Blind And Dirty

And as we went up into the mountains we met a blind man.
Where are you going, my friends? he asked.
Into the regions of the mysteries, I answered.

—Kennneth Patchen, Sleepers Awake

One Thanksgiving I spent in the jail. I was then in the pharmaceutical trade. There were apparently laws governing this trade. And I had transgressed them.

Who knew?

In the jail I learned to eat everything on my plate. My parents had tried everything up to and including holding me down and forcibly shoving pudding past my lips, to get me to eat everything on my plate. Always I had resisted. But by day three in the jail, I was avidly eating whatever they gave me.

It’s not like I was underfed in there. It was more that I had no control over what or when or how I was fed. It just came to me, the food. On a plate. When the people with the keys decided to feed me. If they decided not to feed me, I would not eat. Because I was in a cage. I could not get out. I was wholly dependent. On the people with the keys. Who brought the daily bread.

Food had never been, and never has been since, quite like that. I can, to this day, thirty-some years on, picture every meal, slid to me through the bars, in that jail. Hard-boiled eggs! Formerly I had run from these like Richard Pryor with his body on fire. But in the jail, I ate them. And they were good! Especially the white parts. The yellow parts, they were kind of creepy, like they were trying to be a baby. But hey: you eat what they give you. When you’re at the mercy of the people with the keys. Who slid the food in to me. When they did so decree.

And on Thanksgiving, they tried to do their best. But they could not. There came turkey and mashed potatoes and yams and rolls and cranberry sauce. I had never before eaten a yam. I had always believed yams were creatures not actually of this earth, and had resolved not to eat extraterrestrial foodstuffs. Yams, eggplant, cauliflower; alien creatures of that sort. But, in the jail, I ate the yam. I ate everything. Whatever was on the plate, I ate it. Maybe if there had been something wholly beyond the pale—something, say, like mayonnaise—I might have eschewed. But I never eschewed. I chewed. They tried to give us Thanksgiving. The keepers of the keys. They were not bad sorts—so long as you are the sort who earns your crust in the business of keeping human beings in cages. But you just can’t have Thanksgiving. Or any other thanks, or giving, or even dirt-dull normal day, so long as you’re in a cage.

The basis of a jail is that you have no control. You are in a cage. And you stay there. People with keys decide if and when you can come out. Mostly you can’t come out unless someone out in what you soon, there in the cage, begin to think of as “the world,” comes up with what is basically a bribe to the court that is called “bail.” If outside people can’t come up with this bribe, you stay in the cage. If you stay in the cage, the key-people then decide when you eat, and what you eat. And then you eat it.

Because there is no way to really clean yourself in the cage, the people with the keys also decide if and when you can come out for a shower. Generally, if you’ve been Good: once a week, for ten minutes.

The people with the keys additionally decide if you can come out to look at a corner of the actual physical world, the one with the air and the sun and the birds in it: perceived through barbed wire, just a glint of it, at the far top of a narrow yard. Generally, if you’ve been Good: once a week, for ten minutes.

But if it rains, you stay in the cage. No outside for you.

Too, in the cage they nightly shut your mouth & all else at a certain hour, because they’ve decreed you need then to go to sleep—though the lights then are only dimmed, never darkened. Some hours later, they flood the place with the sickest strong unreal light, to wake you up. If you’re like me, you’re lucky, because you have a bodhisattva fellow the next cell over—a person who, because of the cage, you’ve never seen, and never will see—who each wake-up gently, kindly, says: “wake up, and do your time.”

In the cage, the one thing you can do is stay in your mind. This can be a good thing. Or, not.

When I was in the cage, you could smoke cigarettes in there. I can’t imagine what it’s like, now, when you can’t do even that.

There isn’t really anything like being in a cage.

And it doesn’t leave you.

Twenty years after, I was in a room in my house, and I went to get out, and the door stuck. Nobody else was at home. I could have further fiddled with the fudged-up door, or fairly effortlessly climbed out a window onto the laundry-room roof, and from there easily descended to the ground. Instead, the adrenaline instantly, insanely, spiked, to mad and crazed and panicked and blind, and I kicked the shit out of it. The door. To get out.

