OCTOBER POST: NAKED

The beginnings of the thinking animal can be traced back to around 200,000 years ago. Anthropologists tell us that 194,000 of those 200,000 years were pre-civilized, but during which we had the same general physical makeup as we have now. Same neocortex emerging out of the mammalian brain. Same reptilian brain down in the core.

Societally we were very different, however. Lived in small units, close to nature, an almost naked existence. Very few accouterments. Survived by hunting, fishing and gathering — what Columbus and crew observed in native life upon arriving to the “new world” late fifteenth century. A mere eight lifespans ago.

Those minimalistic 194,000 hunter/gatherer years mark the end of the 2.5 million year Pleistocene Era, known for mastodons and wooly mammoths and pre-homo sapiens. Well before that was the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs and other reptiles stretching back a couple hundred million more years. It’s been a long, wild ride to this razor thin sliver of time in which self-aware animals have dominated the planet, with no significant enemies but each other.

Our super rapid rise to power is like nothing else that has ever happened. It does have, however, a model in our inner nature; unfortunately it is the microscopic cancer cell. Then the metastasizing tumor. Unsustainable growth. The point of no return.

Meanwhile, tra la la, fiddling while Rome burns, I’m off to San Francisco with a friend. I haven’t been in a plane in a long time. I hate flying, and it doesn’t help getting lost on the way to the airport because our GPS goes haywire and sends us on a two hour wild goose chase through the back roads of Pennsylvania. Then, upon arriving at the Pittsburgh airport, it doesn’t help that in acres and acres of “extended parking” there is not one open space, and we are now in danger of missing our flight. We make it to the gate just as they’re starting to close the door.

And after all that it doesn’t help sitting six hours in a cramped middle seat that does not recline one inch, although the armrest has a button to press to serve that function.

At the baggage claim in San Francisco, I swear to Hania that this is my last flight ever — minus, of course, the flight back home in five days. But a counter-mood is already on the rise. We have landed safely, after all. Time to let go of the “getting there” frustrations, not to mention the barely repressed terrors of sitting in this winged cone 35,000 feet above the earth. Tens of thousands of us self-aware animals have already dropped to their death in similar circumstances.

In the taxi cab to the downtown hostel, I’m thinking it’s like taking peyote: before the good part comes, you get sick. You throw up. You face your mortality. Already I sense that this trip is going to be a thump on the head, in a good way, like when the Zen Master catches you dozing off during meditation and conks you one. Hania and I are now laughing about the whole ordeal.

The hostel bouncer/door-man also laughs when we ask if there’s a nearby place to eat. He says next door is pretty good if you’re looking for grandma food. I order a ham and cheese sandwich, and Hania (almost a vegan) mashed potatoes and a salad. I know I’m a little high by how talkative I am. Our young waitress is Ukrainian. Thick accent. Not glamorous, but with a huge inner beauty, though I doubt the boys her age would see it. Not the ones that she’d like to see it.

Oh, the desire to be seen, especially romantically! Hania says that she’s happy that that stage of life is behind her now. I can’t quite say the same for me, but I know what she means.

My reading isn’t until our last evening here, so we have nothing but free time for three days. We’re up at seven (ten, to us) and have breakfast in the hostel dining room (good strong coffee, whole wheat bread, organic bananas), packed in among mostly young Europeans traveling in groups. Almost all good-looking. Loud. Not very aware of others’ space. One eye on their cellphones.

The first day, getting our bearings, we walk through a vast homeless area along Market Street on our way to the Asian Art Museum. Two of the three floors are closed, so we don’t buy a ticket. I didn’t really want to do museum stuff anyway, where everybody’s always so super well behaved behind their “I’m cultured” masks. On the corner there’s a homeless person, waving his arms and cheerfully jabbering, entertaining himself by startling passers-by lost in thought. A lot of the street people have Turret’s. It’s their way out of invisibility, I suspect. To not be totally swallowed up into depression.

We agree that it’s a mistake to make eye-contact with them, and I know this hurts Hania, who more than anyone I know lives the spiritual life 24/7, and for whom nobody is invisible. A black man jumps out at us saying “God loves the Christ.” In the midst of so many fallen brothers and sisters, what choice does a person have but to walk on as briskly as possible, eyes straight ahead. “Too many of them…. So many of them.”

Later that evening, people-watching inside the Davies Symphony Hall lobby, I’m thinking that the sophisticated set are just as lost in the other direction…. No, I don’t envy one bit the success side of the street. At the end of the program there’s a standing ovation that brings the lead cellist back out for three bows. The man behind us yells, bravo, bravo — his way of fighting invisibility, I suspect. Hania and I appear to be the only ones not standing. It’s not that we can’t see the talent and hard work behind it. We’re just not in the mood.

