Working at HotWired put me in contact with a lot of powerful individuals, movers and shakers in the online computer industry. This story, however, is about someone not on speaking terms with the digital revolution, but who was living out the effects of the post-modern societal shakeup.
RebeccaYou could tell there was something askew from the moment she walked in. Peering out from under her wispy blonde bangs, drawing her tattered red silk robe in around her, she searched the large room for safety.I noticed her immediately. She reminded me of a girl I knew in high school that I had always enjoyed. I turned towards her and put up my "can I help you face"
She began speaking a stream of low but fervent words, telling me about herself and her day:
She had been sitting on a curb for an hour, when she saw this dumpster and she went to the dumpster and was searching through it when a car pulled up and this guy got out and she said "I didn't do it man," cause he was like from the DEA like the guys that had just been at her boyfriend's house where they, her boyfriend and his friends, they're in a punk band, had all been busted for drugs so now she was on her own and homeless, basically wandering the streets until I ended up here and it was her destiny, because a guiding angel had lead her here. Her and her poetry. "You see, I'm a poet" she readjusted her red silk thing over her soiled looking white slip - tucked in to black jeans.
Her voiced picked up pace and dropped to a murmur. I stood to listen to her recite and told her to start again.
Leaning back and forth, she recited a poem to me.
I've seen the grunge underworld and I've got it all in here.
And now she was ready, to present her poetry and exploit it and just fucking expliot the shit because I need the money, and this shit would sell because I've been living in hell with this punk band in the underground, I've seen shit you wouldn't believe. I've seen the grunge underworld and I've got it all in here. I've seen shit that no one's ever seen. And I lived through it." as she wildly gestured at a pile of notebooks in her satchel. She paused, "What is this place, anyway?" She took her eyes off of me to gaze around the office, which was returning more than one stare.
I told her about the magazine I was working for, and how it published content on computers, on the Internet. To this, she became immediately distrustful; she didn't like computers. I offered her a flyer, for which we had to traverse the space. Across the office, we began to flesh out our potential relationship as writer-publisher. I explained a little more about Wired, and HotWired, to someone I decided was not on intimate terms with the digital revolution. To her, it sounded like MTV. She began to speak about truth in rhymed metered verse. Unnerving and impressive either as spontaneous composition, or recitation from memory. I asked her if she would show me some of her work. She whirled to her large purse-bag and withdrew three or four books sending scraps of paper flying in all directions. Bending down together on the floor, we collected the scraps and began looking through her work.
she had three little stationary notebooks, nicely bound, with felt covers. She carried these around with her in a aged thrift store bag, which looked to have all the rest of her possessions in it as well. It was hard to get a grasp on her writing. As soon as I would start reading something, she would begin talking, which was far more interesting to listen to. She could talk in metered verse, as I mentioned, which stunned me, and engaged me more than reading. I soon realized that I might not want to subject her to the magazine mechanisms of trying to publish her poems in any of the publications I was connected with, moreover, they probably wouldn't want to listen to her anyway. I told her that I myself could publish her stuff, on the internet, so that millions of people could read it, and could tell her if they liked it, and that this could develop for her an audience. She seemed both interested by the concept of free distribution and repelled by the transmission by computer. Her work couldn't live on the computer. Too much pain, too based in reality to resonate projected virtually.
With nothing panning out from our attempted publisher-writer relationship, I tried to get her phone number. This to no avail - she had no home, so, no phone, no address. It felt like some rare flower was blooming in my vision for an hour, never to be seen again. At an impasse, I gave her a flyer, she packed her books, and mumbled about finding something else for herself, and left as abruptly as she had arrived.
I was a little dumbfounded. To say that her visit had been a distruption doesn't do justice to the new light that was projected on my busy collegues after this street poet had graced our offices. There are different edges that people live on, I guess, and she was on a real fringe.
But I had just let her go. Still a little disoriented, I began talking with a receptive friend on the edit staff. In describing her, I realized that I wanted to talk with her more. What else was there to her story? What more could she tell me about the "grunge underground"? Even more than that, I sensed a real power in her, or maybe a power in the fate that brought her to my desk that day.
Catching my breath, I ran out into the hall to look for her. She was just coming out of the men's bathroom, hustling her belongs along with her. I asked her to stop, and we sat down together in the hall.
What unfolded was a scant fleeting glimpse into the world of someone with a lucid vision of a confused world. The images and phrases that streamed from her mind made me both cringe and laugh.
As it turns out, Rebecca Johnson, about to turn 23, was from Wisconsin. While unclear what she had been doing with herself for the last few years, she had most recently been living with some members of a punk band and shooting speed. "I'm good though - I can go two or three days at a time without doing any kind of drugs."
This piqued my curiosity, I wanted to know if shooting speed was fun. She seemed taken aback by what was to her a strange question. "Oh man, you wouldn't even believe..." she began telling me about more of her twisted life in the underground. The line between her reality and her drug delusions became non-existant, but it didn't really seem to matter, for her, it was all real as hell.
"Yesterday I was bitch slapped by the Antichrist."I laughed and reached for my pen, "Wow - that's incredible"
"You know what that's like? He bitch slapped me. Right upside the head. His kids think I'm their mom." She spoke of a storefront in San Francisco's Tenderloin district wherefrom the Anticrist ruled forth. People could go in, but they didn't come out. She had been inside to confront him, and saw herself as a bulwark against the Antichrist.
Then her eyes grew soft. She spoke of how she had been waiting, and needing a guiding angel, and how she thought I was it. "You look like an angel" she told me. I blushed and thanked her. I wrote down my work phone number on the flyer and told her to call me. She mentioned something about the angels of Babylon, smiled, swung her bag over her shoulder, and jounced off down the hall.