our empties off campus so he wouldn’t get into trouble when the boys’ dean, who shared a last name with Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, came snooping around.

My best friend, Ed Chung, was part of this group. One day while the two of us were wandering stoned and happy down Clement Street, we found a box of plastic sunglasses in the trash outside the now long gone Owl Drugstore. Their frames were of various styles but all of the same rather unattractive shade of blue (probably why they were being thrown out). We took them over to the Old Man Shack where seniors played checkers and smoked themselves to their graves in Mountain Lake Park and sorted them out. In the process, I discovered I could wear two pairs at once, with the second pair resting atop the first so I looked like I had four eyes. Ed tried on two pair as well, and we both laughed till our sides ached. Then Ed thought up a stunt we could pull, which he organized and we carried out that very evening.

Around 8:00pm, Ed, his older brother, Ray, our friend Chris, and I all met at a tennis court off 25th Avenue and smoked a joint. We then walked out to four bus stops westbound along the 1 California Electric Line and spaced ourselves one stop apart, between 25th and 32nd Avenues, where the line turns south at Lincoln Park to loop back towards downtown. Each of us was wearing two pairs of blue framed sunglasses, one pair atop the other. The bus, with only a few passengers, stopped for each of us. We got on, paid our fares, and seated ourselves from front to rear. When the bus arrived at the 33rd Avenue turn-around, we all got off. The driver didn’t say a word, but he definitely gave us the fish eye.

We managed to get through this stunt without cracking up on the bus. Afterward, we headed to Eagle Point to smoke more dope.

ice sledding in San Francisco

There used to be an ice vending machine at a Union 76 service station located on Geary Boulevard at Stanyan Street. For, as I recall, a dollar you could get either large bags of crushed ice or solid 12×12 ice blocks.

The doors through which the ice was dispensed were large enough for a slender teenager to crawl through. So we’d climb in and steal blocks of ice and then haul them the six blocks over to the Presidio Golf Course via Arguello. Along the way, we’d scrounge copies of the throw-away newspaper The San Francisco Progress which typically accumulated unread on front porches and in the vestibules of flats and apartment buildings.

The Presidio Golf Course had a hill to the west, just past the clubhouse near the Arguello Street Gate, that sloped steeply and dramatically down towards Mountain Lake Park. We’d take the ice blocks up to the crest of the green, put the pilfered newspapers on top of them, and then ride them down the manicured hill—typically stoned out of our minds.

When pursued by the MPs, which was frequently, we’d escape by crossing a deep, concrete culvert that ran parallel to the hill and was choked with blackberry bushes. After crawling under a chain-link fence and scarpering for the nearby park exit at 6th Avenue, we escaped onto Lake Street, scratched and bleeding, but free. We never once got caught.

brown haired girl (a short story)

Memory is incomplete experience.
— J. Krishnamurti

A pleasurable warmth coursed through me from chest to belly and all the way down my legs to my toes. I’d been dreaming something good. The details had all vanished leaving behind this vapor trail of contentment. I’d read that if you keep your body in the same position after waking up your dream might come back to you. I tried feigning sleep, but Delilah batted at my nose with the tips of her claws to let me know she meant business. I took her paw in my hand and stroked her soft fur with my thumb. “Good kitty,” I whispered. Not about to settle for sweet talk, she yanked her paw from my grasp and let out a piercing meow. No question who was in charge here.

I opened my eyes to confront her steely green orbs less than three inches from my face. “All right, baby. Time to rise and shine. Or rise, anyway.” As soon as I pushed the quilted purple coverlet aside, Delilah jumped down from the bed and pranced out of the room, her black and white tail pointed skyward. I pushed my feet into slippers, wincing at the sight of my varicose veins. I used to have great legs, a hiker’s legs, strong and smooth and muscular; they had carried me up the sides of more than a few mountains back when. Now they looked and felt like they belonged to someone else, less like legs than sticks of wood.

