David Wojnarowicz came to fame in the 1980s as a radical artist whose work challenged the boundaries of art, making him, for a time, the object of Jesse Helms’s conservative backlash. Before his death in 1992, he was established as an outspoken AIDS activist, anticensorship advocate, and groundbreaking artist and writer. New York called him a "spokesman for the unspeakable," and The New York Times declared that “his most lasting legacy will be as a writer.” The Waterfront Journals is a collection of his early works of autobiographical fiction. Written as short monologues, each is in the voice of one of the many people he encountered in his travels throughout America in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was living on the street. Wojnarowicz stumbles upon his characters in bus stations, at the side of the road, in hotels, coffee shops, and back alleys, where their interactions are less than epic, but unnervingly intimate. The Waterfront Journals is a testament to their identities, and of Wojnarowicz’s grace as a writer.
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The Waterfront Journals
By David Wojnarowicz
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Estate of David Wojnarowicz
All rights reserved.
Man in Harbor Coffee Shop
When I was in prison there were these two brothers, Hugh and Roy D'Autremont, who I became good friends with. I don't know if you ever heard of them but they were in prison for life for blowing up an entire train to get the mail-car money. So every day I'd walk with Hugh in the yard ... he was like this great mystical teacher but without getting into the mysticism, just a beautiful fella. So we'd walk along and stop every now and then because he had something to say to me like: Earl, do you see that guard tower? and I'd say, Yeah, and he'd say: Well take your fingers and measure how big it is from here, and I'd take my thumb and forefinger and place them about an inch apart so that the guard tower fit neatly between the two, and Hugh would say: Got it? and I'd say, Yeah, and he'd say without taking his eyes off the guard tower: That's how high it really is. Then we'd talk awhile more while I pondered this and realized he was talking about perspective ... and every so often we'd pass his brother Roy and Hugh would say: My pawn to your bishop, like they were playing mental chess, didn't even have a chessboard, they knew each position of the pieces in their heads which means Hugh was teaching me things and talking about various subjects and all the while he'd be pondering the moves of the chess game in his head ...
I had a lot of great sex in prison ... there was always some guy at my elbow trying to persuade me to drop whatever daddy I had and go with him ... there was one time that I had two guys at once. One was a real handsome guy but he had had a prefrontal lobotomy. Whenever we would get into conversations about the past he could only remember up to a certain point, then he'd explain his loss of memory with: That's when they cut off my horns. So I was making it with him and at the same time I was making it with this other fella who was in for murder. One day I was sewing in my cell when this queen rushed up and said: Earl, Earl. Joe and Butch are out there killing each other. They found out you've been making it with both of them! So I quick rushed into the yard and there they were punching it out and I ran up and got in between them and said: Now boys you stop fighting this instant ... you both should know better ... why there's surely enough of me to go around. Well after that they both thought about it and I was dropped ... neither of them would see me anymore ...CHAPTER 2
Guy on Second Avenue 1:00 A.M.