The first time I went into a cage, that was because of the kazoo-blowing. Because I softly blew a kazoo, while seated on the winding circular stairs between the first and second floors of a university administration building. I had not realized this was a Crime. When once my “case” reached a judge, she, too, could discern no Crime.

But that was later. For what is a Crime, that is always determined first by a police officer. Who is a very strange and sad sort of human. A police officer is a person who voluntarily signs up for a job that involves every working day endeavoring to put human beings in cages. There is something deeply wrong with any such person. What kind of terminally psychologically ill human would want to work all day and all of the night shoving other human beings into a cage? These creatures must first of all be pitied. All of them should be relieved of their duties at once, be given Treatment, with kind Medicines.

Three of us, we were put in the cage for the kazoo criminality. I went into the communal cage with Dale. He was a Marxist. And so perhaps had dreamed of someday going into a cage for something worthy, like tossing a spanner into the works. But now he was caged as an accessory to criminal kazoo-blowing.

Dale was nervous; he knew, there in the cell, that he was among the proletariat; but they did not seem to be people like he, or as he had imagined. Before Dale could have a full-on asthma attack, one of the proletariat politely inquiring as to why we were with them, there in the jug, and Dale baldly confessed the kazoo criminality. At which point we became the full-on favorites of everyone on the block. No one could believe the State—which all among them knew capable of anything—could have descended to such absurdity. Locking people up for blowing a kazoo? All these people who had been accused of Real crimes—burglary, battery, mayhem, the like—adopted us wholly. They then proceeded to teach Dale the card game of spades. Dale at first was hesitant: a card game seemed too much like fun, and he Knew from Marxism that fun was frivolous, and therefore Wrong, and should be eschewed. (Dale had many a night tried to explain to me Marxism, but there seemed to be money involved, and I knew money didn’t exist, and so I tended to nod off, even when there wasn’t the opium-hash.) Dale, now, in the jail, proved to be a natural master of spades. Our cellmates were delighted, that this complete geek had instantaneously evinced the instincts of a card-sharp. Dale, he was actually dejected, when the key-people came to say we were being let out into free air. He wanted to stay with the proletariat. And have Fun. With the spades. While Karl, out there in the boneyard, he Frowned.

The third person put in the cage for conspiracy to kazoo was the witch. She lived in the same house as did Dale and I. Dale had a wife, Becky, and the two of them were the actual renters, who dealt with the Normal who owned the house. The witch lived in an upstairs bedroom; I lived in the basement, which was like something out of the prison in The Count of Monte Cristo, and in which I contracted tuberculosis, black lung disease, and various other maladies not yet known to Science.

The household survived on truly putrid communal soups concocted by Dale’s wife, who could not cook; no one really knew about food in those days. Between meals, I munched “survival crackers,” which we stole from various nuke-bomb survival shelters around town; these crackers had been stashed there and forgotten twenty or so years before. They always tasted fresh enough, which in retrospect I find alarming, and so to this day I periodically examine myself in the mirror, to see if I have begun glowing in the dark.

Anyway, the witch divined people’s destinies with Tarot cards, and smoked long cigarettes and drank strong whiskeys. In the course of things, she and I came to convene sexual congress. One night Dale wanted she and I to go out and celebrate with him what he called “the rise of Saigon,” which was his term for the North Vietnamese at last prevailing in what the nation of Vietnam calls “the American war.” The witch and I were not much interested, because we were anarchists, and libertines, and we knew that the Vietnamese that would that night be celebrating their new boss, would soon enough be experiencing the old boss, and besides, we were all aroil in psilocybin. But we nonetheless went out and began the beguine with Dale, because he was a nice guy, and that night he was happy, and so it was good to be happy with him.

