Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the beginning of something

I was hitting a foam lemon against the wall of my apartment with a tennis racket. I often do this to pass the time. You’ve got to do something, and I wasn’t half-bad at it. In fact, I was getting so I could keep that damn lemon from touching the ground for quite a while, and my backhand was even coming along. I’ve always had a rather weak backhand, so this was encouraging. I’d donned sunglasses and had the shades drawn and all the lights out, and it was getting dark out too. I was still doing a pretty good job of playing pepper with the wall, sometimes even lunging onto my mattress to get a bloop shot. A lot of my rallies lasted for almost a minute. The thing about it was, that the lemon was a bit lopsided, and would dart and shoot out at unpredictable angles from the wall, and I had to be quick in order to respond properly, without too much follow through of course, as I would not want to accidentally swat over my reading lamp, or put a hole in the TV. My neighbors were pounding on the walls, trying to get me to stop, but I kept going. Once you start in on a thing like that, well, sometimes it’s just hard to quit.

I put on some music. I started dancing around as I kept at it with the racket and the lemon. The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man came on, and I started really strutting my stuff. I was doing these high kicks in the air, jumping up and punching at my ceiling, waving that racket around like a fan blade, screaming, laughing, bellowing the song’s chorus, and shaking my limbs like some lion tamer gone berserk in mid-act—basically just acting like a nut. It was alright. Something about it was making me a bit less lonesome and sapped of life than I usually am. I didn’t mind it so much.

Soon I got bored of it, and decided to sit down and look out my window for a while. The sun was almost all the way down. Streaks of runny light like egg yolk were getting all over the buildings across and down the street. Leaves on the trees out there, greener than most people’s front lawn, were getting tousled and slapped around by the wind. A dog snapped at a pretzel-eating pigeon on the sidewalk. Part of a newspaper flew by, doing a bit of a twirling dance in the air before tumbling off at last, finally gone completely out of style. It wasn’t too bad out there. Something smelled of bacon cooking. I liked that. It made me want some bacon of my own. After a few minutes I got up and went to my fridge to look for some bacon. There was none. This was disappointing. I decided to head down to a diner and get breakfast for dinner, which I consider to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. On with the shoes, the jacket, the shirt, and out was where I went, being sure to slam the door as I left, so my neighbors would know I was gone.

I walked up and then down the hill to Polk Street. It was a good walk. Got my brain going. Something was tingling in my left arm. I tried to shake it off, and when that didn’t work, well, I just ignored it. It was a pretty easy thing to ignore.

There was this diner on Polk and Sacramento that I liked going to. The waitress there was old and had an affinity for drinking white wine at the counter when she was bored, which was a lot. Not too many people went in there at night. She was frowsy and ill tempered, but she didn’t bother me much. I liked eating alone there, picking my nose if I felt like it, taking my time, enjoying things as much as possible. The tap water was high quality, and there were a few things on the menu you could order and not have to choke down with spoonfuls of ketchup. I got the bacon omelet with wheat toast. The waitress gave me a smarmy sneer and went back to her wine.

Tommy Dorsey was playing over the diner’s cheap speakers. It sounded like they were cracked and filled with lint. But his voice still sounded good. I drank my water and blew my nose a few times in a napkin. Then I played with the saltshaker for a minute, trying to get it to balance on its edge. I couldn’t do it. On the wall behind the counter was a picture of a waterfall. The water lit up with an odd yellow glow as it flowed down into more water below. The water below wasn’t glowing. It was just blue paint. I liked the little electric lights. They made me pretty damn happy. I sat there and watched them blink away until my food came.

The omelet came with hash browns, which were slightly better than straw. After I added about a pint of ketchup and a giant fistful of salt to them they were quite tasty. Of course, it is nigh well impossible to screw up bacon, but this cook came as close as I’ve ever seen. I finished it all off as fast as I could, which wasn’t what I’d intended, but sometimes you just do something and then it’s done and there is nothing you can do about it. The waitress tossed the check at me like a paper airplane, and it landed somewhere in the vicinity of my elbow. I wiped some ketchup off on it and put a twenty down next to it. It was too much money, but I didn’t feel like sticking around to collect my change, and so scooted out the door without even saying bye. The bell on the door rang like a tin can as I left. It felt good to leave like that.

The night was rather warm, and I walked a good ten blocks down Polk. I don’t why. I just did it. It felt good to be out and walking. I made my way into the Tenderloin, and steered into a place called The HaRa. It was dark in there. Not many people. Just some tables and empty chairs, and an old bartender who looked about the way I usually felt. He didn’t pay much attention to me. I sat down on a stool and waited.

The jukebox was playing Sinatra. Send In The Clowns came on. That wasn’t good. My spirits made a dash towards down and out. I cracked my neck and held a few fingers out, trying to get the old guy to shake a leg and serve me a drink. He kept drying pint glasses with a towel and not paying me any mind. I was starting to get uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t this man serve me? Was he a mute? Can mutes become bartenders? Was it a mistake to interrupt Old Blue Eyes mid-song? These were the things I was asking myself, though I might’ve been muttering them aloud. I often do such things.

This bartender was a very large man, and he was bald, and he was surly as hell, and he did not like me sitting at his bar one bit.

“I see you. Shit. I’m coming. I’m coming.”

I sat tight. Sinatra crooned: “Isn’t it rich?

After the song was through, the guy moseyed his way over to me. I ordered two beers and whisky, neat.

“Two beers, huh?”

“Yeah. The second’s to wash the first one down.”

“What’s the whisky for then?”

“To wash the second beer down.”

“What are you, some kind of a tough guy? You don’t look very tough.”

“I have my moments.”

He shook his head in either disapproval or bafflement. It was hard to tell, and I’m usually pretty decent at being able to tell such things.

After finishing off the first beer in about three giant gulps, I moved on to the second one. The bartender went back to not paying any attention to me while wiping off those pint glasses. The Sinatra songs kept coming.

I was not completely discontent. It wasn’t half bad in there. The empty tables were all surrounded by empty chairs. That was pretty close to summing up my life. Emptiness surrounded by more emptiness.

The second beer got empty. Then the whisky followed suit. A few strippers wandered in, on a break from the Gentleman’s Club down the street. The bartender knew their names and was kind to them. They got Coronas and Jäger shots. This made my skin crawl. It is people who order drinks like this who help make the world, for me, a little more of a miserable place to live in. I left a few bucks for my new best friend and made a quiet exit.

A small woman with a cello strapped to her back was walking towards me. She was having a rough time of it, crumpling under the heavy load. I’d once had a similar experience with a mattress. I did some wincing, but that’s about it. She crept by. I moved on.

Geary was clogged with traffic. The sidewalks were full of tourists and theatergoers and early nightlife aficionados. I didn’t like any of it. Crowds were just another thing to be lost in. Slaloming my way through the throngs, I made my up to Mason and prepared myself for the long charge up the hill towards home.