At times I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of suicide — not my own, but other people's. I visit suicide memorial websites and read each blurb. I always look at the recent suicide postings on Wikipedia. It was there that I learned of the death of one of the men behind the social network site Diaspora: He killed himself in our city, at the age of 22, on Nov. 12. This means that he was still around on the 11th, feeling awful and hopeless. I was tooling around town that day, going about my business, being annoyed with stupid shit, and he was still alive.
Known as San Francisco's Punk Rock Johnny Cash, Jesse Morris killed himself on Nov. 6. Anyone who ever visited the 24th Street BART station has heard him busking; he looked like Wattie from the Exploited, but sounded exactly like the Man in Black. His voice echoed through the station and would follow me up the escalator. Because of him, I frequently went to work with “Folsom Prison Blues” stuck in my head. Sometimes this pissed me off. Other times I wished he would sing new songs. But most of the time I felt grateful for him. This is how our brains work — we can be programmed to be bummed out or happy, and external things can stoke our despair or feed our bliss. I call it a Brain Fork: We can go either way, depending on how much force pushes us in either direction. We can see a busker as an annoyance, or a rose to smell. (Okay, maybe that is a bad metaphor for a street musician. But you catch my drift.)
“What can I get you, sweetheart?” asked the bartender at Tony's in North Beach. Here was a good example of a Brain Fork. Here was man referring to me in what some people would consider a sexist way. I could take umbrage and feel offended, or I could see it as a tall, handsome man affirming my femininity. I chose the latter, and ordered a drink with a smile. “Here ya go, doll,” he said, putting it in front of me.
There was a point in my life where I would have been supremely pissed at this guy. I would have pointed out that I wasn't that sweet, so just get me the drink and lose the patriarchal bullshit. But now I am more concerned with the kindness behind his message, not his neo-chauvinism. I have evolved.
Tony's is a pizza place, first and foremost, but there is a bar area when you first walk in. The staff is efficient and friendly, and the food is pretty amazing. They have this one pizza, the Detroit Red Top, that is probably the most decadent thing I have put in my mouth since — well, I won't go into that. It's basically a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich of a crust with a pizza plopped on top. I can usually make it through half a slice without needing defibrillation, but beyond that I am taking my life into my own hands. I only eat it once a year, so on this visit, I just had drinks and pondered the meaning of life. You know, the usual.
Jesse Morris had tried to kill himself several weeks before he actually succeeded, and I found myself wondering, as I always do, if there was something I could have done, even though I didn't really know him. Friends of mine on Facebook did, and they posted about his attempt and how he was doing in the hospital. I contemplated going to see him. When you are a busker, you must see so many people walk past you like you don't exist. When you are depressed, the whole world feels this way to you. I wanted to tell him that I would notice when he was gone; that his life mattered to me. Ultimately I decided against visiting him, out of fear that he would feel it was an invasion of privacy.
“Gigantic” by the Pixies came on at Tony's. This was followed by “American Girl” and “This is the Day” by The The. Wow, whoever hooked their iPod up deserved a gold medal.
“Here you are, beautiful,” said the bartender to, gulp, another woman.
Oh, so she is “beautiful” and I'm a “doll”? I looked at her, and she was not someone you would describe as conventionally attractive. Did this mean that I do not really resemble a toy, nor do I exude sweetness? Damn you, bartender. I had to remind myself of the Brain Fork, and how I had chosen to abandon my normal path and instead take the road less traveled — that of the giggly sex object. I felt better already.
He refilled my drink, this time calling me “Hon.” I could live with that.
I remembered the last time I saw Jesse Morris. I had finished a 12-hour day, and boarded BART in the hope of finding a seat to rest in for five minutes. I grabbed the very last spot and sunk down into it. Every else around me appeared to be having the same experience — exhaustion — but then again, when you are feeling a certain way, you have tunnel vision. Before the doors closed, Jesse jumped on with his guitar and positioned himself by the opposite door; he had a certain desperation about him. I surmised that he had been busking all day and had not made very much money, so he had decided to try a different venue. He began to strum his instrument and then he started to sing. “Nooo,” I thought to myself, unable to take any more input. I pulled my hoodie over my eyes and slumped down even deeper. Apparently I was not the only one. I peeked out and saw that no one in the train was looking at Jesse, or seemed to notice that he was standing there, performing. Jesse noticed it too, and at the next stop he loudly strummed one final chord, said “Fuck this!” and stomped off. I felt guilty for ignoring him, and for being annoyed with him.
I have noticed that you are gone, Jesse. You mattered to me, even when I was too wrapped up in myself to notice. Rest in peace.