Not many years on, Dale was a husk. He’d traveled down to UC Davis to major in some Science Man thing, and thereby erased his brain. Some chemicals in some experiment smoked into him and did therein the real dirty, cooked his cerebrum, convincing him he was a completely different person, a person who had been a secret stab-and-shoot special-forces killer. He became adamant his “real” name was some endless unpronounceable thing that I cannot recall because it was worse than Polish, or even Welsh. He had a Paper that was the response from some governmental agency to which he had written demanding the records concerning his delusional personality, and the Paper said the agency could find no such records. He would flourish this Paper as “proof” that all his delusions were True. In this, he was like any CT person; any “proof,” will do.

The first time I was subjected to Dale waving this Paper was when I was waiting as a journalist for Jerry Brown to come into a small senior citizen’s center to there beg humans in wheelchairs to vote for him to be US Senator. I was feeling bad for the fellow, Mr. Brown, because I had gotten to know him, some, while he was governor, and I knew him to be a non-ordinary human, who had no business being in politics; he was there only because his dad had been; and, further, in this senatorial contest, he was about to get his ass whipped.

Humans the world over, today, have absolutely not moved beyond the days of the sun king, when some goober would be appointed the be-all and end-all of the tribe, for one bright shining year, at the end of which he would be killed and turned under the ground in hopes that from his blood and bones the crops would grow. This same shit goes on now, where whoever, wherever, is elevated to the top office, with everybody bowing and scraping, believing s/he will be the Wonderment; then, only a couple years later, those very same supporters not able to stand the sight of the creature, wishing he would just go to the boneyard. This is where Brown was, then, as he was coming into the senior-citizen’s center: doomed to be defeated by a thing called Pete Wilson, who would go to Washington DC as California’s senator, and not he. Once, there in California, the voters had adored the Moonbeam, but now they were going to put him to sleep. Many years would go by, Brown outcast in black holes ranging from Calcutta to Oakland, before state voters would bestir themselves to embrace him again.

What most occupied my attention, that day, was that Bob M., Brown’s campaign guru, had allowed what was clearly an unsane man, my old friend Dale, to come into the room where Jerry would soon be coming. Dale darkly mumbling about his Rambo-esque adventures, while holding in his trembling hands the sainted Paper that proved he was a delusion. Had Bob not heard of Taxi Driver? What if Dale ran amok?

A couple more years around Bob, and I figured it out. Bob went from Indiana: into the Vietnam War: because John Wayne. In country, all his senses immediately ramped up to to warp nine. Then he got shot to shit. In all those years in the hospital, he moved from reading people, as he had in country, to reading books. He understood how he had come to be where he was. He had meanwhile learned—first-hand, up close and personal—who was a killer, and who was not. Dale was crazy, a sadsack, but no more threat to Jerry Brown than a snail. A hundred Dales, Bob might surround around Brown, without a threat. And at least a hundred Dales, Bob, to my knowledge, has tried to see through. To this day, Bob gathers round him the bungled and the botched. He is bodhisattva. From convincing the UN to direct big money to a guy in Cambodia working in a little shattered shack who builds prosthetic limbs for those whose lives have been destroyed by mines laid by China, Russia, the United States, to taking various Dales into his home. That is why Dale was there that day, as I waited for the Brown man. Because Bob was watching over him.

It is years later and it is the night before Thanksgiving and I am on the bus. Two rows up, there is a wharf rat.

Not just a mere drunk. Or sot, or tosspot, or heaver. Embarrassing stumbling drunken shredding-of-pieces-of-human. No. A wharf rat.

Actual wharf rats are rare. Especially where I live. Which is about 150 miles from the nearest wharf.

The wharf rat is completely gone on alcohol. His eyes are slits. There is a nose, but otherwise the face is scars. Except for, down below, a jaw, which works up and out, up and out, extending, when out, far farther than it seems possible to extend. I’m feeling that when it extends, it’s to try to keep the vomit in.

I have been there. I have been there. Trying to keep the vomit in.

He’s wearing a knit cap, and he pats it down on occasion, with hands that are just . . . black.

He is mumbling. I can’t understand it yet. He is mumbling. I can’t understand it yet. I can smell him. I can smell him. I know this: he drinks. And he drinks. And he drinks. And that’s all he does. He drinks.

