"Bush, butts, bombs, blood." That is the way I started the last piece and it was kind of depressing. Let's try something else.
Flowers, fun, sun, mun. Yes, much nicer. But what is this mun thing? Is it a word or just a sound? A word, perhaps, in a language unknown to me.
Not sure mun is such fun? Sun fun or some fun but is there another way to begin?
Has it come to this?
Come to what?
Words. Words in space. The dark night of the word, dirty words.
But it's hard living on earth these days. Too much shit going on. The bad guys seem to be winning. Babies are bombed and flowers are crushed. Bad gals too if you count the white rice lady being marketed as brown. Some kind of color coding problem in heaven, I suppose. But let's speak plain English for a moment. It's boring but sometimes useful.
Stopped by the Laurel Court at the Fairmont Hotel the other day to catch EricShifrin on piano. He has a new CD out called Body & Soul. Still infected by Bush thoughts, however, I first asked:
"What do you think of president Bush these days."
"Oh, he'll get his," Eric said. "But I don't want to say too much before I file my income tax return."
He segued into They Can't Take That Away From Me. Let's hope, Eric!
His new CD is a sequel to his first solo piano CD, As Time Goes By. Most of the tunes he plays on the CDs are the Great American Song Book classics that he plays at his Fairmont gig.
The new CD contains such songs as My Old Flame ("I can't even remember her name ..."), Embraceable You ("I love all the many charms about you ..."), Body and Soul ("It seems you don't want to see what you are doing to me ..."), and that darkly beautiful tune Don't Explain ("Hush now, don't explain, just say you'll remain ..."). Eric does not sing them on this CD but he does in other less-reserved environments around town such as the Washington Square Bar & Grill and Enrico's. His piano style is elegant and graceful; his singing style is raspy and soulful. He does not look like Louis Armstrong but I swear there is a touch of Louis Armstrong the singer in his voice. He can also play powerhouse straight-ahead jazz. Da guy is versatile. He's like a great chef that can also wait tables, run the cash register, and mop the floor. Okay, forget that. My language is failing.
"So what do you do when you lose it?" I didn't ask Eric but if I had:
"Oh, I just add a couple extra measures and change the key. No one listens that carefully these days, you know."
"Yes," I say "but you never seem to lose it. Not that I can tell, anyway."
"Well, it could happen, you know. I'm sure even Beethoven lost it a time or so. It's no big deal. In fact that is what improvisation is all about, right?"
"You mean, like you are lost all the time and just trying to get back to shore? Like you have fallen overboard in a storm in the North China sea, and it is icy cold and you are surrounded by sharks and the water is coming in big swells but you don't care because you are drunk, which is why you fell overboard in the first place, and you don't really care if you live or die anyway ..."
"No, I mean you are clever and you make the right moves and your fingers play on the keys like they are the body of your lover and you love her and you caress her and all is okay as she moans and heaves pressing her body against yours."
"You say it is fun to get lost now and then? A little lack of direction can be a good thing?"
"Well, yes, it is not so bad if you look at it my way: Lost in bed with your lover and forced to make the right moves."
"Uh, okay," I say, "I can sort of dig that."
"So what about Coltrane?" I ask.
"What about Coltrane?"
"Exactly. That's just what I mean."
Okay, now for an ounce of reality here. On break and over by the bar, Eric and I discussed John Coltrane:
"He became a god to a lot of people," I said.
Eric agreed and said, on a positive note, "He got a lot of guys signed who would never have been recorded.... Pharoah Sanders, guys like that...." But then he added, "In a way that's the kind of music that killed jazz, I mean they were so far out and so self indulgent ..."
About that time rock & roll came along and people began to relate to it more than to jazz. Miles Davis also "pushed the envelope" of jazz with such recordings as Bitches Brew but in a little different way. Miles always retained some semblance of structure.
wHAT? sTRUCTURE, yOU sAY?
The central question is how "listenable" is the music. A lot of composers have pushed the limits
pUSHED tHE lIMITS, yOU sAY, yOUNG mAN?
on that with the result that they have lost a lot of their audience.
oH, iMAGINE tHAT!
