Another part of the 3:00 a.m. contingent would be regular old insomniacs. They’re not usually out on the street, however. The reasons for their sleeplessness? — there are a million stories in the naked city. You know these wakeful only by the light of one window here, one window there, in a cityscape of a million dark windows. I have been a member of this tribe. I used to worry about it sometimes. Which, of course, made it worse. Then somebody told me you’ll fall asleep when you’re tired enough. Turned out to be true. Sometimes you don’t need shrinks, or self-help books, or sleep clinics; sometimes you just need to stay awake until you fall asleep. I’ve always loved Robert Frost’s poem of the sleepless, “Acquainted with the Night.” The first two stanzas go like this: “I have been one acquainted with the night./ I have walked out in rain — and back in rain./ I have outwalked the furthest city light.// I have looked down the saddest city lane./ I have passed by the watchman on his beat/ And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.” It is possible to outwalk the furthest city light — go to the desert, the mountains, the sea — but the lights are everywhere here.
I watched dawn begin to arrive in the parking lot of a Motel 6. Officer Schneider had said, about 4:00 a.m., “Let’s go to the Motel 6 parking lot and throw somebody in jail.” We’d cruised through a few times earlier. He’s found several stolen cars there. He needed to find one more stolen car to reach a certain number and he’d get a pin. A humble reward, but a matter of pride: he wanted one more car. He liked finding stolen cars — the results were tangible and almost immediate: somebody got his car back. He noticed a Toyota with a sorority sticker on it. “What would a sorority girl be doing in a place like this?” He ran the plates. Not this time. He had questioned a guy earlier in the parking lot and the guy had left. Now his jeep was back. The guy was in a room but not registered. Officer Schneider’s nose was telling him: dope deal going on here. A few backups arrived: they knew he was in a room registered to someone else. They tried a “knock and talk”: they didn’t have a warrant or any probable cause to toss the room so they knocked, and when the guy finally came to the door, an officer who had a knack for talking his way into places spoke to the guy. No luck. The guys inside were too savvy, and even though the cops saw a knife and a black metal box, they couldn’t go in. They were getting a little frustrated. It was a standoff. Schneider and the other cops discussed what to do. Traffic was picking up on 5 going both north and south. A eucalyptus tree was rattling in a slight breeze. From the worn-down dirt, among crushed beer cans and cigarette butts, a few very delicate and very yellow little flowers grew. Even a little light grew from the ground. The parking lot’s lights buzzed. This is another thing that happens at this hour of the morning or night: there are harsh knocks on motel-room doors, cops are tired, frustrated. After giving the guy with the jeep a sobriety test — he passed — they sent him on his way. He was a scraggly dude but cool through all this — patient, cooperative, and slightly condescending. He smirked as he got in his jeep. He’d be making his dope deal later. The light went off in the motel room. Scott said, “Let’s go look for stolen cars.” He knew a place where the chances were good.
I always liked Allen Ginsberg’s poem “A Supermarket in California.” He calls it the “neon fruit supermarket” and writes of peaches and penumbras. I never liked much else of his except for Howl and chunks of “Kaddish.” It seemed to me that he was too much into the guru business the last three or four decades of his writing life. Gurus have the answers, are happy to tell you the path. Gurus hold too much light. Guru-ism isn’t good for poets. But I thought it would be fun to find and visit the toniest 24-hour supermarket in San Diego. It shall remain unnamed. Who goes shopping at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and what do they buy? How many different kinds of smoked oysters does the place stock? I’ve always used the Smoked Oyster Index to judge the fussbudget food market. I try not to imagine how oysters get smoked: do they hang them in a smokehouse, individually, like hams? The first thing that struck me about this store was how much booze was for sale. Where I lived for most of my life (New York) you can buy only beer in a supermarket, never wine or distilled spirits. Incredible arrays of wines and beers and the hard stuff. Somebody once told me that booze was about a third of the profit a restaurant makes. Is booze then a third of our regular food budget?
I’ve never seen so much candy in all my life, including about 80 different kinds of Gummi candy. All are particularly useful in the removal of fillings: cola bottles, octopus, D.H. Sharks, Gummi Twin Cherries, Sour Patch Fruit Salad… The possibility of a stroke not withstanding, I am glad I have a salt tooth rather than a sweet tooth. Every olive oil on the planet was there, not to mention 10,000 cows’, goats’, and buffaloes’ worth of cheese. Look up Donald Hall’s wonderful poem “O Cheeses” — it’s a different kind of treat for the mouth as well as a pleasure for the ear. It was about 3:30 a.m. Who was shopping here? Exactly three other people. Two gay men were selecting a large number of oranges, each one more orange as they lifted them to the light to inspect them. A punked-out young woman with a large tattoo in gothic script across her upper back reading UNJOY was buying a six-pack of imported beer. The reference to UNCOLA is certainly conscious, a kind of ironic, albeit permanent, comment on American consumerism. There are lots of reasons to satirize the excesses of capitalism, but usually satire puts the needle to the subject rather than the needle striking the satirist.