An Orange Traffic Cone: a memoir

Happy New Ye- oh, wow. This is…uh, this is pretty late. Like, “we’re the kind of folks that still have our Christmas lights from the previous year up” kind of late. But eh, oh well. It’s been good so far: Happy New Year, everybody!

Took a second this time ’round, didn’t we? Hope everyone’s various holidays and celebrations went well and that you ate enough pie or whatever (heh, there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere) that you’re still working it off.

Oh! Before we get into the tale in earnest, wanted to quickly stroke myself in mentioning we have another publication on the way! Turns out my first ever fiction piece “The Sixth Gun Conspiracy Letters,” featured in Third Flatiron Publishing’s ‘Hidden Histories’ anthology, merited a spot in their upcoming “Best of 2019” anthology.

So…that’s pretty dope.

Anyway! I, like most of us, have myself a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions. But I haven’t started running yet. Haven’t yet started reading the Harry Potter series (God, I KNOW, right? -said every woman friend of mine ever). And haven’t yet gotten back to learning to play the Overcooked main theme on my harmonica off-book (I’m almost there, but I’m a bit rusty).

I’m going to sidestep responsibility for another moment and say that I’ve been pulled away from those commitments by virtue of the fact that I started this year off on the wrong foot. Normally, I wake up January 1st bright and early, list of Resolutions on my desk, and start tackling them almost immediately.

This year, that ‘bright and early’ was a bit more ‘foggy and nauseous’, leering at the previous night’s festivities – but whatevs. What also set it off on an unexpected foot was THE FIRST thing that popped into my conscious mind this year: the story of the ‘How Weird’ street festival.

Now, this happened years ago, but it’s stayed with me and I’ve gotten to recount it enough recently that the details have come back startlingly crisp. It was pitched to me by my wonderful girlfriend Mandy (who I’m sure still loves being talked about on here) as a sort of street fair in San Francisco “just with weird stuff” (hence the name, right?). That was totally true, mostly. It turned out to basically be an outdoor rave/trance concert, with a bunch of cannabis vendors (or “totally-not-cannabis” vendors, given the legality at the time) lining the streets. But there were also, certainly, plenty of odd things befitting the name.

First thing we see when we show up was a line that went around the block. Nothing too odd about that, granted. But IN said line were plenty of topless gals in tutus (sweet), old dudes in chaps and nothing else (respect the move, so, sweet as well), and my personal favorite: a dude wearing a luchador mask, mummified neck-to-ankles in saran wrap, pink briefs covering his yoo-hoo’s, all the while coasting about on roller skates.

It was like coming home.

Once we’d made it inside, I’ll admit, details get a little bit fuzzy; but there three occurrences I do remember that made that trip what it was.

Firstly, and most prominently, there was one of the few vendors not hawking the Devil’s Lettuce who was giving away these little ceramic medallions, about the size and shape of sand dollars, in all sorts of colors. On them were reliefs of the word “Peace” in every language under the sun. He gave them away and accepted donations if you felt like it, and behind him was a big board with the amount he’d ostensibly given away to date: roughly 500,000.

Rad, right?

I chose a medallion with the word in Hindi (“shaanti”). No real connection or heritage to it other than studying the Vedic traditions a bit in college at the time, and it resonated more than Italian or Spanish or what-have-you.

Anyway, I gave the guy ten dollars, which was about all the loose cash I had left in my wallet for two reasons: 1) I always believe in tipping generously whatever the case may be, and 2) right at the moment Mandy and I were being given our medallions, a guy came up to the man giving them away. Apparently, the man had given the guy a medallion three years before, and the guy promised to pay him $100 sometime in the nebulous future when he was able; and that now he did in fact have the money, so he paid him what he promised.

I thought it was a pretty beautiful moment to be present for.

I won’t lie, I’m not much one for “crystal healing” or “nerve rings” or anything, but it’s funny how often this little necklace has become a bit of a totem. A serious moment comes up that requires focus or decision making, frustration bubbles to the surface for real or stupid reasons, traffic sucks – whatever. I find myself rubbing this thing with all its meanings – peace, calm, quiet, serenity, emptiness – and my blood pressure actively lowers.

Magic.

Speaking of magic, the second memory pillar to that day was The Storm. Not that anything out of the ordinary happened with the weather, it was actually a super nice, sunny one; but I bumped into a dude named Storm (adding the “the” just sort of makes it sounds more dun-dun-duuuuun).

Storm was a buddhist monk, maybe my age at the time (23) or a little younger. He, like Medallion Man, was there trying to give away messages of wisdom and love. He was in the usual saffron-orange robes, with a big ol’ honkin’ duffel bag hanging on one shoulder. In it, were stacks and stacks of copies of the Bhagavad Gita (and even now, just thinking about it makes my neck ache). He was trying, unsuccessfully as we saw it, to give them away. Wasn’t asking for anything, or even mentioning donations, as I recall. Just wanted to get as many books into as many hands as he could.

He approached us, told us all this, how and where he’d been traveling, what he was trying to do, and if we’d accept a copy. I told him I would accept it on one condition: that I get a hug.

Y’all…that was one of the best hugs I’ve ever received from a stranger.

It was like hugging the brother I didn’t know I had or had wanted.

