The Flaneur recalls with humor and warmth some of the many encounters that stuck in his craw.
I was walking in the vicinity of lake Merritt past saint Paul's on my way to the natural foods supermarket. As I passed the church A young man was leading a group of teenage girls on some sort of outing or class trip. One girl, smart, more mature-looking than the others, seemed to have attached herself to him as sort of teacher's pet and second in command. As I approached them on the sidewalk and we all waited for the crosswalk traffic signal, I noticed this alpha girl's notice of me in the periphery of my vision. Somehow I felt she was admiring me.
She turned to the chaperone and asked him if he was a walker or he if drove around like everybody else. It seemed to me she was gaining elevation in her consciousness to realize all the talk about cutting back on the infernal combustion vehicles was a lot of hooey if you didn't do a lot about the problem, do something substantial like walk despite the effort the suffering caused by cars and traffic all around you, and the mocking and the sneering of lazy-ass drivers and passive passengers of this world, all encompassed by the anguish that no matter what you do carbonated capitalism will continue to destroy the living world regardless of anything you do.
I felt instead that someone young, vital, and intelligent was admiring me for all the hardship and the longevity and health I've gained in a lifetime of mainly refusing to drive another doom-laden automobile.
Another evening down by the estuary, I walked up with my groceries just as the #12 bus pulled away so I knew it would be the full term before another bus came along. I never mind much when the weather agreeable I sit at the shelter and dig the above view across the street.
To pass the time I often find a song and sing out at a fairly full volume. People only occasionally walk by on this side of the avenue so I am generally unabashed about being over heard by passersby. I generally bring the volume down when anyone is near.
The song that arose in my voice that day is not one I ever sang, or thought much about, and I certainly never owned a recording of it or any other by the group involved. Although I don't dislike their music it never meant or mattered much to me though I did listen a slight bit at the time it came out. That would be in the 1990's the hey day of Brit pop's answer to Grunge and the band in question would be Oasis. One is invited to snark if one must.
I appreciate the drop of vinegar in the vocal a la John Lennon, as well as their solid guitar sound, for what its worth. And the song by them in question was "Wonderwall" its title itself a cop from Beatlemania. I had just happened to have heard it on a FM radio station over ear buds the previous night. The song was lodged as the ear worm which actually makes it easier to sing something.
The operative words:
You're gonna be the one to save me......,
And after all
You're my wonderwall"
I sang it again and again heedless and unaware of any listeners. Then I noticed there was a small black man on his bike stopped at a nearby rubbish can throwing something away. He resembled Miles Davis the same shape head and somewhat receding hairline, hip clothes, older maybe fifty. I sang on a while and then more or less paused.
As he walked his bike past me on his way, he nearly glanced at me and he did he said, in a real Miles Davis-type rasp, "Not bad."
I was catching the 1:30 PM Oakland-San Francisco Ferry in Oakland. Not many others were there for the boat that day. I hung away from the landing until the last minute then walked up into the short line of people waiting to board.
I had my warm gear, my lunch, water and maybe a bottle of stout so my knapsack was a bit heavy. As I reached the end of the line I came. up behind a couple with children. A few feet to their right and even with them is a wooden bench that they were in no way in use of. Rather than park my knapsack on the deck and then have to lift it way up again I placed it gently on the bench.
A short amount of time went by and when the arriving passengers were all off board we began to move toward boarding. As I lifted up mu knapsack the woman of the family unit turns to glare at me and says contemptuously, "Is that your back pack?"
I had never moved more than a foot or two away from my bag and there was no one else nearby.
Some of the time when people have children they gain a little perspective on life, dare I say a little wisdom. All too often though all that happens is that the self-centered and inconsiderate just get more arrogant. This worry-wart whose every dithering whim is obviously completely catered to by her mumbling hubby had seen the homeland security warning signs allowed herself to build up a little toxic spit to hurl toward my dignity for having the temerity to rest a knapsack in her proximity.
"Didn't bombers leave backpacks with a pressure-cooker bombs near innocent families at the Boston Marathon ?!"
"Did you think it was your backpack, Madam?" I replied, without making any effort to hide my annoyance at her affront. Mumbles gave me his hard look but said nothing. The lady began blabbering to the Ferry workers trying to get me in hot water. Walking on I told them she accused me of stealing my own knapsack. Oddly I didn't see them again on board.
The crew just shrugged; no doubt they recognize me as a regular customer---for once the tyranny of the majority didn't prevail.
In this lady's thinking my liberty was trumped by her flibbertigibbet.
The seals bark but the ship sails on
The entire length of Alameda's Crown beach shoreline I had been in need of a leak. I didn't go vulgar and sneak a pee in the reeds I forged on to the restroom. Usually you are stuck using some outdoor booths, a necessity of no particular pleasantness, but today the tiled men's room was open for my first visit there.
As I entered I rapidly surveyed the plumbing and the possibilities for rapidly achieving comfort. Past the immediate entrance area I saw a room full of sinks and what appeared to be toilet stalls beyond them. At my immediate right were two of good old Duchampian urinals. At one of these stood a Chinese-American boy who was there when I entered. Seeing the other was vacant I walked up to it and got ready to urinate. I stood a little cantered to the corner of the room attempting a little modesty, but I had the sense that he might have deliberately peeped me. I barely had glanced at the kid but I am so well-versed in men's room behavior at my age that one doesn't even think about it. Cardinal rule is of course that you don't look at the equipment of the guy next to you; its corollary is that if you don't have to you don't look at the guy either.
He was just at the pervy puberty age and he was ignorant of that courtesy. Yet ultimately who cares?
