|by David Eide||.|
[W r i t e r' s N o t e b o o k]
Sketches of Those We Have Known:
I found tramps in all areas of any city I've lived in. These were not the new homeless but old-time characters, lifers on the street, hoboes in another era. A city empty of tramps isn't a city but a city filled up with tramps is a dead one. There is a critical threshold that determines these things. When you can observe the tramp and feel secure and glad that the city shows so much vital diversity that is one thing. But then when the denizens are able to surround you and convince you that you are one of them that is quite another item.
Many 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. Their pores are open to everything new and angular. 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 perhaps 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. And certainly a part of that business was to observe the on-going reality of streets like Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues. I noted the men who would reappear out of the crowd and repeat old patterns, gathering the offal of the day like weathered birds. One of these dudes 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, tap tap tap with hurried, irritated taps. I have literally seen this man everywhere, down in Oakland along Telegraph and up in north Berkeley on Solano Avenue. I spotted him once by the Ebony Market where I used to live around Bonar Street. 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 disappear. 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 can 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. He leaves everything and ventures to the street.
The most profound gesture in life is to live out the meaninglessness of the organized life. That's what a professor would say. 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 in the East Bay, 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 there's certainly poignant in the way he tries to avoid people. 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 though she was a former constituent totally disgusted with his current state.
Does he dream of a comeback? Or are all his dreams so much ash now?
I could imagine a tramp finding a valuable coin in one of his peregrinations, securing a small fortune, and 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 Abbot.
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 to gain a local, vigorous following.
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, a 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 merely 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 as a devouring machine and seeks refuge as a form of rebellion. 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.
© 2014 David Eide. All rights reserved.