Continuation of San Francisco Daze, a monthly record of life written in 2005 but now finally being shared with the world. That was a good Febraury, but you have to figure this one is better since it has 29 days!
Where do the mid-afternoon café girls come from? I'm ensconced in Blue Danube at 4th & Clement, playing hooky from work on this gorgeously sunny Tuesday. The abstract paintings on the wall that are this week's art show here are good. This dirty beaten up white leather couch with the spangly Indian cloth thing on the back is good. The sign advertising live music on Thursday is very good— I didn't know that they did that here. But what's best is the puzzling profusion of mid-afternoon café girls. Don't they have work? (Then again, don't I?) But no, really, her with the pixie cut, the almost translucent glowing skin and the unidentifiable tattoo, where did she come from? My angel by the window with the curly dark hair, the geekazoid glasses and the go-go boots, what's her story? Wither the blond with her solid homey beauty and squared-off thick-rimmed glasses? The willowy brown haired girl reading Joyce Carol Oates who just caught me looking at her? Cool hipster chick sitting outside in the sun with the too-red dyed hair and sunglasses? Girl with short dark hair also at an outside table? Gal with a latte about as big as a soup bowl struggling over a Japanese textbook? How am I still single in this city?
One of the highlights of my neighborhood is the Last Day Saloon. The place has been here for something like 30 years, with live music almost every day of the year. And the live space up a slightly creaky set of stairs, wood heavy, glowing bar like a beacon, frayed old carpet, stage not unlike your high school had, is one of my favorites in the city. I've only been there one time when it was crowded (for probably the worst band I've ever heard there). The rest of the time it's only fitfully full, and the band is so close you practically feel you're on stage with them. And tonight, tonight was Metal. The Fluff Grrls, with a frontman so serious about his lack of art that he was practically incoherent between songs. But when it came time, he poured it on and they amped it up. The last band of the evening, Alter Ego SF, were in full-on rock star mode. Their two guitars and bass let loose the thunder in a way that reminded me of Metallica of yesteryear (when did I become such a metalhead?). And yet there was the unexpected sweetness of the banter with their family and friends in the audience. In-between the first band and the last came the real prize, Beautiful Ashes. A drummer who looks like your best friend from high school who was into metal. Guitar and bass. And lead singer Megan, serious, pale, breathing deep to center herself before beginning, shyly requesting more mike. Megan, this little red-haired slip of a girl, who once she gets going, sings and screams into the mike in a way that reminds me of Black Sabbath in the best possible way. The band creates walls of sound behind her, crunching guitars, a pulsing fuzz which Megan (who by now I'm sporting a sillily huge crush on) pulls together into a snarl, a song, a moment of truth torn from somewhere deep inside and handed to us. I walked home at 12:30 AM, ears ringing, loving her, them, the Last day Saloon and my neighborhood.
Waiting for Melinda at Muddy Waters café on Church & Market. This is my least favorite café in the city. At least, it always struck me as skeevy and dirty. But tonight it seems friendly and welcoming. Perhaps I'm changing. Maybe it's the lighting. Actually, I think it is the lighting- so crisp and clear at night, with none of the dinginess of day. And the brick, I love sitting next to the brick wall. The scuffed planks in the wooden floor, even the worn carpet in front of the register, usually a magnet of suspected sticky ickiness, somehow feels homey tonight. The solid brown wooden doorframe around the big glass windows looks like the gazebo of some literary cottage. And the smooth thick-painted brown pillars barrel up to the ceiling's flared beams that are maybe only barely load bearing. I love them, I love them all. I couldn't feel more comfortable in my own living room. In fact, since my living room is currently full of unfolded laundry, I'd probably feel considerably less comfortable there. All Hail Muddy Waters! And death to those who would drag her down!
The thin wiry Asian guy with the little round glasses and the crazy hair at the 7-11 on the corner near my home smirks at me every time I come in. I can't tell whether he's commenting on the quality of my purchases, or whether he thinks I'm cute. If it's the former, screw him. The Miller 32-ounce, at $1.49 is extremely economical, and it's been a long week. If it's the later, well, not exactly my scene, but heck, I'm willing to considerable any reasonable offer.
