"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night."
'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg
Our knees are worn out hunks of gristle. Our feet are punded to flaps o'flesh. These staggered hills. These lungbusting monsters. They wear you. The San Andreas fault stuttershift, cut them down. Please.
- He sits preaching from a pillar, besuited and enraged. He talks of four families living in a garage, and murders. The dark places in his head. The wasp nests. No one seems to hear him. The wide eyes lady rummages in the bins, grabbing another can for her collection. She shouts at the tourists in the cable car crowds. They watch the ancient carriages swing round the wooden turntable. She is not part of the experience. She is not the picture postcard they take home with them. This city of casualties. This city of the lost.
And on to Chinatown, rammed with razor elbowed miniature Asian ladies, browsing the lychees and the bok choi, while we ogle the goldencrisp duck carcasses that line the windows. This feels like some kid's drawing of a Chinese town far away. Here be dragons. The park is filled with old Oriental men playing cards, or yahtzee, or mah jongg. Dollar bills are waved. The Subway is an intruder. America can't resist. The vagrant meditates on the edge, head bowed under cowl over cross legged lotus legs, blackened and browned crinkleskin hands resigned.
Old beat stories fill my ears. This town built them up. This bookshop is where it all began. They gave these things their romance back. Misplaced love. Howling out old poems, some kind of liberal. Stifle your giggles love, it's only a phalanx of segway riders. Up old Coit Tower we stare out at the city behind smeared up sheen. People try to throw coins through the gaps, because everyone else has done it, like fountains. Customary customs. There is no reason.
Where are all the homosexuals? The gay district (the Castro) is no more gay than anywhere else. One day they will not have to be ghettoized. I have a dream. Gay porn video rentals and a bear in a sequined thong in store front windows. The bar looks dingy and the lesbian is too intimidated. We don't have enough leather on for this establishment. Will we ever have enough leather?
'Now' say the adverts. Now. Not soon. Everything is in the present tense, in the land without history. Anything past is reconstituted, and recycled into retro and kitsch. Things long gone are a novelty. On Fisherman's Wharf there are no fishermen anymore. The trawlers are rotting in the drydocks. Tourists parade the promenade, marvelling at the human statues and the world famous human bush. The air is thick with the stench of clam chowder from a hundred cheap restaurants.
Alcatraz feels real, layers of concrete and blasted rock on a blasted rock. Army then prison then Native American then attraction. Bad men, murderers and bank robbers were kept here, but the memorials for dead warders don't tinge the romance. Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly still hold their allure. We always side with the criminals. We never side with the government. They weren't freedom fighters. Neither are we. Forbidden dreams lived large for us, not by us. The prison rotted away in the mist.