The music may be interesting to some but to others it is simply taxing. It is a cocktail that no one orders more than once. Or to put it another way: people simply don't know what they are listening to because there is no order. Sound like sight can play tricks on the would-be perceiver when there is no detectable order.
dO yOU rEALLY bELIEVE tHAT sHIT?
I asked Eric: "Now the stuff you play is generally pretty listenable. Do you do that by natural instinct?
oR iS iT pAINFULLY dIFFICULT tO bE lISTENABLE?"
"I'm just a naturally friendly guy," said Eric.
"sO aM i," i dIDN'T sAY.
Who knows what really happened? I dropped by the Kum Bak Club on Ellis Street last Friday. It's in the Tenderloin near the corner of Leavenworth, and you can't find a worse bar there. I've searched and searched the 'loin. Its' the worst. But don't get me wrong. I like it. Just don't take your visiting aunt from New Jersey there. She'll think you've flipped. "Get me out of here you !@#$%^,"
So what is the thing about searching out such places?
Is there a reason for it or are you just plain nuts?
Partly nuts but not completely. The uncompletely part is that I find interesting people working in such places. Such as Fong, such as Xiao Fan, such as Co-co, such as Chong Lee ... And at Kum Bak, Lilly. They are my stars that talk to me at night when all else fails. Unlikely spots for truly nice young women, you might think. But there they are, real gems, though truth to tell, quirky when you get to know them. Take Fong. She is currently mad at me because of something I wrote about her but will get over it. Take Xiao Fan. A trained nurse from China drinking with bums in a chinatown gangster bar to increase the owner's revenue. Take Co-co, a women with a temper but a lovely voice who works in a karaoke bar in Chinatown and is your girlfriend as long as you are buying her drinks and your ex-girlfriend with a temper when you stop. Take the lovely Helen, whom Co-co sent to the hospital one evening when she smacked her with an ashtray. Helen thinks everything is everyone else's fault. Co-co did not agree with her one night and is now hiding out from the police. Or s'was. Maybe she's back. And take Lilly, who was a lawyer in China....
But this is really not about Lilly or Kum Bak Club. I just happened to stop by there the other night to talk with Lilly before heading down to Les Joulins Jazz Bistro. It's down the street between Market and Powell, located in a tamer district frequented by tourists.
Okay, I hear your voice: Move this story along.
Okay, so I talk with Lilly, agree that something is Ma Ma Hu Hu (so so), but I can't remember what.
"You have Chinese girlfriend?" she asks when I say Ma Ma Hu Hu.
"No, just a lot of Chinese friends. There are a lot of Chinese people in San Francisco, if you haven't noticed," I say.
She smiles. She tells me that Lilly mean doubly beautiful in Chinese.
"You are," I didn't say but should have.
And I leave. Yes, just like that.
I am feeling good—my stars are shining now —as I approach Mason a few blocks down the street. I am walking the left side of Ellis. Then I see two guys crossing Mason who look they are getting into a skirmish. They are in the middle of the street but still walking and arms are beginning to fly. Fisticuffs is the word for it. I'm a little alarmed but continue approaching. Then I see two cops charging across from my side of the street toward them. They are heavy set, big. One of them smacks one of the fighters, an old man in a white shirt. He goes flying, hitting his forehead directly on the curb. That is what I think I see, anyway. I am never quite sure. As I get to the corner, I stop on the other side of Mason and stare. There are two young jock types, both in baseball caps, standing on the corner with me.
"What happened?" I ask one of the guys.
"Cop sucker-punched him," said the young guy closest to me. He was standing and staring just like me.
"Wasn't that a little excessive?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'd say it was excessive." He looked like a guy who would not mind someone getting punched who deserved to get punched but not an old man about the age of his grandfather.
I walked across the street to where the old man lay. He was covered in blood streaming from his head. His white shirt was splotched red. He lay on his back and the two cops were now bending down over him. I suppose they were concerned now that they had killed him. More police arrived. I got out my camera to take pictures of the scene and was ordered to get out of the street. I said I was with the newspaper—I didn't say which—and they left me alone. A plain-clothes cop, badge dangling from his neck, arrived and ordered me out of the street. Then there was an ambulance and they were lifting the old man onto a gurney.
