Monday, June 22, 2009

Game Almost Over

I'm sitting in the lobby of the Gershwin hotel on the corner of 5th Avenue and east 27th Street in Manhattan and I'm one flight away from circumnavigating the globe. Last night standing on top of the empire state building, 86 floors up, looking at the spectacular view I couldn't help being struck by the circularity of the whole thing. Being on top of such a properous city, encircled by the headquarters of the richest companies on earth and almost exactly a year ago being downtown in the bowels of Bangkok watching the hustle of a city whose people are schmoozing and lying and sneering and laughing just trying to get by in the thick heat of a country so much poorer. And of course there's the whole in between, places poorer than the latter (Laos, Cambodia) and on par at least with the former ( Hong Kong, Sydney).

It's unrelentingly strange now that I think about it, and I hadn't until I started writing this a couple of minutes ago, that I've almost done it. That thing I said I was going to do more than a year ago. Travel around the world. And yes I did lament at the time that it was almost passe at this point to take such a trip. And in a way maybe it is. And the route wasn't anything particularly out of the ordinary. But still. It was. It was for me. I'm visited, oddly, at certain occassions - when things have gotten a little weird, when I'm looking at something my destiny never had in mind for me, a wild spider the size of your head in a jungle distracting me from loaded guns, a rollercoaster taxi ride through the neon streets of some Asian metropolis, signs written in their strange language, the world turned utterly upside down - by a vision of myself as a child, the normal, petty, ordinary hum drum splendour of a happy childhood and I can't reconcile, sometimes, the insulation of that life with the exposure of this new one.

I'll be home very soon now. Just two flights and a bus ride away. And I know that very soon the slow unstoppable awkward wheel of time will start to dull the colours of the last year within me. It's new now but in mere weeks it will be stonewashed and faded.

But I hope it'll be comfortable and only slip down a little instead of completely away, into my subconscious, where all these things that I've done will remain changing in some small way the actions and reactions of that cotton wrapped child that pops into my head all over the world.

The only question that remains is: Now What?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Leaving Las Vegas. Already. And None too soon.

I suppose I should say something about las vegas since I'm leaving it today.

First off it's not immediately as extreme as I was expecting. I, at least wasn't struck with a sense of inescapable seediness. Not right away, though, that's all. It comes on slow, like good mescaline, as the man says. The terrible desperation on the faces of flocks of overweight white haired middle Americans isn't immediately as palpable as that on the faces if the droves of San Franciscan homeless. In fact, though I'm the first person to admit that I think of all addictions and afflictions gambling is absolutely the most stupid and least deserving of sympathy, and of all types of gambling addictions a problem involving ones love if slot machines is the most stupid and ridiculous of an already empty and petty way to screw up one's life, I couldn't help throwing a few dollars into one myself. And I will admit that I am part of the problem that makes the shrewder element of this city unspeakably rich in that I am now one of an untold number who can say they essentially considered it worthy entertainment to put their own money into someone else's fancy money box (there an be no better metaphor for these things) but I quit at five, okay, ten dollars (not counting the money I won and then put back in the machines.) I will never understand how, first someone could sit all day at one and lose more than they expected to and second how they could possibly get angry with it or the establishment for any negative consequences arising from their own negligent pre frontal cortex. So yeah, if you're reading this thinking I'm too hard on the poor gamblaholics just remember that I couldn't care less about them and that they deserve everything they get.

Also it seems to me so far that this is where B-listers from Hollywood go to die. Better Midler is playing across the strip from our hotel in Caesars palace. She has been playing nightly for years and will continue as such. Nightly. We saw Penn & teller the other night and they've been doing it for 8 years now. 8 years. Nightly. Ditto for David Copperfield. I know prostitution is legal here but that has to make you feel a little dirty at some point. Making the same joke at the same time every evening and, worst of all, getting the same laugh, night after night, thinking about all the money and how it is totally worth it because, well yeah, it's every night in Vegas, and it's this horrendous treadmill of falsities but the money is just great. Really... wonderful.

Other amusements include being handed wallet sized photos of naked ladies every where you go on the strip. Each night the ground is carpeted in these little pictures and armies of people are employed to rid the morning of this x-rated cushion underfoot.

Also yesterday was spent, 15 hours of it at least, busing to and returning from the grand canyon. Which was large and spectacular as natural holes in deserts go. Pictures to follow when connections permit. As it is now a flight leaves for the city so good they named it again and again which I shall be on within the hour.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The condition and social category of people who lack housing

I like walking around cities at night time. Sometimes when I can't sleep and it doesn't seem like suicide there's nothing nicer than a slow walk when it seems like everything is closed. And even the weather has been turned off. I've spent a lot more time in cities in the past year than ever before and I've noticed this about myself. I came back from a theme park yesterday, a little sunburned and well thrown around the place but exhausted, overtired even, and I couldn't sleep. I went out for a walk thinking I'd get something nice to eat. A little treat from the late night eateries of San Francisco might be just the ticket. But when I got to one it didn't seem right. So I kept walking. And when I got to the right one I kept walking still.

