Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The walk to work, going by all the shops on Divisadero, past Yury standing there smoking outside his Lamp store, his thick cotton-white hair hanging over his brow, his neat silver mustache squashed under his sturdy nose, sometimes maybe even smiling at me there walking all alone, brow-beaten, all woebegone and sometimes sobbing even, hands shoved deep in my coat pockets, hating the morning just for being there, hating the hours ahead of me, moping and deranged too, as I pushed by and dragged my feet, missing all the lights on my way to Geary. This walk, thousands of times, from California to Geary, and then back too, and feeling miserable both ways, was a necessary thing of course. I must go to work. I must earn a living. I must loan out my soul and mind to somebody else for eight hours, to do with what they may, paying me a small stipend for my time. I’d walk on the west side of the street, watching the apartment buildings go by, and also, biding my time in splintered looks between sidewalk, parked cars, windows reflecting my face, sky, signs, letters, trash, and the buildings that were so familiar to me that they almost weren’t there, and in me this need to notice everything and remember it exactly as I’d seen it and the way it made me feel and what delusional thoughts were drifting through my caffeine-surcharged head, many times including songs I’d make up and sing, sometimes accidentally aloud, and memories too that came and went like taxis, and me all the while trying to, somehow, find grace and peace and a way to look at things that would make me feel better about who I was, all ripped apart and sullen and graying, as a human. Solstice, the over-priced yuppie bar on the corner of California, would start off my journey on sad, tenebrous mornings of no sun. I’d look at my reflection in its glass walls, seeing this rangy, skeletal nightmare of wild hair and bad skin walking by with poor posture and a limp, and I’d feel a little more awful. I’d gather myself and hustle on, passing the bicycle shop and the sewing supplies store, taking a swift gander across the street at the refurbished, newly painted Victorians with retail spaces perpetually available according to signs hanging out front, and then swinging my head back to peek into the window of the closed Thai restaurant as I stumbled my meandering way towards the light at Pine. While waiting for the light, which I would nine times out of ten miss by a few seconds, I would scan Pine, looking at all the large trees lining the sidewalk, their overflowing leaf-heavy braches hanging over the street, and would swivel my head as the traffic raced by, resting my gaze on the red boards of Frankie’s Bohemian Café beaming in the sun cattycorner to me. The light would eventually change, and I’d hoof my way lickety-split across the street, safe in the crosswalk, spitting on the macadam, staring at a fire hydrant or the sides of the bus stop shelter there or the mailbox or newspaper vending machines or the sky, which many times would have wonderful blasts of cloud shapes stirring around in the wash of its swelling blue. Slipping by, sometimes sideways or contorted like a rubber man, I’d squeeze through a throng of people waiting for the 24-Divisadero to sweep by and take them away, and would walk with head down, watching my shoes step over cracks in the sidewalk, seeing many cigarette butts there, and much other detritus of the life people lived, all this trash lying there to be blown down through sewer grates by the wind. I would try not to think about it. My mind would get to wandering, and I’d usually start in on trying to whistle, and then humming with my lips puckered like I was whistling, and then kind of cracking my head back and forth, adding a little spring to my step too. This was the best part of the walk. Sometimes I’d even get to feeling triumphant during this stretch, and I’d smile in the shop windows to my right as I trod onward down Divisadero, bolting past a smoking and morose Yury, past the art gallery and the antique picture framing place, and past the giant Yoga studio that used to be a decent thrift shop back when I’d first started out in San Francisco at the turn of the century, all the while taking hurried glances at myself in the windows, thinking about my disastrous hair and my crooked smile. Across the street the stupid Fish Bowl bar, the two taquerias—El Burrito Express and Ocean Taqueria—that battled it out and both stayed in business side by side like twin parasites sharing a host, and also the Dry Cleaners, the liquor store, the smoke shop, Yum Yum Chinese food, which had a great lunch special, though I did like it a bit more in its previous incarnation when it was simply called Hunan, and on the corner that bad sushi place called Godzilla. Of course, I’d often miss the light at Bush, which was a bad light to miss, as a lot of traffic went by there and the light took forever, and it was hard to cross on the red because of the high traffic volume. So I’d stand there like a dope, leaning against the wall of King Of Falafel, looking in the windows, watching the shadowy reflection of myself linger there leaning, and I’d read the headlines of the papers: The Chronicle, The Guardian, The Onion, The Examiner. Time passed. The light would eventually change. I’d speed across the crosswalk, hoping to not be late