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Let’s Go Oakland!

Oakland is a city right next to San Francisco.

I have only been there twice so I know it may be premature to say this, but I think it might be THE BEST PLACE.

Time One was when me and Mon went to baseball game where we watched the Oakland Athletics (the A’s) beat the Seattle Mariners. Baseball is a sport I am rapidly learning to love. You don’t get any violence or agro at a baseball game. There is loads of singing and plenty of snack breaks. People LAUGH there.

The A’s and their fans are a riot. The most popular players have their own dance routines, and the whole crowd does them when they step up to the plate. There is a big screen and it films the people who are doing the dance in the most hilarious way.

Everyone goes, from young children to retired couples.

I felt weird, but still moved, when they sang “O Say can you see…”; everyone standing with their hands on their hearts.

But the ‘9th Inning Stretch’ where everyone dances and sings “Take me out to the ball game” almost made me cry.

Basically what happens is lots of people go to a concrete Colosseum in an industrial district and have a really good time. It is a ritual of unspeakable brilliance.

Oakland is a poorer place than SF and the team struggles financially. The tickets are cheap and they give you a free hotdog.

Time Two was a street party. They have one once a month in the town centre.

We arrived late, but were there long enough to recognise a truly majestic street party.

The first thing we saw was this chubby black kid playing drums, with a nerdy white guy sporting a scruffy beard playing base. Both of them were talking to people while they were playing, and they were both strikingly brilliant at doing what they were doing.

A crowd formed. People stood and nodded and tapped their feet. The music was generating an inescapable atmosphere of relaxed ecstasy. Everyone listening was absolutely brilliant. We shone like bulbs in a microwave.

If they had kept playing, all the worlds problems would have been solved, one by one, just like that.

Next we saw some kids on push bikes and one of the bikes had a massive speaker wedged in it and it was blaring out music. The sound quality was abysmal, but they were having SUCH a good time. It is difficult for me to convey what a good time they were having.

What they were doing was sexy, rhythmic, empowering, and also hilarious. Everyone was on bmx’s and push bikes and they were putting their wheels in the air and spinning them and grinding and laughing and laughing.

What on earth have we been doing, if not this?

And we saw dancing cars! They bounced around, shaking their chassis’ in joy.

Also, and you are not going to believe this, NEW ORDER played. I
couldn’t believe it.

It isn’t the kind of music they like there but they are a great band so everyone had a whale of a time.

I asked one guy if it was THE New Order so many times that he almost had to attack me.

It turns out that it is some kind of coincidence. Only in Oakland folks, only in Oakland.

There was a Time Three also, but I don’t have time to write about it now. I just wish to thank everyone involved, gratuitously.

Stay Powerful.

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SF Occupy

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Put the tent in the bank! Put the tent in the bank!

San Francisco’s Occupy camp was broken up the other night. It had been running for over a year.

Darryl, a homeless veteran we spoke to, had told us that the place had degenerated from a protest to a den of iniquity: drugs, violence etc.

Me and Mon hurried over to check it out. Sure enough, most of the people there either looked like teen runaways or older people who had been homeless for a long time.

They were smoking weed that smelt like a deadly but rather floral poison, possibly one made from the sweat of a mythical creature. We politely declined to sample their peace pipe, but we did sit with them a while.

A lady who calls herself ‘Anona Moma’ was doing most of the talking. She was a committed activist, having been in Occupy since the beginning, given up her flat and possessions, and lost a few ribs to a debate with the police.

She had also been elected ‘Queen of San Francisco Occupy’. As they practice ‘complete democracy’, where decisions must be agreed upon by everybody, her role was constitutional.

However she admitted that since receiving the title she had a lot more interest in Monarchy as a system of rule.

Among Anona Moma’s various creative actions, she had once broken into a bank and set up a tent in there. This one caught my attention, because I happen to have personal experience of this daring and perplexing manoeuvre.

At the G20 in London a number of years ago Me and Mon had been unfortunately kettled in the financial district. People milled around for a bit, and gradually everyone realised we were trapped in there.

