Thursday, July 11, 2013

San Francisco, San Francisco, Today You Will Not Burn Again

            “Even if I wanted people like you to talk to me I still wouldn’t want you to talk to me. You get that? But now that I’ve got to stand here and take it, well, what’ve you got to tell me? If I’ve got to deal with you, even momentarily, being way too close to my person here, well, what is so damn pressing that it couldn’t fucking wait until I got my morning paper?”
             I’m standing on Bush right outside of Grover’s Market--minding my own, dawdling and what have you-- one April morning way before I should be out in public, and I’m just about to go in and buy a newspaper and a small bottle of orange juice. That’s about all. The wind’s being a pain in the neck. My eyes won’t see anything properly or open all the way, and there are way too many flies around for my personal taste. A few dogs are being walked here and there. I hate dogs.
            It’s way too cold to be standing around in the street, but that isn’t stopping me. I’ve got no idea why. People are sitting at the tables in the café across the street, and they’re drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and staring at their phones. The whole thing’s making me sick. And then Hubert comes over and starts making all this fuss. It’s crap. But there’s nothing I can do about it.
            “Hubert. Seriously, man. Just get to the gourd dashing point already. Shit, man. Excuse the Portuguese. But it’s cold out here. My toe hairs are frozen stiff.”
            The sun’s just starting out its way across the sky, and the streetlights are still on. It’s that early. Way too early for a guy like Hubert to be jawing at me. He’s pouting for his life, and he’s got a roomful of buckets at home.
            “Don’t get me right, Hubert. I’m a man of cold shoulders and colder steaks, but we’ve got to rust and nail all of that out-- all that joking around you been doing. This city’s filled with miscreant yuppies and do-gooder ne’er-do-wells. We all know the score. And it’s zip-zip. It’s always zilch for guys like you. But who-- tell me-- who’s against you? Who’d like to take a good hearty swing at that mug of yours and rearrange it so as even your mother wouldn’t know you from Adam? Huh? Well. Well. Just well and more wells, I guess. Shit. It’s too cold for this. I’m buying a paper.”
            A man with a poodle on a flimsy leash was arguing with the counterman about the price of some olives. The mangy little bastard (the dog, not the man) kept snarling at me from the end of its leash. I snarled back. The poodle backed down and began to whimper.
            “What did you do to my dog?”
            “Gave it a taste of its own.”
            “You can’t talk to my dog like that!”
            “Save it buddy. I’m in a real awful mood, and wouldn’t want that pooch of yours to get maimed or marred in some unnecessary fray. Ahem. Ahem.”
            The man and his poodle waddled out of the store, jar of olives in tow. The store's sensor bell dinged when they left, and that made me happy beyond belief.
            I bought my paper and my orange juice. I went back outside. Hubert was still there, shivering and hunched over in a straightjacket pose. I shoved a cigarette in his yapper and waved him good day, hustling up Mason, both hands shoved deep in my coat pockets with the NY Times under one arm and a bottle of orange juice under the other.
            The day got itself together. The clouds hung around for a bit, wavered, and then left for other shores. I made my bed for the first time in a week. I drank orange juice and leafed through the day’s news. It was all bad and worse. I got up. I didn’t comb my hair or brush my teeth or uncork a bottle of champagne. I just paced around feeling dull and deflated, and tried not to look in any mirrors. I wasn’t going to win any awards for charm or ambition anyway. After a few hours of pacing I decided to do some dishes, but then convinced myself otherwise. They’d still be waiting for me some other time. They weren’t going anywhere. Besides, it gave the fruit flies a good place to hover over.
            The phone rang at some point. I don’t know. I’d dozed off or something. There was a pile of drool on my sleeve. My head was somewhere in the Swiss Alps.
            “Hubert. Shut it. I’ve…I’ve had enough already.”
            A lot of static and silence and fuzzy nothings in my ear.
            “Hubert! Listen to me. You’ve got to stop this ratting and roving. It’s above you, really. No. Not on top. Above. Above. Don’t you understand everything?”
            I gave up trying to make no sense to him. He was beyond danger. Help would just be an obstruction to him now. I wanted olive sandwiches and glass ceilings. I hung up and had neither.
            I decided to take a walk down to Little Henry’s and put some food into me.