I was given the book (still have it, by the way, in my keepsake trunk; that thing will move with me to every house I ever live in), and we parted ways. Knowing that I was given the hug by such a warm individual and that we’re likely to never, ever meet again genuinely fills me with hope and warm thoughts about this world; that people are generally good, kind, and are just trying to make it, no matter what that dick in traffic shouted out his window – give him a chance and you’ll probably find a lot of common ground, and there but for the grace of God go any of us, shouting our asses off in- okay, I’m ranting.

Storm. Book. Hug. Memories. Milk of human kindness.

The third and last wasn’t the most impacting as far as my world view is concer-

Actually, scratch that. It did. It super did. Not as much as Medallion Man and Storm, which is undoubtedly a good thing; but unfortunately it is the FIRST thing I think of whenever I reminisce about the How Weird street fair.

We were walking down whatever avenue the fair was on, asking ourselves the “are we ready to go?/have we seen all we want to?” questions. The fair saw fit to show us out with a 1-2 punch combination of sweet, sweet, San Franciscan imagery.

The first: two older gentlemen I assume were lovers, approximately late-60’s, stark naked save a pair of Nike’s each, and – my favorite part – light up blinky cock rings that just…we designed to draw the eye. (To this day, I’m positive one of them winked at me – not one of the men, the penises. One of the penises winked at me.)

The second: there was a turd on the sidewalk.

It gets talked about now, about how much public defecation is a problem in the City, but not back then. And yet, there it was. Corn-riddled, definitely human doo-doo. Normally, that’d just be a case of, “Ah, gross. But whaddya gonna do? It’s da Ciiiityyyy.” Not this time. Not this time, because of my favorite detail: to remedy the fact that there was a fat log of human poo-poo on the sidewalk, someone retrieved a bright orange traffic cone and set it down RIGHT BESIDE the turd!

BESIDE IT!

They didn’t SCOOP it, or DISPOSE of it, or even COVER it WITH THE CONE! They put the cone down BESIDE THE POOP!

It remains my favorite ever example of simply sublime problem-solving, and it still cracks me up.

Anyway, good to talk to y’all again. See ya Thursday (yes, for real this time).

A Sad Story

I had a pivotal moment growing up when, at the age of seventeen, I found out a classmate of mine couldn’t tie his shoes (we’ll call him Alessio, because this happened in our senior Italian class).

The funny thing is that there wasn’t a big wind-up to the news, either. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about in the lead up, just shooting the breeze near the back of the room while class was on break or something and boom, “Alessio can’t tie his shoes.”

A swell of mixed emotions probably came next. Here was someone my age, no physical or evident mental impairments that would keep him from it, just “wasn’t raised that way.”

Naturally, the first thing I do is put on my deer-stalker cap, puff my pipe, and look down to see he is, in fact, wearing laced shoes which are, in fact, tied.

“How’d you tie those, then?” say I, skeptically.

Alessio hangs his head and quietly whispers, “My mom ties them for me, okay?”

In that moment, I was his confidant. I’d been let on his secret that only the four of us in that corner of the room which was our Italian class knew about, and so I would guard his secret…

Until the following week, whereupon we got into some sort of banter – again, don’t remember the decade-old exchange, but I trust it was witty – and I used my newfound ammunition.

“[Evan], you can’t put maple syrup on pizza,” I assume he said to me.

“Yeah, Alessio? Well, you can’t tie your shoes, so you don’t get a vote,” I retort.

Of course I wasn’t quiet, so the others at the lunch table heard and there followed a storm of questions. Alessio hung his head, and I had my hands ‘pon my hips, triumphant.

After all, I’d won.

I used that ace a couple more times, if I remember right. Each time the same thing: an embarrassed smile from Alessio, an explanation, some chuckles, another medal for old Evan.

We were back in Italian class, just after lunch, and we get into it again. As had become pretty routine, I fall back on my zinger. With an enormous roll of his eyes, another part of the group, Ed, threw his hands up. “Dude! Alessio can tie his shoes!”

I sh’narfed and dismissed the peasant for speaking out of hand. Looking to Alessio, I said, “Is that what you’ve been telling him?” And I laughed. “Alessio, tell this guy you can’t tie your shoes.”

Ed looked me in the eye with a cold stare, and held that gaze as he reached over and undid Alessio’s laces. With the shoes loose and undone, Ed then looked to Alessio and solemnly nodded his head as if to say, It’s time.

There was a brief moment where Alessio looked back and forth between us like a child being called by two divorced parents. He turned a face like he’d made up his mind and just said, “I’m sorry, man.” Then he bent over and tied his shoes…

…perfectly.

I was stunned into stuttering silence as I realized that I’d spent the better part of the past few months proclaiming to my peers what was now a gobbsmackingly (it’s a word) obvious lie. I was a fish that had taken the hook, the line, the sinker, better part of the pole, and most of the goddamn boat.

To…to clarify, in case this isn’t sinking in: I was almost a legal adult, and believed someone who was going to be headed off to college soon telling me he couldn’t tie his shoes…for months! And was confident enough to tell a bunch of people about it!

If there’s a lesson to be gained from any of this, let one be to obviously not believe everything you fucking hear, but also to reserve an ounce of sympathy for anyone that makes what you find to be stupendously dumb proclamations; because odds are that one day they’ll realize they’ve been had, and hang onto the experience in such a way they write about it publicly ten years down the road.

Ciao.