Bullhorn By Tony Robles

I am a human being.  I come from the union and abrupt disunion of a man and woman who went on to form other unions and dissolution of said unions–in due course of time. I am a man yet I feel like a pathogen. I walk in the city, the city that gave birth to me—and my mother and father—the city whose shadows cast over me—head to toe—hiding my face, attempting to swallow me. I have a strange relationship with my city–the city upon whose streets I took my first steps. It slowly became disdainful, as if the fact that I was born in it were a source of shame—something to be extricated. It sees me as a pathogen, something to be exorcised from its streets, its public spaces—something that should be hosed and put down the drain. But I still walk the streets, a 5 foot 9 inch, 185 pound pathogen. Why the hell should I leave–I’m from here.

So here I am, a full grown pathogen working as a housing rights advocate carrying a bullhorn into the courthouse downtown. A friend of mine–a housing advocate–is being evicted from her home of more than 30 years. Poor lady, not quite a pathogen but they are treating her like one. A near pathogen who never missed paying rent in 30 years suddenly evicted because the new landlord wants to jack up the rent—a landlord that considers rent control the biggest pathogen of all.

Why am I carrying a bullhorn? Well, we had a rally for my friend, the one being evicted, and I brought the bullhorn to break through the defeaning silence of my town. The politicians must have jumbo marshmallows stuffed in their ears. The more the people cry out for housing justice, the less they are heard. Those supervisors, those committee members entrusted with the public interest—it seems that anything that benefits the people is discounted, maligned or plain ignored. But back to the bullhorn. I carry it like a cop carries a gun. I think it gives me power—power of my voice. But it wasn’t always that way. For much of my life my voice has been stuck in my throat in a knot trying to articulate thoughts and feelings in fits and starts. But with this bullhorn I have found my voice. You should hear me: What do we want…Justice! When do we want it…NOW!

On this day, the bullhorn decided to go AWOL.  The thing didn’t work.  Some kind of malfunction.  I bought new batteries, jamming them into the place where batteries get jammed and still the thing refused to work–refused to join my voice to create a bigger voice and ensuing waves of revolution, undulating in the way a roll of toilet paper would do an a violent windstorm. I spoke into the mouthpiece and nobody heard anything. So I had to speak with my own voice—no amplification—just solo. After stuttering and lisping my way through the injustice of evictions, chanting and more chanting, I entered the courthouse.

As a pathogen, I am acutely aware of law enforcement, who are pathogen-free—or so it seems. I enter a line where I wait to pass through a checkpoint—replete with a metal detector—to make sure no weapons are on my person. The checkpoint is manned (and, on occasion, womaned) and maintained by San Francisco sheriffs deputies of various ranks ranging from cadet to other higher ups.

The deputies have a variety of implements on their belts—mace, guns and other cumbersome accoutrements that appear to weigh them down. It almost appears as if their pants could slide down exposing God knows what. But many of the deputies hook their thumbs on their belts and thrust their hips foward—as if urinating–insuring that none of their parts, should they dangle or come loose, fall to the floor.

I get to the front. I take off my belt, remove my coins, keys and cell phone and deposit it all in a plastic basket. I walk towards the metal detector. The deputy looks at me.

“What’s that?” he asks, looking at the bullhorn.

The deputy is a muscular guy who looks like he’s beaten more than eggs in his life. And just when I’m about to answer his question, a voice comes out of nowhere.

“What the fuck you think it is, a coffee pot?”

The deputy glares at me. He seems to grow by the second. His badge even seems to grow.

“Oh, a smart ass, huh?”

“Hey, I didn’t say anything”

He snatched the bullhorn from my hand and put it on conveyor belt to be scanned. The other deputies gather around a video monitor like chimps watching a commercial for Chiquita bananas.

“What is it? Said one deputy.

“It looks like a coffee pot” said another deputy

“Kinda looks like a giant snow cone” said another deputy

“It actually looks like a vibrator” said yet another deputy

The bullhorn made it through the conveyor belt/scanner in one piece and so did I. I gathered my belongings and headed towards the elevator.

“You can’t use the bullhorn inside the courtroom or anywhere inside the building” said a deputy.

“No shit” a voice replied.

