As of yesterday, we’re a month away from the one-year anniversary of our arrival in Pacific Grove. Since I haven’t really shown much of the town we live in beyond the bit that lies along the coast, I’m going to share some snaps I’ve taken recently. Pardon the image quality–most of these shots were taken from a moving car or while on a walk (and also moving) or through a window. One of these days I’ll take my real camera along and stand still whilst pressing the button.
I like to imagine what he might think about the world today. Not that I knew the guy, it’s just an interesting exercise. I thought of him this morning for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.
I have a couple of CDs of his readings–Poems and Insults and Solid Citizen–recorded in what sound like dive bars. The audience is drunk, so’s he, and there’s a palpable danger in the room. Like he could set the place on fire or someone could run up to the stage and punch him in the face at any moment.
Maybe because he wrote about people who don’t always get to see themselves in poems and stories. Drunks, jailbirds, blue collar workers who aren’t living some academic’s version of the “stolid American working the land,” ugly women, uglier men, gamblers, fighters, poor people. That’s who his audience was. They came to see themselves and revel in all their glory and grotesqueness.
Though Bukowski wrote a few things about writing, he mostly wrote about the struggle of living. About working for the post office or begging money off some pock-marked woman he met in a dark bar on a sunny LA afternoon. He didn’t write about sitting at his typewriter, waiting for the words to come. When given the opportunity to meet “important” writers of his day, he generally said no thanks (only with a few expletives thrown in). I’ve quoted him here before: I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.
I thought of him, and specifically that quote, today when I read a post in a playwriting forum about someone weeping when they killed off a character. “I cried for hours!” a commenter said in reference to their own experience. Another said, “That’s how you know you’ve written a great character!” It was a circle jerk of people smelling their own intellectual farts, and I wanted Buk to show up and tell them all to stop writing about writing (like flies on the same turd) and actually do some fucking writing.
This sort of thing goes on there all the time. “Does anyone else ever find when you’re writing a play that it just veers off in a direction you didn’t expect?” No, fancy writer, you’re the only person who’s ever experienced that. We’ll just go ahead and send the Tony to your house now.
I can’t even imagine Bukowski in the same room with some of these people. I’d wager his whiskey shits were more dramatic than their plays are. Mine, too. Plays, that is.
Writing is a solitary experience, so I understand the need some people have to reach out and talk about it. I need to stick to groups that discuss dogs or hamburgers or national parks. I’d happily read about someone shedding a tear after taking their new puppy to Yosemite and grilling up some burgers. “Does anyone ever have that moment when the sun is just about to set and you’re a little buzzed and it feels like you’re connected somehow to the past but firmly in the present and you weep for the beauty of it all?” Yes, my friend. Yes.
More information about Palo Corona Regional Park can be found here.
The takeaway: Our hike was 6.2 miles total, following the Palo Corona trail to its end at Animas Pond, plus a little bit of wandering around in between. We stopped for a picnic at Inspiration Point, sitting at the picnic table under the big tree. Other than one section with a heart-pumping incline, this is an easy uphill hike with great views of Carmel, Pebble Beach and Carmel Valley. When I applied for a permit, I received a response in less than an hour, though they say you should expect to wait a couple of days. A lot of the trail is exposed to the sun, so wear sunblock.
Oh, and it’s nice to be on a Big Sur-adjacent trail and see very few people.
So I guess I’ll do an end of the year post instead. Here’s some random shit I noticed this year.
When you see your people after a long time apart, it almost makes your heart explode for the first couple of moments, then it’s like no time has passed and you settle into a delightful groove. When it’s time to leave, the tears show up to say goodbye too. It’s hard, but maybe not as hard as the first time. Maybe.
In the nine months we’ve lived in Pacific Grove, I’ve heard only one driver honk their horn. That driver was me.
I’ve spent much more time walking and much less time in San Francisco than I expected.
There are almost no bugs here.
People are very comfortable openly smoking pot in California.
The first time I went hiking by myself in Big Sur, I alternated between worrying an animal would attack me or a person would knock me on the head and steal my shit. This is a change from living in Houston when I only worried about a person knocking me on the head. Eventually I’ll only worry about animal attacks or falling to my death off the side of a mountain. (Contrary to what Kerouac’s buddy says, you can fall off a mountain.)
When you see comedy outside of Texas, you find out that comedians make fun of Houston.
Recently we were drinking wine on the porch when we heard Taps being played (at the Defense Language Institute). A storm was coming in, a “Pineapple Express” from Hawaii, and the wind was blowing a different direction than usual. The next morning, I got up early to photograph the big waves and heard Reveille. Here’s an article about PG that mentions the different things you can hear, depending on the wind. When we got back from Houston a couple of nights ago, I heard the ocean in the darkness. A fitting welcome back.
This is my favorite paragraph from a post I didn’t publish this year. It was too bitchy, if you can imagine that.
This guy had spent the weekend in Big Sur, but he hadn’t really been there. This place of respite. This untamed wilderness. This edge of the world, west of the west, final frontier. I picture him standing at one of the many breathtaking vistas, one hand holding a pre-paid cellphone fruitlessly searching for a signal, the other holding a Coors Light while he desperately tries to connect with civilization to tell them what a wonderful time he’s having getting away from it all.