NEW YORK CITY
This friend of mine was up in Central Park on the West Side around Seventy-fifth Street or somethin like that and he was walking around in the park by the Rambles in this area with lots of trees and overgrown paths and he's cruisin and at some point this good-looking guy walks by him real slow and they check each other out and the guy passes him with a heavy cruise and continues on and my friend turns around and watches him go into this small clearing surrounded by hilly slopes where there's a circle of benches and it's night and dark as hell but the circle is lit up with lampposts and the guy sits down and looks for him so my friend turns and starts walking towards the smiling guy sitting on the bench and he's about to enter the circle and suddenly out the corner of his eye he sees something on the hillside move and he looks around and there's about seven dark-skinned guys black or Haitian moving down the hill from all different directions towards the guy sitting in the pool of light on one bench looking towards him smiling and so my friend turns around and yells Run run run and starts running like hell the short distance across the field towards this huge stone wall about eight feet high separating the park from the street and he's running like hell and he jumps up on top of this series of boulders and leaps over to the wall catching it and pulling himself over onto the street and he looks down as he does so and there's this one black guy standing beneath the wall looking up at him and he's got a knife in his hand and then he looks out over the field to the circle of benches and at that moment the seven other guys have reached the guy sitting on the bench and they close in on him and my friend says he sees them all lift their hands in the air simultaneously and the knives come down stabbing him over and over and there's not a sound and he turns and runs to a police station and reports what's happened and a couple cops take him out there in their car and they get to the clearing and there's no sign of nothin no sign of the guy who cruised him or the other guys no sign of a struggle and he can't explain it to the cops and he goes home and a week later the cops call him up and ask him to come downtown and make a possible identification of a male head found in the park and he goes and it's the guy who smiled at him one night a week ago and he talked with a number of people and found out it mighta been some voodoo cult and he flipped out so he gets this tattoo on his wrist to protect himself and he disappears for a while and a year later I seen him and he seemed different invisible so that you might not notice him if you passed him on the street ...CHAPTER 3
Guy in Waterfront Hotel
See here on this map ... I was born in Austin Texas ... see right here ... my father had me seeing the bishop all the time. I was a very religious child. So I go to the bishop and ask him certain questions about god and he says Now Gordon, we won't have people doubting their god. I said What? I'm asking questions because I want to learn not because I doubt ... one time the bishop was talking about gay people ... I'd never known what they were ... I was a pretty quiet kid, you know, didn't know anything, so when I heard what he was saying about them I thought what's wrong with them for doing that? ... so I went downtown and into the Gulch Bar ... Gulch Bar Gulch Restaurant Gulch Bakery everything in that town was called Gulch ... so I went into the Gulch Bar and picked me up a cowboy and I told him what I wanted him to do to me and we went right home and did it ... ha ha ha ... when the bishop found out he was upset. He said Boy you have an authority problem. Me? An authority problem? ... ha ha ha ... so that's when my father moved us up to Colorado ... see this line I've drawn on the map? well from here my brother was sent into the army ... then my father was sent over to Pennsylvania in order to work and he died ... the next thing I know my mother's on the phone talking to god knows who saying You promised me that when his father died you would get him work. She was talking about me of course ... that bitch she knew what was going to happen ... and the next thing I know I'm in Salt Lake City surrounded by Mormons and they're handing me my robe. Now I don't know how I got there but I became a Mormon which takes me from here to there ... see the direction the lines are moving in? well after three months of being a Mormon I called up my mother and said Mom I just saw people melting on the street. I was walking down the street in Salt Lake City and people were vanishing left and right so I called my mother and told her and do you know what she said? She said Gordon don't let it upset you. They're not there they're not real... ha ha ha ... So I said This means war and the next thing I know I'm in a uniform and in Vietnam. Vietnam! ... how the hell did I get there? ... the last thing I can remember saying is This means war and there I was surrounded by artillery fire not from the North Vietnamese but from the fucking lieutenants the generals they didn't know