“What?
“Yes sir!” I said, entering the elevator. I pushed the button for the 6th floor.

The elevator took its sweet assed time. I had to get to the 6th floor and it took forever to get to the 2nd floor.

“You’re a real shit” a voice said.

I looked at the bullhorn in my hand.

“Did you say that?” I asked.

“Well, it sure wasn’t your d**k…and that ain’t sayin’ much”

“Hey, watch your fuckin’ mouth”

“What are you gonna do, start chanting?
“This is serious business, ok? An eviction case, and I don’t need you fucking me up…understand?

Suddenly I heard the sound of a violin.

“Cry me a river” said the bullhorn

“You got a name? I asked.

“Yeah, the bullhorn replied. “It’s bullhorn…motherfucker”

We finally get to the 6th floor. I walk through the halls looking for room 620. A sherrifs deputy walks towards me.

“Be quiet, don’t say nothin’” I say to the bullhorn under my breath.

I almost pass the deputy when a voice calls out: Hey handjob, you know where 620 is?

I look at the deputy. My heart begins its speedbag routine.

“What did you just say?
“Uh, nuthin”

“No, I think you said something. Come with me”

I follow him to the elevator. We head back to the first floor–the checkpoint.

“Who let this asshole in here” said the deputy, motioning towards me. I looked at the deputies. Their glances fall on me as if I were a garbage bin—not compost or recycle—just regular trash.

“What’s with the bullhorn?” You can’t use that in here” a black deputy said.

“It doesn’t work, it’s broken” I replied, holding it up like a trumpet.

“Don’t give me that Miles Davis shit” said the black deputy, not feeling the melody. He yanked the bullhorn away. I stood there, frightened that the little man or ghost or spirit that inhabited the bullhorn might say something else. The deputy looked inside the bullhorn, sticking his nose in first, then the rest of his face.

“You one big, stupid lookin’ motherfucker” a voice said. I stood cringing.

“It was you! A Chinese deputy said, pointing at me.

“Yeah” said a white deputy with a deep tan. “He’s one of those guys who throws his voice—a ventrickulist”

“You mean ventriliquist” I said.

The deputies glared at me.

“Look” I said. “I don’t know where the voice is coming from. You said I throw my voice. Hell, I can’t even throw a tennis ball, much less a pair of dice”.

The bullhorn was shoved back into my hands.

“You give us anymore shit and we’ll shove that bullhorn so far up your ass that you’ll be an alto–and i ain’t talkin’ about a sax” said a deputy who appeared to be the main shot caller. As I walked towards the elevator, the shot caller deposited a very firm, very swift–hard and well-intentioned–kick into my ass. I looked back and was blinded by his smile.

I walked past the deputies, bullhorn in hand whispering “Shut your damn mouth and stay quiet”. I got to the elevator and navigated my way upwards and get off on the 6th floor. I make my way to Judge Kitteridge’s courtroom. I get there. It is full except for an empty seat. I take it. 2 Asian deputies sit near the wall. A gaggle of court staff await the judge, their pores soaked in the perfume of power and authority. One of the deputies give me a stern look. The other deputy says: All rise…the honorable judge blah blah blah presiding.

The judge enteres. He doesn’t take a seat. His brilliant head of gray hair gives off a glow of florescent nights locked away in law libraries and walk-in closets.

“Be seated please”

The judge called the cases on the docket. He explained the procedures/protocols he requires from counsel and made it clear the things that annoy him. I looked at the faces in the courtroom. My eyes fell on my friend, who, after 30 years of residence in her building, is being evicted—through no fault of her own—but because the landlord wants to sell the building. She’s the last remaining tenant in her rent controlled building. She wants to stay in her home, her community. The judge heard the attorneys in other cases state their various positions. The judge stood, hips thrust out, arms crossed—like the narrow assed deputies who seemed to all have John Wayne’s marrow in their bones.

One fellow, a young guy, was in court representing himself. The judge asked him why he hadn’t paid his outstanding rent and why he’d waited so long to address the problem. The young man said that his mother had normally taken care of those things but had died and that he had become depressed. The judge looked at the young man.

“What’s your educational background?” the judge asked.

The young man stood silent.

