Dolly and Diamond

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

A story in two voices...

by John “JJ” Colagrande Jr.


Didn’t have a pen. Who could afford a pen? I used a cork.
Diamond was proud of my genius. Way I took my baby blue and burned the end of the cork. Burned that cork till it was nice and smoky. Adjusted the cardboard and scribbled L O N G S T O. Burned the cork again then R Y A N Y T H I. One more was all I needed. One more spark N G H E L P S!


Lived under a bridge at the intersection of highway 101 and Cesar Chavez for a year. There were a core group of about fifteen. That was where I met Dolly.
Loved Dolly from the start. She was so flighty she needed a safe place to land. And the bridge was straight. Kind of like a family. And we were cool with the cops on the beat. Cops knew we were harmless. And we were down with Caltrans, too.
Caltrans made a deal with us said if we kept the area clean we could stay, we could even keep our carts. They helped us out. They’d drop off garbage bags on Wednesday and pick them up on Thursday. We kept the place snowy clean. Nicknamed the spot El Dorado. Then around election time the mayor’s office tried to come off like they found a way to co-exist with the homeless. Publicized El Dorado and shit. Made them look like they were managing the problem. You can guess what happened. El Dorado flooded with homeless from all over the city. Looked like a Grateful Dead parking lot. But the family vibe was gone. Became a cliquey ghetto. Dopehead hippies over here. Crack head hookers over there. Drunk Hondurans this way. Caltrans still dropped off bags but no one filled them up. We lived in shit up to our ankles. Then the rainy season came in December and the city whipped out their brooms. The cops turned on us. You can’t stay here no mo. DMP collected our carts. They put up a fence. They put up a fucking fence, under the bridge. If you ask me the mayor’s office knew what would happen by publicizing El Dorado. But, Dolly and me, we stuck together, we moved to Van Ness and California.


I love San Francisco.

Sunday mornings I’d leave my stuff with Diamond and take the 49 down Van Ness to Market then transfer on the 71 up through the Haight. I’d get off at Stanyon and walk through the tunnel into the Park. I’d stroll around the bend past the field where the Mexicans played soccer. Then, under the hanging foliage, vibrant and mystical, I’d enter the meadow. Y’all call it Golden Gate Park. Some call it Hippie Hill. I call it my meadow of sanctity. It’s the little area of the park beside the tennis courts. It was especially nice when the sun was high in the sky. I’d kick off my shoes and relish the piney blades of the crew cut lawn. I’d plop down on the hill and the continual motion in the meadow was like a merry-go-round. Footballs, baseballs, Frisbees, soccer balls, hackey sacks, young girls with hula-hoops and devil sticks. Kids streamed paper through the air like a Chinese celebration. Dogs ran around in packs. Hill was scattered with folk, tribes of comrades, and desperados like me. Then, the only bench in the meadow, where there was always a drum circle. The rhythm of the drum directed me.

Rhythm is eternal. Y’all hear me, right? Always somewhere in the world a drum’s being strummed. Right now, in Africa, Australia, Brazil, Asia, India, somewhere someone is pounding a drum. They’re pounding away. Right now. Always pounding.

Drumming takes me to orgasmo. One way ticket. That’s right.

Orgasmo, my orgasmo, how I live for you. How could I explain you?

You’re beyond anything sexual, for sure. You’re everything and nothing, orgasmo. You’re a void but you ain’t empty of energy. No, sir. There’s energy. It’s sex without sex, and there’s rhythmic drumming, pounding, pounding, and a high pitch, like a dog whistle, I feel it more than I hear it, orgasmo, and it freezes me, numbs me cold, and I cling, and there’s laughter, always laughter. And it’s all empty, but it ain’t. Orgasmo.

Diamond could never understand you. I know Diamond could never understand. You’re mine. And words could only begin to articulate your surface. But on Sunday afternoons, as I lay on the hill, under the sun, I’d stay with you for hours, clinging to the drum, until I was distracted. Then I’d pick up the Frisbee or football or whatever, and toss it back in the direction it came.


Looked in the bathroom mirror at the McDonald’s on Van Ness and Golden Gate. Swore to myself by the end of the week we’d be off the street. I meant it. Enough was enough. For Christ’s sake, Dolly was in her second trimester. It was no way to live.

Splashed water on my face. Rubbed callused hands down stubbed cheeks. I looked droopy. Tired. Put a wet finger on my reflection. Ran it down the middle of my forehead. The smear startled me. I laughed. Well, not quite a laugh, but my lips moved in an upward direction. I took that.


And the women in San Francisco are like fluttering sprites. Their wings made of sugar, sweet-sweet sugar. Every filament of that wing is candy coated in a honeycomb dream. And their eyes bubble, and in every blink a lash flirts sparkling dust. Some swish in the air, mystically disoriented, others swoosh around in excitement. The women toss about, no judgments, in the citywide garden—San Francisco.

Y’all can catch one in your hands, if you were lucky. Maybe at a park like Washington Square in North Beach, or outside the Funky Door Yoga parlor on Polk Street. Now, you might catch em—but you can’t keep em. They’re not the fireflies of your youth, boy. You can’t put em in a cleaned out Prego jar under a lid you used a rusty scissor to puncture air holes with. And you can never clip their wings. You can only admire their beauty. Then you got to let them free to flap and flop where they will. If you lucky they’ll linger, like me to Diamond, like a moth to light, for a moment or an eternity.