Next morning I wake up with some bites on me, surely bedbugs, a big problem for travelers nowadays. Nonetheless, I feel deeply rested. Just breaking out of one’s routine has to be a good thing. After an invisible half hour among the youngsters in the dining room, and now walking up one of San Francisco famous hills towards the Bay, I tell Hania that following my reading, I’m supposed to provide a writer’s prompt for the audience (aspiring student poets). First I’ll ask them to write three lies about the moon, two briefly, a third more elaborately; then to write a poem — starting with this line, “After dark, behind the 14 hills of San Francisco” — into which they incorporate one of those lies.

I spontaneously compose such a poem myself, having to do with the moon not wanting to come up, because it’s a waning moon, and nobody cares about a tired old waning moon, so it doesn’t care about itself either. It has developed an inferiority complex because it’s not really seen anymore, not like back in hunter/gatherer days. We laugh. We’re laughing quite a bit now.

My “high” continues through our second full day, to the point that I’m reminded how a young person probably feels. In a more sexy body, without all the aches and pains. It’s been a while since I’ve shared a hotel room with anyone, let alone with a beautiful woman. The third night, I wake up at three o’clock, as I so often do, and count back eleven years since I’ve slept with someone else, I mean even in the same room. I listen to Hania, her bed perpendicular to mine, dropping into a deep breathing which lasts for several minutes. She told me once that she never dreams, but call it what you want, some mysterious other world is being penetrated.

Hania and I are sleeping together, so to speak. That’s an intimacy risk, I would say. What’s intimacy anyway? I’ve already asked her to inspect some bites which I can’t see for myself on the back of my thighs. Traveling with someone is making me into a different person, a little bit. Less inward. More open to little surprises.

Nonetheless, by the middle of the third day, a routine of sorts is settling in. We’ve already gone to the same Japanese restaurant twice, and a close-by Thai restaurant three times. Today we want to visit the Muir woods to see the redwoods, but we can’t get the Uber app up. So I walk across the street and rent a car. Bad choice. Soon I am driving in a city I don’t know, with eyes not what they used to be. And when we get to the Muir Woods we can’t get in without a reservation, which can be only obtained on-line. So fuck it, we go to the ocean instead, but now I’m frustrated. I wish we’re still just walking. I was enjoying just imbibing the town. The streets. The street people. Now we have drifted, it seems, into the mesmerism of general sight-seeing.

Thus it doesn’t surprise me that sitting on some high rocks near the water we also drift back into our one ongoing troublesome disagreement. Hania says, as she sometimes does, that this world is but a dream, that it doesn’t really exist. I say of course it exists, but our daily life has numbed us to it. To the miracle of the everyday. The bird. The stone.

That argument never puts us in a good place, and we soon drop it — but not before I suggest that she find a better way to say the world does not exist — that she should say instead that we’re looking through a glass darkly. But who likes to be told “should.” And even as I’m saying this I know that Hania sees birds and stones a lot more clearly than I do. More than once over the years, over the phone, she has walked me through the unmanly disgrace of a three o’clock in the morning anxiety attack.

Next day, our last day there, we do our separate things. She’s already heard me read from my book in public. I find my way to San Francisco State University on my own. The program goes well. Diane Frank, my publisher is pleased. I’m meeting her in person for the first time, and I very much like her — and Matt Monte, who is reading beside me. Matt later tells me that he liked my “Whitman at Dusk” poem the best, especially the ending:

In this unbending night
are you still there, Whitman,
in perfect health, untamed,
under my boot-soles, happy
to greet me.

All I see is dust and dirt.

That said, and understood,
my nights are fine, dear poet.
And dawns aren’t half bad either.
Twilights. Dusks. The in-betweens.

The light of day is when it hurts.

Checking out of the hostel the next morning, I tell the attendant that I’ve gotten bitten up pretty badly. He asks me what our room number was. Takes a note. Arriving home late that night (after almost a week away, counting travel days), I take my clothes off on the porch to leave them outside with my bags. Brrr. It’s cold. A frost is predicted by early morning, and that will hopefully kill any bedbugs that have hitched a ride home with me.

There’s that sad waning moon setting over the trees. Same as last night over San Francisco, but a little smaller, dimmer, more shorn. I jump up and down like one of those street people. “Show me your tits,” I shout a few times, playing like I have Turret’s. And to tell you the truth, I might be slightly developing in that direction. Living alone, one becomes one’s own source of amusement.

Praise God, I feel a poem stirring in me. About the big die off coming on. The big bedbug die off, I mean. I once jokingly asked Hania if God loved fleas, mites, bedbugs, things of that sort. Little irritating things. She said yes.

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