            Little Henry’s is a small Italian joint on Larkin and Post that’s run by a garrulous Chinese fellow named Henry and his family. From a seat at the window facing the traffic on Larkin there’s a splendid view of an immense steel-gray smokestack that doesn’t smoke. A few tropical plants sprout from pots on the floor and reach up to the ceiling with their dangling vines. The tables are covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths beneath a glass top. The brown wood chairs are lightly lacquered to instill a sense of class, as the napkin holders overflow like they’re going to bust, and the baffle lights dimly shine down like makeshift spots. 
            The butter for the bread comes pre-sliced, with each slice getting its own pad under it and a paper top over it that reads Darigold. It makes spreading it on the bread quite easy. The steak is served up with broccoli, thick carrot slices, and zucchini, and with all of the fat still intact. Sometimes they even bring you an order of pasta that doesn’t belong to you. Sometimes I leave it steaming there on the table while I eat my steak. It adds atmosphere. 
            During my meal a regular wanders in uttering, “Same old drink,” to which Henry responds with a bawdy, “Same old drink!” The old duffer sits down at a table and the waitress brings him a tall glass of cloudy brown liquid. He sighs and cusses under his breath.
            I sit doing a NY Times crossword puzzle for quite a while after finishing my meal, sipping water, and watching the traffic charge by out the window on Larkin. The charming middle-aged waitress with a noticeable limp says to take my time, and I do.
              There’s a swift charge in the air, something drowsy and alert at the same time, and I figure I might as well pay the bill and head out.
            Just outside of Little Henry’s is a one-hour “Valeteria” dry cleaners. It’s worth stopping by just to check out the sign: one of those old neon jobs with most of the bulbs out and covered in rust. The flowery font of the lettering is like something out of a Shakespeare playbill title.   
            I end up walking by the place where I buy my undergarments in the Tenderloin. It’s a tiny shop on Larkin that I frequent, with two old Chinese ladies behind the counter always jabbering away. (I owe them 40 cents right now, as I was a bit short on my last trip there, but I’ll pay it back. I swear.) The whole place is about as big as a studio apartment’s kitchen, and it’s almost completely devoted to socks and underwear. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver. You basically have to squeeze through the tightly packed shelves sideways, and crane your neck to see the sizes of the V-necks as you finger through them like records. Underwear, undershirts, socks, and hoodies are literally everywhere. You breathe cotton and plastic in there, and, of course, a decent amount of dust.  
            I stop thinking about things in general. I walk on.            
            Walking up Leavenworth, approaching Sutter, and the buildings are so beautiful just then, as the fog lingers a bit before the sun goes down for good. The buildings are melded, different shades of bricks in various stages of wear, scaffolding on some of them (always scaffolding up, somewhere; always construction plowing through the world), and I’m admiring it all, striding slow and easy, except shoes (as always) scuffling along the sidewalk, I go slouching and gazing, up past Golden Coffee with its horseshoe counter with the waitress in the middle, and crazed with dumb delight, trying to blink my way either into or out of something. I can’t decide. But, surely, it don’t matter, and I feel lucky for the scope I’m getting on things just now. The specks of pieces of cloud up there are almost Paris-sky lovely, and the pink flowers on a the sidewalk trees are back in full force. A pristine rush consumes me. I am leafless. The slope’s nothing, and there’s no pressure to walk up it. Maybe I’m at peace, slowly, and it might be carelessness, but I don’t care. It’s real. It’s enough. A drifty wink nudges through it all, and I’m right-off sincere and not interested in moods or behaving. There’s the street’s stubborn grit that’s keeping time with sleepy pigeons, and it is too late to be just some afternoon lolling that I’m now attempting, but the aspect ratio of my elation’s keeping somewhat steady time still with the clamor-free situation that I’m currently whistling down. Business is slow for the hardhearted, while most of the bums are going around with their check engine lights on.
            So, there’s a marvelous sight. Those buildings. All the bricks saturated and buffed with the fog-tinged gold of the fading sun. A smokestack here or there. Ponytail drapes dangling from an open window. Before-- like when the clouds seem my only friends, and all’s gray with hope-- I was trying on sun for size, casting a drop of gloom into a tangled mess of graffiti-clouded glass. Bogged down with drained grease, I am a shop that only pawns itself, and all of my looks go the other way, and then, of course, a stippled band of rose cracks the cross section of my heart. Maybe the way we miss people is just falling down stairs, a scale of woe cut jagged through the kindling of bad jokes and cold coffee, and we’re just crumpled and bent to an unwieldy shape in the face of unreturned phone calls and mail that’s all junk. Fetching, really, the things you wish for and always can’t have. Return me to sender. I’m done in.
            But those buildings there, just now, they’ve got scarred histories legging it out over today’s longing, and I’m lighter and bubbling to the surface, almost airy with wonder. It’s nothing to stop and mind my manners about, so I discount it without a thought, and mingle on into fresh-air daydreams, suddenly alive with wonder and not cussing at myself in my head at all. It’s not bad, not too shabby. Curtains on sadness and destitute whims. Yep. That’s the grandness of rush-hour parking garages sailing with a motor-oil scent through tarry, wind-blown satisfaction. That’s pin-pulling the freight cars of oblivion until everything trails along behind. I’m breezy and along for the ride. Rife with exuberance and all that. Yep. So, the streets clean themselves, and all the fire hydrants plead the fifth, and I’m caught free, clocked out and chancy, sick with wellbeing and all the likes. Go figure.
            The shuck of the 27 bus charging uphill unhinges an updraft of joy. Fire escapes shine egg-white slick. Overall there’s not much trudge left in it for me, this halt to wandering that’s just sort of come upon me out of the grand thin blues. Temper’s no longer an option. I’m flush with pink-petal wonder, and it’s only time, after all, that I’m wasting. Good thing, too. It’s almost raspberry-picking season. A barrel of stems, or just the late fermented juice of elation, and now, curses, I’m back to dragging my torn net through the mulch and paw of still waters. But everything’s in bloom, and there’s plenty of tread left on these here tires, so what’ll pass for salvation gets handpicked for getting by, through or with it, just the same.
             Forget Hubert and his petty troubles. I’m going home to do my dishes, and then maybe lie in bed and listen to the sound that traffic makes going by on the street outside.