on the Road
My memory of the three years I lived in San Francisco are all jumbled like plastic toys in a gumball machine. The years I spent there were filled with many long days, late nights, and spontaneous trips. Most of the people I knew experienced the same. I live in New York City now. People move to New York to make it. People move to San Francisco to disappearto not make it. Everyone I met in San Francisco reinvented themselves: suburban traditionalist into modern primitive, punk into hippie, boy into girl, and vice versa. They reinvented themselves so often and so rapidly that as soon as I got to know someone it seemed they had already gone on to reinventing themselves again.
The Dan I knew was only a trace of the Dan that was. Which is why I love these two photographs of Dan. I took them with a toy cameraa Dianaits plastic optics are responsible for the soft-focus and light leaks which make Dan appear phantomlike. In these photographs we see only a trace of Dan which foretells his soon departure from the earth and testifies to the everpresent molting of individuals in San Francisco.
My first memory of Dan is of he, John McNally, and I at Small Press Traffic, a small book store which sold exclusively small press books, mainly poetry, and hosted workshops and readings. It made such little money that it couldnt afford the rent. The bookstore rented its storage room as an apartment for $350. This is just to give you an idea of the really groovy, laid back state of mind which governed Small Press Traffic and usually attracted poets of the same state of mind.
Hanging out at Small Press Traffic was something I did a lot of in those days. I met a lot of writers that influenced me and became friendsDodie Bellamy, Jeff Conant, Darin DeStefano, Drew Gardner, Kevin Killian, and more. Hardly anyone seemed to work and those that did had jobs like Johnsrunning a really cool small bookstore. John didnt make much money but it enabled us to hang out and shoot the breeze all day. This day we were talking about ways to effect public policy, how can a writer do it. I told John that when I finished art school I might apply for law school. My thinking was that a law degree would give me clout to work as an activist. I think I saw myself as a would-be William Kunstler. John, a die-hard long-hair, immediately disagreed. Dan walked in and overheard these comments. He was wearing a dark raincoat which made him look like a gothic Private Eye. John introduced us. He agreed that a law degree would be a powerful prerequisite to activism. I liked Dan. We agreed. It was that simple.
Dan was a poet and activist. He told us about standing underneath the freeway with a sign that read Ill vote Republican for Food! Now I really liked him. We talked about the Avengersa San Francisco band from the early 1970s. A common bond was begun.
Later I discovered that Dans heart ticked. He had a plastic flap in his aorta, which ticked when it flapped open and shut. The body clock that ticks within everyone, literally ticked within Dan, making his mortality all the more real. His disability enabled him to collect Medicare. He didnt work. He stayed home, wrote poems, and surfed the Net. He was one of the first people I met that surfed the Net. I hardly knew what it was at the time, except that Dan was receiving horrific and inspirational accounts of the uprising in Chiapas. Despite Dans ticking he was able to write poems and pass on information about international politics to whomever was interested.
The day I took these two pictures I was riding with Dan, Hawley Hussey and John McNally to Mendocino County to attend a party hosted by Jeff Conant. Jeff had invited a couple of dozen people to spend a weekend with him in the hills where he was learning letterpress printing and paper-making. We were all happily stoned, cruising around Northern California. John had passed up several exits. We lost the bong. It flew off the roof when we stopped for gas. Of course we had to go back and look for it. Being completely off-schedule didnt really bother any of us except it enabled Dan to talk non-stop, something few people have an ear for in a cramped automobile. Using old hippie parlance, appropriate to the place and state of mind, Dan killed my buzz with his voice buzzing in my ear all day long.
We arrived at Jeffs party. A really groovy woman suggested we strip our clothes and swim in the stream. Later we dried in the sun and rubbed Tiger Balm on our coochies. We all forgot that Dan was getting on our nerves.
The next day after breakfast we met Jeffs teacher. I think he fancied himself Thoreau. He had wild hair, and had left the city years ago for the hills. He showed me a tract that he had written and printed. It was his philosophy of life. In the book he comes eerily close to describing himself as Pantocratorhe who understands the world; otherwise self-declared to be godlike. After finishing our coffee we took mushrooms and ran around the forests.
We all loved Dan again even though he never refrained from reigning free over all topics of conversation that day. And while Hawley, Jeff, John and I stood on our heads giggling Dan started up a conversation with Jeffs teacher that continued on until the next day.
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