Not my best moment

SUNDAY — This morning I felt alive enough to roll out of bed and waddle over to the typewriter to pound out these shitty sentences, instead of scribbling a few words in my notebook. And it rained all day, so I didn't have to go to work. Instead I stayed home and worked, sitting at the kitchen table, cutting sacrilegious fish from pre-printed blasphemous mylar sheets — paid work, but without having to trudge to Telegraph Ave.

Listened to exhibition baseball on the radio, while working. My sense of humor was starting to return, so as the A's lost I silently told myself jokes but laughed out loud. Jokes nobody but me would find funny. Jokes even I won't find funny tomorrow.

Heard a noise behind me once, and it was my flatmate Cy sorta snickering at me. I waved and meant to laugh, but instead gave him a coughing fit. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Checked my messages for the first time in days, only to hear Diana, my not-a-doctor from the free clinic, tell me three days ago that my test results were negative, so I don't/didn't have strep throat. That's no surprise — my tongue was white and even now it's still gray, but my throat never had the intense hurt of strep.

"Gosh," she said in her message, "I don't know what you have. Call and let me know how you're doing, OK?" 

I called the clinic's machine and reported that I'm feeling better., which is true, so whatever I had or have, it doesn't matter much now.

♦ ♦ ♦  

MONDAY — Not quite feeling up to it, I worked anyway. BARTed in to San Francisco and spent the afternoon at Black Sheets, but I wished I wasn't there, and I was weary and fevered and grumpy.

Making my way home, I saw a scuzzy-looking homeless guy begging for change at the entrance to the BART station.

He's usually there. I've seen him a hundred times, always at the same corner of the concrete, always saying the same line, "Spayer chienje?" with an exaggerated Southern accent.

He's as much a part of the station as the big blue and white BART sign. He's been there always and forever, since I first came to the city in 1991, and probably for years before that. Maybe he inherited the job from his father.

"Spayer chienje?" he said to me as I approached.

"Not today," I muttered, and kept muttering as I walked by, "not yesterday, not the day before yesterday, not last week—"

"You don't have to be mean about it!" he yelled as I started down the subway stairs. 

It wasn't my best moment, but fuck it, I was in a rancid mood, so I stopped, turned and looked at him, and he stared at me. The man he saw wasn't much and never will be, and in him I saw a young, skinny and probably malnourished loser, barefoot and probably cold, sitting next to a trash can. He's a sad schmuck, do doubt, but I had no mercy for that fucker this afternoon, so "Fuck off," I said, and again turned toward the stairs down to the trains.

On the ride back to Berkeley I replayed that scene, and I'd enjoyed it but wasn't proud of it. I've lived in the slums, worked on the street, and every day I see homeless people ignored or treated like they're less than people. Sometimes, by me. Most days, though, I make an attempt to treat the down and out with the ordinary respect everyone deserves.

Not today, though, and since the goal here is honestly let me say, honestly, whatever remorse I felt about telling him to fuck off, I shook it off easily. That beggar seems able-bodied and able-brained, but he's been sitting at that same spot for years, playing pity for quarters and dimes. You want respect from me? How about showing some self-respect first.

From Pathetic Life #22
Sunday & Monday,
March 3 - 4, 1996 

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.

Addendum, 2023: Part of me wants to defend myself, and insist that I'm a better man now, that these days I wouldn't tell a homeless man to fuck off.

It's probably not true, though. I still have plenaty of asshole in me.


  1. Fuck Quimby's, and fuck all those hipster distribs and fly-by night book and curio shops that popped up and/or profited from the zine "explosion" in the 90s. They turned out to be just as corruptible and opportunistic as any big box store or gate-keeping monsters like Barnes & Noble.

    1. Almost all the zine distributors were criminal, either by design or by shoddy execution. I'm unduly proud to say that I'd heard enough horror stories to keep my distance from the distros, but they killed many good publications, including, eventually, Black Sheets and Black Books, where I worked.

      I'm not sure the brick-and-mortar stores deserve the same condemnation, but I'm far enough away to lack any expertise. Most of the actual bookstores treated me well, and that *must* include Quimby's or re-typing this entry wouldn't have been such a surprise.

      I'd still recommend Atomic Books, City Lights, Left Bank Books here in Seattle, Quimby's, and Powell's in Portland.


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