The doors have been closed but all the stores keep their windows lit around Union Square. Saks, Neiman Marcus, Macy's even a Louis Vuitton and I'm walking past slowly just enjoying the still air and the chatter around me. I realise I've walked too far when I start seeing homeless people in groups of greater than three. At least I do when I notice that the only people on the street at all are homeless. So I turn back towards something a bit more central. There's no intimidation or even interaction, it seems this late that even a lot of them quit for the day and stop begging (some - but not most) but it's probably for the best.

As I was waiting behind the security locked door of our hotel for a sushi delivery boy the other night - this was around 11pm - a guy limped up the steps outside. He looked at me through the glass. He saw me but continued as if he didn't. We didn't acknowledge each other, he regarded me as he would have a lamp or a couch inside. (I ran a little matinee in my head wherein he started snarling at me, leapt through the glass like a crazed animal and pinned me to the floor wondering whether he'd use the knife in his back pocket or just tear me to pieces with his teeth - but underneath, on the surface I was implacable) He sat down in the corner of the little vestibule and removed a few items from his pockets. His jeans were torn as was his shirt. His back was to the window and I could see on the back of his neck some bruises and unhealed scars. I couldn't see what he'd taken out until he moved his arm a little - and I didn't want to look too closely lest he perceive my intrusion - and wrapped it with his belt. He had cooked some heroin in the short while he'd been fussing on the ground outside and now injected it right into the most prominent vein in his left arm. I thought he'd be here for the night. I was thinking about calling the delivery place and telling them that the whole thing was off, that it wouldn't work, there was an unforseen obstacle, we'd have to reschedule. This hotel was unreachable for the night. But then he got up. All he left in his wake as he limped up the hill outside was a flourescent orange lighter, dismantled.

This scene kept repeating through my head as I walked. I saw a woman earlier, well dressed, really, a nice hat, like a bowler for a lady, with a little flower on it, a nice coat, dark blue, with a brooch on the lapel. She held a starbucks cup out and had an eager longing on her face. I couldn't understand that, I still can't. It struck me like a Magritte painting. Things I've seen before but their position altered, their roles corrupted. Her face and the little tableau outside our door hanging behind my eyes when I get back to Union Square, and within one block I've been asked for money in a number of different ways.

"Can I have a lucky penny? Hey a lucky penny, come on I'll catch it." A man says as he waves his cup from a short distance.

"How about some money for a war veteran? Can I get some dinner, hey how about it?"

"God bless you sir, God bless you." This is uttered as I approach. "Thank you sir, goodnight and God bless you." As I walk away.

A sign that says " Why lie? I need a beer."

A transexual in denim hotpants and a tattered coat, torn nikes and blue lipstick asks me if I can help her out with a dollar to make bus fare. I give her two dollars. She holds it in front of me and looks in my eyes and says "Can you help me with this?" "That's all I got," I say. "No," she says, "can you help me with this? Can you afford it?" "It's all yours," I tell her and she marches off proud, her shoulders back a little, this awful tumbleweed. She swaggers off and in the distance I see small groups part for her to walk between. She owns the street and walks through those people like they're only there at her pleasure.

Further down a man, who is out of his mind, he's black too I should mention, most of them are, is standing on an upturned milk crate. He's not moving and the ubiquitous coffee cup is in his outstretched hand. He's trying to do that thing he's seen street performers do. He's standing still, pretending to be a statue, and he will move for a tip. He can't tell that he's swaying dangerously. There's a cavalier look on his face, one that says, I know, I've cracked it, those other guys would have never thought of that. That's why I'm on top of the heap. Or at least the milkcrate.

And then outside a late night bakery and coffee shop a woman, maybe 65 years old crashes into a set of chairs. She's wearing anachronistic clothing, a tweedy coat and a light orange scarf. She too has a brooch and I move to help her up before I realise that her heavily made up face shows signs of, at best, heavy drinking. People that were moving to help her stop as they realise she's another member of San Franciscos homeless... what? Community? Neighborhood? Party? A cafe worker helps her up with an exasperated look on his face. She stumbles further down the street and resumes begging. As I approach I recognise something in her face, something quintessential to a woman of that age, and a flash that takes only a few seconds shows me the faces of all the women of that age that showed me kindness once. A grandmother, a neighbour, a babysitter, a teacher and it's locked in a terrible satire of the way such a face should look.

