Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Cat Man

A week after getting home from Spirit Rock, I went to the Sacred Grounds café for their weekly poetry night. This one was a memorial for the much-beloved poet Don Brennan, Carlos’s closest male friend, who died one year and one week after Carlos did, of pneumonia. The memorial was packed, standing room only. Don’s wife and family were there, including a couple of his grandchildren, whom he helped care for. Don’s wife recently had both knees replaced and is still recuperating from that. To lose her husband at such a moment seems particularly lousy.

It was a wonderful evening of hearing many of Don’s poems, and poems in tribute of him, or poems that he had liked. At Sacred Grounds, readers sign up upon arrival and each gets a small number of minutes, three or four or five, and then there is a featured reader, who gets 20 minutes. The featured reader was Roy Mash, who explained that he was probably the only person in the room who hadn’t known Don. He had been scheduled to be “the feature” before Don passed away. I loved his poems and bought two copies of his book, Buyer’s Remorse, one for me and one for a friend. Here’s Roy on pants: “their loony ductwork rising to the illogical crotch.” He read very expressively and beautifully. One of the poems in the book is about a child who gets locked in an abandoned refrigerator. It works backward from the sick realization of being trapped to the initial thrill of finding a neat thing to play in.

There is a nice age range at Sacred Grounds. I imagine some readers were in their late 70s or 80s, and the final two readers looked to be about 18 years old. Most read in the traditional manner, but some of the younger poets rapped, with those who liked their work snapping their fingers in appreciation, and all were welcomed. It was good to see Greg Pond, Clara Hsu, and Stephanie Manning. Greg gave me a ride home, so we had a chance to get caught up.

Friday of that week, I went to an open mic at the soup kitchen I donated all the kitchen stuff to. I noticed a man with a guitar case and a black cat that he petted constantly and twitchily. I wondered how the cat liked it, but concluded it must be very used to that form of affection. It turned out the man was one of the performers, and when the MC introduced him, he said something like, “And next—no offense meant at all—we have the Cat Man,” who I guess had not otherwise provided his name.

The Cat Man played the opening chords of “Stairway to Heaven” over and over, absolutely beautifully, and eventually the rest of the song, and then a song he said he’d written “to my cat.” Later I saw him outside, repacking his shopping cart before setting off to find a spot to huddle through the cold night. I saw several other aggregations of stuff that were clearly all their owners had in the world, that they would sleep beside on the sidewalk somewhere. For them, the soup kitchen is not just a source of food, but a place of warmth, kindness and companionship, a haven before being alone again. Carlos, despite not being homeless, liked to eat there pretty regularly.

The next day, Tom and I went back to Berkeley Rep to see Tribes, about a deaf man in a hearing family, and then returned to the Mission for Thai food. My sense of smell, always acute, has gone off the charts due to meditation and/or menopause, and, alas, the no doubt delightful gentlewoman sitting behind me at the play had atrocious-smelling feet, which she kept extending so that they hovered in the vicinity of my face, a disagreeable experience that persisted throughout the entire show, off and on. Certainly one may have to stretch one’s legs—there is nothing to be done about that—but this extreme sensitivity to smells is getting to be rather a problem. I’ve decided I have to swear off Esperpento because there is a waiter who is almost always there who is soaked in laundry detergent, and every time he passes by, he brings a little wave of misery with him.

Sunday at Rainbow, I received a coupon good for twenty percent off one grocery bill from a very nice young man in the produce department, and then my favorite cashier gave me two more, and when I stepped out of the parking garage, a fellow with the Street Sheet started to ask me for money and then said, “Never mind—it’s you,” meaning that I was free to move along unsolicited, on account, he said, of having been kind to him in the past. He offered a fist bump or two. I gave him some money, anyway, and left the area feeling like a minor celebrity, an agreeable feeling.

Less so was the highly unflattering question put to me the very next day by the manager of my apartment building. Apparently San Francisco landlords get a break on their property taxes if they have tenants who are seniors, so my building manager sent a note to inquire, as delicately as possible, if I could possibly fit into this category, as neither she nor the landlord had any idea how old I am. I told her that I’m 52, turning 53 in June, and embarked on a period of brooding over being mistaken for a 65-year-old. Eventually, I came to these two points of clarity: The building manager thought I might be 65. But I am in fact 52.

I could be 65, but I’m not, which means I have 13 extra years to do with as I will! Probably I won’t do anything in particular with those years, but for a moment there, I felt a sweeping sense of exhilaration. Yeah! A thrilling expanse of time, full of possibility! However, a few days later, I was looking ahead in my calendar and discovered that I’m actually 51, turning 52 in June, which means that I actually have 14 extra years to do with as I will, which is good, but also that I may as well quit worrying about my appearance and start worrying about a possible brain tumor.
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