Blood, sweat, and adrenaline

A knock at the door woke me too early. "It's 7:30," a man's voice said. Huh?

"OK," said another man's voice.

It took a San Francisco foggy moment to figure out that they weren't talking to me, and my door hadn't been knocked. The knock and talk was at a door across the hall.

And damn it, I can't even be pissed off about it. The knock wasn't a pounding, and neither voice had shouted. This place has thin walls and thinner doors, that's all. But I never got back to sleep.


To vent my frustration, I took a raw egg to the fire escape and waited for the next cop car to drive along. It's Mission Street, there's a police station a block away, so it's never a long wait. 

From four stories up the timing is difficult, though. I got the distance right, so the egg splattered in my intended lane of traffic, but judging cars' speed from my angle is a skill I haven't mastered (yet). The egg exploded on asphalt after the cop car had passed.

♦ ♦ ♦  

I got to the subway station just as my train was pulling away. Great. Twenty minutes to stand and wait.

On the next BART to Berkeley, as soon as we'd rolled out of the station the guy across the aisle started sneezing, and too loudly.

People do sneeze. It wasn't until his eighth consecutive honk that I turned to glare at him, and saw that he wasn't even covering his mouth. Like I need another three weeks of unpaid sick leave? 

He was young and muscled and wearing a wifebeater t-shirt, so I said nothing, just stepped through the double-doors into the next car.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Lots of days not much happens, and I come home and stare at the typewriter wondering what to say.

Other days stuff never stops happening and I jot seven pages of notes and I'm still writing about the day three days later. That was today.

♦ ♦ ♦  

At the Berkeley BART station, there were dozens of gradeschoolers crowding around the gates — kids on a damned field trip. Three adults were nearby, shouting that the kids should line up in an orderly fashion, and the brats were sort of obeying but mostly running around and being in the way and jabbering among themselves. Fifty kids make sounds I wouldn't wish on anyone but a school teacher, so I walked by hurriedly.

"Look at the fat guy," one of the boys said, imitating and exaggerating a fat man's waddle. I looked around for a fat guy to laugh at, but it was me, and I wanted to reach out and flatten the kid.

Could've done it, too. He was within arm's reach, and his 10-year-old ass needed to be kicked, but a kid that loudmouthed will be beaten by someone his own age soon enough, so I exaggerated the waddle and waddled on.

♦ ♦ ♦  

At the top of the escalator, a long-haired young man was handing out flyers, and I've done that for a living so I'm usually willing to take whatever anyone's handing out. He was cleverly holding the flyers so nobody could see the picture on the front, but when I looked at the single, folded sheet of paper he'd handed me, it was a picture of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.

Underneath and on the other side, it was an invitation to church, which I crumpled and tossed, of course, but then I took it back from the trash can so's I could write about it. Here's what's happening at the hippie church:

Sunday 10:30 AM — Dynamic Sunday School
Sunday Noon — Adventures in Worship
Sunday 8:00 PM — Anointed Evangelical Services
Tuesday 8:00 PM — Explosive Bible Studies
Thursday 8:00 PM — Powerful Praise Service
Saturday 8:30 PM — Healing and Miracle Service
with special guest: The Holy Ghost

♦ ♦ ♦  

It was hot today, really hot. Like the kid had helpfully pointed out, I am a fat man, but I'd dressed for May, expecting chilly. So walking the mile from BART to Jay's house for the cart and then to Telegraph Avenue, I was swimming in sweat. Block after block I got hotter, wetter, and more annoyed at nothing in particular.

Poppa came out of his stucco house, petted the dog, waved goodbye to his son, started the Volvo for his drive to work, and I wanted the car crushed, the child kidnapped, the dog put to sleep, and the house burned to the ground.

Flowers were blooming in a garden, and I wanted them wilted and choked with weeds. The birds sang to me, and I wanted them fricasseed.

I was a grumpy fat man, and as the heat soaked into my skull, I got grumpier.

The only spots remaining on my block of Telegraph were all in the sunshine, and then before I'd even finished setting up the fish-stand, a Christian said to me, "These fish aren't funny."

There were only a few fish on display, my chair wasn't even unfolded yet, and I wasn't wearing my customer-relations face. The stand wasn't actually even open yet, and here was the morning's first moron — a man about my age, same flabby build, but wearing a suit and jacket and tie, and giving me crap about the fish.

Such encounters happen more often than I write about 'em. Way too often. Some people love the fish, most people don't get the joke, and a small percentage of people find the fish offensive and preach at me about it.

Which I was in no mood for, so "Fuck off," I said.

"What did you say?" he said, and I was supposed to say something like, You heard me or Did I stutter? but instead I ignored him and continued setting up the stand. "What did you say?" he said again, louder.

I looked at that fat believer and smiled, just a little. The whole situation struck me funny — fat guy selling sacrilegious fish, another fat guy offended, and we're going to yell at each other as if it matters. "I said 'Fuck off'," I said, and I guess I giggled.

"Are you laughing at me?" he asked, flush-faced.

"Yes, I'm laughing at you," I explained. "At you, and your Jesus."