Weekend Cafes Part I:
Saturday afternoon at Café Bazaar, meeting Jodie to write. I would have liked to have written at one of those hard little tables in the back, the ones in the dark room where it doesn't matter that it's dark because each has its own little study light. Rather what I imagine a reading room at Oxford must be like. But I didn't want to disturb the guy back there, who looked excessively studious. So instead, we sat at the big round table by the window, which had its recompenses. Such as the bright yellow tablecloth, proximity to the piano, and being right by the window, which is stuffed with drums and other instrumentation for the musicians who play here on a regular basis. Also the passers-by visible through the windows are pure delight— hipsters out for a stroll, parents with kiddies in strollers and the more than occasional old Asian couple making their way down the street. And everyone inside is serious and intense. Intensity leavened somewhat by the cool leafy garden out back. An ideal writing café, all in all.
Weekend Cafes Part II:
Sunday morning at the Peet's on Sacramento & Fillmore to meet Carolyn to talk about plans for her novel. And holy cow is this place crowded! Who would have suspected all this activity before 10:00 AM on Sunday? Even more, on a Superbowl Sunday? The crowd is mostly the babies and dogs and well to do that you find on upper Fillmore on the weekends. Next to us, though, is a sun-wrinkled figure with short scrubby reddish fading to white beard, in clothes that look like they've been bleached by time to the point of fraying. He has a bag of carrots lying next to a book titled "Secrets of Plant Propagation" and is reading the newspaper. Not reading so intently though, that he can't eavesdrop on our conversation. When I mention working in Hong Kong he asks how I liked it, and if it would be a good place for a guy like him who has an Asian fetish. He then goes on to tell us how a friend of his went to Thailand, and said there are 30,000 women on the beach just waiting to marry foreigners. He himself is sponsoring two children in the Philippines, and he should probably marry one of their mothers. And did we know that you could sponsor children in the Ozarks, right here in the U.S.? Then he leaves us to our conversation. I depart later, thinking that I should probably find a woman on the beach in Thailand, marry her, and adopt a child from the Ozarks. We're probably related anyway.
Weekly Work Commute Scenes I:
on to morning street
late for work
dash across intersection
white car pauses
up on sidewalk
day laborers talking
one drops coffee cup
next to trash bin
I look down
scattered on sidewalk
in front of furniture store
beneath my shoes
Weekly Work Commute Scenes II:
the brick side
of Self Storage
an orange and pink
on the corner of
Geary & Masonic
Weekly Work Commute Scenes III:
Elvis! Elvis is on the bus! I swear it. Big bushy sideburns. Hair slicked back, still dark, but graying now. Giant sunglasses, tinted red lenses framed in gold. Big sparkly rings on his fingers, just like you'd expect. Platform shoes. A little stooped with age now, but he looks good. He's definitely lost some weight since his Vegas lounge days. I guess living underground for nearly 30 years would do that to you.
Weekly Work Commute Scenes IV:
On the bus as it was packed to the hilt and about to split down the middle. Jostling and shoving near the back door produced cries of— "don't push me!" As I moved my head, trying to dodge the twin threats of one guy's backpack about to whack me and someone else's ass nearly in my face, I overheard a guy outside. Apparently trying to get on the bus, and yet unable to manage it.
"What's wrong with you people? Why don't you take taxis? You all got jobs. You can afford it. Why don't you take taxis?"
"What about the environment?" somebody on the bus shouted back at him.
"What's wrong with taxis? You all got jobs." I could almost see him through his voice, heavy-set, middle aged burning raggedly towards old, with wild wispy white hair.
"Take a bus and save the environment!"
"Why don't you take a taxi?"
"What about your children? And your children's children's children?" I found myself honestly unsure whether this interloucer was having fun with the man outside, or really was filled with ecological zeal.
Then the man outside, as the doors closed, addressed his rant to a new passenger. "Hey you! In the black hat. You got a job. I know you got a job. Why don't you take a taxi?"