Here are some accomplishments from 2014 I’d like to remember: saw my first full-length play produced; puked four times off the side of a whale watching boat; started working from home and not wearing pants; moved across the country in a fit of middle-age crazies; fell on multiple hikes in multiple parks; saw otters, seals, dolphins, whales, pelicans, sea gulls, black squirrels, hawks, one bobcat and a dog parade; learned to make kick-ass cheese enchiladas; hung out with my family in California and Texas; packed our shit so well that literally not one thing broke on the trailer ride out here; didn’t hit any of the pedestrians that walked out in front of my car like baby deer; and, finally, nine months in, am happy to report that my heart still beats a little faster every time I look at the Pacific.
Here’s to a healthy and happy–and not too bitchy–2015 for us all. See you on the other side.
Number of hours spent in the minivan we rented
to drive home for Christmas : 70
Miles driven : 4,309
Least paid for regular unleaded gas : $1.99/gallon (in Texas)
Most paid : $2.99/gallon (in California, near the airport)
Weather conditions driven through : snow, fog, rain
Most fun, yet undocumented, coincidence :
passing mile 420 on I-10 in Texas at 4:20PM
Best combination of items sold at gas station along the way : fireworks,
moccasins, ceramic dogs, dream catchers, ‘Murica t-shirts,
Dairy Queen (Butterfield Station in New Mexico)
Most bothersome vanity plate : ienvyme
(in Houston, California plates)
Number of rainbows witnessed : three, all in California
Most dramatic highway event (tie) : overturned 18-wheeler, huge fire late at night
Terrain driven through : mountains, desert, prairie, swampland
Most unexpected thing I said : “That’s a fucking camel!”
as we passed a truck hauling a trailer…with a camel inside
Most awkward conversation : hearing about polar shifts
from the guy working the night shift at the hotel
Want to see some pictures?
You’re driving out of California and trailing a storm, the road still wet from the rain that passed ahead of you. The backroads you take to get from your small town to the big interstate are covered in mud, having recently been under water. You feel lucky you didn’t leave a day earlier when roads might have been impassable to your rented minivan.
You hope you can stay behind the storm and that it dies out soon. It doesn’t really rain in the desert, right? Isn’t that why it’s desert? You expect endless blue skies (and maybe a bit of smog) once you reach southern California. You get not much of either.
It hits you hard once you reach Phoenix and turns into an almost blinding rain by the time you roll into that night’s destination (Tucson). After a good six hours of sleep and a hearty breakfast at Best Western’s companion restaurant, which is way better than it has to be, you continue eastward under gray skies. The dogs don’t like the rain, but they do like road trips. Maybe it’s the close accommodations, everyone within eyesight at all times. A sleepy dog opens her eyes, lifts her head, sees everyone is there, puts her head back down, dreams of little mammals.
In New Mexico, you can’t tell if you’re looking at dark storm clouds or the gray of distant mountains. Most of the time, you’re seeing both, and you again find yourself in the misty nothingness of highway spray from 18-wheelers. They barely slow for the rain and you wonder if it’s balls, experience or stupidity that keeps them moving. Maybe the desperation of an unyielding schedule and fears of no pay for late arrival.
You wait until you’ve crossed the Texas border to grab lunch at Whataburger. It’s about four miles from New Mexico in a town called Canutillo. It’s just right, exactly how you remember it, and you marvel at how taste memory is so specific and so easy to access.
As you drive the endless road that is I-10 through west Texas, you appreciate a bit of blue above. It makes it easier to snap pictures of the border patrol trucks driving up and down the barbed wire fence. Mexico is so close you can throw an empty Lone Star out the window and litter in another country. You wonder what would happen if you park on the shoulder, crawl through the fence to pee behind a bush and get stopped by the border patrol on the way back. You decide to hold it until Van Horn.
Flying J/Pilot has the cleanest bathrooms, so you plan your stops around their locations. You wonder if the pickled and preserved food in jars with homemade looking labels is made by a nearby little old lady or a huge company like Nestle or Halliburton. You can’t remember the brands from location to location, so you plan to pay more attention on the way back. Not because you want to buy any of it, but because you like the idea of locals plying their wares in big truck stops to people from far away.
When you roll into Houston, it’s raining hard and traffic is at a standstill. The familiar and expected. Within a few hours it feels as if you never left, as if the adobe house with a view of the Pacific is a sweet dream from a long afternoon nap. Familiar faces at your company party, at a gathering of friends, at your boyfriend’s mother’s house, at your favorite Tex-Mex place. Joyous reunions, promises to come visit, unwelcome allergies, welcome queso.
You can’t wait to see your family on Christmas Eve. To enjoy the comfort of Home. The excitement of your niece and nephew waiting for Santa. The soul familiarity of family. You hope to not overwhelm them with your excitement to see them (like the Abominable Snow-Man with Daffy Duck) but know they’ll forgive you if you do. Even if you call them George.
