Friday, November 27, 2009


There's a cluster of balloons caught in the wires overhead. Sunlight cuts sharp across the tops of buildings, turning one white stray almost translucent, where it nudges along the wire, feeling blindly for a way out and up.

Telephone workers are in the street, heads cranked back to look, hats pushed back. Equipment hangs heavy from their belts. The truck's cherrypicker is tucked in, door open, waiting for someone to climb in and free the balloons.

I stop - the sound of my footsteps catching up a second later - and look up with the men.

None of us wants to be the one to break the moment. We stand and look at the balloons, a handful of candy suspended in wire.

We watch. One by one, our thoughts separate and work themselves free, lifting up and into the cloudless sky.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

We're wide awake, the moon and I

A right turn off Shattuck, and cafés and bars and beery, stubbled boys are swallowed up in silence. On either side are close-buttoned houses like sleeping hobbits; I smell rustling trees, unfolding quietly in the dark.

The street rolls under my feet, dreaming of the day's bicycles and cars and dropped keys.

I walk for blocks, checking the address. I should be getting close, but still it's houses and pumpkins on porches and harvest wreaths. I'm not sure I want to get there, I could spend a while here between the sleeping houses, but then I see a pool of light on sidewalk, the sandwich board set out front.

"Here for the Science Review?" asks the waitress.

"I'm here for the band."

They're setting up in the next room, but it's reserved for a collection of beautiful college geeks. I find a place on the fringe, where I can see.

She tests her accordion, a lock of blond hair falling into her face. He tunes his guitar. They play loose and easy. You haven't lived until you hear Princess Yum-Yum sing to a calypso beat and accordion.

The accordionist's brother arrives late in the second set, as the last of the college scientists are wandering out, a last shining look toward the musicians. Brother stretches his legs out under the table and points his iPhone in their direction.

At the mercy of BART schedules, I don't stay long after the show. Back in SF, walking home, I pass a café with people spilling onto the walk. Three hairy white guys are playing hot bluegrass. The one playing harmonica has a washboard hanging from his neck; it sprouts shining cymbals and tiny drums and mysterious noisemakers.

Down South in New Orleans, they sing. The prettiest girls I've ever seen. Did the band in Berkeley sing the same tune? I'm pulled in. They're rocking the place, and I'm in the crowd, stomping and clapping.

It's late before the place closes down, chairs taken in from the sidewalk. I take the long way home, down empty streets.

We're very wide awake, the moon and I.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

After the Party

I can hear the footsteps of other guests heading toward their cars. One asks if I'd like a ride. No thanks, I say. Not tonight.

Tonight I want to hear the ocean to my right as I walk along the dark street. My own shoes on the pavement, my breath going in and out. The sound of a small pickup idling at the corner booms out in the silence. It is metallic and outsize, the sound of an entire factory clashing into production.

I turn onto Taraval. Music pushes out from the Riptide. Narrow windows give glances of a tight crowd; boys holding girls hard against them, smokers slouching just out front.

On the bench at the stop is a young kid in a big black cowboy hat. An older man stands guard over a pile of bags and backpacks.

"I'm gonna fill the tub with salt," says the kid.

"You ain't going there," the man says.

"Tsh! Tsh!" the kid shushes.

He stands up and paces back to check the display. He's limping; one heel doesn't reach the ground. "Eight minutes," he says, drawling it out: Aay-it.

The train is full of kids heading out for their Saturday night. They are loud and full and humming with energy. One tall boy wears sneakers with puffy, distended tongues. They look festive, cartoonish.

I get off a stop sooner than I intend, but it works out well. I walk through quieter streets, my head emptying of all the pushing voices.

The host of tonight's party got bad news this week. A tumor. The party had been planned weeks before. My breath stops. Everything at the party stops. He tells us he'll be okay. It's going to be okay. He wrote a song about it, in the key of E. Guitar and accordion and our host singing that he'll be all right, and we all join in for the chorus.

He's going to be okay, he says, but his and his wife's faces are wide open and pale. Their eyes are bright and they smile with their whole tired selves. In the warm of their kitchen, we sing songs and clap out the beat, and one by one we shrug on coats and say goodnight, shining with grace of these people, this moment of being alive.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Thank you Pumpkin

I'm reading in a cafe in the Mission, looking up now and then from my book at the people coming and going. Most of them are young and beautiful - men and women - and they carry an awareness of this, like the sunshine edging in through the open front of the cafe.

A tiny woman enters, delicate-boned, made even smaller by the vicious curve of her spine, curling her completely over like a hook. Her skin is dark brown with large black freckles along her shoulders, the straps of her overalls hanging around her elbows.

A rope of drool hangs from her mouth, catching the light. She holds a brightly colored box of Trix in front of her as she wobbles toward the back of the cafe like a shield, a talisman.

I think about oracles in ancient Greece.

People in the cafe look and not-look as she passes. She disappears behind a corner near the restrooms, and one of the waitresses moves to talk with her. I can hear her speak, but I can't make out the words. Her voice is creaky as a cartoon witch's, words punctuated with a truculent "Aaaaah!"

The waitress disappears into the kitchen, and she fills the space with her voice: "Aaaah. Aaaaah! Aaaaah."

The waitress re-emerges with a plastic cup filled with milk, gaily-colored balls of cereal floating at the top, and a spoon.

"Thank you," scratches out the woman.

Her box of cereal replaced with this cup of baubles, she holds it aloft and retraces her path back through the room. She bumps into a woman as she passes, apologizing, and the woman shrinks away, looking her up and down with unveiled horror before her eyes sheath over with not-seeing.

"Thank you, Pumpkin," calls the hook-shaped woman one more time as she disappears into the hard light of the sun.