Delilah called impatiently from the kitchen, so I stood up and ordered my feet to get moving. As I passed through the doorway, the memory flooded me so abruptly and with such Technicolor clarity I reached for the wall to steady myself.

Sam and I are in his green VW bug, heading out of town on the last weekend of October. We have food: yellow Delicious apples, cheese, and bread brought by me; wine, dark chocolate truffles—my favorite—and the ever-present red plaid thermos of black coffee brought by him. The sky is amazingly, brilliantly blue, with fairytale puffs of pure white clouds scudding across. The air feels crisp and clean, as if rain-washed.

We pass the bait shop with its signs hand-lettered on the windows in blue and white paint offering live bait, boat repair, fishing licenses, and cold drinks. Half a dozen teenaged boys in ripped jeans and Rolling Stones T-shirts are hanging around the entrance to the Mom and Pop store next door, smoking and shoving each other around, trying to kill some of the time they might someday wish they could get back. On the other side of the road, sandwiched between a couple of shabby used car dealerships, there’s the no-name café with its rectangular sign atop a tall pole towering over everything in the area and sporting a single word: “Eat.” A battered gray pick-up, probably belonging to the owner, is the only vehicle parked in the gravel lot. Sam and I keep threatening to go inside and order something to find out whether the food is edible and if the place has an actual name.

Sam says, “Hey, Annie,” in that fake casual tone of his, “could you root out one of those truffles for me?”

I stare at the round glasses resting on the bridge of his freckled nose, at his sculpted cheekbones and thatch of auburn hair. He looks sort of like an Irish John Lennon. “Ha, ha,” I say, not giving him the satisfaction of a smile. “How long were you saving that one up? Did you bring those truffles just so you could get off a one-liner?”

Sam grins. He runs his fingers through my hair, which falls around my shoulders in heavy brown waves. My chest constricts.

“I brought them because I love watching you eat them. You look like you’re about to have an orgasm.”

I hate having him see how embarrassed this makes me. I’m 19, but Sam is 21, and he seems much older and more experienced. I tell him to pay attention to the road, but he laughs and starts singing can’t take my eyes off of you…you’re just too good to be true…

As Delilah’s meows approached the level of caterwauling, I proceeded toward the kitchen humming the song since I couldn’t remember the rest of the words. Delilah made small circles in front of the door, the feline equivalent of pacing.

“OK, OK. You know I’m not as fast as I used to be. Someday you’ll be old and stiff, too. See how you like it when it happens to you.” I reached down to scratch the top of her head, but she gave me a dirty look and leaned away. I held open the door to the backyard, and she stepped out primly onto the top concrete step, surveying her territory before scampering into the yard. She was damn nimble for a 13-year-old cat. If you converted her age to human years, she was older than me, and frankly I was jealous of her agility.

I followed her down the steps and felt the sun on my bare arms. It was warm, but not yet hot, and the sky was cloudless. We needed rain, but I—and my bones—loved these dry, sunny days best. Delilah sniffed around the fence skirting the flowerbed, checking for traces of nighttime visitors. The lawn was green, thanks to the sprinkler system my son-in-law had installed, and all my flowers were blooming: the marigolds and zinnias, as well as the pink Queen Elizabeth roses and the sunflowers. I’d have to come out later with a bowl to pick some raspberries; the bushes bordering the fence were lush with fat red jewels.

Back in the kitchen, I heated water in the kettle, tossed some ground coffee into a brown paper cone, and bent close to inhale the scent. I’m still a coffee addict; it’s an old habit, one I picked up from Sam, actually.

He turns onto a dirt road taking us deep into the Michigan woods. We’re both quiet now, partly because of the quiet outside, but more, I think, because the trees have stunned us into silence. The leaves are so intensely gaudy with their red/gold and burnt orange colors that when the breeze ruffles them and sends handfuls whirling through the air, the countryside looks like it’s going up in flames. But you can tell fall is coming to an end. By next weekend, or the one after, most of the leaves will be gone, leaving the branches winter-bare.

