The Tenderloin is a prison of dirty windows. It is pigeons pecking at the flesh of discarded chicken bones lying next to human feces on the sidewalk, hunger stretching its terrible limbs block after block, shooting up in doorways, and choking on the smoke of the cigarettes held by hookers, advertising sex as others walk by, turning their heads only briefly—if at all. Briefcases, attempting to escape to later on or elsewhere, their faces glued to tiny screens in sad attempts to ignore the near tangible hum of apprehension all around them.
Some people are caught up in ignorance. Others are caught up ignoring.
Jonathan Hirsch, founder and host of the Tenderloin Reading Series, is not one of those people. Neither are Paul Corman-Roberts, Joel Landfield, Julie Michelle, William Taylor Jr., or Michael Warren Grant. People like this, people who pay attention, are dangerous, especially in numbers. People like this turn their focus outward, speak softly and find that others listen. They acknowledge the secret joys of that which most never speak of and gather in support of one another. There is a strange sort of community on these Tender streets. As I watched the above writers and artists say goodbye to Koko Cocktails, home and supporter of the series for over two years, I understood I was watching them say goodbye to a close friend. Some moments can’t be explained to those not witness to them, felt only fleetingly, though the memory sticks to the corners of thoughts for years. As they took to the mic to express their bittersweet love for the streets of this, the city’s most taboo district, I felt a strange sort of joy and disgust, terror and inspiration, that is impossible to understand or describe as the streets themselves. This vile honesty, honestly, could save us all. If we only paid more attention. Take a lesson:
“I have seen the end, and the end is, yes, a vagina.”
(Sorry Paul, for the disruption near the middle. Standing by the bar was both a good and bad idea.)
“He would wander toward the edges of union square and the corporate portrait of the city would be enlarged long enough for him to grow weary of the tourists who also wandered around, their heads all detached from their bodies as though they were searching for a sign from a place beyond The Cheesecake Factory”
“Sitting in a dark cafe sipping espresso and underlining passages in a book by a french philosopher and historian, about to get up for a poetry reading, I felt so pathetically, revoltingly bohemian, so very fucking precious, that I wanted to drag myself out to the alley and beat my own ass.”
“I bring a tray to a blind man, he moves his cane for me. ‘What’s on the menu today? Smells good.” He pats my hand. My eyes tear up, but he can’t see them… a line of hunger snakes out the door and around the corner and down the block.”
“There actually is community out here, but it comes in a different shape… there are no walls here”
“but still we dream that all the bodies and all the graves will bloom into love letters never burned and that the gaping wound of existence will pour forth desperate joy instead of blood or forgive all the pretty things that never loved us and love them all the more.”