richard brautigan – homage to the san francisco ymca (1971)

(With thanks to Lesego Rampolokeng for sharing this on Facebook last night.)

One upon a time in San Francisco there was a man who really liked the finer things in life, especially poetry. He liked good verse.

He could afford to indulge himself in this liking, which meant that he didn’t have to work because he was receiving a generous pension that was the result of a 1920s investment that his grandfather had made in a private insane asylum that was operating quite profitably in Southern California. In the black, as they say and located in the San Fernando Valley, just outside of Tarzana. It was one of those places that do not look like an insane asylum. It looked like something else with flowers all around it, mostly roses.

The checks always arrived on the 1st and 15th of every month, even when there was not a mail delivery on that day. He had a lovely house in Pacific Heights and he would go out and buy more poetry. He of course had never met a poet in person. That would have been a little too much.

One day he decided that his liking for poetry could not be fully expressed in just reading poetry or listening to poets reading on phonograph records. He decided to take the plumbing out of his house and completely replace it with poetry, and so he did.

He turned off the water and took out the pipes and put in John Donne to replace them. The pipes did not look too happy. He took out his bathtub and put in William Shakespeare. The bathtub did not know what was happening.

He took out his kitchen sink and put in Emily Dickinson. The kitchen sink could only stare back in wonder. He took out his bathroom sink and put in Vladimir Mayakovsky. The bathroom sink, even though the water was turned off, broke out into tears.

He took out his hot water heater and put in Michael McClure’s poetry. The hot water heater could barely contain its sanity. Finally he took out his toilet and put in the minor poets. The toilet planned on leaving the country.

And now the time had come to see how it all worked, to enjoy the fruit of his amazing labor. Christopher Columbus’ slight venture sailing West was merely the shadow of a dismal event in the comparison. He turned the water back on again and surveyed the countenance of his vision brought to reality. He was a happy man.

“I think I’ll take a bath,” he said, to celebrate. He tried to heat up some Michael McClure to take a bath in some William Shakespeare and what happened was not actually what he had planned on happening.

“Might as well do the dishes then,” he said. He tried to wash some plates in “I taste a liquor never brewed,” and found there was quite a difference between that liquid and a kitchen sink. Despair was on its way.

He tried to go to the toilet and the minor poets did not do at all. They began gossiping about their careers as he sat there trying to take a shit. One of them had written 197 sonnets about a penguin he had once seen in a travelling circus. He sensed a Pulitzer Prize in this material.
Suddenly the man realized that poetry could not replace plumbing. It’s what they call seeing the light. He decided immediately to take the poetry out and put the pipes back in, along with the sinks, the bathtub, the hot water heater and the toilet.

“This just didn’t work out the way I planned it,” he said. “I’ll have to put the plumbing back. Take the poetry out.” It made sense standing there naked in the total light of failure.

But then he ran into more trouble than there was in the first place. The poetry did not want to go. IT liked very much occupying the positions of the former plumbing.

“I look great as a kitchen sink,” Emily Dickinson’s poetry said.

“We look wonderful as a toilet,” the minor poets said.

“I’m grand as pipes,” John Donne’s poetry said.

“I’m a perfect hot water heater,” Michael McClure’s poetry said.

Vladimir Mayakovsky sang new faucets from the bathroom, there are faucets beyond suffering, and William Shakespeare’s poetry was nothing but smiles.

“That’s well and dandy for you,” the man said. “But I have to have plumbing, REAL plumbing in this house. Did you notice the emphasis I put on REAL? Real! Poetry just can’t handle it. Face up to reality,” the man said to the poetry.

But the poetry refused to go. “We’re staying.” The man offered to call the police. “Go ahead and lock us up, you illiterate,” the poetry said in one voice.

“I’ll call the fire department!”

“Book burner!” the poetry shouted.

The man began to fight the poetry. It was the first time he had ever been in a fight. He kicked the poetry of Emily Dickinson in the nose.

Of course the poetry of Michael McClure and Vladimir Mayakovsky walked over and said in English and Russian, “That won’t do at all,” and threw the man down a flight of stairs. He got the message.

That was two years ago. The man is now living in a YMCA in San Francisco and loves it. He spends more time in the bathroom than everybody else. He goes in there at night and talks to himself with the light out.

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