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 Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comedian, takes the edge off of the world and explains all those unexplained things in a way that will make you either laugh or cry.

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Monday
Oct282013

Looking Directly Somewhere Else

 

Jack Rikess

September 2012

 

I’ll chalk it up to the thrill of finding the perfect parking space.

 Draped from every lamppost in the Mission, I imagine the city then, were silken advertisements hyping a new show coming this fall to the Museum of Modern Art. The rippling banners announce that there’s going to be a twenty year retrospective of the photography of one T.I. Horwitz.

T.I?  I would call him Tito Ira but only as a joke. As I remember, he despised being called Ira unless you were his mother. T.I? Maybe it’s his idea of conforming.

It is just a funny coincidence. This is right out of the fiction that one reads in the magazines waiting for your primary care physician.

I cannot help get the feeling like his breezy eyes were following me on the sidewalk.

I’m sure he’s on Facebook. I should call him or write him or poke him. However old friends can get together. I could tell him I had to add another bookcase. He’s probably on Kindle. We could talk about Chabon’s new book. Talk like pros. Talk the way we used to. Argue. Joke. Argue some more and then go across the street to the Abby for a stout. I could tell him about Jen and the living room remodeling project. I bet he would be surprise how much hardware cost. The 1930s soda fountain handles we ordered from Restoration. Or the trip we took hiking in the rainforest in Costa Rica a few years back.  Artist types probably enjoy hearing about normal people.

The noontime traffic is sluggish but steady as I wait for a break. I end up having to do a slow dance around these approaching hipster-kids in a late model convertible. The kids have the live version of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock and Roll’ playing very loud. They cruise by, eyeing the balding white guy in Dockers probably thinking he couldn’t possibly understand why we like our music so loud?  I could tell them and that I was a fan. But why?

You know her life was saved by rock 'n' roll. Despite all the amputations you know you could just go out/ And dance to the rock 'n' roll station. Pure Poetry.

That Kinko’s on Geary? Once about a time it was a huge record store full of these rounds objects called albums. Tito and I worked together there for like five years. Alright, two, maybe three, but it’s where I received my urban education, so like college, it felt like five years.

From the very beginning Tito and I distilled music to its purest content. If we’re talking music, you could have driven a truck in, loaded it with vinyl and drove out, we wouldn’t have cared.

Our biggest debate occurred around the time Pavarotti’s just got big in America and the Pretenders had struck gold with ‘Brass in Pocket.’ Around 1980 or ‘81, I think. We had this ongoing discussion, almost argument, about what was the most influential American band ever. Finally, after weeks of deliberation, the two of us reached an agreement. We would have taken a serrated 45 for a blood oath right there, below the Sheena Easton display, declaring that the Velvet Underground is the most influential band of all-time.

Tito Horwitz worships Lou Reed, although true to the anti-hero mystique, he would never admit it. Like Lou, Tito wore the same type black biker boots with chains wrapped around the top of the boots. Lou was into photography so Tito begins shooting junkies in the Tenderloin and turns his one sensible closet into a darkroom. Naturally he despises the Lou I know because that meant the general public likes them. He favored the albums that only sold five units. Metal Machine Music, The Bells, the stuff that really droned.

 

I never knew what I didn’t know until I met Tito.

First he was shocked that I was unfamiliar with the works of the writers who came out of post-World War I Canada. Who evens knows post-anything-Canada and Robertson Davis besides Tito? And now me? Davis wrote The Deptford Trilogy. Then I had to learn about Entropy and all things entropic. Statistical Thermodynamics.  Could entropy be applied to wind power as an argument against? Tito said alternative energy would never work because of Entropy. That led to Eastern Physics with the Dance of the Wu Ling Masters and The Way of Doing Nothing while doing actually a lot. Books, books and more books interspersed with Tito’s newest passion, punk music. He’d drag me to the clubs on Broadway on work nights, he in well worn-out basic black and me in fresh-bought, neatly creased black.

Another weird aspect of Tito that may surprise some was the wife. That he had a wife before he was old enough to rent a car. Tito the freethinker and social critic and all-around deviant were one of my first friends to be married. Tito had that James Dean thing early on. He was one of those guys who the more he ignored women, they more they wanted him. But he got married. He’s just had to be that different.

