"It's Been Almost Sultry Here In The Haight. Eat Your Heart Out."
"August Kleinzahler, in addition to being a poet, is the author of Cutty One Rock: Low Characters and Strange Places, Gently Explained, a series of autobiographical essays. A huge fan of these pieces, particularly 'The Bus,' a bitingly funny and self-deprecating narrative of a bus ride along a seedy stretch of San Diego highway, I was thrilled when I was assigned to work with August last year. Through our ensuing correspondence, we learned that he lives roughly three blocks from my parents' house in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. What's more, he moved there from New York in 1981, the year I was born. During a visit home last summer I arranged to meet August on a Saturday morning at the Reverie café in Cole Valley, haunt of local writers and bloggers.
I recognized August the moment he walked in the door, not just from his author photo, but from an air of scrappy, bemused outsiderhood unmistakable from his writing. In oversized Gucci sunglasses and a large dark trenchcoat, he looked like he could have walked straight off the set of a hardboiled 1940's detective film. We sat by the window with our coffees, and I broached the ostensible subject of our meeting: publicity for his book, his next project, and his busy reading and lecture schedule. He had just finished a teaching stint at the University of Texas's Michener Center, and seemed glad to escape the heat. With a lingering sense of awe at his good fortune, August recounted his first meeting with Jonathan Galassi, who had learned of his poetry from a friend by chance. He also described a trip he was planning to take to Rapid City and the 'Badlands' of South Dakota. He was writing the titular poem of his forthcoming collection, Sleeping It Off In Rapid City, but had never actually been there. I'm not sure which came first: the poem or the idea for the trip, but I think it was the poem. After a little less than an hour of this, August excused himself: he was driving to Sacramento (a three-hour car ride, factoring in East Bay traffic) to visit 'an old dame' whose birthday it was, and whom he visits every year on her birthday. As a parting gift, he recommended his favorite walk for my next visit to San Francisco: a meandering climb through the eucalyptus-covered hills of Twin Peaks. To this day, whenever I see a new note in my inbox from August, I think of him roaming up there, phrases aligning themselves in his brain.
I received my latest message from August on a recent cold March morning. After asking me to send his author photo to the director of a Polish book festival, he concluded in typical fashion: 'It's been almost sultry here in the Haight. Eat your heart out.'"