I spent the entirety of the 1990s bartending for a living. The nature of the job–plus the active social life of someone in her 20s–meant I was often driving home at 3 or 4 in the morning. Most of my interactions with the police happened during that period, often late at night. And I realize my experiences were very much shaped by who I am. White. Middle class. Female. A “non-threat.”
Anecdote A (I’m a jerk):
There was a problem with a taillight on my car. I kept replacing the bulb, but the light kept shorting out. I was heading home after a night out and didn’t know my light was out again. I was pulled over. Not by HPD–I think it was a constable.
It was late. After the bars closed. He came up to my window and said, “Did you know your taillight is out?” to which I replied, “Yes. I leave it like that so I can meet cute cops in the middle of the night.” (editor’s note: This was totally out of character, and I still have no idea why I said that.)
He laughed, we shot the shit for a while and I mentioned where I worked. A locals hangout that was on his patrol route. When I reached for my glovebox to grab a business card, I didn’t get shot or yelled at or treated with suspicion. Instead, he took the card and began stopping by to check on me when he was on the night shift, either idling in front of the bar or coming inside for a Coke.
Anecdote B (the cop is a jerk):
Putting gas in my car after a shift. It was probably 3:30 in the morning. I saw a cruiser sweep through the gas station but didn’t really pay attention to it. I left, the cop followed me. I drove carefully, not too fast/too slow, but I still got pulled over.
I knew I’d done nothing wrong. I was tired but not drunk. “Why did you pull me over?” I asked as I handed him my license. He stood there staring at my license and asking questions. What was I doing? Where had I been? Did I have a boyfriend? (Uh oh) I realized this aggressive man with a gun–and my license in his hand–was maybe going to be a problem. I sat there and talked to that asshole for 45 minutes because I was afraid to be confrontational. When we realized we knew some of the same people, he ended the conversation and I went home. I didn’t get gas after work anymore.
Now this is the difference between youth and middle age. I would handle that second situation very differently now that I’m full grown. And I think I would have handled it differently then if it had been the 10th or 50th time I’d gotten pulled over for no reason on my way home from work. I would have grown less and less accommodating, eventually reaching the point where I’d want to hop out of the car at the first sign of blue and red lights and say, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT? Just leave me alone.” And I probably would have gotten a pat on the head in response.
I get to live my life as a non-threat. To have the opportunity to charm my way out of a ticket. To be in a dicey situation with a cop and still go home, unscathed. To be inappropriate, and not pay the price for it.
My white male friends have different stories. And my brown and black friends have really different stories. Dave Chappelle has different stories (here he talks about how cops treat his white friend Chip. Spoiler alert: differently than they treat Dave).
The truth is, some of us have more to fear than others. And that’s a big problem.
A PR firm in Austin got its ass handed to it over the weekend when people beyond their inner circle of hospitality industry clients heard about their name: Strange Fruit PR.
If you don’t know the significance of that name, here’s some history. In 1937, teacher Abel Meeropol (a white Jewish man) wrote a poem after seeing a horrifying image of two black men lynched in Indiana. After it was published, he set it to music to create a protest song (Strange Fruit).
A couple of years later, Billie Holiday added the song to her performances. The record sold a million copies and was her biggest seller. Nina Simone recorded the song in 1965, and Kanye West sampled her version in his latest album. So though it was born in the late 1930s, the song still has a life and among the many, many people who’ve heard at least one of the versions. And the people who hear those two words together automatically connect it to a horrifying image.
The PR company–a couple of young white women (so unusual for PR!)–thought no one would be thinking about a song that was recorded in 1939. They figured they could create their own definition for the term. Turn it from a powerful protest of murderous racism into a fun and exciting way to talk about hors d’oeuvres and skinny margaritas. They now know that they were mistaken, but it’s amazing it took a Twitter shitstorm for them to figure it out. I mean, the song’s history had been pointed out to them in the past. And they work in public relations! Come on.
I hope their new name, Hitler Nibbles, works out for them.
Not a real one because it would probably eat Stella. Just a super cool, kind of scary, fairly large replica for the yard. Though this skeleton version is pretty neat (and only $100,000), I prefer the kind with everything.
Dino on left: What the–dammit! Who left this here?
Dino on right: What are you talking about Mildred?
Left: This huge wad of gum. I’ll never get this–and now it’s between my toes. Great. I can’t even reach my toes.
Right: You don’t have to be so dramatic. Rub an ice cube on it.
Left: Is that what you’re going to do?
Right: I don’t–ahhh, motherfucker. If I see those little Evans midgets, they ass is mine.
A lawnosaurus isn’t really in the budget, but if it were we would count ourselves lucky we don’t live in Carmel. A couple planted a 12-foot tall dino in their front yard and ended up having to remove it due to neighbor complaints and hardcore city regulations. Boo.
There was a house in the Heights in the ’70s that had a couple/few dinosaurs in the yard. I’d see them on bike rides with my parents, and I loved them. My dim recollection is that they were more cartoonish than scary–I see a purple brontosaurus in my memory. But that could be childhood embellishment. Anyway, that’s when the seed was planted, and I haven’t shaken the idea since.
I wish I had a picture of those dinosaurs.