The doors shut and the bus rumbled to a start as laughter swept the passengers. Which did a considerable amount to lighten the gravity of my being squashed between the splay-legged guy next to me, the backpack and the ass.
Weekly Work Commute Scenes V:
Pretty bountiful red-haired girl on the bus stops me in my tracks as I board. I abandon my usual policy of driving straight for the back where there's generally more room and less drama, and instead plop down next to a silver-haired lady who looks none too inviting. This just so I can sit in the seat across from the red-haired girl. Who smiles at me when I sit down. Who has gray tennis shoes highlighted in pink. Who is wearing a velvety purple-red coat. Who's hair, like mine, is drying from a morning shower. Who's hair, unlike mine, is a profusion of red-orange curls. Who has horn-rimmed glasses with violet frames (my God is she color-coordinated). Who is reading a paperback, and I wonder what it is. Thus ends the red-haired bus girl jam.
They line the streets
By a week
Of warm air:
Popping from branches
Of pink & white flowers
This afternoon my Writing Group (or at least a five-member quorum thereof) sat around Jodie's empty living room in her new place. We met to hammer out submission guidelines and deadlines for the self-published journal we're brewing up. We had just enough of Dave Z's homemade absinthe to throw everything slightly off-kilter, but we got through our agenda items successfully, followed by us being recruited to help her move furniture from her old second-floor walk down Pacific Heights place to her second-floor walk-up new place at Second & Clement. The venture was well run and generally fruitful, but at the end of the day there was no way that the queen-sized box spring from her bed was going to get up the full-sized hallway. She still had the mattress to sleep on, so we all adjourned across the street to Giorgio's for pizza and beer.
The thing that caught my attention
about walking the blocks
to the bus stop on Market Street
in the rain
as I concentrated
on each step
in order to not
have the motion
of my slippery saddle shoes
against the slick pavement
land me on my ass,
was the way that
just for me.
There is a telephone pole just before Broadway and Sansome into the nooks and crannies of which someone has stuffed hundreds of silver and green peppermint patty foil wrappers.
I never noticed
the thick grainy sand
that the trees are planted in
as they line the street
when the heavy rain
had turned it bright gold
I could have been a flight technician in the Air Force. Thought delivered to me on the bus via the woman with the curly red hair toting the plastic bag that says, "Fleet, Fleet" on it. Which made me think of Fleet Week, and Paige's e-mail, and how it rattled some people at work and that my rejoinder would have been that, lefty or not, I actually respect the job that the military has to do. Which made me think of Mike from graduate school in San Diego and the awkward scene with LiAnne in the theatre and how that had come about because I told her that talking with him made me wish I'd joined the military at some point. Because in my talk with him I said that I would have wanted to be in the Air Force but my eyes were too bad to fly, and he said that even if I wasn't a pilot I could still have been a flight officer or a technician and been in the air that way. Thus does the mind work.
Tonight I saw the Evens at the Swedish American Hall with Melinda, which was a revelation on several levels.
First the Hall itself. I'd always wondered what secrets lurked in its depths, and it proved to be no disappointment. It lay up a flight of squeaky stairs to a high-beamed wooden room that looked not unlike a high school auditorium except that it was richer, and woodier, with a balcony and benches lining the walls broken up by huge wooden thrones. Really. Big kingly seats elevated, with high backs and massive arm rests on each side. Scattered around the room were blocky movable wooden platforms, which the Swedes no doubt used in some fashion during their ungodly rituals.
The next revelation was the crowd. For it was Them. Yes, Them. The people I see at certain bars, certain art shows, certain concerts. With their piercings and their tattoos and their haircuts and keds and thrift store jackets, all recognized, but mostly not known. It made me wonder— am I one of them? I feel like I don't know them, really, but how long do you see all the same people at all the same places you go before you are those people? Kind of like High School, except our parents aren't waiting to pick us up and we can buy beer out in the open. Although I bought a Diet Coke. It had been a long work week, and I was afraid of nodding off.