As a youth we saw the adult men next to us peeing as a matter of course. If you went to Fenway Park you had to pee in an elongated urinal like a communal sink of urination, young boys could satisfy their curiosity with a furtive inspection of the entire batting line-up if they so chose.
So it's a urination of some duration during which the kid zips up and zips off. Good riddance. The next thing I know a middle-aged Chinese guy walks in purposefully and looks down directly at my manhood with an indignant expression. I was finishing and shaking off the run-off as he did.
I felt violated.
You can believe that I gave him a cross expression in return. He walked beyond to the sinks pretended to wash his hands and left again before I could wash mine. His little deviant had obviously run outside to him and exclaimed that some old white had pulled out his penis in front of him. I would be surprised if the matter of size hadn't factored in. That could have led to the little pork dumpling reporting that i guy whipped-out a big dick! Dad came in to see what stage of erection I had gotten to I suspect.
I can quite honestly state that I have never in my life wished I had a larger penis. I'll leave it at that. In my opinion a large penis can be embarrassing. It certainly attracts unwanted attention. When you are a boy the other boys feel perfectly entitled to point to your endowment with nervous hilarity and just such immaturity never ends.
Then there are the envious. I recall reading a factoid in the SF Examiner that out of the world's entire population, the Danes have the largest testicles. The Chinese were reported to have the smallest.
One has only to think of the cartoons of Tom of Finland showing homoerotic Nordic-god-like bikers with huge endowments to imagine the great Dane. The idealized bodies are nevertheless proportional and believable. Compare them to Japanese erotic prints with the male organ depicted as a gnarled tree-stump with a fungoid cap. The mad impossibility suggests a desperate flight from reality.
I don't recall ever being in a locker room or on a nude beach with any Asian males in my long life so I can't form an opinion from experience. I do recall however seeing photography exhibition at Pro Arts when it was on 9th Street in Old Oakland. It purported to dispel the stereotype of miniscule male genitalia in Chinese men by showing an array of individuals who were supposed to be"well-hung" Asians. Excuse me, but they looked like the typical members of a high school gym class of average white kids. Black kids would of course be an entirely different ballgame as well.
I felt violated but really could I make an issue of it? Who would the cops believe an eccentric loner Flaneur or some Alameda property-owning Chinese creep and his perverted son? For all I know they were shakedown artists looking for an easy pigeon.
I envision myself in a windowless interrogation room while the guy who busted George Costanza for doubled-dipping his potato chip at a funeral buffet is the investigating officer in a Men's Warehouse suit beseeching with utmost disgust,
"Why'd you take your dick out in front of the kid?!"
On my way out I noticed that there were two other urinals on the other side of the entrance. Had I seen them on the way in, I might have been spared myself the free show for two sneaky voyeurs.
An Oakland native who moved away to be an herbalist in Fort Brag. I chatted with her at the Alameda shore front by pleasant chance encounter. She tells me that when she visits Oakland now it looks like a looney bin to her.
I certainly observe some pretty far out people. There is no denying that there's a good deal of irrational and pitiable behavior a lot of the time. There are also some rather extraordinary-looking people who quite often placid and unremarkable in their behavior. One such would be an African-American lady I frequently see on the bus in Oakland. She grabs one's attention not merely by trailing a large beaver tail of clumped hair behind her but also by festooning every stray strand of her hair-do with garish color. Her mane is seemingly woven with any colored yarn or tin foil or kite-tail she can obtain. Add to this her piece-de-resistance--her facial make-up. Remember those old art supply store favorites--oil paint crayons or cray-pas? They were able to spread a thick strongly colored impasto on a canvas-board or what have you. Imagine taking them and drawing black Groucho eye-brows, blue-green eye-lids, red-orange lips and purple cheeks and add eyeglasses. Wow, what an effect.
Forget those drag-clowns and the perpetually indulgent fake nuns with outlandish make-up. This lady has them all beat square.
I've exchanged a couple of words with her at a bus shelter and I would love to ask her to take her picture. But so reluctant am I conceivably to offend her dignity by asking, or to exploit her for on-line smirking, I probably never would.
A BART train coming into Oakland stopped at the19th street station. I was sitting facing front in the second row on the car. A white-collar black guy occupied the sit in front of me maybe sitting next to someone from his work. A young black woman boarded the car and stood for a moment in the space used by bike-riders, none of whom were there at the moment.
She wasn't especially oddly dressed -- a touch of Cinderella in her finery. What caught my attention immediately were the two nearly life-size cardboard cut-out figures she was transporting. They appeared to be hand-made with lots of added glitter. One of them seemed to be an unmistakable representation of Michael Jackson the other maybe was a female character I missed. Maybe she was returning from some sidewalk skit she had just performed or going to some sort of pageant.
Here I begin my confession that I am frequently overtaken but what Edgar Allen Poe called the Imp of the Perverse. It was past the late afternoon hour sentimentally associated with the enjoyment of cannabis and I certainly was at that moment.
Indulging really only my own sense of humor but of course perhaps also aware that others might get the joke, I began to whistle the old hit-parade perennial, "I'm Going to Buy A Paper Doll That I Can Call My Own." I'd heard it on the radio not long ago and I can generally whistle tunes quite accurately anyway.
The bourgeois black guy sitting in front of me and closer to the paper-doll lady apparently recognized the tune and bursts out laughing. The poor lady knows he laughs at her and she kind of sniffs out that he's laughing because I whistled whatever it was. He turned around to look at me too, the goof.
I'm a little ashamed of myself. My humor is dedicated to the ridicule of the vanities of the smug and successful, not to making fun of some poor lady with tenuous control of her marbles.
She found a seat just then and could forget the guy still chuckling. And the snide whistling guy who slunk off the train at the next stop, a lesson learned.