Sunday, May 31, 2009

...And The Nights On Broadway......And The Nights On Broadway...

...And The Nights On Broadway...
By Jim Parks

I don't know what was there in those days - at the corner of Romolo and Broadway - next door to Enrico's. I don't remember.

You know Enrico's, Enrico Banducci's - the bistro that is open air at the sidewalk in front and filled with elegant tables all dressed in white linen in back. Sometimes they have a little combo playing there, guitar, sax, upright bass, keyboards.

North Beach. To the bone.

But the building across the way on the same side, across Romolo, one of the steepest streets on Telegraph Hill, has been the location of many things. It was the city jail in the nineteenth century, smack dab in the middle of all the bagnios and small time hootchy kootchy joints up street from the Barbary Coast on Kearny and Montgomery down to Portsmouth Square and Pacific Street.

Anyway, it was the happening of a moment; it happened in the blink of an eye, and it is burned in there, in my memory, where it belongs.

I was strolling, really humping down the sidewalk on Broadway's level after I had come up from the Tenderloin through downtown, through the Stockton Tunnel, skirted Chinatown. I was really strolling, really humping the way a young man does, really picking them up and laying them down, slamming my heels and toes into the sidewalk. I'd worked up a sweat, one of those clammy feeling sweats you get in the cool fog of a San Francisco night.

There on the sidewalk ahead of me, that chipped and cracked old sidewalk with the granite curbstone and the parking meters, the exhaust gas and bally of the barkers and flashing colored lights, there was another man dressed in grey sharkskin, his baggy suit coat with side vents swinging to and fro with his gait, his wingtips slamming down on the pavement, a thin little cigar in the corner of his mouth. I could smell the cigar as he chuffed and puffed along, minding his business. I didn't think anything about it. There are a lot of dudes in business drag on that block. They come and go from the topless places and the jazz joints, the eateries around the corner on Columbus and Upper Grant Avenue. I figured he was on his way to a parking lot on down Broadway to get his car.

In the blink of an eye, a street dude stepped out of the dark there on the corner of Romolo and got in the sharkskin dude's face. I don't know what was said, or even if anything was said. It all happened so quickly.

But he got in the dude's face and you could suddenly see his complexion, the kind dopers get, all pale and sick looking, his hair unkempt and tangled, Levi's and t-shirt just hanging on his frame because he was so sick and so down and beat.

The dude in the sharkskin didn't hesitate. He kicked the street man's knees out from under him, upset that nonexistent third leg on the tripod they talk about in martial arts, and with one swift motion drew a snub-nosed double action revolver in some cold blue steel with his right hand while he flipped out his Inspector's badge with his left.

"You want some of it? Huh? Whadda ya' want? Huh?" He forced the muzzle of the pistol under the dude's nose, jabbing it with every phrase.

The man who had gotten in his face was down, the breath knocked out of him. He waved his splayed fingers in front of his face - back and forth - from his place on the cold concrete, his head in the gutter. He'd fallen there as neatly and swiftly as a tree suddenly fallen by a lumberjack.

Behind me, two guys dresssed in leather jackets and khaki chinos had jerked up two other men - both of them as unkempt and goofy looking as the guy sharkskin had felled. Across the street, two uniformed cops were chasing down another dude where he fled down the steepest part of Montgomery Street.

But it was that moment with the gun sticking in the assailant's face, the glare of the multi-colored blinking lights glinting off its precisely machined surfaces and highly polished finish, that brought it all home for me. Knocking the schmuck down in one set of well-coordinated moves was one thing; badging the guy was another, but without the gun to back it all up, it would have been meaningless, totally about nothing.

"All right, guy, you're charged with Section ____________ of the California Penal Code, Assaulting a Police Officer, Pandering and Loitering in violation of the San Francisco Municipal Code," the sharkskin dude bellowed as he jerked his prisoner to his feet and cuffed him.

"You have the right to remain silent," he said, as he kicked his ankles and made him spread his legs wide where he leaned against the wall. "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..."

I stroked on through the scene, neatly sidestepping the actors and continuing on up the street to the hotel where I knew the people and went to score sometimes. Without the gun, it would have all been meaningless to me because I was a much, much younger man in those days.
I think Sharkskin and the other cops had been laying for that little gang there in old Sydney Town. Nothing new on the Barbary Coast.

You'd better believe he would have shot him if he had to do it. You'd better believe it.

My point is that it all makes the revolver with the knot in its barrel, you know, the giant sculpture of the Colt .45 Peacemaker in United Nations Plaza in New York, it all makes that scene look ridiculous when you've seen it up close and personal in a place you dig. That's all I mean.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blood, The Pool Cue, and the Parking Place

By Jim Parks

Because everyone gets sick at the same time, there were almost no parking places available at the VA Hospital.

A white man in a pickup and a Mexican in an ancient station wagon vied for the same slot, nearly slamming fenders. The white man grabed a sawed-off pool cue and menaced the Mexican. The Mexican took it, fed it to him - blunt end first.

The cops confronted the Mexican about the fight.

What fight?

They showed him the pool cue, the blood on the pavement.

I laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"Whoever designed this parking lot. He showed his ass pretty good. "

(100 words)

Monday, May 18, 2009

You got that screaming tenor horn, dude. You got that rock and roll. You got your driving beat. You got your summer heat. You got all that sweet, sweet female meat - jumpin' jivin' soul survivin' and hangin' out on the street.

You got that jive he's chanting; it's riding that bass line like it's on a brand new groove line, downtown to uptown, any which way, but right on time. Always right on time. No fair runnin' late.

You'll never get over it, dude.

Roll up a pack of Luckies in your t-shirt sleeve and hit the streets when it's hot, man. Down at the shore. Up in Newark, over by Cherry Hill Township. Give it a shot, man. We call it the refinery. That's what it is.

Check out the "Stray Cat Blues" for a change. Shift gears and give it up to "Be Bop A Lula."

You know, like, all my friends got it, so it must be goin' around, saith Carl Perkins at the birth of rock - and you roll, dude.

You roll.

Got to let your backbone slip, walk with a hip slung strut, leather jacket draped over your left shoulder, engineer boots with the horseshoe taps striking fire from the pavement, your blue suede tenny-shod feets pounding that street, smokin' that crack and lookin' back.

But I warn you, mister. If you walk this way, walk on the wild side, man, if you do, don't be lookin' back because whatever is behind you is definitely gaining on you. Thus spach Satch Paige of the storied and fabled Negro Leagues.

And you rock And you roll.

That's what I be talkin' about, man.

Go. String 47 miles of barbed wire. Wear a cobra snake for a necktie. And then take a little walk with me, honey, and tell me who do you love.

Hoodoo ya' love, baby.

Thus spach Bo Diddley. We gone. Beep beep.

The Legendary

p.s. What I mean, when you dig Bruce, you dig a dude puttin' on his trash - flashin' his trash - with all the grand tradition implicit in that high walk of tragicomic American jive, my man. It's a solid lock, a family tradition. They all be doin' it, man. They all do it.