A few days ago, I saw a man reading verse to the roses, or the soil next to the roses, on the west side of the lake.
Last week, while returning Homage to Catalonia at the Lakeview book drop, I said “Good morning” to the man sitting on the steps leading up to the library doors. He answered, “Gooood mooorn-ing,” making a tonal arc of the phrase, with “morn” at the top. Then he said a sibilant and several long vowels that sounded like “CIA.” “Sorry, what did you say?” I asked. “Good morning.” “But what did you say after that? It sounded like ‘CIA.'” “CIA, agent 5,” he replied. “That’s you?” He nodded, and the seriousness of his expression and posture broke through to me. “Well, keep up the good work,” I said.
Along Grand, I considered how his claim could be real. Now that the ambit of post-truth has crossed from the unconscious realm into the cold light of day for many more of us, why not manipulate it? Why not believe that the man sitting on the library’s steps is truly a Central Intelligence Agency operative?
BARTing back to the East Bay the day after Christmas, I noticed a man wearing an ILWU Local 10 hoodie. Some quiet worshipful feeling inspired me to talk to him: “Do you belong to that union?” “Yes,” he said. All I could think to ask was a substantially indirect question: “How is it?” I had rushed into imagining him as a weary Atlas with the power to throw down the heavens. He looked a little confused by me, or just so exhausted that everything at the moment came to him through a haze. And he responded in practical terms—some phrases drowned out by the rumble of the train—something like: “The hours are long. But that’s how you make good money … $20,000 … I’m heading to LA now for work.” The train doors opened on our stop before I could really say anything else. On the way out, Jorrit asked me, “Who was that guy?” “He was a longshoreman,” I said. “Those are the guys who can really fuck shit up.”
I dreamed of a sequence of words. Not a complete sentence. And the words are not with me now, nor do I think I knew them in the dream. The image that comes to mind to describe the apprehension of the dream phrase is white text on a white background, with green grammar-check squiggles underneath each word giving the only sign they’re there.
Dreaming, I started at the last word in the series and partly woke myself up with a real spasm. Just under the edge of wakefulness, I noted that Jorrit would understand. I’d tell him in the morning. And I fell back asleep.