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Double feature and second thoughts

Today I did yard work for an old man in Oakland, but it was boring and there's no story to tell. The fun happened after work, when I was done with the old guy's azaleas, and went to the movies. And after.

Often in critics' lists of the greatest films ever made, The Bicycle Thief and The Third Man are near the top. I'd never seen either, and they played as a double feature at the Castro tonight, so I BARTed under the water to see what all the fuss was about.

The fuss is about two terrific movies. 

The Bicycle Thief (1948) is about a poor out-of-work working stiff who finally lands a job to support his wife and kid, but the job requires a bike, and his is promptly stolen. No bike means no job, and with no job is a man a man? As a philosophical parable, as a father-and-son buddy flick, and as a study of morality and consequences, the film is excellent. It's also pretty dang good as entertainment, and it made me laugh, cry, and think. There's not much more you can ask a movie to do.

Between shows, as always at the Castro, the organ rose out of the pit and the crowd was serenaded with oldies. The organist is David Hegarty, unless he's at one of his side gigs — I've also heard him play at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, so he gets around. If he's away, though, someone else plays the organ, and it's always grand.

Tonight it was genuine Hegarty, and after a 20-minute medley including the themes from both of the evening's movies, he finished with the flourish that always waters my eyes, a rousing rendition of "San Francisco." Maybe you don't know the title, you know the song — San Francisco, open your golden gate….

As always, everyone in the theater clapped hands and stomped feet to the beat, then applauded, and tonight it was a standing ovation — deserved, because that dude can play.

And as much as the Castro's cool architecture and soaring balcony and curtains to the sky, that organ shaking the walls is something no modern multi-screen cinema can match.

The Third Man (1949) is noir set in Vienna, a mystery of friendship, betrayal, and love lost, told with biting humor, and featuring Orson Welles as a deliciously evil villain. It's filmed from astonishing angles, throwing all expectations askew, brilliantly scripted and performed, and there's a zither score that's exactly wacky enough to fit. The movie is clever, dark, tense, and ends with one of the most gloriously scripted and photographed scenes ever put to film. As great as The Third Man had already been, I hadn't guessed the finale would be quite so perfect and poignant.

♦ ♦ ♦   

I walked out of the theater in a daze, and was approached by a cute boy who wanted to flirt with me under the marquee. Kissed him on the cheek and said, "Thanks, but no."

Shaken and stirred by the movies, too restless to bus back to the BART station, I walked Market Street alone in the fog, to Civic Center, stumbling over memories all the way.

Here's the piece of sidewalk where I stood so many times, handing out flyers for a second hand shop and wearing a green glittery cape. The weirdest thing about that job is that I started to like some of the people passing by. Imagine me, liking people.

The shop is still there, but was closed for the night or I would've said hello to Stevi and LeeAnn... and they would've had me wear the cape one more time.

At the next intersection, Kevin was waiting for me. He's a homeless gent who lives on these streets, and when I wore the cape and stood outside all day, we used to talk. He has a few faulty chips on his circuit board — he's about 40% with it, and I'm about 60%, so we had some great conversations.

The game starts by saying a sentence, any sentence about anything in the entire universe. I said, "Millard Fillmore is dead," and immediately Kevin was talking about the mayoral election. I said I'd voted for Humphrey Bogart, and he segued to the old hippie anthem, "Don't Bogart that Joint," so I reminded him that pot can lead to harsher drugs like beer and tobacco, and he told me tobacco is a leading crop in several Southern states. I replied that Hawaii is much further south than Florida, and the mention of Florida took him on a tangent about the dangers of the Bermuda Triangle. 

Talking with Kevin is like the word-association game in a shrink's office, only it's all improvised and never ends. It's one of the top ten-thousand things I miss about living in Berkeley instead of San Francisco.

Kevin has nowhere else to be, but I do, so I said adios and kept walking, and most of the way, nobody disturbed me. A hobo here, a hooker there, but mostly it was silence where thoughts fell free and unfettered out of my head and between my footsteps. The fog, the chill, the streetcars…

Here's the restaurant where an almost-friend bought be a beer.

Here's the corner where the police chief suspended civil rights and arrested peaceful protesters after the Rodney King injustice was announced.

Here's a pile of people poop, because there are only about seven public restrooms in the entire city.

Midway at the next block, a middle-aged scum couple were engaged in — what, an argument? The prelude to a rape? He had his arms around her, he was trying to kiss her, but she kept turning her head away and saying, "No, no, stop it!"

Walking toward them and toward downtown, I looked for some sign that they were kidding around, but she wasn't giggling, and after hearing her say "No" a dozen times something had to be done.

Of course, I couldn't win a fair fight against Captain Kangaroo, so instead I stopped twenty footsteps away, quietly unzipped my backpack, and pulled out the hardcover novel I'm reading. The guy had his hands all over her but his back was to me, so I snuck up from behind and whomped him full-force with the book on the back of his head.

He staggered off of her, looked around, dazed — too dazed to fight, I hoped — but just in case I dropped the book and flipped the safety latch on the mace from my pocket. He didn't approach, didn't do or say anything, and the dazed look on his face never changed, but he did let go of the woman.

And the instant he did, she started screaming at me, "He was just having fun, you stupid shit!" So I walked away, looking over my shoulder to be sure they weren't coming up from behind. That would be a cowardly thing to do, like I'd done. 

They were both drunk, and both assholes, and such a couple deserve each other, but Christ, if "No! No! No!" is her idea of having fun, they ought to do it indoors. Else the next dummy like me might intervene with a gun instead of Time and Again by Jack Finney.

Walking on, it took a few blocks for my heartbeat to return to normal. My diary doesn't often have action scenes like that. 

I said good evening to some people living under the 13th Street overpass, flipped off a honking car at Larkin, turned down a half-price special from a half-attractive hooker, and gave nothing to the night-shift panhandlers all along the way.

At U.N. Plaza, the wind blew a mist off the fountain into my face, pleasantly. Lost souls were selling pot, hash, acid, and stolen goods at reasonable prices, but I smiled and walked on by, then descended the stairs and found a seat on the next train out of town.

And as the train rolled away, the Castro's organ played again in my mind...

San Francisco, open your golden gate
You'll let nobody wait
    outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin' one
Saying I'll wander no more...

What a great city, San Francisco. Take a walk anywhere here, and you'll see something crazy. Take a long walk, you'll see too much, maybe get crazy yourself. 

I miss living there, but it's still only a quick train ride away.

Sarah-Katherine wants us to move to New York, 3,000 miles from this crazy place. And I like her and all, but that's a long ways from home, and tonight I'm not so sure about it as when she first asked.

From Pathetic Life #18
Thursday, November 16, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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