saavedra77: Sneakers and shadow in the rain (Sneaks shadow rain)
[personal profile] saavedra77
For the first few years after I moved to Seattle in the early 2000s, one of the fixtures of my neighborhood was a senior pothead who liked to be called--I am absolutely not kidding--"Griz"; not "Grizzly," definitely not "Gordon." Just the one syllable. Griz posed as master dropout, claimed to have had no permanent address from his teens to his fifties. "Of no fixed abode" he'd say self-consciously, drawing out and having fun with the cliché. Griz seemed as incapable of a bad mood as he was of working, obligations, or lasting relationships, or saying anything that you could completely believe.

Devoted as he was to the stoner version of the "Open Road," Griz even looked a little like an amalgam of Walt Whiman and Yosemite Sam: He was short and stocky, had deep crow's feet around his eyes, ruddy skin, streaks of the original black in the long gray hair he kept in a ponytail. His chin grew more whiskers than a beard. His arms were done up with tattoos of snakes, hearts. Griz typically dressed in a denim jacket, boots, and--once again, I have to say I kid you not--a black cowboy hat. He hung around the coffee shop across the street from my building, sitting outside in all kinds of weather, smoking reefer ("medical marijuana") with no fear of anyone ever bothering him about it, and entertaining us with these ridiculous stories you never knew whether or how much to believe, things out of Jack Kerouac or Ken Kesey.

By this time, the archetypal restless feet had to be augmented with a cane. Griz liked to give out bullshit stories of stowing away in boxcars--Depression-era folklore. The Happy Hobo. Even though he never resorted to the phrase "riding the rails," even for comic effect, he described traveling up and down the West Coast that way, from L.A. to Seattle, and--one time--British Columbia. He loved the British Columbia story in particular: falling asleep in freight car, and waking up in Canada: "I'll say this for Canada; they got some nice jails. They treated me alright. But then they gave me this lecture about the border and threw me back."

When asked about how he made a living all those years, Griz would go kind of vague, mentioning a variety of marginal, temporary jobs: fishing boats, picking fruit. He emphatically denied that he'd ever panhandled. As Griz told it, he'd only ever settled down when he got too old and sick for the itinerant life. He lived on some kind of public assistance, now, and all his alleged roaming had ended him up in a dingy little efficiency. Like Louis Simpson wrote in "Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain": "The Open Road leads to the used car lot."

Griz walked with a cane because diabetes was already in the process of depriving him of his legs. When they wouldn't carry his weight any more, Griz started going around the neighborhood in one of those motorized scooters. It kind of freaked me out, actually: diabetes got my mom, too, and she also spent her last couple of years getting around in one of those. Griz liked to say that they'd given him a free car.

That was a pretty impressive brave face, or wall of denial. If there's a difference between those two things. The man lived in a miserable little room in a bad neighborhood, with no family in sight, no good friends that I ever heard of. Just some neighbors. And you couldn't fail to see that he was, well, failing.

Still Mr. Happy, though. Or Mr. Unlikely. But you can hardly think of a better circumstance in which to apply a little judicious self-deception.

I'm sure that Griz' stories were mostly bullshit, romanticized "riding the rails" crap, the carefree bum of American folklore and fiction. If he'd really been a tramp all of or even just parts of his life, you have to imagine that it was a lot less the carefree string of hobo adventures he made it out to be. I pictured sleeping out of doors in all kinds of weather, dumpster diving, etc. The firm denial of ever having panhandled sounded like protesting too much, as well. And then there was the whole pothead thing, which had obviously been going on for years and didn't exactly suggest perfect lucidity. There were hints of other things, too, things he let slip: a rueful joke about marriage, and, more explicitly, a passing reference to a daughter he never saw any more. That didn't sound at all Kerouac. And neither comment exactly comported with the image of a lifelong drifter.

I believed some of it though; it might not have been lifelong, but he was certainly a dropout, someone who'd been disconnected from settled life and lasting relationships for a long while. I think that dressing his experiences up in Happy Wanderer clothes covered over some serious bruises. I'm sure that the years of pot contributed to that--staying stoned enough to let go, to not care any more. At least, not much or often. Gordon obviously did at some point divest himself of the "holds that would hold him," now claimed to have had "no particular interest" in that life. (Thank you for the phrases, Walt, Herman.)

But I'm at a loss as to how anyone can think that there's anything poetic about that. Who wants to take up sleeping outdoors, dumpster-diving? How about getting old and sick when you're isolated and poor and have to live in a crappy little one-room efficiency?

Fuck you, Walt.

(Note: the "location" "where the days grow gray and dark" is an allusion to Tom Russel's song, "Blue Wing," which, as the "music" citation notes, I was listening to when I started writing this.)
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saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (Default)
Anthony Diaz

December 2014

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