Sometimes In Journals
Walking back from work today I passed a Japanese samurai slouched against the entrance of an apartment building near Lake Merritt. I've seen him on numerous occasions in the neighborhood, standing near this particular building, standing in front of the 7 - 11 store at the base of the hill, walking with a woman his age on the sidewalk near Broadway, always the slightly mad blood shot eyes after battle, thin, distant, his mind somewhere else, a pilot bombing Pearl Harbor or an actor in a picture.
You don't meet many samurai in this life, at least I don't. Perhaps right now they crowd the streets of Tokyo avoiding foreign travel. Still, there is this one man, as I've said, thin, samurai angular and mad, who lives near Lake Merritt and watches the streets, thinking the thoughts of men who follow the sword. He doesn't nod, he doesn't meet my eyes in passing. He lives in samurai time and makes me wonder.
There's madness in Oakland. The usual
number of ordinary faces, the young on their way to school, just graduated from school, hanging out, the unemployed, the on the make. People pretending to be people pictured in magazines and movies. Shoppers and commuters. The people on the streets of a thousand cities. You find other faces, not so easily catagorizable. Faces slack, faces tense, faces afraid, faces where the mind has left on another journey altogether, the talkers, the shouters, the finders of god, the campers, samurai soldiers on street corners. Beggers and chiselers and people you don't want to pass again ever. Some of those faces are an entrance to another world, unusually dark and desperate, but occasionally so weird and different as to send you thinking.
I'm not sure why I started this. The samurai, of course. I started writing as I passed him at the base of the hill. Perhaps this is just the product of my walk on the way home through the city. The product of looking for photographs in the faces of the people I pass. I grew up in a suburb homogeneous as milk except for one Japanese family down the street who dined out on their patio during the summer, served by a quiet man in a tailored coat. There was the odd adult with something moving behind their eyes, a fleeting face within a face, but otherwise unexceptional. That's not been my neighborhood since I left the army and came to San Francisco.
I got out of the suburbs and into the city, but not with the idea of substituting crazies for companions. I was looking for something different, something better than what I'd found as a youngster, but I never equated different with dysfunctional. I confused the two more than once, but never equated. I've had my share of dysfunctional. Masterless samurai standing on corners.
Still, there are others. Every now and then I meet someone with something different: An inner sprite, a Tarot joker. Just a look, a spark, a wink from another world. Sometimes a stranger on the street, one moment, passing. Sometimes someone in a group will catch my eye while everyone else is napping, a jest, the knowing nod of an accomplice. Puck in suspenders. Sometimes over drinks and dinner. An hour's conversation that passes in a minute. Those I left home to find, whom I'd read about in books, rare enough when I was young, rare enough now when I'm older. You find them where you find them, sometimes passing, sometimes at a party, sometimes in line at the grocery counter. Sometimes in journals.