The late-winter rain is my worst enemy. Dreary afternoons transform me into a hibernating bear hungry only for sleep. In these uninspired moments, I take the 71 bus from Chinatown to Amoeba Records for the purpose of finding uplifting new music. On my journeys, I often encounter a specimen in a worse slump than myself. The characters I speak of are seen near Amoeba's front gates wearing patchwork clothing and beads, twisting tangled hair, and gazing with glossy retina. These are the hippy panhandlers of Haight Street.
After a recent evening of record shopping, I came home wrestling with one detail from my day: A transient hippy man approached me before I entered Amoeba and asked me for “a dollar.” I felt empathetic, yet I decided to go about my business. As I passed him, I heard a mumble of profane language coming from his mouth.
Seeking solace from this ordeal, I entered the kitchen area of our dojo, where my grandfather was eating from a Styrofoam Cup-O-Noodles and reading scrolls aloud. I quietly told my grandfather of the panhandler's rudeness. He placed his spoon on the table and spoke sternly: “This is a man who has lost his motivation to join the work force. Do not let his bad energy manifest itself in your mind. He was most likely under the influence of crystal meth.” Perhaps my grandfather was right. Yet, I felt a need to help.
My grandfather offered a solution in the form of several wise questions. “What motivates you is San Francisco's music, correct? Why not share this positive energy with those unable to access the local music? Why not motivate the downtrodden to stop smoking drugs through the clean, uncut power of rock?” His idea hit me like a blind pigeon crashing into a sycamore tree at dusk. I scurried up the stairs and began burning music onto discs.
I arose at dawn, after a long night of CD-burning and meditating. I had chosen a powerful selection of songs that would undoubtedly inspire. I taped a note on the back of all 50 discs: “I must warn you: Approach these tracks with caution. I have assembled intense motivational songs for you. This, combined with light exercise and improved grooming, will set you on the track toward success.” My song list was a potent cocktail. It included:
Deerhoof, “This Magnificent Bird Will Rise”: An avant-garde rock song with a small girl leading the band. Despite her height disadvantage, she has power!
Tommy Guerrero, “Getting' It Together”: A soulful piece, as smooth as a weathered chunk of opium on a San Francisco sidewalk.
Gold Chains, “What Are We Looking For”: A poppy soul tune that may remind hippies to begin looking for the apartment keys they lost six years ago.
Jet Black Crayon, “Pump Up Your Ass”: The most motivational song on the mix; a sonic delicacy, with many magical riffs scattered within.
Tussle, “Don't Stop”: This may prompt dancing toward a shower stall.
Erase Errata, “Surprise It's Easter!”: A catchy title that contains a surge of no-wave energy.
Bing Ji Ling, “Use a Hand”: A last resort. A buttery number with an infectious hook that may encourage power-humping.
Upon my arrival at Amoeba, I spotted two aging panhandlers. One was in the alley next to the record store, while the other was passed out on the sidewalk with a bottle of gin resting on his neck. The unconscious man didn't respond, but his partner was very awake, wearing a funky hat, and eager to grab my disc. As a third bearded hippy man approached me amidst all the excitement, he warned me that his friend in the hat wasn't “all there” and said I “shouldn't get too close to him.” Danger! I leapt into a birdlike stance. Fortunately, a battle never ensued. I did, however, manage to hand all three men CDs.
Next, I made my way over to the entrance of Golden Gate Park and spotted a transient couple walking their dog. I tried to hand them each CDs but the girl didn't accept because she was staring deeply into the ice cream cone in her hand. Her boyfriend, however, did take my mix. I could tell by the glimmer in his eye that “Pump Up Your Ass” would be playing from his stereo later. This transaction gave me hope. Neither of these individuals were seemingly intoxicated, both had their eyes open, and they left with my motivational disc.
In seven hours on Haight Street, though, I had managed to hand out only four CDs. Most of my day was spent turning down offers from the hippies themselves. One man tried to sell me some of his wares. He claimed that I needed a “dime sack.” Apparently, he was unaware that I am a man of many pockets and satchels. I tend to carry my coins in my hidden chest pocket, alongside my throwing stars, so I declined his offer.
My bus ride back to Chinatown was another slow turtle crawl down Market Street. As I thought about the day's events, a depression floated over me. I still had 46 CDs in my bag. I unlocked the door to the dojo and heard my mix CD coming from the blowgun range in the backyard. As I got closer, I could see my grandfather spitting blow darts at the target as Deerhoof played. He ceased blowgunning and walked towards me. “How was this afternoon?” he asked. I did not respond. I looked at the ground like a pelican watching the sea for wild salmon. He persisted, “How many musical discs did you hand out?” I muttered, “Four.” My grandfather put his hand on my shoulder.
“You have helped four people to gain access to music,” he said. “These people do not binge on music throughout the day, as you do. You have shared. You have helped. And there is a chance that you have sent an inspiring 'pump up their ass.' Be proud.”