“Cut the fucking bullshit, judge!” a voice called out.

The deputies looked at me.

“Yeah judge, I remember you” the voice said. “I remember you when you used to walk around with shit stains in your underwear, afraid to walk down the street for fear you’d get your ass whipped.  I’ll bet you still got shit stains in your designer underwear.  It took you forever to get laid–how old were you, 30?”.

“Detain that man!” the judge said, pointing at me, his well tanned face turning red.

The two deputies came around the table towards me.

“Up your ass, judge! Up your ass!” the voice kept repeating.

The deputies looked at me and realized my lips weren’t moving. They looked at the bullhorn, perplexed. A deputy picked it up and held it like a trumpet. “What the hell?” he said.

The voice was clear as it vibrated from the bullhorn across the courtroom, making the walls move. Its words: What do we want…JUSTICE! When do we want it…NOW!

(c) 2915 Tony Robles

Oakland Morning

The sun painted
Its song across
The strip of earth known
As MacArthur Blvd

An Oakland
Morning

And I was walking
Along, past the
Churches that looked
Like stores, half empty,
Half full

An empty Chinese
Restaurant stands behind
A rusted gate

A family restaurant
Whose family must’ve
Worked the counter
Before the rust

It was an Oakland
Morning and I was
Heading to the bus stop

And as I walked I came
Upon a man lying on
A king sized box spring

His body was MacArthur,
Head to toe, covered by
Clothing that couldn’t hide
The story of his bones

He had just woken up,
(It appeared) eyes pried
Open by the probing finger
Of the sun

Bits of glass and rock
And cigarette butts
Strewn about

I looked at the man
Then looked
Away

He looked at me
From the corner
Of his eye

Good morning,
He said

The way he said
It was not melodious,
It didn’t come with
The scent of long standing
Trees lining this strip
Of earth

Good morning, he
Said as he sat up
To face the day

Sometimes the only
Thing you can say
Is “Good Morning”

While the sun’s
Finger probes
Your eyes

© 2015 Tony Robles

San Francisco Eviction Sale

For sale:

The empty shoes of poets
A guitar body shorn of strings
Grandma’s cast iron pan with decades of
Built-on grease
A pot minus soil

For sale:

Our black skin
Our brown bones
The yellow leaves floating
In pools of our eyes

For sale:

Grandma’s tortilla hands
The guts of grandpa’s old transistor radio and his
Old racing forms
The squeaky staircase
The stained glass windows stained with wine
The murphy bed whose springs announce spring
All year round

For sale:

The rolling hills
Of the working shoulders that
Built North Beach

For sale:

An arm
A leg
A wing
A thigh
(all parts that gave their lives
To the city of St. Francis)

For sale:

The sacred playground
Where we grew up, where
The asphalt collected pieces of
Our skin like a living scrap book
Making us one with it

For sale:

The bridge that no longer connects us
The bridge with the faulty bolts
The crooked grinning street that leads
To city hall

For sale:

Our soul that is
A thin film floating
On the bay

Our heart that
Was once black, brown, yellow
Red—now bleached the color
Of nothing

For sale:

Our murals
That move across
Our skin and out of
The city

Giveaway:

Our dignity
Our spirit
Our class

At this
Eviction sale

© 2015 Tony Robles

Hawaii 79

I didn’t know a damn

Thing about Hawaii

Except what I’d seen

On TV

 

And there was, of course,

That football jersey that

Someone had given me

That had the word “Hawaii”

Printed on it above the number

79

 

And Waipahu

Smelled like

Burning sugar

 

I’d arrived from

San Francisco, a high

School kid and I remember

The beautiful girls

 

I was falling in love

At bus stops, school—

Any number of public

Places

 

And most folks I met

Spoke pidgin and I spoke

Mainland English and felt

Like a babbling idiot

 

And the mangoes dropped

From trees and I would

Pick them up and eat them,

Bruised or not

 

I was staying with my father’s

Wife’s family, the dad an

Old man who had survived

The Bataan Death March

 

We lived in the back of their

House and I sat around thinking

About the pretty girls I was

Terrified of, whose pidgin tongue

Twisted around my mind

 

