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Tenderloin Passage

From Alcatraz to Robben Island is a page
in my notebook away.
I said goodbye to the Devil last night,
bought him one last bourbon.
Tho’ we parted as friends I won’t see him again.
He’s got a mean streak, is not to be trusted.
From Robben Island to Alcatraz is a
tightrope walk away.
Hope I don’t slip or get busted.

Well I walked up Haight looking for my dream.
What I got was a row of shops selling me
packages of a scene.
Now anarchy’s on offer and the Anti-
Christ’s marked down,
it’s a post-Apocalypso special.
But what I don’t understand
is why the bars all shut down
at 2am in San Francisco.

The Devil ‘n me we hung out
on Mason, just jazzin’ with the deadbeats,
listening to their squalor, watchin’
the tables get turned. Changing of the
guard took place about six so we rolled in
to the Punjab. Waiting for our curries,
Devil got listless, start in to breathin’ fire
all over the place.
Damn! He irritate me. I mean we buddies ‘n all
but this flame-on shit jes draw attention
to the fact that we strangers in town,
who need that ferchrissakes?
Devil he jes don’ give a shit, he say,
“I is Lucifer. I do what I please.
God knows I do. God knows.”

I think about what God knows about
me. All those ladies I abused, especially
the ones that loved me, them the most.
Lord yes, God knows all that. Still shines
his sun down on me. Still breathes his
cool breath on me when my brow be
sweatin’. What about the Devil?
He got a conscience?
I ask him. He say, “All God’s
chillun got a conscience. Conscience
like a sell-by date of the soul.”
“But you the Devil. You got a soul?”
“I’m God’s favourite Angel, nigga,
I am ALL soul!”
Devil snuck outta da Punjab.
I finish my korma. Sip that mango
lassi. Whoopee, Devil sure
one touchy sunnoffabitch!
Captain Hook is a veteran.
Usedta believe in the Marlboro
Man. Now he’s not allowed to
smoke in public. Captain Hook
says to me “I think we’re both
insane.” I reply “Aren’t we all,
ultimately?”
Captain Hook is snoozin’
Under his bowler hat.
Now can you top that?

This is how it started
In the beginning there was
no beginning
Just the time before time
began
No space either
Nothing you could touch,
walk into or out of
Then the goddess got lonely
wanted some company
a mirror to reflect in and on
Youniverse came birthed as
electric and magnetic energies
call ‘em male and female
harmony, melody and rhythm
these are the keys to creation

Well the sun’s shining brightly,
it’s almost Spring equinox but there’s
a cold wind blowing so I stay wrapped
in my pony skin.
I just ordered a second cup of coffee.
It’s drinkable; my license to sit in
this lonely corner diner (9th and Lincoln)
writing this summons to you.
What more can I add?
Wish you were here to hold on to
when they kick me out of that bar
tonight at 2am in San Francisco.

Sitting in the Blue Front Café window
watching Haight Ashbury’s multicoloured
petals of innocence unfold with the accuracy
of a razor blade or a judicious helping of
Louisiana Hot Sauce.
The world is cool now in the late
afternoon breeze and even the
trees can’t be bothered to take
shelter from the man in the moon
and his candy coated darts of loneliness.
There is no cure for the underdose
of affection that’s an inevitable side-
effect of the strychnine kick from
the tabuloid and the download bug
that pretended to communicate while
you got on-line. Then before you knew
it we were all in line for the sales pitch
fix that hooked us up to the brain-
machine that thinks our thoughts
for us while we go endlessly
shopping at the identity bazaar
looking for the requisite garments
to cover up the scars that were left
when they stole our souls.
The trees just shrug their wise
old branches, wondering when a man
mad enough to listen to them will leap
out of his life and simply climb to
the soaring heights of his own potential.
If that man be you I wish you well.
Me, I’m heading back to my Hotel.

