Time said that John elapsed. Time said that John elapsed. Time said that John elapsed. Time elapsed John. How are these sentences ungrammatical? How can anything so poetic be called “not good” by anyone–linguist, grammarian, human. Sophie will theater. Sophie will theater. John elapsed. I love that. I will mark those sentences to use them later in a story. Or a poem. They could enliven a poem, like garlic seasons a sautee. The rest of the poem would not even have to be good. Where were they in the book again? One line is all it takes to be remembered forever. Great, rush hour–there’s a million people at the bus stop today. Better be able to sit so I can read. And how could a linguistics text book have provided me with a better line of poetry than I have ever written in my life? Just look at Thomas Nashe. Brightness falls from her hair. Or from the air. Whichever it was. Though probably no one around here knows or remembers—
–Is that your Jew fro?
–Is that your Jew fro? Hah!
–Oh, ya. Oh, he’s talking about my hair. This at least is more interesting than the ladies at the restaurant saying they love it, and asking all the time if they can touch it. And me, having to comply because they are paying me gratuity in order to make them feel like–
–You’ve heard that before, haven’t you?
–Ya. What a beginning to a conversation, this old guy. Maybe he loves hair. He seems determined to keep his even though he’s got nothing on top. Hangs almost to his shoulders from the side. White and long like a nymph or some stretched victim of Procrustes. Emaciated and thin.
–How old are ya, anyway? 18?
–. No! Oh my god. You look like you’re 17! What are you studying?
–Linguistics. I don’t even look young. Maybe he doesn’t know how old he is or something.
–Theoretical, Formal, Structural, or Practical?
–Theoretical. It’s definitely not practical. God knows. But sometimes it’s too theoretical for me. How are his two yellow and black teeth bent forward by his tongue every time he speaks staying in his mouth. What teeth could ever become that color? Forsaken by toothbrush, dentist, God, of course Top cigarettes in the flannel chest pocket. Those nasty hobo cigarettes. Ugly old bright yellow bag. Those are the worst cigarettes in the world. They would make a celebrity’s teeth black in a day.
–Ya, well that’s a great introduction–er background to have for structural linguistics. Hah, which went out of fashion about thirty-five years ago.
–Oh. This guy is some wise old wise aleck. How does he know all this crap about Linguistics? Or some smart old smart ass. Funny how those words go together like that.
–Who are you reading Chomsky?
–Ya…it’s Chomsky’s style of stuff. Sort of. Like, it’s not stuff he wrote. But he could have. Or people wrote our books based on his stuff. I have got to get this conversation going on a different track. The last thing I want to talk about is Linguistics with this man. Definitely don’t care to explain what we do is and isn’t Chomsky. Is and isn’t universal grammar. Not in that way.
–Oh ya, well I’ve read some of that stuff. But that was years ago! Back in the seventies when it was all still believed in.
–What do you do here?
–Who, me? Here? Nothing. Just wish I wasn’t alive. I wish I wasn’t alive on this planet! There is not a single good place to be…You think you can find a good place to live? Forget about it. I’ve been all over. Ain’t no different anywhere. Well, it is, but it’s all no good. You move from one bad to another. Not even different degrees, just different kinds. Hah! You think you can ever get away from any of it? There’s nowhere left on this planet! There’s nowhere where there aren’t too many people, or corruption, or some other awful thing. This planet’s all used up. Where do you think there is to go? Africa? Civil Wars. Too hot. No comfort; I mean, I don’t need a whole lot of comfort. The life I’ve lived. But there–wow. Forget about anything you’re used to. South America? Crime. Drug lords. No Thankyou. Europe? It’s all about money and success. And fame. None of that interests me. I don’t care about any of that stuff. None of that interests me at all. I wish I was on another planet! You know what I mean?
–Ya…ya, I do. Have you lived in L.A. long? Who hasn’t wanted to raise his fists in the air and shout the things he’s shouting has never lived in L.A. or maybe anywhere. Maybe except for Beverly Hills. Or maybe especially there.
–Oh ya…there’s nowhere to live. There’s nowhere good to live. Nowhere at all. Every place is pretty much the same. Just a different kind of bad. But still bad. India? Too many people. It’s all slums. Nothing you’re used to. China? Forget about it. I wouldn’t be caught dead over there. Africa? There’s just civil wars. Civil wars and sun. And Aids–god, don’t forget aids. Have you seen the children? Europe? It’s all about success and money and–
–Maybe you should go up to Santa Cruz. I think maybe you’d like it there.
–Santa Cruz? I’ve been there. I lived there for awhile.
–Oh ya? Me too…for a year and a half. Could have guessed that. Looks like he’s still living in Santa Cruz.
–Oh ya? what street did you live on?
–Uh, between Santa Cruz and Capitola. It was in this area called Live Oak.
–Near 17th. It was El Dorado…
–El Dorado? Hah! I’ll bet…
–You know it?
–Ya, ya, I know there. The streets are paved with gold, Hah! I did my undergrad at Santa Cruz. Did you go to school there?
–No, I went to the Junior College.
