Wednesday, June 21, 2006

pomade, pumps, and poetry

Garage sales. Here in San Francisco, you don't need a garage to have one. You don't even need to have much in the way of stuff to sell. Or have an idea of how much it's worth. Or have a window-dresser's uncanny eye for creating attractive displays. Nope. You don't have to have very much at all.

You just have to have a willingness -- and in fact an absolute drive -- to socialize with passers-by.

In fact, if there weren't a person sitting in the midst of this random assortment of household stuff, I'd have thought someone's blue recycling toter and black garbage toter had fallen over in the wind (as they sometimes do). And that this stuff strewn on the sidewalk was trash. Waiting for its owner to come home, curse briefly, and shove all the shit back into the toters, ready for next week's Sunset Scavenger pickup.

My erstwhile neighbor's face is red and his spit is foamy and he is anxious to TALK. Were those clothes ever his? Surely those high heels would be too tight on him: you're gonna get a heckuva blister on your heel from those, Mister. And that rhinestone-studded t-shirt? I think you'd better pack that midriff off to the gym. Must be why he's selling this stuff. It surely won't make him look his best.

Or maybe he just recognized an opportunity when he saw one and sat down in the middle of a trash spill. Maybe this isn't even his icky stuff.

From the inexplicable to the sublime: three half-used tubs of pomade in a ziplock bag. Used pomade? That's gross. But that's why Mark sent me off to look at the goods spread out on Castro's wide sidewalk. He didn't realize that the long tail phenomenon applies to hair care products too. He thought it was genuine antique pomade.

Genuine antique pomade. Genuine antique half-used pomade. Ewwww.

I always feel depressed when I look at someone else's discarded stuff. Old electric frying pans. Broken Mr. Coffees. One piece place settings minus the soup bowl; the lone coffee cup's got a crack in it too. Dusty artificial flowers. Rickety shelving. T-shirts with yellow armpit stains.

But even among garage sales, this guy's offerings are pretty pathetic. I think I'm going to have to go on Prozac if I stand here much longer and look at it. How did his life come to this? Or maybe inside that corner apartment, the one I'm assuming is his, it's all haute bourgeoisie, Pottery Barn and Kiehl's and these things are truly the discards of a life that's in order.

"How much for the books?" I ask Mr. Red-in-the-Face, who is holding forth frothily to another passer-by. Is that pomade that he's smeared on his skin? The sheen doesn't look natural.

"Make me an offer," he tells me.

Make me an offer. I hate that. I don't really want to think about how much I want any of these books; I just want to think to myself, "Well, it's less than a Muni fare." Or, "Who'd pay $5 for that?" And this whole deal is so sad that I can't bear to offer him what I think the books are worth: maybe he really has fallen on hard times.

So now I'm faced with a random selection of books, none of which I want very much. But I'd buy a couple of them if they were practically free. Or at least pretty cheap. I've finished with this week's New Yorker, finished with most of the novels I have lying around, and I'm too lazy to watch TV.

Yes. I'm too lazy to watch TV. The remote control doesn't work any more. To flip through the channels, you have to stand there right next to the TV, put on your reading glasses to decipher Sharp's weird iconography to find the channel changing buttons, go up or down a promising number of channels, take off your reading glasses to see if that's really Gilligan's Island you've found or whether it's some kind of cheap-assed reality show based on Gilligan's Island instead, put on your reading glasses again to deal with the buttons, take 'em off to check out the program, and so on.

It's exhausting to watch TV that way. Exhausting!

No TiVo, no remote control. Exhausting!

So I'll buy a book or three. If they're practically free.

But what I really have my eye on is a battered blue spiral-bound notebook. Most of the pages have been ripped out, but there are a few left. I open it quickly. Yep. I want this. I don't even know why he's selling it. Who'd buy a beat-up spiral bound notebook with about seven sheets of ruled paper left in it?

I suspect he wants to say he's sold his poetry.

He's trying to pick up some hottie at the bar down the street and he says, "Yeah. I'm a poet. I've even sold some of my poetry. Recently. And it wasn't even my best stuff."

And he won't even be lying. He didn't say, "Someone published my poetry." He just said, "I sold my poetry." He just omitted the fact that it was in a blue spiral bound notebook abandoned as garbage.

"I sold my poetry."

I bought his poetry. I'm not sure how much I paid for it. I got 3 books and the blue notebook for 3 bucks. And he looked pretty darned happy to be getting 3 bucks, so I figure he thought it was all worth less than that. Tama Janowitz wrote this one well after her days as an A-list celebrity were over; but I figured The Sheltering Sky (Paul Bowles) and Jane Wagner's The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe probably compensated for the Janowitz and Mr. Red-faced Dude's poetry. A slender volume, Pomade for the Recycled Soul, let's call it. Tama Janowitz aside, Mr. Red-faced Dude is lucky to be keeping such substantial company.

"I sold my poetry. It's been featured alongside Paul Bowles and Jane Wagner."

"I sold my poetry. It has a lovely negative capability."

"I sold my poetry. I'm worried that commercial success will cheapen me."

I realize that from the smallish image of his notebook page, his poetry doesn't look bad if you go by shape alone. An acceptable number of scratch-outs lets you know Mr. RFD cares about quality. And it's quality that counts with poetry. Not quantity. Quality. It's like pot. The qual goods as my old roommate Davey used to say.

But if you take a close look at Mr. Red-Faced Dude's poetry -- well, it's better not to take too close of a look. Let it suffice to say that his handwriting is the best thing that's happened to his poetry: it's hard to decipher some of the most suspect words. Did he say "coma"? I think so. The coma room. The room where you sit and wait in a coma, pausing until consciousness and your loved one reappear. Waiting for time to pass and give you the ass.

The problem with Bukowski and Whitman and all of those Poets of the People is that they make it look too easy: Any Red-Faced Dude, sitting and waiting for time to pass, can write a page or two of poultry.

Actually I think the other sheet I found in the notebook is far more poetic. It's a list. I think the unifying theme is online shopping, but I'm not sure. Considering the items on display, this guy has ambitions greater than his financial reach.

No for the Red-Faced Poet slick with antique pomade.

I'm not going to any more garage sales. If they're on the same side of the street that I'm on, I'll cross. I'm not buying any more garage sale poetry either, no matter how cheap it is.


Blogger Susie said...

Well, I did it. I'm blogging.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Well done! I was looking for poetry by Jane Wagner and found your well written blog. Thanks for an entertaining moment. - Mary

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:56 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

You drop a few names--a Nieman-Marcus here, a Versace there, a Pottery Barn somewhere else--and you attract some pretty odious blog spam.

Two such items have been zapped.

9:14 PM  

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