what the fuck they were doing. The soldiers didn't know what they were there for who they were fighting ... bombs were exploding all around us ... I was in the trenches and some guy next to me said Gordon is that a fetal position? and I would turn and look at the body next to me huddled in the mud and say Ha ha ha yes that's a fetal position and we'd take our field glasses and look through them into the fires and see men crossing the fields smoking joints. I'd yell out Hey! are you one of us? and one guy ate his joint and said Yeah now I am ... ha ha ha ... so now the line moves from North America all the half way around the world to Southeast Asia and then they send me back home and I end up over in Berkeley ... I was in a house living with some friends of my mother's and that's when Mrs. Robinson shows up out of nowhere just materializes out of the air ... she was this black woman and do you know what she said to me one time? She said You want everything don't you? ha ha ha ... that bitch here I was on food stamps not a penny to my name and she tells me You want everything well she didn't last long ... when that creature appeared in the corner of the ceiling one day waving its arms and saying I am god reincarnated Mrs. Robinson took one look at it and ran screaming from the house ... it said I am god reincarnated ... I'm a Jehovah's Witness ... so the line of travel comes from Vietnam to Berkeley ... now I'm here in San Francisco and planning to go to a logging mill up in Portland for a couple of months ... but see? that's what their plan is. They want me to go north because that's where the reincarnation process starts ... see my father was reincarnated into Patrick the guy who lives downstairs. Patrick's eyes are my father's eyes ... me I don't know exactly where I fit into their plans. I'm sure it's my mother's doing though ... I should go back and see her and ask her questions and hold a fucking rifle to her head and if she don't give me the right answers I'll blow that bitch's head off ...CHAPTER 4
Twenty-Year-Old Woman in Times Square
NEW YORK CITY
Hey man ... I don't know what to do ... I'm feelin real sick ... last night I got picked up by this trick over on Eighth Avenue at about two in the mornin ... we got a room in this hotel over on Forty-third and got upstairs and he was talkin okay ... ya know I didn't think anything was wrong with him ... so we get into bed and we start makin it and all of a sudden I see this knife and he starts mumblin all this shit and starts cuttin me ... I screamed as loud as I could but like I was in shock ... luckily the man workin the desk the next floor down heard me ... my fuckin arms were just slit up and the door flies open and the manager takes this fuckin guy by the ass and the hair and throws him down the whole flight of stairs ... the fuckin guy ran out into the street naked and disappeared ... look at this ... I fuckin wrapped them up but they haven't stopped bleedin ... ah shit I'm afraid to go to the fuckin hospital cause I think they'll arrest me ... someone gave me these penicillins ... I been takin them so it doesn't get infected but I don't know man ... I feel sick in my stomach ... it's almost fuckin Christmas and I'm supposed to go to Chicago and see my little kids ... I can't let them see me like this man ... I'm a fuckin mess ... this is it man ... I ain't workin this fuckin city no more ... I'm gonna take a bus down south ... away from all these fuckin pimps and screwballs ... fuck this man ... I'm goin down south ...CHAPTER 5
Kentucky Trucker in the Rocky Mountains
I make this trip a lot ... I can pretty much choose my route as far as direction. I'm in between jobs right now I get tired of working so I lay off for a couple of weeks. Usually I hole up in a motel with some woman and a couple bottles of whiskey and burn it all off ... you can meet some great women driving throughout this country at these truck stops. I picked up this one girl ... boy was she a wild one. We were cutting along towards Chio and she kept talking like she was rounded up on mollies or some shit then she says to me: How do you know I ain't plannin on pullin out a knife or somethin and killin you for your money? So I eased this pistol I got in my boot out and waved it under her nose. I said: I've been itching to try this out. I got eight hundred dollars in my left ass pocket so when you have the mind to try it you better do the job right. She started giggling and acting like a baby. I almost dumped her off right there on the highway but we kept on and when we reached Columbus we pulled over into a motel and got us a room and had a wild weekend ... we didn't leave that room except to eat a meal or two ... she was like a bobcat in bed, scratching and screaming and giggling the whole time and she didn't touch that fuckin money or that gun ... she was alright. See it's the ones who don't say a word that are really crazy ... if you're baked upstairs you don't say a word, you just pull that knife or gun or whatever and use it ... There ain't no reason to talk about it if you've got something like that on your mind ...
