A human figure with jaw agape, made of wires, lays crucified on a cross of cathode ray tubes next to a ping-pong table among the redwood trees of Big Sur. At the Henry Miller Memorial Library, one of the inscriptions reads, "Forget yourself." That is fairly easy to do along the divine coastline, where the slowly rolling surf crashes onto sheer cliffs. The sea shimmers next to the Bixby Bridge; the old coastal trail extends back far into the hills, perilously clinging to the edge of an arboreal void. An observer is not merely in another place, but another world.
Absurdity is never too far away. The crime blotter of the Carmel Pine Cone reports that on December 25, "Officers responded to a possible burglary at a San Carlos Street residence, with extensive damage to the interior. Officers determined the damage was most likely caused by an animal, possibly a squirrel. Nothing was taken, and feces and claw/teeth marks were present. Animal possibly entered and exited through chimney." Two days later, "A citizen reported an ongoing problem of chickens loose and unattended off of the owner's property on Torres Street. On the officer's arrival, the chickens were in the owner's yard that is not fenced in on one side, and a gate was open on the other side. The owner was contacted in the front yard and advised. The owner does not have a valid permit for keeping of hens. Warning given." And on the same day, "A person observed an unknown male taking golf balls from the grounds at the golf course on Carmel Valley Road. The 79-year-old male suspect was contacted by the sheriff's deputies and told to leave."
Squirrel burglars, chickens on the loose, and geriatric petty thieves: the world is going to hell, all right. Everything is hella strange and wonderful out in northern California. The air is tinged with wild sage. A bank of fog is always poised to roll over the streets like a mass of translucent cotton. Some things are the same as they are on the eastern seaboard. Nato Green, a "comedian and union organizer," writes in the latest issue of the San Francisco Examiner that the head of the SF Police Officers Association, Marty Halloran, complained that the nationwide clamor for police reform -- as exemplified by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, for instance -- is equivalent to slandering cops. "Halloran's statements give the impression that all cops are infallible angels and anyone with the hubris to hint that bad cops exist or suggest that we consider any reforms is divisively vilifying the entire profession."
A homeless man huddles on the sidewalk next to a truck in the Mission District, with a face as ragged as his clothes. There sure are a lot of them around, but for the most part they don't threaten anyone. "Can you spare a penny so I can get something to eat?" One cent does not go very far around here, but every bit counts. A mural reads, "NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL." The agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement may not be persuaded.
Herb Caen once called San Francisco "Baghdad by the Bay," and somehow that still seems fitting, although the weather is much nicer and the politics are more stable -- never been to Baghdad, anyway. Alcatraz is derived from the Arabic for "albatross," and from it everything comes into sharp focus, especially as the fog retreats as it burns away after the morning. Those native tribes ought to return there to occupy the place again before developers turn the ex-prison into some kind of luxury resort. Returning to the city formerly known as New Amsterdam tomorrow morning. The past eight days have a dreamlike quality to them, as if they happened to someone else. No doubt that this will not be the last visit.