I’m honored to announce that I was just given a guest artist pro board with Party Animal Part Machine Skateboards. Here’s a link to my skate clip that celebrates such a thing. Music by Robb Grimes and Hangtown.
Here’s the third installment of my morning commute bus stories. It’s always funny, the stories that erupt when you sit somewhere that has as much magnetic stimualtion as a San Francisco Muni during commuter hours, and just start writing. I hope you’re enjoying these. Longer to shortly follow.
Stories in Motion
School Crossing, Kelby read like a spotlight’s splash, flinching at the knowledge. It whispered in the wind, but screeched as it came out of every mouth within earshot. And the only two discernable syllables were Stoo and Pid. Funny, she thought. How those with money enough to go to a school in this neighborhood seem to also have enough to buy their freedom from concern. As the idea lingered above her head, two girls in the garb of their own standard setting walked past her. Not by direction so much as intent, like having less obstacles in the same stream. Maybe they were further from the surface then they thought. The edges most defined by, well, Kelby figured it being that she at least knew what she didn’t know. The other two only seemed to establish the sounds of their own voices as relevant. Alone but propped up by something that had always been there for them.
“Well,” Kelby whispered, feeling unconcerned with her invisibility. “May she without a mirror feel free to throw stones.”
The girls stopped and turned.
“Excuse me?” the tall one said.
Kelby waited, her mouth thinking to open before it was stopped in its tracks by a voice that had sprouted wings right beside her. “Better keep steppin, Amy,” as the girl passed Kelby, practically walking in the street like she wore invisible armor. “All I said was that I wish you talked to me,” the alleged Amy responded, the tall one. A car drove by and a dog barked from the back seat. Kelby seemed to notice it alone.
Just as the newcomer stepped up to the other two, the Amy one turned to resume her walk and Kelby watched as her backpack hit the newbie right in the face, allowing illustration to a hierarchy. And big personality at the cockpit of a little body.
“Excuse you!” the small one gasped.
“You’re excused,” Amy said, and they all walked off fast enough to dissipate their aggression, which trailed like kite string. Their sashaying language said to Kelby that the hatred was friendly. She kept walking as the girls turned into the grounds of the high school that looked more decadent than Kelby’s own University had been. She kept walking, feeling that at any moment she would be ousted for carrying the persona she wore in this recently facelifted neighborhood. Where even a backpack face-check wasn’t grounds to throw blows. Even the cracks in the sidewalk seemed placed and privileged.
Kelby kept moving and the wind began to hurry her steps, while she felt less and less separable. The air seemed to gain warmth with urgency and for the first time, Kelby watched the world around her. The gusts creating a song that whistled through the hair that waterfell over her ears.
The buildings morphed, they grew, then dissolved as she found herself again, right back where she’d once pitied, then stood not above but beyond. Now she heard two more girls talking, using words that she recognized but now had different tints to their reflections. “Look at her wig,” a girl said.
“Is it a wig or a weave?”
“Either way, she looks beautiful.”
“Yep. We need to tell her too. All us girls need to help one another grow wings. It’s rough out there for a lady.”
Kelby looked at the high school again as she passed. It was now gated and trapped. Or maybe protected. She looked at a bike on the corner. It’s still there, she thought. Sad. And just then the wind picked up again, drifting over her the essence of roses. Roses that had been woven into the bike’s spokes. And painted on the frame in a timed hand were the words, RIP Kelby. Words that tasted familiar of that corner with the scent of roses and difference. Kelby rested as she rode on the wind.
Here’s the second installment of stories written on a crowded-ass bus on my way to work. (Which is still quieter than my office, now that all of San Francisco is under construction.) I hope you enjoy it. Shit, listen to it on your way to work, then it’ll be partially interactive.
Stories in Motion
Once Spittin’ Twice Shy
On they surged, strangers for today. That morning had a bite that took more than it gave; bearing into the lips and cheeks, naked foreheads, rare and all the more sad. Even an occasional ankle rode to the wind, god help them. The chimes of progress created a heartbeat, mechanic as it may be, skirting atop the swells it still gave a pulse to the workweek.
Harley found it reassuring to see any recognizable face. Because it helped him recognize that he had woken up today in the same world that he remembered from yesterday. He still got out his notebook, glanced at yesterday’s scrawlings (as imbalanced as they may be), and could almost map out the currents in the bay. He focused on a sentence that painted his glimpse of clarity within its mumbling paragraph, probably written in the trough between waves: Her arms are crossed, it read. A sand-colored jacket covering her red sweater. Anger jousting with boredom. He could remember her now, from yesterday, mostly because he could remember yesterday remembering her from three days before that. She had choked on her bagel that day of (1,2,3…) 4 days ago, and spat it onto an old lady’s shoulder. The old lady hadn’t noticed and Harley couldn’t focus on anything after that, other than the half-chewed bread, clothed in saliva and cream cheese, perched on the woman’s shoulder like a parrot, watching the ocean’s roadway.