Sam pulls off the road near a picnic table. We’ve never encountered anyone else here, so we think of it as our private retreat. I relax against the seat and breathe everything in. The air smells of decaying leaves and distant smoke. I know I will never forget this smell. Sam puts his arm around me, pulling me against him. His jacket brushes my cheek and my hair falls in front of my face. I brush it away and he kisses me long and hard, with his eyes open, staring into mine.

“Want a truffle?” he says, and we both crack up.

I slap at him lightly and push him away. “Maybe later.” I raise my eyebrows and attempt a suggestive look before digging into my pocket for a rubber band so I can pull my hair back into a ponytail. We get out of the car and head for the lake about a quarter of a mile away.

The sound of a train whistle made me shiver, but it was only the tea kettle. I turned off the heat and poured boiling water over the grounds. While the coffee brewed, I went to my bedroom to get dressed. These days I avoided looking at myself if I didn’t have to, but now I stood in front of the mirror as I slipped out of my nightgown, let it fall on the floor, and stepped into a worn pair of size eight jeans. Although I hate bras I usually succumbed to convention, but this morning I said the heck with it and pulled a T-shirt over my bare breasts. My nipples poked against the thin yellow cotton. I combed my fingers through my hair, which is thinner and gray now, but still comes down past my shoulders and still has some wave in it. I reached into my pocket for one of those coated hair bands that go on and off so much easier than plain rubber bands do.

Sam and I hike to the lake and take the trail up into the hills. As we climb, we talk about all the places we’re going to hike next year in different parts of Michigan, maybe the Upper Peninsula, and in other states later on, when we’re both finished with school. He wants to try Colorado; I’m dreaming of New England. We intend to travel a lot once we can afford it, so we spend a lot of time pouring over guidebooks for India and Greece and Spain, planning elaborate fantasy hikes.

When we get back to the car, we transfer everything from the back seat over to the picnic table and spread it out on top of a brown and white checked cloth. I grab an apple, sit down, and swing my legs over the seat of the picnic table. When I bite into the apple I spray juice everywhere.

Sam laughs and sticks his hand out. “Hey, be careful with that thing. It appears to be loaded.”

I make a face at him and laugh, too, trying not to choke or spit out apple bits. Sam cuts hunks of bread and slices of Swiss cheese and arranges them on paper plates while I unwrap the box of truffles, trying not to drool all over them. He opens the wine bottle with his Swiss Army knife. It’s inexpensive Cabernet, but at least it isn’t screw-top. He fills two paper cups halfway and hands one to me. I switch the apple to my other hand, wipe my palm on my jeans, and take the cup from him

“To us,” he says, winking and giving me a crooked, sexy smile.

My heart is so full I can hardly stand it. “To us,” I whisper back. Our toast feels ceremonial, like we’re making a do-or-die promise to each other, a vow, serious and holy. The forest, too, seems alert to the subtle change in atmosphere. And me, I’m wide open and ready, on the brink of the rest of my life, my beautiful life with Sam, who is strong and smart and funny and everything I will ever want or need.

Three sharp raps at the back door preceded the sound of Sandra’s voice. “Mom? You in here?”

“Coming!” I headed back to the kitchen where I found Delilah winding herself around Sandra’s legs. “You,” I said to the cat. “Back so soon?”

Sandra glanced at my chest before looking me in the eye. “I was on my way home from swimming and thought I’d stop by.”

“How nice. Would you like some coffee?” I lifted the plastic cone and offered her the mug of brewed coffee, but she shook her head.

“Not yours. I’ll fix my own.” She set her purse on the counter and carried the tea kettle to the sink to refill it. “Have you eaten breakfast?”

Sandra had recently taken to stopping by unannounced either to nag me or to see if I’m showing signs of losing my marbles, I’m not sure which.

“Nope.” I took a sip of black coffee, sighing as the caffeine kicked in. “Not hungry yet.”

“Mom, you should eat something in the morning. Even if it’s just toast.”

