Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The End of the World Literary Salon, forty-five thought crimes, Illuminations on Market Street and other reflections on San Francisco

Pan American  Unity Mural by Diego Rivera
New friends in SF. 

Look who showed up at the reading. 
This writer and 
Sascha Altman DuBrul.
 Benjamin Heim Shepard  chatting with Lynn Breedlove and James Tracyat Green Arcade in San Francisco .
Photo  by Liz Highleyman
"Sascha Altman DuBrul is with James Tracy and 2 others at TheGreen Arcade.August 22 San Francisco, 
You know you're in San Francisco when you're clearly sitting behind Lynn Breedlove at the book reading. It's good to meet your heros and it turns out they're just as cool as you'd imagine they'd be. Benjamin Heim Shepard thank you for the continuous inspiration and sharp dressing. James Tracy, thank you for making that event happen and nudging me to get out of the house with your good Spanish skills. I'm now going to retreat back to the countryside of North Oakland after my evening in the big city."
Photo and caption by Sascha Altman DuBrul."

Just when I thought it was safe,
My calendar opened.
Tilting me across the country
A week of readings in San  Francisco.
Starting  with
The Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland,
The End of the World Literary  Café on Market Street.
On the beach with Ron.

Flight delay after flight delay on the way to  the
Octopus in Oakland,
Where I’m reading from Illuminations:
Already announced:
Benjamin Heim Shepard (BROOKLYN) is the author of the semi-autobiographical "Illuminations on Market Street." San Francisco in the early 1990s. Cab is on the deep end of a losing streak. After having been dumped yet again, he moves to Haight-Ashbury fresh out of college. AIDS is an immediate and untreatable reality. He finds himself working in a housing program for people with HIV/AIDS. He starts drafting a narrative of every person with whom he’s slept: those who dropped him, those he adored, and those he let go of without a second thought.”

A story to tell,
But first I had to get from the East Coast to the West.
Right to left.
Flight arrives at 745 instead of 555.
Salon ends at 830.
SF to Oakland.
James welcomes us.
Reading and reading,
Story after story.
Liz and Ron and all of us.
“I’m here to listen.”
Kate talking about what might happen.
And what did happen when we were in ACT UP here.
We’re all careening through time.
Everyone chatting away,
Late into the night.
Eating burritos at
Guadalajara Restaurant & Tequila Bar.

Wednesday is quiet.
A day for looking at the coast.
Making friends with cypress trees.
Embracing life as life embraces us.
Friends forever.
Stepping  through tidepools.
Wondering about the Blue Lady
Who joins us at the distillery,
Walking in off the beach,
Killed with her friend,
Looking for him.
Throughout time.
Out to Mavericks.
Big waves, rising, enveloping. 
A pelican flies by.
Butterflies before the big reading.

Veteran Activists Lynn Breedlove and Benjamin Heim Shepard 
Read from New Works
Breedlove from 45 Thought Crimes,
Shepard from Debut Novel
Illuminations on Market Street
About Love, AIDS and Death In 1990s San Francisco

45 Thought Crimes (Manic D Press, Inc.) 
conveys a lineage of resistance and places the reader squarely in the driver's seat .. During the Reagan and Bush years, author Lynn Breedlove tried to ignore the political climate to focus on his own self destruction. When that didn’t work, he got sober and committed his life to art. After publishing his first two books and spending a career on tour, life took an unexpected turn. Breedlove spent the next decade caring and grieving for his mother, and founding / running a nonprofit to serve his LGBT community. But when the world threatens to end, the only moment that matters becomes now. Breedlove began writing this book the morning after the 2016 election, at the dawn of the coup. Newly in love and acutely aware of what was at stake, he questioned and confirmed life lessons learned, with Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and his ancestors as muses.

Illuminations on Market Street
is a heartbreaking, bitterly funny, and revelatory look back at a time of crisis in San Francisco, at the height of the AIDS crisis. This roman à clef proves the personal is political. It was written with great insight and punishing honesty by veteran social justice and queer activist Benjamin Heim Shepard. The writer of several nonfiction books about politics and the counterculture, Shepard mined the contents of a personal journal from 30 years ago to create a slightly fictionalized saga of a city under siege and the souls in freefall who populated it.