That memory came narrated with a splash now, this morning, as the ocean rapped against Harley’s window. it made him think of a secret lover at night time and it startled him (as both secrets and lovers were wont), as he lifted his eyes in response. They slid directly into hers, the bagel-spitter from last week acting as his notebook’s muse from moments ago. Harley almost yelped. He felt like she had stepped from the page, a zombie crawling from his own disheveled letters. Especially the way she stared. He wondered if he was really here now, on this ferry, or if his mind was on the run, as it liked to, against his pillow’s treadmill. But then she looked away and he knew he’d made her uncomfortable. Which was another familiar feeling. He looked back down at his notebook and started to write: that he was thankful that she didn’t have a bagel, as the bay was chatty today and he was beneath her crosshairs. He tried to write that but the waters had other plans and dictated to his hand a language he scarcely recognized.
He stared at the scribbles as though they created some key, but his attention was arrested. The bagel-spitter was outside his window, on the deck, the waters lashing against her. He looked where she’d been sitting and saw a single sheet of cardboard, the strip for which one was to hold hot drinks, and there was something written on it. He leaned forward just as a cry flashed outside. People rushed to the rail out there and leaned over, trying to keep an eye on what they were now passing. The girl was gone. Harley took the coffee holder and read what she had written before her hasty departure: Stop drawing me. He felt his face burn in embarrassment and only hoped that if this was a dream, he would wake up soon. But the waves kept coming.
Before long they found their dock and Harley stepped off the ferry. Another day another dollar. Another pile of scattered selves he aimed to collect and hopefully reassemble to create something less gut-wrenching. He put on his name tag, that read generically Psychiatrist, as he walked toward the guidance ward on Alcatraz for the belligerently insane. Another day.
Here’s the first installment of what I’m calling Stories in Motion. They’re nuggets of fiction written on the San Francisco Muni. Don’t worry, not every story is about a bus.
Stories in Motion
“A Dog’s Antiquity”
There it sat, the Muni Ticket. Had been placed, if not misplaced, at the foot of the third-to-last row. The only row that was turned, watching what would follow and unfold behind the bus. It was a bygone medium, and felt jealous of the air around her. The air that had at some point begun to harbor everyone’s secrets. (Their promises still wore masks of being coded, hoping never to suggest translation.) The Ticket had been forgotten by a child, like so many items of old –and of new for that matter. The named Grace had been reared in a culture that was long void of meaningful pieces of paper. Her carelessness bedfellow-ed the ruckus of a driver who was on his second-to-last route of a day that shadowed a particular punctuation, and he was speeding to end that sentence with a period. These two drawings had ushered three dimensions of loss: first Grace’s footing, then her grasp, and finally a reason to care. All of which brought a Ticket to a floor.
This was where a man named James later sat, when the perpetrators of the Ticket’s existence had stepped into a different deck’s shuffle, with his dog, Ashley; named after cremated remains that impersonated her fur’s tint. James saw the Muni Ticket, lost on the floor, not even notable enough to be stepped on, and it steadied the pulse of a long-dead memory.
He had used Muni Tickets when he first moved to San Francisco. Transfers one could buy at some of the island stops to avoid the stage fright of feeding a machine beneath the speeding glare of a driver and his Balance Beam Standers who searched for distraction long before it was provided by their palm. A swaying body of faces, fragmented sentences and each with its own volume of personality. He would buy his ticket in peace, like the one now at his feet, and it provided him a cloak to his favorite chore at the time: to hide a bag of Ashley’s poop, back when she had a young and ample digestive track. He’d hide it in his backpack as he boarded, then, just before stepping off the bus, he’d slip it anywhere he could where it wouldn’t be noticed. At least with the eye. He loved the thought of each and every person taking the time to inventory their co-passengers and trying to decide who farted; or sharted, depending on their vicinity to the bag. He figured it would help make the ride pass more quickly for them, as they played their game of Who-Done-It. He did it as a favor to others, in the same vein as those who played loud music that they assumed everyone else loved as much as they did.
Now he sat and, thinking of those times, he looked down at Ashley. She was an old-timer now, long retired from most doggish pastimes. But hey, he thought, anyone alive isn’t too old to live. He reached into his backpack and got out Ashley’s Greenies. Her favorite snack that also gave her the farts. Maybe because they were intended for cats, so they felt vengeful whenever they their use felt ill-intended. James reached down to her alerted nose and fed her three of them, a typical day’s entire ration. Then he sat back and didn’t even have to wait three stops before Ashely backfired. Soon the whole bus’s population had words in their eyes, all bemoaning the taste in their noses. And to James’s delight, bounding from person to person, with silent pleads of mercy. No one even glanced at Ashely though, and James felt how he used to when he’d play with his Ouija Board: the quiet drawl of unmentionables. He decided to let the speeches mingle and pulled the chord.
As he and Ashley stepped off, they passed Grace and her mom, returning to the bus after seeing the dentist. Mom had gotten Grace a new transfer because she had no way of realizing the impact of the one that had been lost. But she was about to find out.
Photo: by Candice Nobles-Sanford
This is a recording of a live reading I did on Halloween at The Hemlock in San Francisco. I’m using the timeless Halloween tradition, which I just invented, of introducing a band via story. Said band is one of favorites, Hangtown. Musical accompaniment to my reading was done by the night’s DJ, Ted Petsas.
Here’s the link to the footage of this reading, filmed by my wonderful wife, Candice:
Here’s a scary story for all you Halloween enthusiasts. I also have a hair-raising tale up at www.defiantscribe.com, which is a really great online periodical. They always have good Halloween stories and I’m honored to be a part of their selection.
Happy Halloween, I hope this story helps you get in the spirit (pun intended).