The Flaneur looks back at the year of 2011 through the crystalline lens of December, starry oddities are detected.
Here it was December the first as I made my way to the outlet on San Pablo avenue for medical marijuana. I walk the back streets South of Dwight wending my way through the morning calm. I have to play hopscotch with street-repair crews through this area lately--no telling what infernal machine will be employed in spoiling my meditation if I allow myself to blunder onto the wrong block.
I dig little make-believe sidewalks as I approach the denouement of a ball field. In a moment's respite from all the enclosed streets the great sweeping clouds of a wide open sky. I close in on my objective--an always-bustling enterprise with it's own patrol here it was open on St Stephen's day. It's a Googie-style drive-in building with mirror windows that slope upward and outward surrounded by a serious javelin fence.
I have brought with me a letter from my recommending doctor in order to gain entrance. I don't spend the additional fee for the fast pass "patient ID card" although they do come in handy if one is ever persecuted by police. The cost of a letter has come down for me appreciably. After four or five years with a high-profile doctor, an early crusader, I now go to the cheapest offer in the newspaper. This is after all a racket to enrich opportunists who operate between the rights of man and the sacred plant, but a venal capitalist society must be negotiated after all ideologies are said and done.
Inside you provide your driver's license and they check you out again on their screen. Then you're free to move about. You pass a counter selling small cannabis plants. They are all so adorable I want to adopt one and take it home. But as with all pets, it's a lot of responsibility, adjustment, landlords, etc. This counter also sells the various accoutrements that facilitate cannabis use--the pipes, the papers, the vaporizer bags and the like. It is situated in the rotunda room where one is invited to sit at a window-side counter or at one of a few tables and consume one's new-bought herb. Complimentary coffee is supplied, water, and the little ovens that vaporize the herbal matter are available along the counter.
The innermost sanctum is the herb counter. Music plays and the custom is brisk. Generally I make my selections from the All Star group whose potency, flavor and charm is a fairly safe bet. A card allows one to accumulate kick-back points--slow as they may come, they can add up. Next it's out to the rotunda where I meticulously prepare my smoke. I bring small Fiskers scissors and chop the solid bud over a small tray adorned with Italianate designs relating to the renown Club brand cigarette papers. They feature Le Professeur a Victorian gentleman smoking at a cafe table while reading a copy of Revue Scientifique. This variety of cigarette paper which I prefer has no glue but adheres to itself quite admirably. I add a rolled up inch of card stock as a recess and carefully assemble my airplane, tucking, tamping, and trimming until it is as good as I can make it.
I usually have a coffee and a water at hand as I take my two or three expert inhalations. I hold the smoke for ten to fifteen seconds before exhaling in a series of four puff-outs interrupted by brief hold-ins. This works wonderfully and I gaze out at waving trees and passing clouds in a deep state of peace.
The oddity this day was that the only other patrons of this usually busy and somewhat young scene are senior citizens. I especially enjoy one elderly lady perched on her walker-seater deal and puffing a long luxurious spliff. Social Security payments came today.
Meanwhile Occupy Berkeley vacated the pocket site on bank of amerika plaza. Before that happened a wider occupation had sprung up in Provo park (aka Civic Center park). In October it began with a few tents quixotic in their idealism, lit-up at night. Food service followed as did more and more tents. By early December the entire park was filled with tents and their itinerant population. Political statement seemed to fade out--the only ostensible sign spelled 'occupy' incorrectly. It seemed little more than a homeless encampment with hard-luck characters forming a village with its own rough customs. The drinking fountain became funky with dish-washing and the central feeding station began to resemble a civil war bivouac with grouchy exhausted people feeding in ankle-deep mud.
Then as suddenly and as naturally as it had grown it was gone. The lawn of the park had been taken an enormous beating--tents had blocked sunlight and formed puddles, multitudes tramping the wet earth in between wigwams had finally put paid to the project. The city put up a temporary orange plastic fence and dozens of workers began rebuilding the turf. Disgruntled die-hards huddled near the high school watching for a day.
As I passed by yesterday I talked to one of the workers-- an easy-going cat with his dreadlocks tucked into a hat. "It wasn't political anymore it was just homeless people," he said. Yeah, if they want to be radical they should go camp out across the street on the policeman's front lawn , I replied.