There was this one girl I picked last year out in Arizona ... real pretty and young ... so I gave her a ride and we were about four miles down the interstate when she rips open her blouse. She doesn't even unbutton it she just rips it open and messes up her hair and turns to me and says: Look buddy, you give me fifty bucks right now or I'll start screamin rape. I said: Holy shit! to myself and reached over and smacked her as hard as I could and pulled over to the side of the road and smacked her again and I told her: You go ahead and scream rape. I'm gonna kick the shit outta you. She started crying and saying: No no I'm sorry just let me out. I ain't gonna pull nothing. I'm sorry. So I opened the door and pushed her out and closed the door and took off. I'll never let anybody pull that shit with me.CHAPTER 6
Woman in Chinese-American Coffee Shop
Oh man when I was in the joint nothin happened ... I didn't get sick or nothin like I was scared I would ... I was snortin and shit before I went in ... and I'm thinkin Oh shit this habit's gonna come up on me cause I was doin ten bags by then ... but the stuff I was snortin inside kept me goin the whole time I was there ... I'll tell ya though ... my lawyer knows just where I am ... ya know man ... he can get me for breakin parole any time he wants ... he just gotta pick up the telephone and have the police pick me up ... he knows where I live but he don't want to do that cause he knows I'm comin down here for the program every day for the first two years and I ain't been a problem ... but I almost got picked up last week cause I was doin that shit where I'd let some guy proposition me and then I'd say: Yeah man twenty dollars and I'd take the money off the guy and the first chance I had I would split. Well this guy went and called the police on me man. I couldn't believe it and these two officers grabbed me and asked the guy what I did and the guy said: She took twenty dollars off me and tried to run away, and the cop said: Well how did she get twenty dollars offa you? and the guy says: Well I thought she was a prostitute, and the cop says: Well Miss, you got this guy's twenty bucks? I had forty dollars stuck down the back of my pants so I pulled it out and said: Hey man. I got a ten and two fives in one hand and a twenty in the other. Now you tell me which one is yours and I'll give it back like do you know the serial numbers man? And the guy says: I handed you the ten and two fives so the cop says: Give em back to him ... so I don't want no trouble so I hand the money back to the guy and the cops take this man to the side and say to him: Now do you want to press charges against this woman? and the guy says: No no. I don't want to press any charges, and the cops say to him: You sure man? and the guy says: Yeah I'm sure I don't wanna press charges. So the cop says: Okay now we're gonna read you your constitutional rights you're under arrest for propositioning this lady. Wow man I couldn't believe it. Ya see the cops didn't let this guy know that they'd arrest him if he didn't press charges cause then that would mean he was wrong if he didn't ... shit ... I told the cops that I wouldn't press charges. I said: Hell no man ... I got enough things to take care of ... I got a kid comin and another one at home so I can't afford any trouble with goin to court ... ya know?
Excerpted from The Waterfront Journals by David Wojnarowicz. Copyright © 1996 Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
Man in Harbor Coffee Shop,
Guy on Second Avenue 1:00 A.M.,
Guy in Waterfront Hotel,
Twenty-Year-Old Woman in Times Square,
Kentucky Trucker in the Rocky Mountains,
Woman in Chinese-American Coffee Shop,
Man in Portland Movie Theater,
Fourteen-Year-Old Runaway Girl,
Young Guy Hanging Out on Market Street,
Man in Mickey's Dining Car 2:30 A.M.,
Young Boy in Times Square 4:00 A.M.,
Young Runner Hanging Out by the River,
Young Woman in Coffee Shop on the Lower East Side,
Guy in Car on Wall Street at Midnight,
Boy in Coffee Shop on Third Avenue,
Young Boy in Bus Station Coffee Shop,
Young Man in Silver Dollar Restaurant,
Night Guard in a Bookstore,
Boy on the Lower East Side,
Man on Christmas Eve along the Rainy Hudson River 3:00 A.M.,
Man Lying Back on a Couch in 90-Degree Weather,
Twenty-Five-Year-Old Guy at YMCA Two Weeks after Self-imposed Hermitude in a Boarded-Up House in New Orleans,
Young Boy in Seafood Restaurant,
Elderly Transvestite on Second Avenue (Evening),
Canada-Bound Trucker on Interstate 90,
Man in Sheridan Square Park Drinking 1:00 A.M.,
Boy in Horn & Hardart's on Forty-second Street,
A Kid on the Piers near the West Side Highway,
Hobo in Train Yard,
Man in Brew & Burger on Forty-second Street and Eighth Avenue,
Guy on Fourteenth Street 3:00 A.M.,
Man Drinking Coffee in Thirty-third Street Pizzeria,
Man in Coffee Shop Midnight East Village,
Man in Casual Labor Office 6:30 A.M.,
Man on Interstate Heading Towards NYC,
Woman in Coffee Shop,
Boy in YMCA,
Man in Lower East Side Tenement Room,
Girl Sitting on Pavement in front of Coffee Shop,
Guy Waiting for a Bus,
Hobo on Flatcar Eastbound for St. Paul,
Man on Second Avenue 2:00 A.M.,
Boy in Trailer Park,
The Waterfront 2:00 A.M.,
From the Diaries of a Wolf Boy,