Cougars, Paul Robeson, and PMS Pepper Bouncer's Trip to Kilowatt

So I went off Prozac a few months back, and my brain is just starting to stabilize. At first I fell into a really gnarly depression, the usual dark matter that sucks you into the void. But that has dissipated, and now I'm pretty darn okay. However, another old “friend” has come back to visit whom I haven't seen in ages: PMS. Not having to deal with it had to be one of the best reasons for being on antidepressants. I get bitchy and all that, but I live alone, so only my poor co-workers and my pets have to deal with my shit. The main way my PMS manifests itself is in weeping. Have you seen that Depends commercial where the lady is blindfolded and blissfully hitting a piñata? You know, finally living her life on her own terms? I've found myself crying for her and her newfound freedom.

Sometimes I sort of like being all teary, and I push the envelope. There is one song that always does it for me, too — “Ol' Man River” from Show Boat, as sung by Paul Robeson. He was a strapping black man with a deep bass voice. He is listed as one of my heroes on my MySpace page, as his life was fascinating. He died a blacklisted Communist sympathizer. I have a soft spot for those kinds of folks.

I was recently sitting at a far-far-ish-away-from-the-madding-crowd table at Kilowatt in the Mission, listening to the Cars, whom I dearly love, but I was wishing I could hear “Ol' Man River.” It had been running through my head ever since I'd had my first good cry of the day that morning.

“Ol' Man River, dat Ol' Man River/He must know sumpin', but don' say nuthin'/He jes' keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along.”

The song means a lot to me. It's about how fleeting life is, and how ancient the universe is. How you can live your life as a king or a pauper, but you both will wind up dead in the end. It's about the awesome profundity of existence, which is nowhere near as profound as the universe itself. Stuff like dat.

I had that song in my head at Kilowatt, and I was feeling sorrowfully wistful (thank you, PMS). I was sitting across from someone with whom I went to high school. He was drinking Fernet and trying to stay awake. We were both very, very drunk (“Tote dat barge, lift dat bail!/Git a little drunk, an' you lands in jail!”).

“Dude, I'm not gonna make it,” my friend said to me, resting his head in his hands. We were supposed to meet more friends, drink more, and avoid actually ending up behind bars.

“Dude, me either,” I replied. I suddenly had the urge to lie in the corner and take a good long nap. I probably could've gotten away with that at the Kilowatt. It was packed with people, and it has so many nooks and crannies that I easily could have found a place in which to hide myself. But no, I was determined to sober up.

I focused on a big group of people playing pool. It was that time of the night where hookups begin, which always makes for great eye candy. The guys were all strait-laced bridge-and-tunnel types. Come to think of it, so were the chicks, though they also were old enough to fall into the “cougar” category. Hmm, I thought, time to witness the Dance of Lowered Expectations: He decides that she doesn't look so old after all, while she decides to ignore the fact that he just quoted from an Adam Sandler film. The circle of life continues.

My other high school friend returned with our chicken shawarma. “This'll sober me up!” I squealed. I was so damn drunk because it was my birthday. I had just celebrated with my friends at a bar in Oakland, then BARTed to the city for more revelry.

I had to force myself to honor my birthday. Birthdays are usually catapults to depression, as they remind me how little my life has changed from year to year, whether it's actually true or not. But depression is a cruel mistress. She will lie and do whatever she can to get you on your back. Still, I was very happy to be with old friends. These guys knew me when I was in my goth stage, fer chrissake. And they still want to be my friend. Ol' Man River keeps on rollin' along.

Maybe when I get like this — PMS-fueled birthday depression — I need to do what Paul Robeson did. He knew that “Ol' Man River” was his signature song, and that he would have to sing it at every appearance. But he changed the lyrics depending on the stage his life was at. The best part of the song is the last stanza, where his voice soars:

“Ah gits weary, an' sick of tryin'/Ah'm tired of livin', an' skeered of dyin'/But Ol' Man River, he jes' keeps rollin' along!”

When Robeson needed strength, he changed the lyrics to “But I keeps laffin', instead of cryin'/I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'.” When he wanted people to rise up and be politically active, he sang, “We must keep fightin', instead of dyin'.” It's ironic that the essence of the song is that none of that shit matters anyway. Do what you want, Paul. You're gonna die, and I'm gonna still be here, the mighty Mississip', rollin' along.

Ah, that's what I needed: humility. I'd just had 30 of my dearest friends gather to celebrate my birth. I have gainful employment and a roof over my head. If I ever want to hit a piñata in my golden years, I will not have to worry about embarrassing leakage. Life is good.

“Cab's here,” my friend said, yanking me up. I reminded him that I had no money. No prob, he said, nodding in mock exasperation: “You never change.”

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