He was always trying to find meaning or the hidden meaning in things.  Tito had a habit of asking me why this or why that to things that I normally wouldn’t have questioned. “Why do you think African-Americans carry those huge boom boxes? Hmm. Never thought about it? Because they want to be heard! Why do you think women go to the bathroom in pairs? You ever wondered? The reason is, because when women go to the loo alone, they get hassled and hit on by a gauntlet of soused pigs that’s never going figure out why they don’t get laid. That’s why!”

There were always the whys. I never grew up asking why. My father in one of his more humane moments would say, “You could go broke asking why.”

 I would tell him that’s he over thinks everything. He’d say not possible.

That brings me to the broken-hearts. It was the end of summer in San Francisco, just when it starts to warm up before winter. One day, these overly tanned teenage girls plunge into the record store. Ripe from camp these teenagers are demanding the album that was the rage of that summer. This would be the Go-Go’s debut album. If you’re old enough to remember, it was one of the best-selling albums of the year. It was a bestseller everywhere…but at our store.

These fragile girls, having being imprisoned at camp, denying them the pleasure of owning the album that all their friends had, had to have the new Go-Go’s album. Tito stands there with a straight face at the cash register saying, “ Sorry, the Go-Go’s broke up earlier this month and some guy from their record company came and took all their albums away. There wasn’t anything we could do. I told ‘em it wasn’t fair, too.”

He did that for weeks with every gaggle that came in dying for the new Go-Go’s album. No matter how hard or how many cried. He wouldn’t sell.

I can still see him, sober as a cop at the register, immune to the teenagers’ meltdowns.

He really did almost pull me into his world. For a short time, until he moved to New York, I became his concrete third wheel.

 Between work and dinner with him and his wife, or tours of the city while he constantly clicked away on his single-reflex camera-I was there. In turn, my life was being unconsciously reformed with each new experience. As everything was hauntingly new and slightly abstract in its presentation in those days, I never knew what was happening exactly. We all just supposed to go with it. Those days were like skiing down the Matterhorn without poles. It was all on coming and you barely knew it was over before it was. Somehow Tito held on.

I’m five years shy of sixty, doing pretty good. I married Jen after the first one left. Still working for a Mr. Gorman and now, his sons at their car dealership, where I’ve risen to the position as major domo of the loans department. I’m safe in my position seeing how the Gorman boys have very little desire for learning the intricate philosophies behind the veritable five and ten year loans available for your Chrysler vehicles. Instead sons Bobby and Teddy Gorman are more interested in setting the record for highest bar tab in Vegas at their sales meetings then a future in qualifying loans.

I’m safe on auto row. Safe enough to break away to the Mission to check out one of those hip, new restaurants if that’s what I want.

 After taking my time with a Chicken Regular, no hot sauce, I drop my empty plastic basket on the stack of empties that’s haphazardly being built on the top of the trash bin as I leave El Toro.

 Then walking back to the car I see all the signs I’d missed and then some.

In the window of a coffeehouse, there’s a picket fence of various posters of upcoming events that frames the bottom. Sure enough, T.I. Horwitz, San Francisco’s own, stands two feet by eighteen inches in his own advertisement. The camera’s catches Tito nonchalantly in a very chi-chi gallery appearing tremendously cool leaning against the wall surrounded by a few of his more popular portraits. From up above on the wall, behind a pair of lowered shades peering down on Tito is Lou.

Lou Reed. It all started with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. This is according to two record store geeks who were known to argue an afternoon away about almost anything and everything and then some.

In the car mirrors I can see Tito’s flags getting slapped in the wind as I attempt to weave into traffic from my parking space. I can’t believe the way people drive in the city.  What’s next, no police?

Finally squeezing in front of a boat of a Ford, my company car lurches forward only to have the traffic come to a complete halt. Immediately my mind tries to fill the void. Stuck in traffic, I try to calculate the pile of my staff’s loan applications on my desk waiting to be approved and still leave early?

I haven’t spoken to Tito in thirty years. Would he even remember…the record store?

There are questions and there are answers. Sometimes we know the answer long before asking the question.

I know the wife likes the Velvet Underground’s Walk on the Wild Side and that one song of theirs in Trainspotting but the whole catalogue, especially the less accessible Velvets, no way, Jose. Somehow the upside of Heroin put to music isn’t Jen’s cup of tea. She’s rather have a root canal before we plug I’m waiting for my man into our Sunday Morning Pancake playlist on the iThing. Sting and Josh Groban catch a pretty good workout at our house. Thank you very much.

Sometimes it is just best to leave things alone. 

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