Looking for a job in San Francisco. I knew that if I was going to move out of the house, I needed some cash for first and last somewhere else. There were plenty of cafe’s around, but most of them wanted some cute girl who was slighly alternative and had an attitude. I didn’t have much of an attitude and I was alternative only if you looked at who I was living with.
I walked the streets filling-out applications and asking for work. Funny, had it been a few years later, when this thing called the internet would change the working class city full of gear heads, bike messengers, and dock workers. In the early mornings, I would sit somewhere and read a paper and look through the want adds looking for work – circling jobs that looked like they would pay me. That might not sound like much – but the physical act of sitting there with a newspaper and searching for jobs was a moment that I think will no longer exist for other generations. It makes you feel good to do things like that. It’s work – the task of doing things. I remember now – now as the summer moves on here in New York and the Harlem noise of the block starts to rumble, I remember not having a computer at all.
So that day, that day I walked out of the cafe a little stumbling from the wine and heading out into the North Beach sun. It was an amazing neighborhood because depending on the time you went
I drank my semi cool wine and enjoyed the moment, but towards the end of the glass I wished it was coffee. Drinking while the sun is still up
To tell you the truth, I chose jobs that had a telephone number to call because I couldn’t afford a fax. Thinking now, and this was ’93, but none of them had email address to send things to. You could still call people and either set up an interview then or mail them in your resume. Everything was a physical experience – something you could touch and feel and be part of you. You were creating extensions of yourself all over the place and that was amazing.
Each paper you got, each morning, was a new day of possibility. Finding a place in the fog of the city to sit down and look for cash was magnificent. I am trying to get inside that fog and when looking back into the world I was living in. Everything was so young and full it feelings. It was all so important then and being in that small city, being one of the people that represented it, was a big responsibility and one that I took seriously. It happens like that when you live there – unlike New York now. Here, you’re here to take advantage of everything the city has to offer you. In the bay area, you’re there to server the city. Like a guard of the last castle in the kingdom.
I circled an add that read: “Wanted: telephone salespeople. Cash paid. Work 6-10, make 10 dollars and hour plus commission. Classic work and an honest days pay.”
It was there and perfect. I called the man on the other end of the line and we made an appointment for around 5 o’clock and that was that. He told me that if everything went well, I’d be working that very evening. Felt good. The thought of money coming in allowed me to dream of an escape from that house. Things were getting to be too much there.
So I walked outside and started strolling up and down the back hills of the city. It was something around there to be doing such things in a free manner. It was raw – you know what I mean. The purpose was to be full – and now that I had my interview, I was free to stroll through the city and plan my next escape. I fell in love with various girls who were working on the other side of windows and thought about what it would take to live here.
There was no urge to go down to the Lusty Lady in the middle of the day – it wasn’t the same. Mostly just businessmen on their lunch break taking care of themselves so they could return to their offices and stay sane. Not sure what the women did on their breaks.
I walked up one of the side hills of the city and saw a man standing on a box tossing up the bird to the camera of a woman who was busy snapping photos of him. He was talking at her like he wanted her to come back to his apartment.
I never could capture what I wanted to with a camera. I wish I could – I just saw this show at the MOMA where a man basically walked around the world with a camera and documented what perhaps nobody else would have. Let’s just stick in San Francisco for this purpose of this story.
The woman saw me notice her and smiled a little. She mouthed something to me I could understand, then tried it again. Still nothing.
“She’s trying to tell you ‘It’s him!’ okay,” the man said. “Now, honey, why don’t we go finish off a bottle and do the rest of this in your apartment.’ He cracked his tongue in his cheek and jumped around on top of the milk crate he was posing on.
Then I saw, somehow I don’t know how I knew – I’m not sure even if I knew because I was looking more at the girl who was taking the pictures that the old man she was taking pictures of. I knew it was him. Lawrence Ferlinghetti himself. This man, for me, was so much back then and even today is, though today I am more of a man and less of an admirer of men, so I guess back then it was a bigger deal
This man built the bookstore I haunted at every chance and created movements and published legends and was in fact, himself, a legend, though right then he was just another guy trying to get a girl to come back to his apartment.
She finished her shots and put her camera away, at which point the animation that had captured the old man went away a little, so that now he was just another human standing on a milk crate. I lit up a smoke right there and thought of something to ask or say to him.
“You’re trying to kill yourself,” he said, getting down off the crate. “Pretty good way to go about it by putting that crap into your face.”
I was shocked and felt like a stupid kid. Here he was, the goat herded of the beat generation who I felt so close to and thought that if I had a time machine I might be able to go back and hang out with – this man was calling me a fool for smoking. That’s how I quit cigarettes if anyone really wants to know.
“I’m a writer you know,” I told him, perhaps expecting him to be thrilled or take me under his wing or something like that. “You have any advice for me?”
“Yeah – I do. Goes like this. Write your ass off, do whatever you can to get it out. Then, when you’re done, stick it in a drawer and don’t look at it for a year. You’ll know if you’ve got something then.”
He turned his attention back to the girl, who put her hand on his elbow more like he was her grandfather than he was a man she was thinking of taking back to her place. I think that was all for that encounter with him – I remember wanting to ask him more or perhaps get to be his friend so that I would have some connection to him and the movement, but no words came out. You can’t force moments like that.
So I continued through the city and had to kill about 4 hours of time before the interview. It’s a small city if you have no direction to walk in.