One day the old man told me

To get off my ass and help with

Some work to be done on the

House

 

The next morning a

Cement mason

Showed up

 

He was tall, fat, and

Wobbled as he moved,

Looking less like a mason

And more like an aspiring

Professional bowler

 

He cleared an area of

The yard while I held

The handles of a wheelbarrow

Filled with cement

 

He got the area

Prepped, looked at

Me and said

Poosh ‘em up

 

I stood there

Looking at the man,

Not understanding

what he said

 

Poosh ‘em up he said

Again, taking a hold of

The wheelbarrow handle

And yanking it up

 

(Who would have thought that an overweight guy the shape of a bowling pin could be so strong?)

 

The cement spilled onto

The ground like pancake

Batter and the fat man

Smoothed it over

 

And my nostrils

Took in the scent

Of mangoes

 

Bruises and

All

 

 

© 2015 Tony Robles

 

 

 

 

Oakland Morning

The sun painted

Its song across

The strip of earth known

As MacArthur Blvd

 

An Oakland

Morning

 

And I was walking

Along, past the

Churches that looked

Like stores, half empty,

Half full

 

An empty Chinese

Restaurant stands behind

A rusted gate

 

A family restaurant

Whose family must’ve

Worked the counter

Before the rust

 

It was an Oakland

Morning and I was

Heading to the bus stop

 

And as I walked I came

Upon a man lying on

A king sized box spring

 

His body was MacArthur,

Head to toe, covered by

Clothing that couldn’t hide

The story of his bones

 

He had just woken up,

(It appeared) eyes pried

Open by the probing finger

Of the sun

 

Bits of glass and rock

And cigarette butts

Strewn about

 

I looked at the man

Then looked

Away

 

He looked at me

From the corner

Of his eye

 

Good morning,

He said

 

The way he said

It was not melodious,

It didn’t come with

The scent of long standing

Trees lining this strip

Of earth

 

Good morning, he

Said as he sat up

To face the day

 

Sometimes the only

Thing you can say

Is “Good Morning”

 

While the sun’s

Finger probes

Your eyes

 

 

 

© 2015 Tony Robles

My piece about Ellis Act Evictions in 48 Hills

Cover of my upcoming book, “Cool Don’t Live Here No More–A letter to San Francisco

Ithuriels

Looking forward to the release of this wonderful book, which should happen in the next month or so.  Editor F.S. Rosa did a wonderful job of putting together the short stories, poems and essays in this collection.  My brother Ace did a great job on the cover art.  Former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman had this to say about the book:

“In poems and vignettes, Tony Robles has written the generational memory of San Francisco at the point where alienation, deportations and technological invasions are gutting its soul. This Filipino activist just won’t have it, and neither will you after reading this superb book that restores the sense of a People’s City.”

Looking forward to the book release.  Much gratitude to publisher Jim Mitchell of Ithuriel’s Spear Press, editor F.S. Rosa, and to my mother, without whom, none of this would have happened.

Done

“Done”
By Tony Robles

The city
that done
did

did done…

done did
you me he
and she

the city that
done did
you

over easy
upside down
downside up
rare
medium well
al dente

the city
that keeps
doing you

the city
that done
forgot how

to do
it

don’t do
me like
that

don’t do
me that
way

But like a
lover’s weep
before a lover’s
leap

we keep
coming back

to this
city that
done forgot

(c) 2015 Tony Robles

Vinnie Punzal Rest in Peace

Saddened to learn of the passing of San Francisco native Vinnie Punzal.  Vinnie was an OG Pinoy from SF.  Went to George Washington High School.  His father was best friends with my grandfather (they both were Muni drivers in SF).  Vinnie was gracious, friendly, warm–a beautiful brother.  Rest in power.  vinnie

Rough! My Life as a Dog in Oakland

Never tripped on Oakland. To me it was that other place across the bay with better weather and up to the minute shootings showcased on the local news. Being from San Francisco, I was constantly trippin’; trippin’ over my shoes getting from point A to B bypassing what was in between. I tripped over my thoughts, a combination of past, present and what might lie ahead. My tongue tripped over itself in search of words, words that might mean something. Due to circumstances I will not elaborate on at this time, I find my self trippin’ as I walk down the street of my new home in East Oakland. The streets I walk on are new and, like San Francisco, the pavement is a maze of sutures, remnants of wounds I didn’t bear witness to. Yet, I feel the scars and sutures and faults as if they were carved into my own skin. I walk onward.

