Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Hellam Street



I went to the old stomping grounds today. That stuff means a lot to me. The old house at the top of the hill in Monterey.

I remember Bear's funeral, when they mentioned that he was writing poetry in some Dallas mental institution. He wrote something about how the coast and Monterey in particular made his heart soar. Shortly after, he jumped out of the window. Not the same day of course, but the poem and his demise have always haunted me. My heart soars in Monterey. Let me tell you why.

Bear dropped me off at the top of the hill in Monterey many times. Hellam street. Bear dropped me off in his VW squareback that he had named ROXY. Dropped me in front of my old house.

Every five -10 years or so, I darken the doorstep of the old house and scare the people who live there. I tell them that I used to live there, and could I please have a look around? They have never said no. The last time we (my sister and I) did it, they guy was a little shaky about it. He gave us our space, and he told us it was up to us if we wanted to go into all of the rooms. He didn't want to say no. He was housesitting at the time. He was making some spaghetti sauce on the stove. That experience was so...weird, that I haven't pulled the housevisiting stunt lately...but it is getting close to time again. Looking at it and seeing the ivy scars on the front made me realize how good those times were. But at the time, it was hell on earth. You just never know until it is over.

The bottom line is that my heart finds this wonderful algorythm when I am on that street. There was a vacant lot next door. I buried a pet or two there I think. It was overrun with blackberry bushes, and we would crawl through that stuff and get buckets of the fruit and frappe it silly when we got home. Now the lot hass two houses. You know someone got PAID.

"It is very beautiful, yet slightly wild" or something to that effect - SS

There was a tree there (still there) that I would climb and watch the traffic drive by underneath me.

There was the big blue house that is no longer blue, but when it was, you could see it from the center of the bay if you were on a fishing boat.

Nina and Wendell are both dead, and you can't see their house from the street. But that didn't mean that I was free from the memories today. Nina teaching me algebra with the most messed up english accent I have ever heard, as she chainsmoked. Wendell with his pipe, and that smoker's hack that would wake me up in the morning. I swear I thought he would die every morning. Back when I was teaching, I would tell my class how I would go out in the morning looking for the phlegm that he would cough up. It always looked like cough syrup. In my 15-16 year old mind, I saw the humor in the fact that he had coughed up this syrup.

There was Mrs. Marchenka who lived across the street. Her house is countersunk. Down a steep driveway. She is this older Russian woman who had me do chores for her. I was imitating her accent at the dinner table tonight to the amusement of my kids. We do this thing where we say "best and worst" every night at the table. I told them that my best was going to the old street and checking it out. I broke down Mrs. Marchenka. I used her accent...how she used to call me a "village boy" because of how crazy I acted at times I guess. The kids dug on that stuff.

I saw Mrs. Marchenka today. I didn't have the guts to go up to her. I was shocked that the woman was still alive. She must be pushing 100 easy. She was working. She had a cane and she looks like she has lost some of her weight. What could I have possibly said to her? She probably would have put me to work.

There was a saturday morning after I had spent the night at a friend's house and had watched a Chuck Norris film. In this film, there was a brutal rape, a man run over by a train and someone who was hung in such a way that their blood sprayed everywhere. I remember sitting in the gutter in fromt of Mrs. Marchenka's house because I couldn't sleep, knowing that I had to work for her in about an hour...and trying to suppress or control the disturbing images in my head.

The house where the priests live is still there. It looks a little better than I remembered. It also looks a little more secure. I don't think you can just hop the fence and hang out in that little house that they had in their yard anymore. I don't even know if that little house is there anymore. No more homeless men stashing ladies underwear pictures underneath the rug in there anymore I guess. And what if Casson and I had been caught by one of those freaks? YEEEAAAASH.

The thing that will always slay me is the view though.
You can see down Franklin Street to as far as your eyes need to go. You can see the bay. You can see it all. St. James' is still down the street. It is all there. It is intact.

What was the name of that kid who died down the street? I remember walking by them and actually being cool with Joe N. and Manny one day. That guy was there too. They were listening to the Beastie Boys album, and in my head I was realizing how far ahead of them I was on the music scene. Now as I type this, I am realizing that my timeframe is proabably off. Yeah, I was cool with Joe N. and Manny, but the kid I am thinking of was already dead.

We parked for a second where I used to park my Torino. I will never forget changing the oil in that thing, but being so scattered that I drove over the oil bucket on my way out of there, and not realizing it until I got back. Black oil soaked that part of the pavement. Many times I scorched my tires on that spot to burn the oil off. What a dork I was.


Mine never looked like this thing. Shoot, those days are so blurry, all I can remember is that the thing was white, drank gas and made a painful pop in the drivetrain every time it went into gear. I remember asking one of my stoner friends if he knew what that popping sound was. he said he thought it was the bell housing. That is the caliber of idiot I used to run with.


I guess I am like Bear in the sense that my heart soars when I think about Monterey. I tried to kill it, but it is there. I can't escape it. Yes, Monterey eats its children. There is no doubt of that whatsoever, but it is so beautiful. It takes living away from this place in order to appreciate Steinbeck.

Then there is my lust for the ocean. I have said this in close conversations of my life recently, that the ocean is so beautiful, and that the things that are happening out there are so fascinating (like say, a pod of otters or the "reverse steam") that if someone were to write about them in a novel or a poem, the critics would say that the writer was reaching. I have to get a fix of the Pacific Ocean every time I can. I have to look across the bay to Moss Landing and see the smokestacks whenever it is clear. I have to absorb as much of this place as I can. Who knows when I will be trapped away from this body of water again? I want to know when I am far away from this body of water that I respected it.

To this day, I will always wonder how I was 80 miles away from Bear when he died and I had no idea that he was there. He was in Dallas, I was in Lindale. He was battling insanity, and I was grappling with spirituality. I have wished and wished that our lives could have intersected. The eeriest part of it all was that I came home to Monterey, and that was when I learned that Bear was dead. One thousand miles away from the fact. I went to his funeral and saw the old cats. I don't think that they recognized me, and I didn't want them to. My dope-smoking days were over. Damn. Going to Monterey today really unlocked me today. I was locked up somehow. It all seemed so small too. I remember that place as HUGE. I remember playing kick the can out there until the neighbors came out and told us to be quiet or maybe go home.

I remember those tobacco stained streets.

We used to be able to lift off from the top of the hill and get to MPC in less than 10 minutes. I owned the streets with my Nishiki.

I could sit here and be nostalgic and more nostalgic. I could talk about going fishing and cleaning the fish in the gutter. I could talk about taking fish to Mrs. Marchenka and looking down in the bucket and seeing that one of the fish had tried to eat the other and was dead with his brother halfway down his throat.

I could talk about the Mahoney Bros. and how they were beating the hell out of each other and this adult came to break them up and they both turned on him, because it was none of his business how they conducted their family matters.

I could tell of Joe, and how we watched the Road Warrior up at his house and how shook I was after seeing that rape scene. Maybe it was the boomerang to the pretty boy's face that wrecked me harder...I just don't know.

The times were good up there. I never thought that I would admit that to myself...but I accept it now. It takes leaving a place, and coming back with a heart full of new questions and desires to rething and revisit things properly.

I could go on and on. But I will stop now.