When I first get on the bus I hear him talking, and of course these days I assume he’s talking into a cell-phone, but he’s not, because he has no phone, and no one to talk to, except to whoever’s he’s addressing from deep, deep drunkenness. He has from years of drink drunk his voice into that deep ruined place that is the voice of below the ravagedness of Tom Waits.

I am on the bus with a corpse. He just happens now to be alive.

As the bus bumps up the hill, he is mumbling things no one can understand, but periodically I hear him say “alright! alright!” in this really happy, cheery, vomitous way. Which is doubly unnerving for me, because I have a bird who says the same thing. When, like this wharf rat, she is trying, yearning, to communicate in the realm of the humans.

This is his refrain—“alright! alright!”—but he is meantime addressing all and every devil, and this requires him to pronounce, on occasion, “fuckin’” this, and “fuckin’” that.

Which causes the 400-pound diabetic obese woman strapped into the wheelchair cripple seat just ahead of him to have a prune-face and complain to the driver. About the wharf rat’s “language.”

One of the Rules of the bus is you are not supposed to swear. Various drivers have various applications of this rule, but this particular driver, though a really nice guy, I think might be some sort of Christian, or maybe even a virgin, and so he really has a Frown if there is swearing on his bus, especially if some woman complains, even if it is hard in this case to ascertain if the complainer is an actual woman, encased as she is in 400 pounds of fat. The driver, loyally defending this jiggling jello-keg of blubber, that may be a female, vows that if the wharf rat “fucks” again, he will be heaved off the bus.

We get into town and the wharf rat has a brief moment of shared-with-us consciousness, in which he realizes we are in a town 20 miles from the town he had hoped to be in. But—“alright! alright!”—he is cheery. He says he can be dropped off at the intersection of the crossroads. A woman, he says, will meet him there. Then he returns to his mumbling. Amidst it he says: “I’m just really fucked up.” He therein is trying to apologize. But the driver, he just hears the “fuck.” And stops the bus. In the middle of nowhere. Where the wharf rat will freeze—it is 30 degrees—or go to the jail.

The driver, conveyance stopped, turns and faces the wharf rat.

“You have to get off,” he says.

The wharf rat is uncomprehending. He believes the driver to be his friend, who is going to drop him at the intersection of the crossroads, where he will meet up with his woman, who is even then awaiting him, and all will be alright. “Alright! Alright!”

“C’mon,” says the driver,” you have to get off.”

Generally, I do not get involved in the lives of bus people. Such could quickly become a full-time job. And I am currently an animal wrangler. And thus have no time for bus people.

But then, to my complete surprise, I hear myself say: “He’s just really drunk.”

“I know,” said the driver, “but he wouldn’t watch his language.”

“That last time,” I said, “he said, ‘I’m just really fucked up.’ He was trying to apologize.”

The driver looked at me for a while. Then he nodded, went back to his seat, and said he would proceed on.

“Alright! Alright!” exulted the wharf rat.

A wharf rat is a special being, a dark star, a holy fool. And if you got no dime, and got no time, to hear his story, it is incumbent upon you, nonetheless, to do something, for the fellow.

Eventually, the whole bus understood this.

And so, in the end, all of us, united with him, there on the bus, we idled, thirty minutes, there at the intersection of the crossroads, where he swore she would, he knew she would, be true to him.

“Alright! Alright!” he said, many, many, many, many, times.

Before she weaved in walking, from out of the fog. And then, they weaved off, walking, together.


3 Responses to “Blind And Dirty”

  1. 1 janis November 25, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Thank you for a story of entangled thanksgiving, with a happy ending.

    • 2 bluenred December 2, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      I had no idea there was a Dead cover band called Blind and Dirty.

      And that Mika fellow has a pretty sad happy ending. ; (

      • 3 janis December 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm

        I didn’t know either, until I you-tubed ‘blind and dirty’.

        Mika’s happy/sad song was also new to me. I enjoyed both. Thanks for the prompt.

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When I Worked

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