No Direction Home

Continuing the theme of home and homelessness, that borrowed title comes from Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone.” The tone conveys not quite, but almost, an atmosphere of schadenfreude, as the speaker inventories in a kind of letter or rant to a former friend a causal argument of falling, in this case, apparently, falling from a position of false security or privilege, of having a good time home to being alone, friendless, homeless. “I told you so,” is in a sense the message. “How does it feel,” the speaker asks, who knows perfectly well how it feels. The theme is Gatsbyesque, peels away the thin skin covering the old reveling times, exposing the hollowness and emptiness of a gilded life, the phony friends, the gold leaf too thin to sustain any doubt, the common metallic iron at the core showing through, glitter gone down the drain. Dylan’s clown dressed in rags becomes the anti-hero living on the streets, rock and roll bottom, gutter run, where everybody’s stuff gets swept away. The title’s source is cliche proverb: A rolling stone gathers no moss. What is moss? A day in the moss, collecting stuff for winter needs. In Dylan’s song, we assume the moss includes all those hangers-on who did not and could not know the real Gatsby, not the Great Gatsby, but the rolling stone Gatsby, the Gatsby whose funeral almost no one attends. The party’s over, things change, everybody’s moved on. One middle class reading of course might not see it this way, still wanting to rise, move up, get a bigger home, nicer car, fancier clothes, borrow a real necklace to wear to the party, the better to feel fitted in to the in-class. And in that same reading, that the rolling stone individual is not a fallen character, for that would suggest it’s possible for any one of us to fall, at any time, for any reason. No, that middle class reading must place blame on the individual, calling their predicament a choice, wanting to recognize that they didn’t fall, couldn’t fall, because they never actually belonged to begin with, even if their fall was, paradoxically, their choice. Either way, they couldn’t win, born to lose. And the beat response? We all need someone to look down on, and if you want to, you can look down on me.

There’s No Place Like Home

“Homeless in Space” brought a thoughtful, if aphoristic, response from Ashen, heroic reader and writer over at Course of Mirrors:

“Your post sparked a thought. Some people don’t experience their early home as a safe place to root and grow. Frustrated expectations may foster a sometimes unconscious element of resistance, not to fit in, as it were, like… being homed can mean being owned
being holed can mean being controlled
being placed can mean being traced
being named can mean being framed or tamed”

Thoughts, too, of home, whatever the experience, I was reminded of the end of the film The Wizard of Oz, when the good witch Glinda tells Dorothy she’s always had the capability of going home, and tells her to tap her heels together three times while saying: “There’s no place like home.”

Indeed, there is no place, existentially speaking, like home. Home is an idea, often reduced to an ideology, that doesn’t necessarily match what’s really happening (growing equity, capital). Also I was reminded of the song from “Inventories,” new book (from the serial novel started here last July as a pandemic quarantine exercise), in which the word home appears 38 times:

“Back Home Again”
What I know about love,
I wrote on a postage stamp,
mailed myself halfway to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing I do, I do, adieu,
and I can’t go home again.
Born in the back of a beach bum shack,
I sailed the seven seas.
Never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.
Born in a corral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.
The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
when you leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.
And it’s home again, I want to go back to you,
see my family and my old friends too,
but I can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

“Inventories” is a journey book about a semi-god (a type, allegorical, character, an oligarch on the run) who wants out (to escape his life of privilege and its human costs), to leave home, only to find himself engaged in any number of other homes along his way.

There’s no place like home, and no way to escape.

Homeless in Space

Part of research aims at joining a conversation to discover what’s being said or has been said about your topic or ideas, as you develop your own statement about which there’s going to be disagreement, your own claims, your argument. It won’t take much Googling to find out most of your ideas are old hat – someone’s already been there, done that.

So it came as no surprise when I began thinking of the Mars rover “Perseverance,” now roaming the atmosphere of the red planet like a Samuel Beckett character in familiar forlorn surroundings, that when I searched for “Homeless on Mars” and “Homeless in Space,” Google instantly brought me 100,000 or so links to peruse.

What had happened was an old friend had called and our country’s ubiquitous homeless predicament came up, and I think I caught that he thought at least one of the local cause and effect issues might involve theft, that the homeless in his area were thieves, substantiated by his having seen a local police cruiser pulled over at a homeless camp under a bridge. Not adequate backing if one is building a credible causal argument, but I didn’t want to join, so I let it go for the nonce.

But I later found myself wondering, what is homelessness? What is theft? If I live in a tent on a patch of public property, is that not my home? This quickly becomes an argument of definition. What is a home? What characteristics of one’s living situation are necessary to call a dwelling a home? A telephone? An address the mail carrier will be able to locate? Indoor plumbing? A landlord or mortgagee? Bricks and mortar? A deed of some sort? A contract? Neighbors?