“You’re right. I’ll pick some raspberries in a minute. You can take some home with you for the kids.” I pulled out a chair and sat down at the oak table, watching my dark-haired older daughter carefully measure coffee into a fresh paper cone. She took after Philip, her father; practical people, both were neat, cautious, and meticulous, always busy-busy-busy, darting about, weaving their webs of safety and security around themselves and everyone close to them. Time and repetition had worn down my resistance to their ministrations.

Resting my elbows on the table, I gazed out the kitchen window past the cloud of peonies blooming against the fence on this side of the yard, toward the pastel haze of the eastern mountains. Sam. I hadn’t let myself think of him in years, allowing those memories to fade as the color of my hair has faded, to grow as brittle as my old bones. But what harm was there in indulging myself now, after all this time?

“You know what would go great with this coffee?” I said. “One of those dark chocolate truffles. With an Amaretto center. No, not Amaretto. Gran Marnier.” I could almost taste it. “Doesn’t that sound absolutely…um, really good?” I’d almost said “orgasmic.”

My daughter whirled around to face me. “What are you talking about? Mom, you’re not eating candy for breakfast, are you?”

I could just hear Sandra’s outraged report to her sister, Christine: “She’s eating chocolates for breakfast. Chocolates filled with liquor!” Chris would correct her: “It’s not liquor; it’s liqueur”—completely missing Sandra’s point and making a distinction that would be lost on her sister.

I stared into the dark steaming mug on the table and felt my lips twist into the smile of my younger self, slim-hipped and strong-legged; a little shy, but game, and impatient for the adventure to unfold. I had been so confident in Sam’s and my love, so certain of what the future held. There was so much I hadn’t known, so many things I couldn’t possibly have foreseen.

The cat curled up next to my bare feet purring, reminding me of who I was here and now—and where. But when I closed my eyes, the spirit of that eager young girl slipped into me, transporting me back to Michigan on a late-fall day amid flaming leaves and hushed, crystal-clear air, where I was poised—or maybe not exactly poised, but there—on the brink, with my whole life, for better and worse, still all out in front of me.

Maybe that girl would have been as scandalized as Sandra was at the idea of eating chocolate truffles for breakfast. But she would have been willing to do it. At least once.

what’s the big deal with Charles Bukowski?

The following is a guest post by Richard Ford Jones (brief bio below), a series of anecdotes drawn from his interactions with the dealers and clientele of an antique mart located in one of the oldest buildings still standing in Downtown Reno, much of which was lost to casino development. Jones works as a substitute floor person for dealers who can’t cover their required days. As with any collection of people, he says, there are personality clashes and mini-dramas galore, and cooperation is hampered by internecine squabbles. He attempts to maintain a circumspect demeanor in his dealings with the various factions.

1.

Due in part to the antique mart owners celebrating their sixth anniversary by laying out cookies, crackers, and cheese, it was a fairly busy day, and we had a few street people and assorted characters drop in. My ability to attract crazy people wherever I go remains undiminished, as all sought me out and engaged me in conversation. Per fellow workers, several are regulars who live downtown and come to the store to get out of the heat or cold and drink free coffee. They know to avoid them. I treated them all like customers, and we got along okay. One guy, a bit more together than some of them, actually thanked me for being nice to him even though I knew he couldn’t buy anything. This can be a tough town to be down and out in, considering how hard it tries to part people from their money. “I am my brother’s keeper” will never be the state motto.

2.

Early in the day, John, one of my fellow floor persons (he sells newer Oriental Art merchandise he buys from another store in the area and marks up) latched onto me and bent my ear periodically for seven hours. I just have “polite listener” written all over me, I guess. He started out by mistaking me for another dealer, a gay guy named “Duke” who sells Barbie dolls, G.I. Joes, old plastic car models, and Deco cocktail sets. There is a superficial resemblance; we’re both relatively thin (though I’ve developed a pot belly over the winter), balding, bespectacled white men in our late fifties with receding salt ‘n’ pepper crew cuts. But Duke has a thin mustache, bad skin, and is several inches shorter than I am.