for work, as I scratched at my head and checked my watch, worrying about everything again, lost in the haze of my own stumblebum ways of thinking, checking my shoelaces to make sure they were still there on my shoes where I’d tied them—rushed and hunched over with shower-wet hair—earlier that morning. Sometimes, maybe say singing a song in my head, like say Nothing Compares To You by Sinead O’Connor, I’d start envisioning myself dining in a fancy restaurant, all alone. It would make me stop noticing things going on around me, and many the time was that I crashed into a telephone pole or went flying into an unsuspecting person walking towards me. And then, there, right across the street, there was that stupid pseudo-Mexican restaurant and the Starbucks with its own parking lot and the hair salon and the nail salon and the Medical Supply Store and the Cheesesteak place with its yellow time-worn banner reading: Caution May Be Habit Forming. All these place that I walked by every day for years, and looked at, and sometimes went into—except the hair salon, which was a bit above my kin—they were all always there, and I could count on them being there as I walked by looking at them, watching them go by, making sure that, yes, they were still there, all in the same order, as I read all the words painted on all the signs and on all the windows, saying the words in my head as I read them, taking some kind of comfort in this routine. Also, at the same time, walking by the long pulled-open steel doors of the F. Lofrano & Sons Garage and its cavernous interior, breathing in all of that oil and grime and some cigarette smoke coming from the thin mechanics squatted down on their gams by the entrance, and the stark, monotone, antiseptic medical building next door, which occupied the place where William Saroyan’s house once stood on the corner of Sutter and Divisadero. Waiting for another damn light to change, I’d stare at the Lottery jackpots in the window of Pete’s Deli across the street, the numbers going up and down, and up and down, all the time, and I’d look in and see my friends there behind the counter, and sometimes Pete would be there, bald and pop-eyed and still walking around and supervising his workers after some forty years there on the corner six days a week. Across the street people would be funneling in and out of the UCSF Medical Center, the driveway a perpetual stop-and-go stream of honking cars with blue Handicap placards hanging from their rearviews, some EMTs sitting in the back of their ambulances and smoking under the juniper trees by the curb. I’d keep looking in all the windows of the office buildings going by, watching my wildly overgrown hair as I yanked at it and pulled it out and up over my head, probably looking like some kind of emaciated ape-thing escaped from a circus sideshow, all the bed pans and wheelchairs and walkers in Bischoff’s Medical Mart making my stomach turn. And maybe by this point my head would be starting to throb, making me feel like a beehive that some kid had just chucked a rock at, kind of dizzy and discombobulated and hating everything, grabbing at my heart, wincing under the sudden stabbing pain in my chest, uncomfortable and nervous, fuming, squeezing my eyes shut and then widening them, clearing my throat, cracking my neck, watching the Walk Sign tick down to zero. It was more than just these things sometimes, sometimes not. But mostly I was just a pile of jumbled and frazzled nerves, and I strolled along like a tumbleweed, awash in the ways I couldn’t dare to be, scared, lopsided and lost, just trying to make my way to the place where I made my living without tripping or getting hit by a cement truck. Mostly I made it alright. On the corner, standing there outside the Two Sisters Café, which sold over-priced a la carte meals to hospital employees and patients who didn’t care or know about the cafeteria, I would mostly just dream about the empty lot across the street where a wonderful old and very ornately styled brick building used to stand. Its lavish walls and windows had met the wrecking ball, sadly, a few years after I’d come to know it in these walks, and the lot had stood empty for a long time, nothing but sand, weeds, and rocks, and sometimes a CAT Digger would be in there too, just sitting there doing nothing, and there was a chain-link fence around the lot which kids would sometimes spray-paint graffiti on. I missed the building. I would stand there missing the building, probably thinking about the way the wind was blowing some trash around in there, and how desolate and lonely it all seemed, just standing there watching nothing happen like that, having to go to work and ruin what was left of my day loaning my brain out to someone else for eight hours at a time. Sullenly, I’d cross the street in my half-ass way, barely alive enough to care about my feet moving forward, but not so bad off really, just moping and crazed and dreamy. But this wouldn’t last long, as the cars whistled and roared some too as they went by clogging up Divisadero to the intersection at Geary. I would hunker down and head off swiftly, taking long strides as I sped by the Sinai Memorial Chapel, ducking my head to ward off the imaginary falling of concrete overhangs, smelling the aged urine in the bushes, that sickly sour hot smell that was like mustard gas steaming my lungs. I was often late to work.