And having been somewhat preoccupied with and still thinking about the latest NASA enterprise, I thought it might be possible to consider the rover Perseverance homeless. And it also appears likely that NASA’s plans include stealing a few rocks from the red planet and bringing them back to Earth. Whose rocks are they?

In any case, my research into the idea of a homeless space, a homeless universe, where all housing is ultimately temporary, brought forth two interesting finds: “The Orphan Ship,” a trilogy about homeless children living in poverty in a Mars space station (Sterling R. Walker, 2013), and “The Ethics of Space: Homelessness and Squatting in Urban England” (Steph Grohmann, HAU, 2020). From the preface to Grohmann’s book, the predicament is clearly laid out:

“Through their struggles for housing, squatters initiate a more fundamental struggle to inhabit and take hold of social space, and thus to make modest but no less daring efforts to remake the world through very localized but determined measures to change their immediate, everyday lived realities. In doing so, they challenge the larger social and political order of neoliberal capitalism, and in working to transform life, they also transform themselves and their relations with the wider society, and engage in new and creative experiments with how we might begin to reorganize all of our collective social life” (Nicholas De Genova, xii).

It’s probable that former local vagrancy laws kept homeless populations from growing in the US (to the extent they exist today), or at least confined to “skid rows.” Most of those laws have been struck down as unconstitutional, often replaced by loitering laws, also mostly struck down. But today’s lack of affordable housing, endemic unemployment and job losses, generational poverty, education detrimental reliance traps, and a growing acceptance of inequality and change – all contribute to our current imbroglio.

Absurdly, as both Buckminster Fuller and Marshall Mcluhan showed, typewriters (or their replacements) asleep under cover for the night in high rise office buildings still fair better than their daytime users commuting home, wherever that might be.

Of Sanity and Sanitary

Little significance I found in riding in a yellow vehicle called a Hummer in a yellow land called California, mile after mile after mile after mile of streets filled with lookalike cultural paraphernalia: quick stop and go snack needs shops; gas filling stations; forests of telephone poles with crisscrossing wired canopies (but on select boulevards the wires now buried in tunnels, electronic catacombs, poles sticking up through the cement, independent flag poles topped with lights such that no bird got a good night’s sleep); strip malls, movie theatres, bowling alleys; cafes, diners, coffee boutiques; bars, taverns, pubs, breweries; car lots, parking lots, big box stores; churches, schools, parks, amusement arcades, golf links; clinics, hospitals, fire and police stations; refineries, manufacturing enclaves, buildings so tall one could no longer imagine leaping one in a single bound, nor imagine what went on in those buildings; hotels, motels, mattress and furniture stores; underpasses of concrete massive waves, railroad crossings, onramps, offramps, turnabouts; banks, auto repair shops, storage units; alleys full of graffiti covered dumpsters, fences, walls, two and three story buildings with only a ground floor; concertina wire and barred windows and doors. But up and down the side streets modest early or mid century dwellings built as single family homes, with well kept yards, only the cars in drives and lining the streets testifying to the current date. Maybe we should just go home, Sylvie said, leave the rambling to ramblers, but where was home, what was home, and of what value. Join a church, she said. Go to the spaghetti dinners, the crab feeds, the social dances, the concerts and one act plays and bingo nights, the little festivals, visit the sick and elderly, help the poor, volunteer to sweep the floor, whatever needs to be handled. We passed under another overpass where a tribe of homeless had gathered their tents and tarps and carts together, where a laissez faire system no doubt prevailed, and a true democracy existed, no one represented by another, but each deciding how they would live, under what conditions, and what beliefs, but still connected to other individuals, each with different wants and needs, even if under the state’s non exhaustive unavoidable uncaring umbrella, free, even if that freedom came at the cost of sanity and the sanitary.

“Of Sanity and Sanitary” is episode 69 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Sylvie. 30 Day Letter. Termination. Goodbye, Seattle. Country Blues Song.