At that, he reached toward me as if to grab my shirt or my face, and it wasn't funny any more. Instantly furious and ready to defend myself, I knocked his arm away with mine. First contact, so I guess lawyers would say I was the aggressor. 

He said something about Jesus, I think, but I can't remember what.

"Are you a good Christian?" I answered with a taunt. "Are you ready to meet your maker? 'Cause if you reach for me again, you'll meet him today." Blood, sweat, and adrenaline was boiling in my veins.

He took a slow step toward me, leaning his body over the table between us. "You talk tough, buddy" — Hey, wait, I was thinking, you're supposed to be intimidated — "but you don't look like much to me."

"Come closer, and find out," I said, with what I hoped was a convincingly savage growl. But also I thought, What am I getting into? He leaned closer, his face only inches from mine, and I wondered, Why do I get all testosterony like this? 

"Are you ready?" he snarled.

Hell, no, I wasn't ready for anything, but I guess this kind of manhood showdown is like poker. I stayed with the hand I'd dealt myself. Simply stared at him, with all the meanness I could fake. And also, calculated my strategy — I'd go for his groin, try to do as much damage as possible. 

Our big staredown seemed to last several minutes, but it was probably mere seconds. I wanted to make a joke about the faint line of pimples across his sweaty forehead, but I stayed silent and, hopefully, looked tough.

"I'm ready," I said and wondered why I'd said it. He said nothing, so I said, "I've been ready for a while. You gonna do something, or do you just like looking at my pretty face?" He raised his eyebrows, continued staring at me, and I raised my arms, feigning impatience, as if "Well?" 

"You're not worth the bother," he said, taking a step to the side, away from me and my table. As he walked away I gave him the raspberries, which was as dumb as everything else I'd done and said, but he didn't turn back.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Larry and Umberto appeared from nowhere with amiable backslaps and wisecracks. Wiping the sweat and fear off my face, I wondered, if there had been a fight, would Larry and Umberto have been around to help?

Yeah, they would've helped. I'm sure they would've helped, only probably not.

♦ ♦ ♦  

I'm big, but I'm a wimp, and I'd lose a fair fight with almost anyone on the first punch. I ought to be avoiding trouble, but sometimes like today, I seem to welcome it. 

Hours (and now days) later, I'm still trying to psychoanalyze myself. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Across the street, on the shady side where I wished I was working, a homeless woman wept, sitting on the sidewalk. All eyes on the Ave were looking the other way, as she sat by the door of the doughnut shop and cried like everything in the world was against her.

Someone ought to offer her a kind word, I thought, but stayed seated across the street. Someone ought to at least give her a cold can of ginger ale or something.

She didn't cry for long. Ten minutes or so, and then two city cops came by. One of them thumped his nightstick twice on the doughnut shop's doorjamb to get her attention, and, "Move along," said the other cop. The woman picked up her paper bag of possessions and  moved along.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It was hot, really hot. Felt like the low 90s, with no wind, and standing on unshaded asphalt, I was crabby and sweaty. So then I did the stupid "tough guy" thing again. 

A man in a ridiculous pink-orange blazer stopped to look at the fish, and he was wearing a frown that said: Christian and offended. Another clue: on his lapel was a pin that said, "Jesus is Lord."

"Hey, mister," I said, and he looked at me, still frowning. "It's a hot day. Do us both a favor, and walk away." He slowly shook his head 'no', but walked away.

♦ ♦ ♦  

In addition to the heat, everything on Telegraph today played out over a steady stream of "Levi!"

A woman who couldn't have been 20 sat and panhandled on the sidewalk, while her very young son wandered around. Whenever the toddler toddled too far, his mother would yell, "Levi!" but even when she called his name five or seven times consecutive, the boy never came or obeyed.

"Stay out of people's way, Levi!" Nope.

"Come sit by mama, Levi!" Nope. 

Mostly, though, it was simply "Levi!" all day, without a sentence surrounding the name. "Levi!" And a minute later, "Levi!" again.

She'd interrupt her begging to get up and corral him near her, and then she'd sit or lean and start asking for spare change and then, "Levi!"

Me being helpful, I sometimes shouted at Levi too, and one time I shouted at his mother. "Christ, woman," I offered, "beat the kid, or leash him to you, or just let him play in traffic — anything! — but he is never coming when you call his name, so shut up already!"

"You're a mean old man!" she yelled at me.

"Yeah? So?"

And then, "Levi!" And, "Levi, come here!" On and on all afternoon. "Levi!" I didn't complain again, but still…

♦ ♦ ♦  

On my way home, same as in the morning, I got to the station just as my train was pulling away. Great. 20 minutes to stand and wait, again.

♦ ♦ ♦  

When I'd made and packed onion & peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, I'd forgotten to put the lid back on the jar of Jif. As noted previously, roaches love peanut butter, so of course, upon returning home several were crawling inside the jar.

I'm disgusting, but even I have limits, so the PB went into the trash. Now I'll have to spend two bucks buying another jar.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Dinner was bread and butter and Top Ramen, and then I went to bed, hoping for a better tomorrow. Always you gotta hope, but tomorrow is usually just more of the same.

From Pathetic Life #24
Friday, May 24, 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.

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