To this day I wonder, why?

At the time I asked a police person. They ignored me, wouldn’t even look at me. I moved my head until I was looking in their eyes, they changed the direction of their gaze. I asked another one. They told me it was ‘captain’s orders’, and looked at me semi-apologetically.

After a few hours people were really cross. There was pushing and shouting where the protest met the lines of riot police.

Back from the front, where we were, the throng was more jolly. People were commenting sardonically on the situation. We all tittered to each other. We were like a flock of caged birds. There was a huge feeling of camaraderie. We all felt like one big Oscar Wilde.

Items were being passed around over peoples heads – a traffic cone, a bucket – it was surreal.

Some other folks were smashing up the big windows of one of the banks. One pane was almost all broken in. No-one really knew what to do next.

Then a fully erected tent came crowd-surfing by.

It approached the broken window. Perhaps the whole crowd was thinking it, but it was one person who shouted the words: “Put the tent in the bank! PUT THE TENT IN THE BANK!”

People started chanting. There was something compelling, symbolic, hilarious about it all. We desperately wanted the tent to go in the bank. It moved deliberately through the crowd. We were one seething muscle.

I don’t know what it is about tents in banks.

I am glad Anona Moma exists. She is a patient fighter, a sensitive soul, and tough as old boots. She is also an Aztec.

I’m not sure about what Darryl said regarding drugs and violence at Occupy SF, but it seemed very possible. There is no denying that the place basically is a homeless shelter now.

On this basis the SF Chronicle ran a story celebrating the end of the camp. “Occupy’s Point Eclipsed”, ran a header, shaming the little row of tents and information stands as a poor front for the movement: “just a homeless camp that the city has let exist for too long.”

Reading this, Mon pointed out something very profound: a homeless encampment nestled among the skyscrapers of the financial district is perhaps an even more visceral statement than the original protests, with their dust storm of visiting intellectuals and newspaper inches.

Protest is a ritual with agreed rules. Protests are part of the identity of democracies. I’m sure the elite who work in that district agree that protest is a healthy part of life in a free society.

But the actual fact of extreme inequality is sick, and people do not like to be reminded of sick.

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What To Do When Customers Are Wearing Ass-Less Pants

Apparently we have just missed San Francisco’s ‘Leather-Fest’ where thousands of fetishists take over a couple of blocks of the trendy Mission district and subject each other to acts of public humiliation and torture in the streets.

Our friend manages a swanky but very friendly cocktail bar in Mission and he says that Leather-Fest throws up some problems for them.

For instance, they have found that their plastic seating is very uncomfortable for customers wearing ass-less pants (meaning trousers, but they don’t wear any pants either). The staff make sure they whisk down a napkin on the chair just before such customers sit down.

A naked bum sticking to a plastic seat in a hot climate is a feeling so bad that even sadomasochists can’t handle it.

You’ve got to be quick with the napkin because a lot of these folks are being ordered to sit down by people with whips.

The bar has a rule concerning the level of nudity that is unacceptable to their establishment. I was actually surprised they even had such a threshold, seeing to the trouble they go to in aiding those customers who have their butts out.

California doesn’t have any public decency laws, so if you are not hurting anyone else or anyone else’s stuff, then go ahead.

It is a very fine place to be.

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Homeless in San Francisco

We are on a tight budget, Mon insists.

$25 a day. We have been doing free things, such as wandering around the streets.

We chatted to a homeless guy the other day. His name was Darryl. He served in both Iraq wars. He said that they were awful. He now lives on the street with his wife.

I asked him what he would do if he was president and he said “America should stop sticking its nose in other people’s business and start caring for it’s own.”

San Fransisco is full of homeless people, over 10,000 apparently. They trundle about with carts, picking up rubbish, which they can get money for at recycling plants.

Lots of the homeless are black of course, seeing as so many black people are so poor here.

Darryl said that life at the bottom is so hard that it is very easy fall off the last rung and end up on the streets. Once you are there it is easy to give up and start getting high/drunk whenever possible.