I walk past empty storefronts, churches, corner stores of various sizes and a thrift shop with wigs, canes, furniture, clothes and books. I walk past people, faces black and brown with emotions built up inside skin and bone that can be felt. In my first week in Oakland, 3 people said good morning to me. That never happened to me in 50 years in San Francisco. I respond with a good morning and walk on.

I head to the Coliseum Bart station one day on my bike. Rows of houses with wrought iron gates and fences stand stoically alongside trees with rivers of stories carved onto the skin. One house is surrounded by a fence covered in clothes—shirts, pants, socks—dangling, coming alive in the wind—kicking, waving, swaying in the Oakland sun. The houses are old and without the anti-septic quality their counterparts in gentrified San Francisco are acquiring. I see a man in front of his house, water hose in hand, dousing his car; a baptism of sorts—a gleam of pride and dignity as he embarks from his home to take on whatever may come.

I see more faces, the dogs of the neighborhood along 73rd street. Dogs with thick meaty faces, scarred faces, distinguished faces, faces of quiet fire, faces that a mirror would not forget or regret. The faces resemble prizefighters of yesteryear–Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles dogs; Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano dogs—Sonny Liston dogs with a Tyson thrown in for good measure; dogs that are both ugly and handsome at the same time; dogs that have seen it all and do not have patience for foolishness.

One such dog is a dog I call Pogo stick. Pogo resides in a house behind a wooden fence. I ride by and pogo jumps up and down. I get glimpses of the top of his pointy ears and head as he bounces like a ball. One day he got high enough where we came face to face. I saw his fine row of teeth and each time he jumped he spoke.

“Say man (jump), where you goin’? (jump)…you think you can (jump) go to the corner (Jump) store for me and (Jump) and pick me up a pack of (jump) smokes (jump) and a lottery ticket?

I can’t get his teeth out of my mind so I ride off until I come to a black wrought iron fence. I approach. There is a black pit bull. He whimpers a tone that has sat deep for a long time. I lean against the fence.
“How’s life treating you?” I ask
“Rough!”
“Really? You look comfortable to me.”
He put his nose between the iron bars and poured it out:
“Rough, rough, rough…rough rough rough…rough! Rough rough! Rough rough rough…!
rough rough rough!”
I didn’t understand yet I felt what he was trying to communicate.

I was about to ride off on my bike when I saw a small dog approach. It looked to be a Chihuahua/lab or some other mix. It looked up at me like he was an old time gangster—he had an Edward G. Robinson face.
“What do you want?” The little dog asked.
“Wait, you speak English?” I said.
“What the hell you think I speak? You damn right I speak English! I speak a little Spanish too and I’m trying to learn Chinese”
“Oh”
We looked at each other for a moment. I broke the silence.
“So, do you know what that other dog said?” I asked, pointing to the pit bull. The little dog looked at me.
“Ruff!”
I looked at the pit bull, his thick nose glistening behind the gates.
“What I said” he began, “Is that you just got here in Oakland a hot second ago but I been here a long time, since before you was in diapers. And all that poetry you writin’ about my home ain’t nothing but a lot of bulls**t. If it wasn’t for this fence, I’d put some real poetry on your ass. I’d A-1 steak yo’ ass right here and now”
“A-1 steak my ass, what does that mean?”
“It means that all that stuff you writing about Oakland, about the sutures in the street and the fault lines and cracks that tell stories like a palm in some fortune teller’s trick bag ain’t about nothin’. The only cracks and sutures that you’re gonna see are the one’s in your ass when I take a chunk out of it
I moved away from the fence. I backed away. I heard a noise.
“Rough!”
I hopped on my bike and pedaled onward, faster and faster. The sutures in the street were mouths that smiled then laughed. I was trippin’. I tripped over my own pedaling feet and towards the fault lines in the street. I fell on my ass as the laughter of the dogs rang in my ears.
Rough, rough rough!

(c) 2014 Tony Robles

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