"That was way over the top," I said to the young plain-clothes cop. At this point I was mad.
"He'd been drinking," he said.
"That's not illegal," I said.
"It is if you're drunk."
That's pretty close to what was said, anyway.
The other participant in the fight was still there hanging around. He was a younger man, about 40, with a pony tail. He looked Hispanic. He told me I didn't know anything about it. Maybe that was so.
"He was chasing me all down the street. I couldn't get rid of him," he said.
What a match. A young tough versus a feisty old guy about 70. It also looked to me like it was the old guy who was throwing the punches. Hard to put it all together.
One thing was very clear to me however: It was not much of a fight and it did not take smacking the old guy to stop it. "Stop It!" would have stopped it. Instead they used him for target practice. I photographed the blood on the curb where his forehead struck. It was a very dark splotch on the grimy concrete.
The cops now looked beady-eyed and nervous as a small crowd formed and the ambulance lifted the old guy onto the gurney.
I'm standing next to an older guy back on the curb as the ambulance drives off. I asked him if he saw what happened. I only saw part.
"Yeah, I see whole thing," he says with an accent. "They don't not need to do that."
He says that he thought the old man was dead after he hit the curb.
"I be surprised he does not have damaged brain."
He says his is from the Netherlands and going back.
"Do you have a card?" I ask.
"Not with me," he says. But who needs cards these days. He gives me his email address.
I head on down the street to Les Joulins where Charles Unger and Valencia Hawkins are playing.
As I walk in they are doing Tokyo Blues, I believe. I order a Wild Turkey Bourbon to soothe my nerves. I have come full circle: Flowers, Fun, Sun ... to Bush, Butts, Bombs ...
So what is real?
Sometimes it is hard know. You can only try. And is real feeling or fact?
The younger Hispanic guy said I didn't see what happened. He insisted on it. "The guy was bugging me all down the street. The cops told him to stop." Apparently the two had been drinking in a bar together up the street. Some sort of insult had occurred. What's new in this world?
sLUT? wHORE? sOMEBODY'S wIFE?
So what else is new?
eVERY wOMEN iS a sLUT, eVERY wOMAN a wHORE. so wHAT?
Forget I said that. Or think of it another way. Every women is the daughter of some male tyrant.
Forget I said that too.
Anyway, or way any, to sound cool about it, I called the SFPD on Saturday. First I called the main non-emergency number. They knew nothing about it, suggested I call the Southern Station and gave me the number. Southern Station knew nothing about it because Ellis and Mason is not in the their district. Reasonable. Then I called the Tenderloin Station, which owns the corner of Ellis and Mason, along with some drug dealers.
A young officer answered the phone. All perkiness, he sounded like a puppy that had learned how to speak. I described the incident
and asked, somewhat ironically, if the old guy survived the attack. He laughed.
"I'm sure I would have heard about it if he hadn't. Hold on."
After a couple minutes of silence he was back on and gave me the "scoop," or at least official story.
"He's fine," he said. "Got a couple stitches. He's off to Scotland tomorrow." I guess I was supposed to understand that he was a tourist from Scotland.
To start a fight there, a brawl? Must have a head made of steel. I'm not sure I believe any of this. He looked like the quintessential crusty old San Franciscan to me, slicked back thin gray hair, a guy who looks like he has spent a whole life rooting for the home team at baseball stadiums, drinking beer in a Giants hat or a 49ers jacket and mostly minding his own business if you mind yours.
But who knows? Maybe he was a tourist from Scotland and they made a deal with him to leave the country or face prosecution for being drunk. Drunk in San Francisco? Big deal? At least he wasn't on duty. In his perhaps-brain-damaged state he may have thought he was getting a good deal. Myself, I would have stayed to sue.
What is the truth? I'm not sure I want to know.
eXCESSIVE fORCE fOR sURE.
But who am I to say. My life needs more cheer or I'm outta here.
Mun? That's short for money. Or honey. You decide.