Many housed people seem to believe this sequence happens in reverse: people get addicted drugs/drink then they slide to the bottom rung and onto the streets.

A recent report on homelessness on the west Coast urges a change in thinking. Solutions to homelessness are often built on the assumption that homelessness comes about due to biographical factors, but really, this report argues, the problem is not about individual failure, rather it is due to ”systemic and broad structural causes” and that the omission of these from public discussion and policy responses is ”nothing short of a collective deception”

The report analysed the available data, and found that homelessness sky-rocketed after the huge cuts to subsidies encouraging affordable housing made in the 1980’s and thus advises that spending on homes for the poor be dramatically increased.

Darryl’s solutions were more short term. He said that there should be more facilities for homeless people, for lack of drinking water and access to toilets was a real problem. He also said that there should be shelters and half-way houses. We asked him what him and his wife receive in benefits and he replied that they get $67 a month between them.

We told him about our dear old NHS (at least what is left of her), and encouraged, he added that access to health-care would be nice too. Well we had ourselves a regular little Party meeting, I was just about to suggest that we start singing ‘The International’ when Darryl surprised us both by saying that he would vote for Romney.

You see, he is so very disappointed that ‘Obamacare’ is not producing what was promised that he was prepared to give Romney “a chance”. But wasn’t it Republican senators who tied the scheme’s shoelaces together anyway?

It struck me that voting is much less ideological and much more personal over here.

‘Ideological’ has become a bad word in recent years (not that I am aware of any years before the recent, as my good friend Stephen once said of me, “Wilf is so young that when he exposes himself to people in parks, THEY get arrested.” N.B. I don’t expose myself to people in parks).

But if we make our democratic decisions based on someone’s personality, aren’t we bound to be disappointed when their personality fails to alter the mighty flow of the socio-economic river of everything?

One person, however strong or good, and I do believe that Obama is a good person, cannot make such a difference.

Even truly exceptional leaders don’t so much turn the tide as ride the crest of a wave.

We saw an elderly Chinese woman out with her cart, all the different kinds of rubbish organised neatly inside. I watched her for a while. She seemed so sober, so ordinary. Just a normal grandma, selling rubbish to survive.

Like me and my imaginary wife, Darryl and his wife aren’t addicts who have given up on life, rather, they dream of having a farm.

Other homeless people here are less sane. They babble to dustbins, scream at passer’s by. Many of the old crazy black guys do one particular thing. They stand at the side of the street and wave on the traffic. As the headlights stream by they churn their arms, as if they are controlling the flow somehow.

They have given up trying to stop things happening you see. Once, like Obama, they tried, but now they have given up. Tragically, wisely, they have given up. Now, they tell it to pass, and they laugh at it’s passing. They don’t go with the flow, but, unable to change it’s direction, they show the flow they know where it is going.

Every night, short of a miracle, they are homeless. Every night, the traffic grinds by.

See www.cohsf.org/ for more info.

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Mon’s Food #2

This is Mon buying a handbag full of sandwiches.Sandwiches

 

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On the Plane: Mon’s Food #1

We are on the plane.

Mon said he could live here.

Mon said he likes plane food.

We both had the pasta. Mon made a pasta sandwich with the little bun. I pointed out that if he ate his pasta sandwich then he would have nothing with which to mop up the sauce afterwards. Mon considered this for a moment, and then dismantled the pasta sandwich.

Now this really was interesting, for Mon’s thinking as far as eating goes is usually far in advance of mine, and it is uncommon for me to ever instruct him in any way. Quite the contrary in fact, for when we eat together I refuse to start eating before he does, because I know that he will prime the dish in some ingenious way, perhaps forming a pond from potato to be filled with stew, mushing an egg up with hot sauce, or simply adding a little sprinkle of something. My own efforts at such edits always end in elaborate failure.

The meal is eaten, and the crumpled foil containers sit before us. My personal video screen is not working. The flight is ruined. Mon is watching ‘The Hunger Games’, and I am drinking wine and writing my weird little blogs.

