The small town where I have recently landed is ugly and beautiful. Walk down the main street: there are a few old gems like an ancient and glorious Masonic Hall, now home to evangelicals. Several boarded up stores, ugly as can be, and some small town cafes: one for Giants fans, specializing in breakfast, pancakes and pennants all over the joint, one Mexican taqueria, one family pasta palace with red and white checkered table cloths and cheap chianti, and an old-school diner for burgers. They’re great little haunts, and you wouldn’t want any fewer—each has its appropriate constituency.
Down by the San Pablo Bay at the end of the main drag beauty is in full flow: at Lone Tree Point there is indeed a lone tree, on a promontory jutting out into the Bay. Here there’s a wide view of rolling, slate grey water. On today’s visit I watch the ferry sailing from San Francisco to Vallejo, moving fast across the grey and stormy horizon.
Stand on the promontory: in one direction, the Bay and the sky. But turn around and there is an oil refinery—as ugly as industry gets, with its metal containers, and its smoke stacks, dismal lighting, polluting the hills where John Muir once walked and meditated.
You can’t get anything pure: the Bay is polluted, the hills are poignant with waste, the streets show signs of poverty.
I am walking the streets this Saturday morning because the deadline for this column is pressing on my brain, and I am at a loss. So I do what is always to be done: I try to wander and I try to look.
Many of the houses are decorated for Halloween: one in particular is over-the-top. The residents have created a graveyard with wandering skeletons, dead arms reaching up from the dirt, tombstones with the names of the family, a clown with a grisly grin hanging from a tree. The apparent corpse of a black cat lies on the porch, its tail and its legs in a state of rigor mortis. Trick or treat?
A childhood memory: I was one of those unfortunate children who developed a morbid fear of death before I was even six. Combined with an equally morbid love of candy (a burden I still carry in my fat belly), this made Halloween a time of mixed emotions, to say the least.
Children, we like to think, are happy-go-lucky. Well, memory and experience belie that: childhood (and adulthood, too) is a mess of contradictions, terror and joy mixed and stormy, never simple, never this and not that. Even an orgasm is the petit mort. Food is the occasion of grotesque overindulgence. Beauty always a morentum mori.
Morbid? No. Sweet as Halloween candy.
My favorite is the candied corn? What’s yours?
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.