The sound a bus made as it roared by, an extended city-growl, intimidating and disruptive, could spin me like a top, round and round, out-of-control, off course, where am I, what happened, what did I do? But only for a couple of seconds, unless, unless, unless I embraced the grumbling bus and let her charge me, took her in like a breath, invigorating and necessary, rrrrrraaahh. Sometimes I didn’t even notice the bus roar as I walked along the berry lined sidewalk faster than usual, my head held higher, maybe I’d crack my neck or knuckles, maybe I’d pound my chest. But I’d march on, like what, like it was nothing, like I belonged, like I owned the place, and I’d say to myself, Diamond, you’re a warrior, you’re a warrior, you are a warrior.


But it ain’t all sunshine, honey.

I was tired. I mean I was tired. I worked the corner, sign in hand, for nine hours.

It was a good corner too, Mission and Van Ness. I was lucky to work it. Made more than my usual spot on Van Ness and California. Still, what did I earn? Twenty-two forty plus half a club sandwich. Could’ve been worse, I guess.

Some gal did kick down a couple of books. A college chick with pink hair and a lip ring. Said she’d seen me reading before, thought I’d appreciate the authors, said they’d help me remember I was a woman. Not sure what she meant, but I took the books, and, oh, speaking of kicks, the baby kicked for the first time. I couldn’t wait to tell Diamond. But as far as the books went, I’ve read Rebecca Wells before, and Terry McMillan. I never checked out Amy Tan, that’s all.

I love to read, always have, but out there it was different. I’d keep my eyes on the page, my head down, time ticked, ticked, ticked, pages turned, turned, and the day flew by. I really liked to read when it rained. I’d take the blue tarp out of the cart, cover the wagon, slip the white rope though the tarp’s rings, and fasten it around something stable, like a parking meter. I’d give myself a dry sanctuary under the canopy, and read to the rhythms of the splitter splatter rain.


This cat Hector I knew from my old days when I squatted in the Mission had it. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I really didn’t. He said it was Peruvian and it was pure. He said he’d front it to me for fifty. One gram, vato, you can step on it.

I stopped by the Walgreens on 16th and Mission, bought some baggies, and stole a small bottle of vitamin B12. Old street trick, vitamin B12, it has no flavor, it’s smooth, perfect color, perfect for stepping, perfect for work, some people use baby laxative so don’t give me no hard time.

I got six half grams from one gram.

It was a far cry from one of them late night Monday recycling quests where I’d stumble through the steep streets of Potrero Hill, drunk on beer, digging through blue bins for a nickel. Them cans and glass got heavy when you didn’t have a cart. Still, it was worth the thirty or so dollars the Chavez recycling center gave you. And it was kind of legal, at least harmless.

It didn’t take me long to get Hectors money. In less than two hours I had sold all six bags in the Mission at thirty a pop. I didn’t do any. You think I might’ve, huh.

It was about money that’s all it was about.

I beeped Hector and met up with him at his crib. Gave him his fifty. Asked for two more grams. I’ll pay cash. I’ll give you ninety.

I was already there so…soon I had twelve half-grams and forty bucks in my pocket. It was only ten past two. I hopped on the 14 out of the Mission, got off at ninth, and bounced around SOMA making my way to the Loin.

I only dealt with kids, and tourists, but the kids, the fucking college kids with their disposable incomes. That’s what I looked for. Kids who walked around like addicts pushing along allowance drips. And there were more of them than you’d think, especially in San Francisco. Little art students from the Midwest, here, buy some drugs.

And tourists too. A white boy in the Loin that’s not a bum was either looking for drugs or he was a tourist. Tourists kept the homeless alive. And God Bless them, too. God Bless those good old boys from the south that had a conscious. And God Bless those European motherfuckers. And God Bless the summertime when they were everywhere. You want to stay out of jail and make some money, kids and tourists.

But who wants to deal with that shit? Monkey hustle shit made me sick. But, sometimes, to get by…five I was in the Tenderloin and all out.

Got some food in the KFC on Polk. Went in the bathroom to check my pockets. Three hundred and ninety-five dollars, it got us off the streets, but only the future knows for how long. I have to get a job and find a place for us to stay.

I can stay sober and get a job. I can stay sober and get a job.


Yesterday I felt so old I thought I might die. Y’all know the feeling?

Something in the air—more than the fog, more than the breeze—made it unbearably cold, for awhile. There was nothing in the air. Y’all know the nothing, right? Some electric nada it sizzles fluorescence. The nothing, it drones overhead like a bulb. Some drowning nothing—gripping a hold of your ankles. Nothing. It tried to take me down. It got in my bones and made me feel old.

Asked Diamond about it and he said maybe it was my diet. Too many liquids, he said, but not enough milk. Not enough protein, or calcium, or Vitamin D, or whatever it was that made your bones strong. I saw it as some unwelcome spirit, some ghost. Like a resin from a week long festival. I felt like a cavity waiting for a filling.

Diamond thinks I’m far out. That ain’t it. I feel things differently, that’s all.

Maybe it was the weather, uninviting, overcast, and dreary.

Whatever the case, my house was haunted.


Sign-up for POOR email!