As I walked past a house on Allston recently, a couple were out front loading things into a car and bickering over insignificant details. I'd noticed the place before: it stood out with its various items of Judaica and posters for the Jewish film fest. It was in fact Jewish trade-show items that they were loading-out. Then, startlingly, the tenor of their argument escalated by a leap. The man could only make a inchoate shouting sound, like an old dog that had barked too long-- it was hard to understand what he was saying. The woman had it all over him. She could scream in a intelligible manor--rather like opera-singing only hella harsh-sounding. They continued as I turned onto Roosevelt and were audible for quite a distance. A guy working in his garage came out to see what mayhem could be causing this disturbance. It's a married couple, I told him, in that house on the corner. He seemed to get it but he kept looking down the street with concern. It did sound borderline homicidal.
She was like George's mother on Seinfeld. Times ten.
I found myself invited to an unusual outing. Events started to domino on December 3 when I invited a friend to a authentic baroque performance of Handel's Messiah by the estimable Philharmonia Baroque . I was an old afficionado having attended a number of performances by them between 2000 and 2004 when I was working in the classical CD biz and their label supplied me with season tickets. I learned early on that my acquaintances were generally blase about accompanying me to concerts they found rather sleep-inducing. Selling or even giving away an extra ticket the night of the show was a very long-shot with the well-heeled, silver-haired crowd that turned-out.
Oddly, I had won the tickets by phoning-in to a jazz program on KPFA. I was glad my friend was jazzed to go with me and delighted to discover the seats were up front. Distance from the stage mattered tremendously for this performance which was completely without microphones. They are better suited by their standard Berkeley venue the much smaller First Congregational church than by this gig at cavernous Zellerbach auditorium.
Disregarding the fact that I regard Handel's Messiah, with its lamentations--"He was rejected, He was despised," as an Easter Oratorio not the Christmas standard it has become, the concert was enthralling. It was great to see elven director Nicholas McGegan again and I found the countertenor Daniel Taylor particularly moving. In the men's room on the way out, a sour old professor type in a tweed jacket was repeating his view that it was "a nice polite version" but not what the Messiah should be. I heard him say it again to his wife by the drinking fountain as if his critique was so important that it needed a town-crier.
In reciprocation my friend invited me to a gala Christmas concert complete with a meal and Yuletide gift to boot. It was on December 1oth we met with another friend bright and early at Ashby BART station to begin our expedition.
At a church center in Oakland we made rendezvous with a vintage deco bus that would transport us to the Neighborhood Church in Castro Valley. Lovely wan sunlight on the wintry hills flanked our passage East. The "neighborhood" aspect of our destination was somewhat lost on me as we arrived at a hilltop complex quite remote from any of the surrounding homes. A non- denominational catch-all it is comprised of at least three large buildings distinguished by its erection of three gigantic white crosses grouped together in a tight circle. The girder-like crosses looked like something that survived the collapse of the World Trade towers.
After a detour in the parking lot to peep some sheep in their open trailer who were awaiting their stage cue for the manger scene, we entered the complex. A very square meal followed, actually a robust and enjoyable turkey dinner, copious servings and leftovers packaged up for those interested in some. Decadent cheesecake and mocha mousse pie followed on before some semi-absurd prayer. The guy leading it seemed mainly intent on making announcements to the assembly--"and we'll use the left exit as we leave, Lord."
Yet everyone was kind and considerate as we were ushered into a large auditorium for the spectacular Christmas show. Happy to be a little stoned as the elaborate lighting and changing stage sets, costumes and singers, sustained a winter wonderland of the mind. I loved an effect achieved by hanging lights over us that continued into the stage's firmament of stars. The large orchestra seemed to style itself on the Tonight show band, plenty of swing and lots of punch. The highlight was , yes, the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. With a Buddy Rich-wannabe on drums, it went "King of Kings, boom bam boom, and Lord of Lords, batta bip bang boom." The old sourpuss from the Zellerbach show would have loved it.
At my own chapel during Christmas week, nine Dominicans in white cassocks with red stoles stood before a small sea of red poinsettia for the Transubstantion. After receiving the sacraments of bread and wine, I felt a strong current of renewal as I walked out and began my long way home in the early darkness of the Solstice-time.