Saturday, December 08, 2007

Autumnal Thoughts


Sitting by the Bay, with the water very still that morning, the sun only just beginning to creep through the grey, no sound but the rare laugh of a gull and the hum of traffic on the Bay Bridge, the engine that runs the world now that man is here, the inescapable engine of himself sitting here, he idled nevertheless, and, eyes closing, he drifted. Everyone hopes to be some place at some time where they can say later, “I was there.” It was fortunate that this was not one of those places – just a space for being. Call it no place at all, or call it an old man’s odd twilight place where memory and imagination are pleasantly confused. This morning’s tranquil Bay was a place where he could be so tranquil that he didn't even care if – while his were eyes closed, while he was not the proper, alert, urban citizen – someone should decide to konk him on the head, because if you could not enjoy that tranquil place, the sun coming through now and warming his skin, if he could not get evened out like the still flat water, then death might be better than a life where you could never enjoy such a moment of peace. Old men should be able to idle and doze on a dock of the Bay. But, as El Pavo Real often reminded him there is no Should.


Time, as I age, has stepped up its pace. The film is in fast motion. For me the trees bud, the leaves unfold, the flower buds blossom, the leaves turn color, the petals fall, the leaves fall, the tree is bare, the trees bud, the leaves kaleidoscopic fashion, faster and faster and faster.

“Wasn’t it just a month ago,” I ask my friend Martha, “that we noticed how this ginko tree turns yellow before the others on your block?” But, of course, it had been a year.

I want to slow it down, the whirligig of the turning years; it makes me dizzy, but it won’t hold still for me, and I know what that means!

In similar fashion, everywhere I go I see what was, side by side with what is now. That is true for many people if they happen to know the history of a place.

The Sutro mansion is missing from Sutro Heights, but only if you know it was once there. Some think the remnants of the foundation and the courtyard are all that was ever there.

How poignant it was to stand high above the ocean at twilight in 1959 on the courtyard that was part of Adolf Sutro’s mansion and to watch as the immense ocean darkened, seeming to threaten the tiny, turning lights of the amusement rides at Playland at the Beach. It was a meditation on fraility and vulnerability. Now, from that spot, you look down on the housing that replaced it (the work of Jeremy Ets-Hoskins). Playland dwells now only in history, but some things pass away in my own lifetime, and so dwell also in my personal memory.

I was surprised to see this poster at least twice in a hotel or some other public place in Europe so that Sutro Baths was not just a landmark for local people. It still existed when I came here in 1959, although the swimming pool had become a skating rink. Walking through that vast inner space beside the great foggy sea, you could still look at the display of Tom Thumb’s wardrobe from his days with Ringling Brothers Circus.

They say it was someone who wanted to build an apartment building in that spot who saw to it that Sutro Baths burned to the ground.


With the recent death of poet Jon Anderson, following the death of my friend Robert Minichiello, I considered the fact that I had supposed I would see Jon again sometime, and then I would discover if he was able to move beyond what I felt was an addiction to guilt, and discover whatever insights he had learned over the years. With all I have known who have died, I resent Death’s rude intrusion, cutting off a “correspondence” (to use the word, as Jon did, in a way to awaken its double meaning). I resent Death’s chopping up the vital manuscripts thaty are the people we know, oblivious to literary form or musical composition.

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