Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fifteen minutes in San Francisco

BART platform
Last night I had an eye-opening experience on San Francisco's public transportation routes (not for the first time).

Rather than convey the story through dry, grammatically-correct prose, I've chosen a freewrite voice that better reflects the lively, elastic vibe of the moment.  





When I reached the bus stop late night a young Spandex-clad woman rambled full tilt into her phone and a really good listener's ear 

A bus rolled up I went to the middle of the last row where I could see everything

The guy in front of me to the left played rap music for all to hear through his phone

The guy in front of me on my right bopped his head along just barely to the beat

And directly across from Head Bopper was Full Tilt, still yammering away about a friend whose parents were pushing her through school but she wasn't studying enough because she didn't really want to be in school and

A stop, a cat got on, sat next to Rap Boy, fist-bumped him

Stop after that a middle-aged woman got on with a bunch of bags but

She rode just a few blocks and at one stop as the driver was about to close the back door and move along she suddenly yelled, "
Wait! I have lots of stuff to carry. Wait!"

And so the driver waited she got off Head Bopper grinned at the drama, started bobbing his head again to the rap

Bus pulled up to Van Ness and Market the guy directly in front of me fist-bumped Rap Boy got up to leave and loudly sucked mucus up into his throat without breaking stride

And did it one more time as he waited for the green light above the back door to come on

Head Bopper grinned again (the shit you see...)

I got off at the next stop, said to Head Bopper, "Endless entertainment on MUNI"

He smiled broadly, said
yes

I came down into the long Civic Center BART tunnel two brothers were playing smooth jazz

keyboards and sax over a drum track

I gave 'em a dollar the saxman said thank you I said, "No. Thank
you"

And when I looked ahead I saw a homeless cat near the add fare machines dancing in a winding cartwheeling drunk belly dancer style to the jazzmen

He saw me see him as I passed he smiled big and full of teeth except the one in the front which was missing

I smiled back and gave him a thumb's up

Through the turnstile,

Downstairs on the platform I ran into a soft-spoken bearded dude from my old meet-up group who wrote verse in a little black leatherbound book, if memory serves,

I said hey, don't I know you?

He said
yes

Are you still going to the group?

And so on...

The train came, I broke away

The doors closed behind,

Sealing me in.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Brown v. Board and Three Dog Night's "Black and White"

I was first drawn to Three Dog Night's 1972 rendition of "Black and White" by the lyrics. Here is the opening verse: 

The ink is black
The page is white
Together we learn to read and write
The child is black
The child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight
The beautiful sight


The words spoke to my appreciation of ethnic diversity and reflected the truth that racism is learned behavior (and its corollary that bigotry would diminish as new generations of Americans transcended their parents' prejudices). 

The appeal to brotherhood was typical of the early '70s, a time of great social change when a soulful song with an important universal message could reach number one on the Billboard charts.


"Black and White" was written by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson in 1954, spurred on by the Supreme Court's watershed Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which ended legal segregation in public education.

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown today, it's easy to be skeptical about the prospects for social and political evolution in America's near future. The election (and re-election) of a mild-mannered black president has spawned legions of white Tea Party faux patriots and an upsurge in militia membership. Fox News has a propaganda grip on a not-so-discerning one third of the country. And dirty corporate money continues to corrode our political system and block human progress

But underneath the plutocrats, reactionaries, and low-information voters is a tolerant, enlightened America which has the potential to live up to its ideals. As Brown showed, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” 


***

Other civil rights writing by Dan Benbow:

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop (about the speech King gave on the last night of his life)

Honest Abe Makes Sausage (a review of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln")

Actions, Not Words (a life review of Ollie Matson, an Olympic medal winner, NFL Hall-of-Famer, civil rights trailblazer, and good citizen) 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

This video combines two of my favorite artists:  
Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits. 


your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

***

 more Bukowski on "Truth and Beauty"