–Cabrillo? Cabrillo right?
–Ya… This guy is some memory. Like a fossil preserved from time and decay, his mind not his body. Like Basteshaw’s Aunt, or Rip Van Winkle. But living through it all.
–Well, anyway. That was before all the changes. They didn’t give any grades back then. No grades! Protests all the time. It wasn’t really any good. You thought it was at first. It was like the sixties. First everyone got all these big ideas and had all these visions, and then–crap! It all just goes to crap. It was the sixties. When I was there. Too many drugs. People didn’t know everything drugs did. They thought they were tapping into the east. Hah! They were tapping on the doors of mental institutions. Hah! Tapping on the doors to rooms with shock therapy. Aah…we used to call them electric chairs. Santa Cruz wasn’t any good. I was there for too long. It all changed anyway. Not that it was good before it changed. Not after. I’ve looked everywhere, and there isn’t anywhere good to live. You know what I mean? I just wish I wasn’t alive. Not on this planet. Hah! There’s not a single good place to be. Have you been to Africa? Think you could live there? With civil wars and the sun? Or South America? With drug–
–Have you traveled around all over? To all these places?
–You see that! Look at that! SALT MUST DIE. That bus billboard! See, that’s me! I’m salt. I AM YOU CRAZY BUS BILLBOARD! I’M ALREADY DYING! I’M DYING!! AAAHH!!! Hah! Haha…I just need to make my will. WILL YOU LET ME MAKE MY WILL? WILL YOU WAIT FOR ME TO MAKE IT?
–Oh god. What are you reading there? What do you say to someone after that? That book is huge. A thousand pages? And his bookmark is almost through it?
–Oh, this bull shit? Some book. Some rubbish book. It’s about the N—— affair. You know, all that political stuff. You know about all that stuff with the D——– family?
–No, I don’t know.
–Well, they were this family. And they had a TV show after them and all even, and anyway before they got mixed up in all this bloody shit, they were actually pretty well liked by everybody, and this book kinda comes at it from this certain angle…none of that interests me. It’s supposed to be funny. I don’t find that funny. People read this stuff though and they think it’s brilliant. I don’t find it brilliant or funny. I don’t think I’ll even finish it.
–Ya, I know what you mean.
–Then I got this The Nexus Paradigm. I’ve read most of it. It’s by this social critic. It’s garbage. None of it interests me at all. I don’t think I’ll finish it. Other people love this stuff. Maybe I will.
–Do you ever read literature or poetry?
–Oh, ya. Oh ya, I’ve read all that stuff. I don’t have time anymore. I’ve read all that stuff. I’ve read all that–literature, poetry, scriptures. What bus are you waiting for?
–The 8 or 12.
–Me, I’m waiting for the 1. What’s your name anyway?
–I’m John. Literature, poetry. Ya, I read all that stuff. I just don’t have time anymore. That doesn’t have any use for me anymore. Hey, your bus is here.
–Hey, great talking with you.
–You too. See you around?
–Ya, see ya. You’ll see me! Hah!
* * *
And he was right. There he is again. Again walking to the bus. And he’s got more books. What does he do here all day?
–Hey. Hey, John right?
–Ya. And you–what are you reading there?
–Oh, it’s just this Linguistics book. Textbook.
–Hah, oh ya, you. You were the Chomsky guy. The linguistics student. Structural right? You still reading that crap?
–I’m almost done. This is my last quarter.
–Well, what’s next then? Masters? PhD? More linguistics? Med School? Sanitarium?
–Masters, but not Linguistics. No more linguistics for me forever. Putting all the books in the incinerator if the book store won’t buy them back. I’m going to seminary to study theology.
–Theology? Theology? That’s great! I love theology!
–Really? You read theology?
–Lately I’ve been reading Aquinas. The summa! You ever read that stuff?
–Not yet; I haven’t read Aquinas yet.
–It’s some crazy stuff. Real complicated. I don’t even understand half the stuff.
–Oh shoot, my bus is here.
–Hey, okay. Hey, we should get coffee sometime. Let’s meet for coffee and we can talk about theology!
–Okay. Okay, I’d really like that. I’ll look for you, and ya, we’ll talk.
–Okay, see you!
–You will! See you!
* * *
And he was right again, but not at the bus. On the ledge near the sculpture garden. And morning, not afternoon. He’s finishing one of those Top cigarettes.
–Hey, John, good morning.
–Who are you?
–Do you remember me? Oh my god, that look. He looks like he’s having a worse morning than Frere Jacques. Looks more like contempt than unrecognition.
–Do I know you?
–Well, we talked a few times before near the bus stop. Linguistics? Chomsky? Oh shoot, my friend’s calling. Hang on one second…
And turning around after that second he’s hunchedly walking away, toward his doom perhaps. Looking like he’s going to the electric chair. Or to be elapsed by Time. Maybe it was the Top cigarette. Or maybe he’s not a morning person. Or maybe the day’s dawning of being found still on this planet takes several hours to wear off. I’ll have to wait to see him again on the bus. Maybe he’s only talkative at the bus stop.