“What route are you taking?
What circumforaneous path is the one
with your name on? Pale stranger
pray tell, is it Heaven or Hell that
you’re going to or come from?
You gait like a sailor but you laugh
like a madman, you’re garbed in
the second hand wardrobe of last
season’s bard, nice touch, the beret.
I dare to suspect it’s an important quest
that you’re on’ - your mission
to save the Youniverse from something
or other, I’m sure you know what –
your kind of Pale Stranger always knows
what the rest of us need saving from.
Well thanks for your time, I don’t mean
to sound ungrateful, but I too was
once a Pale Stranger around these parts,
O, so many summers ago. I came to
save the Youniverse from something
or other, can’t quite remember what,
it couldn’t have been important
otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed.
Here’s my card. It’s got my name on
and a map of my path as well as the number
of the route I’m taking. Call me when
you get to wherever it is that you’re
running away from.
And God Bless you.”

The Devil downed his last glass
of Woodford Reserve Distiller’s
select Kentucky Bourbon. Snuck on
out of the Bijou. I never saw him again.

I was walking up Eddy,
turned left into Divisadero,
found you this birthday card
in a shop called Gargoyle.
Gonna mail it tomorrow.
When you get it I want you to know
you’re my hero.
Yeah sure, I can go it alone,
I’m self-sufficient. I’ve got my pony
skin jacket, my boots made for walking.
It’s not that I’m needy.
I’d simply prefer to have you at my
side tonight when they call last round
in all those bars that shut down at
2am in San Francisco.

OK. Now check this. I’m sitting in
the Cha Cha Cha on the corner of
Shrader ‘n Haight. Minding my own
business. Sipping on a bottle of Cerveza
Pacifico. Waiting for my black bean soup
to arrive. Dude walks in. Ferocious looking
nigga. Face all chewed up like he been
through something real bad. Napalm.
Walks straight up to me. Big loud voice.
Muddy Waters big.
“You know what?”
he barks the question at me.
I sip my Pacifico slowly. Set the tempo.
Regain initiative. Read the label while
he eyeballs me. Government warning 1)
According to the Surgeon General women
should not drink alcoholic beverages during
pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.

Time to reply.
“No. What?”
“You an asshole. That’s what!”
I’m surprised by his perspicacity.
He turns to go.
“How you find out?”
He stops in the doorway. Faces me.
“You not only an asshole. You a snake!” –
yelling now – “That’s what you are! A snake!”
Nigga shambles off into the busy street.
My black bean soup arrives. It’s tasty.
Mexican food isn’t all bad. Ragga music
starts booming out of a system somewhere
in the ‘hood. I sip my Pacifico. Study the
bright yellow label: 2) Consumption of
alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive
a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.

Waiter tries to short change me five dollars.
I deck him. Damn!
These wetbacks never learn.
Cha Cha Cha.

Well the Devil was drinking Bourbon
when I sat down right beside him.
He didn’t look up. Whispered straight
into his Bourbon glass, voice hoarse ‘n
raspy like Miles Davis.
“I know what you’ve come for, I know
why you’re here, but there’s no getting out
of this deal. The contract’s long-signed,
I’ve fulfilled my part of the pact. You’ve got
your fame ‘n your gold, leave your soul
in the box at the door.”

You know the Devil was sippin’ Bourbon
when I delivered my impromptu speech.
“Mr. D when we last spoke
things hadn’t been going too well.
I’d done gotten out of touch with
myself, lost track of who I was.
Thought that I needed silver and gold
and silken clothes and my face on tv
to be someone. Now I’ve had all of that
– thanks for the help – I realise that
I only needed to get it to find out
I don’t need it. See I was born without a
wallet and I’ll leave this world without a
stitch on my back. Everything you offered
me is incidental. What I am is Me.
And all I wish for is to be free.
So on our deal I must renege.
Here’s your silver, your gold, your cape
of silk. My soul is precious to me,
it’s the one thing I can’t afford to lose.
Sorry for the inconvenience,
but your malicious arrangement
I must refuse!”

