Category Archives: Journal

Not Just Another Dead Homeless Guy

It’s not uncommon to encounter homeless people sleeping in the grass beside the bike path that parallels the railroad tracks but something about this fellow seems different. 

Laying facedown in a fetal position, a gnarled hand resting over a soft guitar case, his backpack is open and his head is on the path. 

I double back and get off my bike to investigate. 

“Hey, man—are you alright. Do you need help? Are you alive?” No answer. 

I touch his hand. It’s stone cold. He doesn’t move.

I place my hand on his back and nudge his body, which rocks stiffly like a mannequin stuck in the mud. He doesn’t seem to be breathing. 

I call 911 and it’s not the first time I’ve made this call. There was that dead guy in Eugene circa 1986 and another guy in New York City in 1993.

“I think I found a dead homeless guy on the bike path,” I say to the dispatcher. Suddenly, his shoulder circles slowly.

“Oh shit,” I say into the phone. “False alarm. He’s alive. I think.”

“Does he need medical attention?” 

He raises his head like he’s come out of a state of suspended animation and glares at me with a feral look.

“Do you need medical attention?” No answer. “He’s not responding,” I say. 

“What are you doing here,” the man growls angrily.

“Just checking to see if you’re alright. Do you need help?”

“I’m trying to get away from people,” he says rising. “People like you!”

“Okay,” I say, laughing as I beat a hasty retreat. “Take care, man.” 

“Hey, HEY,” he yells. 

Chuckling with relief, I tell the dispatcher that he’s on his feet and coming after me but not to worry as I’m on my bike and riding away.

“Try to do something nice and that’s what you get,” she says. “You should buy a lottery ticket.”

I end the call, wishing I lived in a world where I could exchange good karma points for cold hard cash.

Patty Hearst’s Homecooked Meal Interrupted [via H.J. Horacek]

“When is Patty coming to cook us dinner?” I asked Robert as he rushed through the front door into our Berkeley apartment.

“Haven’t you heard?” he gasped. “Patty has been kidnapped!” 

“I heard something about a kidnapping. What does that have to do with dinner?”

Robert flicked on the TV and turned to the news channel. A picture appeared of Robert’s lab partner in Zoology, a petite art history major who had been too squeamish to dissect a shark. Robert had to do all the lab work and tutor her so she could pass the class. Patty had promised to cook us dinner that night to thank Robert. Her familiar ordinary face did not belong on TV. Then the dots connected. Hearst Ave, Auditorium, Greek Theatre, Castle, Patty Hearst!

“That Patty is our Patty? I asked, in a state of numb disbelief.

Robert nodded grimly as we listened to the reporter. “The kidnappers fired guns while locking the struggling, blindfolded Hearst into the trunk of their car. The kidnappers, a counterculture guerrilla group named the Symbionese Liberation Army, are demanding that Hearst’s family donate food to all needy California families. Her father, San Francisco Examiner publisher Randolph Hearst, is mounting a multi-million dollar Bay Area food give-away program.”

“I already donated fifty dollars,” Robert said.

 “I guess dinner is off,” I sighed.

Two months later, the television showed Patty robbing a bank in San Francisco. She had changed her name to “Tania” and joined the SLA.

 “I want my fifty dollars back!” Robert complained.

The court later convicted Patty of bank robbery and sentenced her to 35 years in prison. After serving 22 months, President Carter commuted her sentence and Clinton eventually pardoned her.

Forty years later, I saw Patty again on the TV. She appeared on the Larry King show promoting her book and answering questions from viewers. I thought about calling to remind Patty that she still owed us dinner. While I deliberated whether to call, however, the window of opportunity passed.

~ By H. Joseph Horacek (San Francisco)

Memories of Madjym…

I’m looking at this grinning photograph of myself at the age of twenty-two, holding a pint of beer at Lenny’s Nosh Bar, and standing next to a very familiar profile to the regulars at Lenny’s. It’s the ursine figure of James Wyant, known to us simply as Madjym, and he worked the night shift at Lenny’s for many years. Mad was the definitive face of the place in the evenings and early mornings, after the boss went home, and he was the closest thing to a manager at the Nosh Bar without actually having the title.

Lenny loved MadJym and he trusted him to keep things going smoothly. Especially when Hershel and Denise were going nuts in the kitchen.

Madjym Wyant and Richard La Rosa at Lenny’s Nosh Bar (1986)
 

The last time I saw Mad was almost a decade ago, during my annual family and friend visit to Eugene. I was hanging out with Joe Lewis in the courtyard of The Bijou Cinema late one night after a film, drinking coffee and riffing on one damn thing or another as we usually do, and Madjym came out to join us for a smoke. I hadn’t seen him since ’97 or so, when he worked as a clerk at a video store in the Friendly neighborhood, so we had a lot to catch up on. We made tentative plans to go on a road trip to Phoenix to visit Lenny, but I think we both knew it was just idle talk.

It was Joe that told me Madjym died. Details were sketchy, but it seems he shot himself a few days earlier at his home in Eugene. Stunned by the news, I swiftly put out a message to the members of the Lenny’s Facebook group, breaking the bad news as gently as I could, and soon got a phone call from April, a friend from high school. She said the last time she saw Mad he still seemed depressed over the death of his parents a couple of years earlier. April had also spoken to her friend, Eric, and he told her he was recently at Mad’s house and “it was a disaster area.” 