Have you ever been shopping (or drinking) for so long that one of your pockets gets uncomfortably full of change? Well that had happened to me that day. A ball of coins had jangled annoyingly against my leg the whole walk that night and I felt miserable for having such a problem as I emptied it into this lady's cup wondering if I had to be here any longer than a holiday, could I take seeing this all around me everyday?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just tore myself away from San Francisco to say...

If you have noticed something of a drop off in the number of posts lately and are still dealing with a bitter after taste from my 'description' of Fiji then it's a pity that you've been suffering while I've been delighting myself. Moreover, if you don't already feel like the worse off half of an abusive relationship, I'm not sure how many more times I'll be able to drag myself away from this place to blog further! So take it while it's coming children. And consider yourselves lucky.


God it feels great to redress the sentence that acted as the above's corollary with the above. And it's great to be in a place that doesn't make you feel like you're (that awful phrase) 'making the best of things.' And why is that? Well because San Francisco is a great city. There's something decandant and funky about it in places, there are parts that are downright run-down and feel dangerous, there are areas where people talk about the second act of last night's new A.C.T. production on the way out of Tiffany's and there are places where vagrants will thunder past you shouting about how 'Those bitches had no right. They'll have to live with their LIES.' (actually overheard that soliloquy yesterday!) And here's the best thing: They're all the one place. That's going on almost everywhere. The crazies are weaving unseen through crowds of the less obviously crazy and no one acknowledges that the pillars are creaking, that the roof might just collapse inward, that the music has taken on a sinister rhythm. They all just carry on dancing, regardless.
I'll speak more specifically on that subject later, when I have enough time and have had enough time to think. It's great not to have that though, time. When it's flowing out your ears in a place like Fiji, and the slow mechanisms seem to be struggling through some kind of Gel it's really refreshing to find yourself saying, Ah no, is it that late already? There's another day here almost over.

Here's the lighthouse on Alcatraz, as taken quite soon before the sun said screw it and hit the horizon, on a night tour of the famous prison.

The museƩ mechanique, near fisherman's wharf, is total geek antique. It's an arcade made up of 18th, 19th and 20th century amusements. All of them in perfect, gaudy, slightly repressed working order. You'd be surprised how you can sort of catalogue the emancipation of the intellect through those times, relatively minor as it may have been in comparison to earlier centuries, by the sorts of things a person would spend a quarter to see. Highlights include a machine into which one peers (there is room for only one set of eyes) to watch 'What all men go crazy for!' Incidentally, if you're interested, all men, around then, apparently went crazy for sepia toned photographs of ladies in long and heavy silk and satin slips. I remained as sane as I had been before the deposit of my quarter. Equal blame may be laid at my rock solid psyche and the feet of the internet.

It can't have been too much of party having the commode so close to the bed in this typical cell on the rock. Though to be fair the colour of the paint is punishment enough for any crime I've ever heard of, and I should know. For a brief period as a child I had a room covered in a thin uniform layer of it.

Insensitive given the context of the place but what were you expecting? Gravitas?

"Freshly captured leprechauns." That's Irish for 'If you're from Ireland just keep walking, no good can come of entering."

Looks a little less like a jokeworthy scene with the bars pulled across, huh?

Now here's a lovely tradition. Near fisherman's wharf, there's a bakery famous for sourdough bread and clam chowder. You'd never guess the weird and wacky ways in which they combine the two. Well actually you probably would. For those not blessed with an imagination though I herein attach the above.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Mitigation, Not A Retraction

Alright, I don't have that much time but I feel like I should mitigate the negativity of my last post a little bit with a short list of the positive things that I've done up until now, the day I leave Fiji for San Francisco

  • Woke up in a hammock on a white sandy beach with my book across my chest and watched the sun set on crystal water.
  • Stayed up late (which meant 10.30pm on Barefoot island) drinking Kava, the traditional drink - made from a crushed root and water; it essentially gives you cotton mouth and helps you sleep - playing Fijian rules draughts (checkers to my fictional American reader(s)) on a rope mat with 15 locals.
  • Snorkelled with Manta rays as they swam against the current in a channel between two of the Yasawa islands. Saw reef sharks underneath me and am conditioned enough not to give a damn.
  • Snorkelled on a reef beside a resort in 5 foot of water and saw a school of at least 400 little yellow fish migrate from rock to rock eating coral, got freaked out a little by a titan triggerfish. Got terrified by the close proximity of two large reef sharks and splashed my way back to shore, laughing, realising that I am not, in fact, just yet, cool enough with sharks to swim with them unflinching.
  • Dived, dived, dived.

Time's ticking out here and I must away to Nadi airport soon for the long flight to L.A. And while my thoughts are with those poor people who are still currently lost for unknown reasons aboard an Air France flight from Rio to Paris, I wish, to God, they weren't.