I finally got John to realize he was talking to another person by pointing out that I only “looked” gay. He then went into a song and dance about how he couldn’t really see me clearly because he’d broken his glasses (he had a cheap set of drugstore readers he carried in his vest pocket). There was also some speculation on my being Duke’s evil twin, and I may have stuck myself with a new nickname.

3.

Our standout customer today was “George,” an old guy doing the full Gabby Hayes: scraggly grey beard and long grey hair, battered Stetson, frayed white canvas shirt under a black leather biker vest, grubby blue jeans several sizes too big, and beat up suede running shoes. He claimed he’d been, among other things, a miner and a hobo. We got to talking, and when the wide-ranging conversation turned to scattering ashes of your loved ones, he declared he’d scattered his sister’s ashes in a casino. I told him about scattering Pop’s ashes on the east slope of Mount Tamalpais (in Mill Valley CA). George, as it turned out, was a graduate of Tamalpais High School. “You’re the first person I met in thirty years ever mentioned that name!” He ended up buying a three dollar silk rep tie. “Sometimes I just feel like dressin’ up.”

4.

One of our regular customers, a woman who appears to be schizophrenic, is obsessed with a “fortune telling wizard” the owner’s wife has in one of her booths. The wizard is a maddening device comprised of a black box atop which is a clear glass ball. Within the ball is a cast resin figurine of a wizard garbed in peaked hat, star spangled robes, and all. It has a proximity sensor and sound generator that produces an annoying electric scale run randomly every few minutes throughout the day, and a loud electric hiss whenever anyone comes near it. When fed a quarter, it verbally intones your fortune in a few brief, clichéd words.

This customer sometimes arrives just before closing to “consult” it, and if denied access to the wizard becomes very distraught. Yesterday, she also purchased a paperback copy of the Edith Hamilton classic “The Greek Way,” which she paid for in loose change. The manger allowed her to slide on $0.68 she didn’t have. She promised to bring the money today.

5.

“Dan,” who is five feet tall if he’s an inch, looks like a cross between Professors Irwin Corey and Timothy Leary in miniature, complete with the wispy grey hair, wry squint, and toothy grin (possible false teeth.) His story is that he’s of royal blood, related on the German side to the Houses of Hanover and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but enjoys being a “commoner.” Yesterday when he was in, he led me to a case where the dealer was displaying some chi-chi ladies feathered hats. He pointed to a picture of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and told me he was proud to see “his cousin.” And the thing is it might just be true.

Like so many of the others who come in here, he just wanted someone to talk to. Still, you have to wonder what the big deal was about Charles Bukowski; maybe it’s just that he wrote it all down.

                                                                                                     

Bemused in Casablanca (1998)

Richard Ford Jones began writing in the late 1980s, when in his early 30s. During a brief three-month period he produced six novellas and short stories, none intended for publication. He jokingly refers to these as “The Jones Canon.” He did not write anything in a literary vein again for another sixteen years.

His next spurt of creativity was from 2004 to 2008, during which he wrote four humorous genre pastiches for an annual 500-word writing contest in The North Bay Bohemian. The contests involved either building a story on an introduction (with plot elements provided by the judges) or utilizing a list of words in the body of a story.

While Jones has had no literary output for extended periods, he has for many years been a self-described “inveterate crank letter writer,” penning scores of letters to the editorial pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, two Northern California newspapers, and now the Reno Gazette Journal, quite a few of which have seen print.

The many authors Jones admires and has read repeatedly include: Michail Bulgakov, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Paul Cain, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Robert E. Howard, Mark Twain, Daniel Defoe, Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, S.J. Perelman, St.Clair McKelway, Stendhal (Henri Marie Beyle), Alfred Bester, Luo Guanzhong, George Borrow, Alexander Dumas, Fritz Leiber, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray.”

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