Well the Devil gulped his Bourbon
down, looked up at me with an evil
frown etched all over his ghastly face.
This is what he said:
“Look here punk, you’re as good
as dead, your soul is mine and you must
deliver or you’ll pay the fine of 9000
lifetimes in purgatorial damnation waiting!”
He ordered another Bourbon with
a maleficient smile curling over his lips,
started in to sippin’ it, steam rising
out of his nostrils. The devil’s drinking
Woodford Reserve. Labrot & Graham
Distiller’s Select. In Woodford country Kentucky,
on the site is now Labrot & Graham Distillers,
Whiskey was first produced in 1812.
Woodford reserve honours this almost
200 year old Landmark on Glenn’s
Creek and its legacy to the distilling industry.

“You guys have to finish ‘em up: time to go.”
The barmaid’s voice from the depths of the bar.
We stumbled out of there, the Devil an’ me.
He held my hand; we hailed a cab.
He fell into the backseat.
I whispered to the driver:
“Take this man back to his hotel.”
Held the release form under Lucifer’s nose.
“Just sign over here.”
He did with an “X”.
As the taxi sped away I smiled up
at the full moon.
Her ‘n me ‘n Woodford Reserve
done got the better of Satan!

March 20. Spring Equinox.
Last night I drank Bourbon
with the Devil. At 2am they
chucked us out. The Devil
cussed and threatened the
barmaid with eternal damnation.
“That may well be but still you have to go.”
“Lady, do you have any idea who you
talking to? I am the Devil. Lucifer. Beelzebub!”
She look him straight in the eye,
“Bustah, you could be Brad Pitt
for all I care, Federal law requires
come 2am I haveta throw you outtahere,
‘n that’s what I’m doing!”
She upped his glass over his head
and suddenly two burly thugs appeared
out of nowhere, manhandled the both
of us out of that joint.
“Let’s party. Take it to the next level!”
the Devil’s gravelly voice rasped into my ears.
“Shut up man. You’re giving me a headache.”
It’s 2:02am. Me an’ the devil tryin’ ta hail a
cab on the corner of 16 and Valencia.
Cabs ride by, drivers won’t look us inna eye.
We stumble on down to Mission.
“Hey man, if you the friggin’ Devil
how come you don’ snap your fingers,
summon us the archangel’s chariot?”
“Point.”
He clicks his fingers.
Boom. Woosh.
Gabriel’s fire chariot standing on the tar-
mac. Huge motherfuckin’ dragon bristling
at the reins. Devil hops on board. Grabs hold
of the reins.
“Whoa boy, easy.”
Looks down at me, smiles a wicked
toothless grin, “Hop on board gringo,
we heading for Obituary drive!”
He laughs the deranged laugh
of a man who doesn’t have to be anywhere
in the morning. Clears his throat. Spits.
I haul myself in. Next thing we’re hurtling
through the cosmos like the friggin’ Silver
Surfer. My hair catches fire but I don’t
notice until my head’s burnt
down to the
neck.

In a hotel room on Mason and Eddy
the Devil sheds a few tears
Holds a few more in
sun peeks through a gap in the curtains
Devil looks up says “Hi”
sun gives the Devil a wink
they’re old buddies
go back a long way
good ole days
Devil shuts the curtain
puts the tv on
CNN
Amen.

…and déjà vu is a place that I’ve been
in a time to come or before
where that trumpet swells from a Sousa march
(or a funeral dirge by Chopin)
whatever the source, it’s the one perfect note
balancing
between
the root and the fruit
of the tree of my knowledge of
God and the Devil
- the realm you have to go through
to discover yourself
and when you do
you’ll find out that
you’re all good –
even your evil…

I’m sitting on the corner of 9th and
Lincoln, got a Vegetarian submarine
#2 and lukewarm coffee spread out
before me and I wondering where
I’m gonna do my drinking when
the bars all close tonight
at 2am in San
Francisco.

endnote 

Aryan Kaganof lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, drives Audi, shoots Glock, hates waiting. An abridged version of “Tenderloin Passage” has been published by the Italian site microcinema. A prose version has been published by the Soma Literary Review and Jack Magazine.

 

Copyright © 2004 Aryan Kaganof.