Part of the reason that I am doing this blog is that I want to be more of a journalist, and, vitally, to APPEAR to be more of a journalist. I am painfully aware that thus far I have not really said anything newsworthy, but to be fair, I am on a plane and the airport goes to some lengths to stop anything newsworthy boarding (which reminds me, a man with gloves on dabbed me with a tiny square of tissue. He dabbed my wrists, my belt, and my socks. This struck me as something they might of done at a witch trial or in the inquisition).

Anyway, even if it can’t qualify as news, I know that there are a handful of you out there who are a little curious to see how his incorrigible and creative culinary habits adapt to North American cuisine.

I showed Mon the blog, and then asked him if he thought it would potentially embarrass me to a newspaper. Mon said he didn’t think newspapers seemed to be embarrassed by very much. I laughed, and told him that that was going straight in the next post.

Mon says he is going to stay ‘blog aware’ from now on.

Stay powerful.

Wilf

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Welcome to BLOG

Hello

Thank you for deciding to slide your attention across this string of little symbols. I am going to be making some chains of them, swirling them about my head, and then hurling them with all my narrative might and accompanied perhaps by a gruff, unselfconscious syllable (I’m thinking “Haw!”), over stuff I do, people I meet, engagements I attend etc., which, if we wanted to stretch this cowboy metaphor into allegory, we might call cows.

And bear in mind that I am just about to tour the United States of America with the tenacious if fatigable MON, and as such your can bet your bottom dollar that I am going to lasso me some pretty juicy cow.

It’s just a shame I’m a such a wilfully opaque raconteur. Rather like a cowboy who brings you cows pickled in formaldehhyde.

I am a euphemist, yes, I admit that, but I want you to know that I do intend to focus on the cows. Me and Mon will round them up, keep them safe on the long prairie nights, lulling them with our bawdy songs, then march them to the abatoir (my keyboard) two by two, to have them made into burgers for your enjoyment.

Lets have one now. This one takes place in LONDON town, rather than in America, for the understandable reason that I am in London, rather than in America.

COCKTAIL BAR

My friend is in a jazz group. They play old standards and he croons admirably. He put me on the guest list of a gig they were doing in a cocktail bar. It turned out to be far swankier than any other place I have ever been too INCLUDING Pizza Express.

I had accidentaly dressed as a farmer. This fact wildly increased my enjoyment of the environment.

The other guest-list slots were taken up by the sax/clarinet players wife, who is Chinese, and some friends of hers, two of whom were also Chinese women. They were all strikingly beautiful.

We drank these amazing cocktails. The one I got costed about the same as your average round. But it turned out to be far more potent than buying yourself a whole average round. When it arrived it was sort of on fire. I was instructed to only drink the part of it that sat in a chocolate pod, because the rest was poisonous. I didn’t like the cocktail in a conventional sense but it was impossible not to respect it. It had many flavours, all of them dark and brooding (Laphroaig and absynth to name two of the better known). It was like drinking a sinister board-room.

I went outside for a cigarette but my mind was down in the bar with my smoking drink. I was already half drunk and I had only taken a few sips.

The Chinese crew came out shining. I spoke to each in turn and had the following discussions:
1. Freedom in the ‘west’ and in China, and the differences between the British and Chinese authorities responses to protest, and interior design.
2. How should theology relate to the concerns of everyday life? Is the heart deceitful?
3. The Chinese poet Gu Cheng and his iconic poem that defined that tremulous generation of young Chinese who are forever remembered (at least by westerners) facing the tanks in Tianimen Sq.

“Even with these dark eyes, a gift of the dark night, I go seek the shining light.” Gu Cheng.

The band were superb and by the end of the second set we had got three quarters of the way through our cocktails and were seeing double and dancing triple.

So it was a great night and these three ladies were probably the best people I’ve ever met.

OK, I’m going to trapse around in the rain now, waiting to go to the promised land.

I’ve decided that Me and MON are the second wave of manifest destiny.

Stay powerful.

Wilf

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This is me and AL

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This is the man who invented toast

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