Now the wheel circles around to Melinda and her friend Jennifer. Melinda who remains sweeter than the sex workers and transvestites and S&M performance artists she hangs out with would lead one to suspect. With whom I clicked so well while waiting in line, and then she seemed checked out later at Sparky's. Maybe due to her and not to anything about me— who can tell these things? And Melinda's friend Jennifer. Jennifer, the dark haired serious faced cutie who is working on a documentary on the Dharma Punx entitled "Meditate & Destroy". She bears further investigation.
The final revelation was the Evens themselves. A veteran punk duo composed of the founders of Dischord Records, which practically produced the Washington DC punk/hardcore scene that Fugazi and Minor Threat and so many others came from. Ian MacKaye looked incongruous, a balding middle-aged guy, who was so soft-spoken between sets, self-deprecating and funny. Then they would fire up, with his blazing speed-chord guitar attack, her drumming, lyrics sometimes shouted and sometimes delivered in ghostly softness, with just enough melody to hold it together. Social and political without being klunky or preachy, and beautiful and loud and fun. Once again, seeing a live shoe left me inspired to write and wanting to learn to play guitar.
Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt Blues
Jodie canceled (she wasn't paying her dues)
Me and Dave found Kenichi
To fill the space created by she
Rain fell off and on
But that didn't stop us from being up and gone
We climbed Filbert steps to get to a plaque
The clue's answer was maybe on the pole in back
Went down to North Beach to find a Tony
Walked so much I ended up feeling bony
There was another clue about a guy guarding grapes
Which left us all just scratching our napes
Found some numbers on a pole
Then decided it was time to roll
Up to Chinatown to seek Hoffman's partner
Inability to find which made me wish I was a good deal smartner
Then through a tunnel to the Starlight Lounge
Where we found the next answer after quite a scrounge
To an alley near Grant & Pine
Found the restaurant's registration date and felt just fine
Down the end of Market to the clock tower
Almost to the end, we felt our power
Then the final clue about a concrete Octopus
Having completed the hunt, I knew I was no wuss
They announced the results and we didn't win cake or champagne
We went to Chevy's and had blue agave margaritas, feeling no pain
The Bitter End, on a Sunday afternoon, passing time with Carolyn over many a beer.
Bursts of cauliflower white
Highlighted in brown
Thin icy wisps
Bulking white super-carriers
Scooted across the baby-blue sky
Outside my window
All afternoon long
Tonight I met Cheshire after work. (Yes, that really is his name, and no, he did not have it when he was born.) He lives in Emeryville and is married now, so I don't get to see him too terribly often. The mere sight of his fuzzy shaved head was worth the price of admission. We met at the Fourth Street Bar & Grill so he could give me some feedback on my novel. There sat the manuscript, with disheveled pages and weird stains, looking just like a reviewed manuscript should. And those 267 some-odd pages were filled with his comments, upon which he expanded over greasy food and an intermittent supply of ice tea (apparently the frequency was held up by our serving staff's low opinion of us). I took four and a half pages on notes, and I don't think I've had a better night out all month. I look forward to the Fourth Street Bar & Grill, with its weird hotel sports bar polish, and big men stuffed into too-small shirts talking about revenue and cash flow, finding its way into our biographies.
Oh bummer- the person with the ash and dirt-flecked knit cap who was sitting in front of me, raining ash down from their cap and hood upon my poor little notebook, has moved on. And the weird girl with the coke-bottle glasses who I have a crush on has just shuffled off. Even grungy skateboard totting guy is gone. Leaving me, I'm afraid, as the grungiest thing going on the bus.
Home sick. Throat hurts. Body aches. Hot and cold flashes. In living room, writing at dusk. Afternoon naps, listening to music. Main problem is fever and chills leave me with alternate need to pile on clothes and blankets, and then strip them off again. Stripping not as fun as it sounds.
Today, my first day decidedly on the rebound thanks to a combination of antibiotics, ibuprofen and Vick's nasal inhaler, I stepped off the bus downtown and reveled in the cool morning breeze pouring down Market Street. The steel-blue sky behind the office buildings and the sun glinting off the glass and steel made distorted tesseracts of golden light. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It felt glorious. It felt free.