Madjym’s college roommate, Bob, confirmed April’s assessment that our old friend was still grieving for his parents. They had kept in contact over the years since Mad had played guitar years later at Bob’s wedding. I’m giving all these details about Madjym’s depression for a very specific reason: If you were Mad’s friend and if you feel even the slightest bit of guilt for not being able to save him, let it go. Because even Robin McIntosh, Madjym’s former girlfriend in the eighties, will tell you that she was never able to pull him out of the deep despair she usually found him in—though she often tried her best. Robin loved him deeply and even she, who had known him so well and had with him what she called a “short, wonderful, white hot romance and a long, deteriorating friendship,” knew—as she had to accept in the old days—that she couldn’t have done anything except get “sucked down to the depths along with him.”

No one was more shocked to hear about Madjym’s death than Katy, Lenny’s daughter. She had no idea he was in such dire straights and had spoken to Mad the year before after her Dad died. He seemed to her much like always. He probably still listened to The Beatles—his favorite band of all time.

Anyway, as I sit in my writing lair in California this afternoon, reminiscing about an old friend that is also a character in novel I’m writing, I’m finding that I have a rich history of the man behind the character based on the memories of a half a dozen people, including myself, but I’m having a difficult time remembering details of what was going on in his life in the eighties. In fact, I doubt I ever knew much at the time because Mad had a Lenny’s persona that was actually an exaggerated version of the madcap self that he showed his friends. In many ways he was a performance artist at work; part carnival barker, part ringmaster.

I think I’m ready to ask some of Mad’s other friends for some anecdotes, now that six years have past since I first heard the news that he died. For the novel, it’s now or never, since the draft is almost completed and I’m planning for publication in April. Time to collect the rest of the raw materials to flesh out the fictional Madjym. Maybe even give him a moment of the happiness he couldn’t find in life.

In an alternate universe, James Wyant would be a creative juggernaut. 

In the universe next door, Madjym is the fifth Beatle. 

Cheers to you, Mad. Here’s the send-off song I played for you at your virtual wake a half a dozen years ago.

Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar!

It’s the twilight hour between lunch and dinner and I’m sitting in a booth at Lenny’s Nosh Bar inhaling a hot meatball sandwich with a Löwenbräu chaser and stewing in a shame of failed expectations that has dogged me from San Antonio, Texas to Eugene, Oregon. 

Sighing deeply, I stretch and swing my legs onto the bench of the booth and press my back into the duffle bag propped against the wall, as the sound of a twelve-bar blues tune with a palpitating Hammond B3 organ line spars with my beating heart. It’s Green Onions, the 1962 hit by Booker T. & The MGs, and it’s the second track I selected to welcome me back.

I desperately want to kick off my combat boots and peel off the military issue greens that hang on my body like an old skin to be shed in snake-like fashion; to scrub the sour smell of cigarette smoke, cheap alcohol, and body odor—the proprietary perfume of the Greyhound bus that delivered me home—which clings to me like a desperate barfly. But first, I’ve gotta decompress in familiar surroundings. 

I’ve returned to Oregon after being discharged from the United States Air Force on grounds of a difference of opinion regarding my military career path. I should have known the hidden agenda of an idealistic child of flower children would clash with the military motto: “Air Force needs come first.” 

My head turns as the bell above the door rings and Lenny Nathan strolls inside, doing a comical double-take when he sees me sitting next to the jukebox. Lenny continues to the counter, but he comes over to me a moment later with another pint—setting it gently on my table—and a joint, which he pulls from the pocket of his apron and sets beside the beer. “I told ya so,” Lenny says, but there’s humor and understanding in his mischievous eyes. 

I grin back at him as Ella Fitzgerald starts singing Too Young for the Blues.

~ Lenny’s Nosh Bar (24 August 1985)


***

Author’s note: Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar has a soundtrack in the recreation of a virtual Lenny’s Jukebox. Song links go to Spotify so you can enhance your reading experience and listen to the songs I listened to as you read.

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Reflections of rain kissed cobblestones in Kerouac Alley.

It’s Sunday morning in San Francisco and the impeccable timing of cathedral bells welcome me to the streets as I walk through the revolving doors exiting the lobby of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

I arrived in the city at ten in the morning and I have time to burn before I meet with the organizers and fellow volunteers of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference this afternoon.

Descending the steep California Street, I note the narrow slice of the Golden Gate Bridge framed between buildings, just before I stop for a selfie with Resting Hermes—a kindred spirit in mercurial lounging.

I’m heading for Chinatown in general and Vesuvio Café in particular, to hole up for a few hours of writing before heading back to the Mark Hopkins.

Vesuvio Café, located in a building on Columbus Street and Kerouac Alley, was designed in the Renaissance Italian Revival style by Italo Zanolini and built in 1913. More than merely a cafe for writers, Vesuvio is both a Beat Poet Mecca and a cocktail bar in North Beach. And, as it is also located across the street from City Lights Bookstore, it’s the only place for me to write when I’m in the city.

Established in 1948 by Henri Lenoir, Vesuvio is famous for being a popular hangout for of the Beat Generation. Of course, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are patron saints of the place. It was also frequented by the two Dylans—Bob and Thomas—as well as a rogues gallery of notable cultural figures and icons.

To be continued…