You can’t go home again. Neither should I have stayed on another week at Hotel Julian. The subdued rhythm of my pastoral turned boisterous with the arrival of the fleet, and my absence in Seattle and now my prolonged and somewhat mysterious trip south caught up with me, testing Walter’s patience, and as he was wont to do at any sign of disloyalty among those with a seat at his table, he terminated me. There was of course more to it than that. The Walter Team was disestablished. It would be near impossible to disambiguate the transactions. In any case, I was no longer Risk Manager to the gods. Sylvie said Walter had sent me a 30 day letter. I could transfer to a desk in Morocco or take my leave, but the 30 days had already expired, and I had been cut loose with a modest severance bonus. Sylvie was on her way to spring training with her Single A team in Costa Rica. She had leased the Queen Anne house to some moonshiners out of the hills somewhere in east Skagit who planned to set up a microbrew. She had taken the liberty of putting my severance into a fund of fund of funds with no guaranteed rate of return but with a reputable track record. While I would not yet have to give up my weekly room status for a berth in the bunkroom, I would have to scout around for some part time work. I would not go back to Seattle though. I would take my risks elsewhere and in due time. Come Thursday night of my second week on board I climbed the Hotel Julian fire escape up to the rooftop bar and grill where I drank a slow beer and listened to Jack Tar and the Flower Girl with the Weathered Weary Blues Band messing around with some country blues with players on guitar, banjo, harmonica, a snare drum with a single cymbal, a Flatiron mandolin, and a stand up bass. Flower Girl nearly keeled me over with this song:

“Back Home Again”

What I know about love, I wrote on a postage stamp,
and mailed myself half way up to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing – I do, I do, adieu.
I’m out on the road, and I can’t go home again.

I was born in the back of a beach bum shack,
again and again, then I sailed the seven seas.
I never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.

She was born in a coral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.

The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
if you ever leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.

And it’s home again, I want to come back to you,
see all my family and all my old friends too,
but it’s true what they say, you can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

Note: Hear “Back Home Again” played on the guitar
here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CEAoxkhIXgq/

“You Can’t Go Home Again”
is episode 23 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Two Poems for Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany

Epiphany

In the straw burrow farm mice.
Get a little closer and you’ll see
Nits in baby Jesus’s hair, lice,
And a house snake in the olive tree.

There’s beer on the breath of the three
Sage men sitting under the olive tree,
Playing games of cribbage,
Ushering in a new age.

The pieces are swaddled in wool.
Mary’s breast-feeding the baby Jesus.
Joseph takes out his tools
To build a bed before the night freezes.

Mary wipes Joseph’s brow,
The wise men questioning how,
Talking to Joseph about what he did,
And what in the end might be in the crib.

From an East Side Bus

The lurching bus crowds forward,
dogs away from the curb broken under
the plum tree overarching the shelter.

The bus thrashes on, wobbling
in a fit of leaf blowing, phlegmatic coughing.
The young, motley couple

(we see them every day lately),
their rusted stroller full
of plastic blankets,

empty bottles, and crushed cans,
sleeps on the bench in the bus shelter
covered with plums and damp purple leaves.

“Epiphany” appeared in Rocinante, Spring 2009, Vol. 8

Didi and Gogo Feted with Lifetime Achievement Award

A country road. A tree. Against the tree a bicycle. Quick! Gogo!
What the hey? I was sleeping! Why can’t you let me sleep, Didi?
The need for your heinie’s beauty sleep notwithstanding,
Surely you’ve not forgotten we are to be feted, you hopeless hobo.
I could use a new pair of shoes, though I shall dance no doubt solo.
What about Godot?

Just this once, we won’t wait for Godot.
Both on the wind and off, eh, Gogo?
I’m bound to remind you I can go this solo.
Oh, please, love, don’t leave us waiting all alone, Didi.
I want to practice my standing.
I don’t want to fall on the stage like some common hobo.

Where’s your bicycle, Gogo, the one you acquired from that hobo
With the funny hat and tight shoes? Claimed he saw Godot
In Hermosa in the 70’s at the Biltmore, notwithstanding
That grand hotel already razed. Those were the days we were on the go.
Yes, yes, enough said, but was it Godot’s? And did he
Not leave us in the end after so many promises solo?

Yes, before your onions and bunions soliloquy.
Oh! The feet and breath of this at once great and humble hobo.
How do we get in, do you suppose, Didi?
I had just found a new pair of shoes in which to address Godot.
New Year’s Eve 1969, we saw Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey a Go Go!
Oh, you poor thing, remembrances of time past notwithstanding.

The elements, the rain and snow, a bit of sun notwithstanding.
Remember the night of the marauders? We prayed for our soul.
Yes, the soul we’ve shared and with which we now go,
Not heaven nor hell, to each his own, a worked over pair of hoboes
Who worked hard waiting faithfully for their Godot,
Who never ever came, our hour upon the stage, did he?

For perhaps we missed him, looked away, did he,
Our good intentions notwithstanding,
Pass by this place, this road, this tree, our Godot,
And seeing us distracted with an onion or a bunion pass, solo,
Ignoring his ignominious hoboes?
Let’s go, let’s go, it’s time, let’s leave this place, let’s go!

Didi! No matter what happens, don’t leave me solo,
A lonely hobo, a bicycle with no kickstand,
Waiting to go, wanting to go, unable to go, nowhere to go.