It is 1992, San Francisco. Cab Callaway Hardy is a recent college graduate, budding street activist, journalist, horndog romantic, and restless idealist. He is living in the Haight and working the graveyard shift at an AIDS residence at 1994 Market Street. Death has a stranglehold on the place; people pass away every week during this height of the epidemic, before the arrival of the lifesaving AIDS cocktail. Cab tries to make sense of it all, between punk shows, protests, and difficult relationships with a number of women amid the changing rules of 1990s sexual politics. Slamdancing through it all, Cab reflects back on a troubled childhood amid the picture-perfect family, confronting memories and reckoning with deep losses along the way.

Walking  to the reading on Market,
I  can’t believe it. 
The Green Arcade is down the street from the scene of the crime. 
Where  the story began,
right here. 

Sasha and Liz drop by.
And Lynn walks in. 
Lynn Breedlove is an American musician, writer, and performer. Breedlove is the queer founding member and lead singer of the San Francisco dyke punk band Tribe 8.
Lynn says I can go first.

Recalling the notebooks I began drafting three decades ago,
They followed me for decades, from SF to Chicago to Manhattan, 
To Brooklyn, where
I tell the story I drafted down the street.
During those 12 to 8 AM graveyard shifts on Market Street,
in that messy space between my San Francisco history and ghosts.
The story of the lights at dawn on Market Street,
The metaphorical illuminations of love and sex, aids and loss that the city afforded myself and the other vagabonds arriving here.  
And the words that grew from those stories.
The quiet heroes.
Hank and Juan and Pedro who came.
Became stars illuminating Market Street.
Patterns of migration, community formation, and  displacement,
With beats and hippies, homos and outsiders
Creating a city.
Beating back cops and thanatos,
Creating a culture,
The white nights and ways the city informed us and changed us.
Zoned away.
The story of Capital over and over again.
The ashes we threw.
The connected separateness we felt along the way.
With(out) With(in) the Very Moment that Margaret talks about.
Visuals aids.
We can’t wait for the show to start.
Penelope sang,
Cheap Tragedies
Coming  right for your heart.
San Fran Francisco did.

“Everyone had a story, usually little to do with where they were escaping from and more about where they were going. I was ambivalent about letting go of all that had happened before I got here. There was my childhood in the South, where we’d lived for generations and generations. And like many, I romanticized the place, but needed to put it somewhere else, somewhere in the back of my mind.

“Stories are always moving in San Francisco. That’s what the city is all about—people arriving, disrobing the old, revising, and starting new narratives. I came to San Francisco in May of 1992 with a romance for the city that lasted about a week. The angel-headed hipsters I saw were passed out in the park. Poverty was everywhere. Most of the memoirs of the beats celebrated a down and out, oddball, eccentric feeling of the city. The myth was it was a place where you got laid, robbed, high, met your best friend, and joined a commune the first day, not necessarily in that order. Even Allen Ginsberg admitted things could get a little messy in this experiment in living. Dating queer performer Hibiscus, then a member of the anarchist drag collective the Cockettes in the 1970s, he became all too familiar with the sticky trails. “I know his bed was a little gritty because he had a lot of it. And it was difficult to sleep on the sheets because there was this sort of like difficult glitter stuff there. And it was always in our lips and in our buttholes. You know it was always around. You couldn’t quite get it out.”

Finishing,  I recalled the ashes of  our friends that we  threw.
And passed  the mic.

Lynn owns the room, 
Reading about George Michael and chance.
Recalling heroes,
A protest when she passed the mic.
“I’m Cleve” the next speaker began, telling his story.
“its not over when you find your mentor assassinated,
or when you want to kill yourself at 15,
or when all your friends die,
or when this asshole hijacks an election
it’s the beginning like every cataclysm…”

And Hank, who moved everyone along the way:
She stops before ducking in to anoint the feet of holy whores in front of the Ambassador hotel,
Sanctuary for the forsaken,
last stop of the sick,
monastery of St Hank,
where some five memorials a day once transpired in his office in the time of the plague,
where residents would say a few words like
‘he was a son of a bitch but he was my friend and friends are hard to come by.’”

And Prince,
“Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?
People call me rude, but I wish we were all nude,
I wish there were no black or white,
I wish there were no rules…”
“I thought you’d be around forever.”

Prophetic line after line:
“You shouldn’t have to risk your life for a little blow…”

“take the  badassery of witches queers harlots throughout history to the grave…”

Lynn ends with a story about
about how to write a book and explain everything.
Ride bikes,
Talk to the dead
Take it all in,
“open the lab top,
And start writing….”

