[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o
Sketches of Those We Have Known:
I had found tramps in all areas of any city I've lived in. A city
empty of tramps isn't a city but a city filled up with tramps is a dead
Many tramps are carriers of a collective virus that makes them feel
what everyone is feeling but comes out through extreme gestures and wild
words spoken along the dirty sidewalk at noon. Take the tramp, clean
him, shave him, and put on any variety of modern clothes and he'll be
transformed into one of the people. Once he becomes part of the people
he will know how to act accordingly. He will find out how to deal more
effectively with his demons; for instance, going to the great stadiums
and arenas to drive them out into some great enemy. Or, he will become
political and join a group and, through months of listening, learn how
to speak of the opposition as once his demons spoke through his body.
When I look at the crowds of the city, the tramp is the only one who
exhibits the heroic desire to individuate in and among the ambiguous
blur that is modern life.
I've seen them going about my business. They reappear out of the
crowd and repeat old patterns, gathering the offal of the day like
weathered birds. One of these tramps was a middle-aged man dressed in
black who walked in a very proud fashion, albeit with a limp and a cane
at his side, tapping the pavement. I have literally seen this man
everywhere. His only transportation is his feet. I have never seen him
beg for money. Rather, he goes into phone booths and looks for his meal
there. When I see him I ask the inevitable question: Can he really make
a go of it seeking coins in a phone booth? How many people leave
quarters and dimes behind when making a call? How much money is waiting
to be discharged when the money return button is pressed? Over a period
of two years I have seen this man, always dressed in his ominous black,
moving along with fierce determination. He enters the phone booth,
entering and leaving very quickly like the most proficient businessman.
It must work otherwise the man would be dead. Doesn't he express the
most conscious attempt at experience? Out of all the myriad ways to make
money on the sly, experience has taught him that the phone booth is the
one machine that will deliver on its promise of wealth.
Well, I was in a train station and wanted to buy a candy bar. The
machine took my coins and delivered nothing in return. Usually, passive
as I am to machines, I would have left but this time I was persistent. I
knew from experience that a knob, sometimes, will jam under a particular
brand of candy and that will cause the whole machine to malfunction. I
pushed the knob all the way in and tried the coin return. Nothing. I
repeated the action. Again and again, I repeated the action. Ah! Money
falling into metal! Ah success and greater success. I had invested
thirty-five cents and had been returned one dollar. Thinking I had
cleaned the machine of its problem I deposited my money again and still
it jammed. I pressed the money return again. And again and again. Viola!
Another dollar! Now I had it. I forgot all about the candy and dropped
in a quarter and pressed the return once again. The coins came falling
down with the clacking, ringing music of a small treasure. And the coins
were hot! I slipped all the money into my pocket and went to my favorite
Italian restaurant to have a nice meal.
Am I commenting on the tramp or is the tramp commenting on me?
He is certainly one component of this modern life. Do they have a
history? I have known of tramps who have had a history; if not a
brilliant history one fairly secure. But then a disillusionment sets in.
The most profound gesture in life is to live out the meaninglessness of
the organized life. But, I think a prolonged research into this would
prove disillusioning. It would be apparent that the tramp is a type one
is born to be, with his own rituals and mythos. A perfect function in a
specialized age rather than a protest against it.
The idea of the Fall is continually fascinating. I know of a man,
here, who was once a political leader; who served in the California
Assembly after a successful law career. And who is now reduced to
walking up and down the street with the lost look of a stray dog. He's
not quite a tramp but certainly poignant. He was a liberal democrat if
memory serves me correctly. The last time I saw him he was in the
Laundromat, talking with the large, black woman who manages that
dreadful place. She spoke to him in a patronizing tone of voice as a
former constituent totally disgusted with his current state.
Does he dream of a comeback? Or are all his dreams so much ash now?
One could conceive of a tramp finding a valuable coin in one of his
peregrinations, securing a small fortune, transforming that small fortune
into wealth and property. It's quite conceivable. But, what would he do
with it? He was hard-wired to be a tramp and would, no doubt, give
everything away and return to the streets.
But, happier characters! Happier lives!
Holbein the Younger would have set the tramp next to his parish
And after the tramp would come the entertainer. Not the few who gain
the status of spoiled gods but all those entertainers working for
whatever they can; the violinist on the street corner or the old
accordion player in front of the department store with two Dalmatians at
this feet or the musicians who go from club to club with fierce
determination, always in a state of being rather than becoming.
The great, obscure musicians who play their instruments and fine tune
their skills gain a local, vigorous following. They who would rather
unlock the treasure of their art rather than skid along to an easy
And the actors and actresses who live the most sublime fantasies and
live their lives as performance and interpretation. One admires this.
I was sitting in the park one fine day and suddenly there was
movement all about and before long a stage was erected with a backdrop
and people dressing and undressing in the middle of the park. And at a
certain hour the performance began. It was a fine performance on the
life of Anne Hutchinson and when the performance ended there was great
hugging and laughter among the players. The park had filled up during
the noon hour. Then they left, the set was removed and then there was
nothing but myself and two dogs. It was rather startling. And I contrast
this with a movie I saw being made in the same park. It was filled with
stuttering around and ennui, mechanized characters, great waste of time
and material as they tried to make some flawed thing flawless. All the
stupidity that goes into making public art in the United States was
embodied in this production. The slow movement as people lacked
enthusiasm for the project, fixing everything to a prepared script,
stupidity rather than grace and light. And when the movie came out
several months later it turned out to be a boring and ridiculous drama;
something predictable from the outset.
Americans apply the basic creed, "money is power," to everything,
including creativity and it becomes a laughable affair. It always fails
the test where truth is involved.
Entertainers form their personalities around the fashionable and
current philosophy abundant at any given moment. From this certain
things can be learned.
Of course, the desire to entertain and perform in one of the most
profound desires. Performance is nothing less than the spirit enacting
itself in the light of day. This is the way every performance should be
judged. Does the particular performance release one's own spirit so that
it can go forward and resolve itself in daily activity? Or, is it a
diversion? Diversion simply removes the person one step further from the
enactment of his own spirit. It trivializes that enactment. And then the
separation goes on its own momentum. Suddenly the performer is a "star."
It becomes a category that both excites the audience and allows them to
consult at the audience's leisure.
I always felt to know the age you had to start at the bottom.
There were the cults. The cult hovers somewhere between rejecting and
being rejected. The cult member has experienced the society has a
devouring machine and seeks refuge or rebels. Yes, fine, very good. But,
then, what is his instincts and good sense going to connect with? What
has the modern world not destroyed that was once a value and a way to
connect with the greater reality?
The cult comes to be a parody of the society; the banal and trivial
bows into monstrous proportions so that some stray dog can resemble a
god and get a following. But doesn't the cult and the cult member desire
most of all to participate in the beginning of things? Having rejected
the historical meaning of society; the progress, science, technology,
and other forms, they desire to be before history. This can be a great
attraction to young and idealistic types.
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© 2002 David Eide. All rights reserved.