One was in that bastion of consumerism and the free market economy, Target. I've learned that places like Target don't seem to exist outside of America. That part's not a surprise, I guess. The surprise was when browsing the dollar aisle at Target, I nearly burst into tears. Whether it was due to the sharp decline of the dollar or my own mortality, I don't venture to guess. But needless to say, Target evoked a deep yearning, a hole in my soul that Marks & Sparks cannot and will not fill.
On this trip, it was a day in the People's Park in Berkeley. In general, I sneer at hippies, but on this day, they made me nostalgic. In Dublin, naked men in their sixties with tattoos do not smoke marijuana in public parks. In Berkeley, they do not only this, but at the same time they bend over and do stretches so their old man balls jiggle and they have looks of proud contentment on their faces. When my eyes weren't arrested by the senior testes, they were focused on the stage where a quadriplegic with a stick in his mouth was pointing to letters on a chart and a woman next to him was reading his words aloud.
I A-M am, I am, H-A-P happy, I am happy T-O to B-E, I am happy to be, H-E here, I am happy to be here, I- in T-H the P-E-O-P, I am happy to be here in the People, P-A-R-K, T-O-D-A, I am happy to be here in the People's Park today! Weak applause all around.
The quadriplegic, as it turns out, is running for president of the USA. (Watch his YouTube video here) Between the dogs named after characters in Greek mythology led around by gutterpunks with tattooed faces, the overwhelming smell of patchouli and pot, the mentally ill man screaming randomly and thrusting his middle finger high into the air, the sagging, naked men, the overweight lesbians waving pink flags of solidarity, the dreadlocks, oh so many dreadlocks, the pot brownies and politics that didn't include Hillary, Obama or McCain, I thought to myself, welcome to California.
But really, it was the weather that got me on this trip. I've been in Ireland for over a year, and I can remember one really nice, sunny day. Sunny enough for a sunburn almost. This isn't saying much as I get pink if I stand too close to a toaster. But there was a sunny day last summer. June 9th, I think. After that, it rained 70 days in a row, and that was my summer. These last two weeks in California have been painfully gorgeous. The weather is the one thing that I think will stop me from staying in Dublin forever. I miss the sun.
Other California moments. I stayed in the Tenderloin which is rather strangely, the home of all of the mentally ill people in the country as well as a large portion of its crack, and most of the nicest hotels in San Francisco. I saw a man walking around in a fur coat, a woman sitting on the sidewalk trying to slyly smoke crack with a coat covering her head, another woman sitting on the curb, stripping wire that trailed seven or eight feet behind her, a man sleeping contentedly in a puddle of his own urine, crack dealers standing on corners five deep, a woman standing in an intersection, eyes rolling crazily all over the place as if they hoped to escape this cracked out, insane body that held them captive as she gyrated her hips wildly, hoping to pick up a date, a few dollars for more rock, completely unaware that her tube top had long since slipped to far below her navel and that her nipples were also wall-eyed.
There's a game they play in the Tenderloin called "That's Not a Crack Rock." When you see someone crawling on the ground, picking up any little scrap of dust, jibs of dirt, rocks stuck under people's shoes and then smoking it, they are a contestant. I once saw an interview with the woman whose life the movie Rush was based on, and she talked about how as a undercover police officer, it was the moment when she found herself crawling on the floor of a hotel room searching for jibs of crack that she realized that she had hit her bottom. In the Tenderloin, they hit their bottoms before lunchtime.
When I was on the BART train a man walked on wearing a sandwich board that said in two-inch high letters "THERE'S POOP IN THE MEAT." He was passing out flyers for a vegan action organization. Next to me, a man popped out his jewel-encrusted gold grill, and meticulously cleaned it with his BART card, nonplussed.
Later that night, as I drove through the 24 hour Taco Bell at 2 am while listening to 2Pac, I thought to myself, now this is California.