Now we’re all on stage. 
Just like act up was?
That was a lot of fighting.
Queer Nation was a lot of fights.
Ahhh, the fight,
The dialectical twin sister of the friend.
Embracing the other.
a punk rock show
could be.
We can’t wait for the show to start.
Penelope’s  words matter.
Chords matter.
Phrases mater. 
Words matter.
Strangers we come to know as life flies by.
Even if the kids think God is for losers.
Find new words.
There is room for
spirituality for skeptics. 
We’re still  looking  for the right chords,
The right words,
Poets and punks.

If you open yourself to see the coincidences
Connect to the life around you,
See things that were always there.
Lynn hopes.
You start to notice.

Hopefully we can.

Tell me about  those ashes.
Make sure you throw them downhill,
I laugh.
It’s the love we feel in communion between the living and the dead.

Talking and drinking wine.
Wondering about poetry and epiphany.
And why we police ourselves.
Can we find new words?
Can we tolerate words.
Trans, Dyke, Black. Queer.
The language of subversion.
Reclaiming horror and power.
Turning it around
Make it happen.

Lynn should be the poet laureate.
We go out for a cocktail.
A slice on Mission Street.
Looking at the stars.
And the mountains in Pacifica.
Dreaming about the little one back in NYC.
Who writes and says I miss you dad.
Gotta get home soon.
Mom pneumonia.
Another day in the Bay Area before the tours over.

“You have a good eye,” I say to Ron.
In San Francisco by way of Queens.
He points out the sea urchins and starfish,
In the tide pools.
Low tide.
There is a sea crab.
A pelican keeps flying by.

Old friends, many book talks later.
Still here.
Thinking about there.
Reading poetry on the water.
On the beach instead of Castro street.
Stories and journal entries about
What his life has been.
What comes of it.
As we age. 

What was the meaning of his life,
Allen wondered after Neil C left in  ’68.
Dean here and then there.
Here she comes, there he goes.
Hector Figueroa gone.
Ron laments.
Friendship fades from flesh forms.

Among the Illustrious Ruins,
Maya giant bricks rise rebuilt in the Lower East Side.
Why did they disappear?
What happened?
 Civilization crumbles.
Day passing.
Tides riding.
Amazon burning.
Our world changing,
 Jinga bricks crumbling.

Where are you now spirit?
There were spirits in the body,
That life in him,
Where is it?
In his tender touch.
Conjuring up what was,
Dad and I used to do this.
Laughing and learning as words and lives lept from the pages
We read on these same holy beaches and cliffs,
The same smog reminding us.

Listen if stars are lit,
It means someone needs you,
Penned Mayakovsky
Ron reads.
Spectacles split magnificent.
Looking at the  seagulls.
Staying here
Words taking us,
Back to
Allen G back at Times Square
Wondering about the empty streets at dawn.
Dreams of Blake’s death.
Hotels vanish
Back here on the streets
Movie theaters,
Seekers of blind truth.
Some old men alive.
Old junkies gone.
We are a legend,
July 1958.

The gods of Times Square.
And years of friends.
Billy and Richard.

Seagulls fly overhead. 
Homecoming of love

Old  friend on  Noe,
Mom’s best friend from childhood.
Coming here  by way of Columbus Ga in 1966.
Vietnam horror for two years.
Triage and slaughter.
Too many bodies to count.
Threw out his journals.
Five decades later.
Agent orange lingering in the body.
We lost our soul with each bomb that dropped in Vietnam,
On the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
American fascism from  Saigon to Ground Zero
His heart broke.
So did our soul.

 “I’ll haunt these united states”
Allen rants:
All year.
Helicopters over national park.
Mekong Swamp
Dynamite fires
Blasting through model villages.

James meets us.
Beer costs $10?
San Francisco it costs a lot,
Says the street sign.

I have a secret for you.
Shows us his city campus.
The truth shall set you free,
Will it?
Diego’s Pan Am Unity Mural
Off Frida Kahlo Way.

Down to 9th street
Past the fetish shop,
Back down Mission to 16th Street.
Past the Roxie where I watched the Allen G
Doc all those years ago.

Up 16th where I wrote about the illuminations.
Toward Noe
Where we met,
Will  meet.

Age catching up to us all.
A crack on the sidewalk,
Pulling him down.
Body limp.
Blood on the sidewalk.
An evening at Davies.
Its never easy being alive.
In this beautiful lonely place.
A few stiches and a trip back home.
Learning to let go.
With its natural lights
Illuminations at dawn.
More flight delays and friends in the airport.
On my way back home.


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