Monday, December 27, 2010

I should write about that

I don't know what to write. It's been too long since the last time I wrote, and the words have been piling up in my head until I can't sort one from the other. I'm afraid that, having begun to type, they'll all fall out in random order: what, in, whangdoodle, of, Lillian, love, it, the.

I should write about the holidays, about solstice, about that year-end assessment we feel compelled to make. I've been reading back through the years, 2009, 2008, looking for clues to how I came to this place.

Might as well look for buried treasure. Might as well explain the pathways of the heart to a fly, read the future in its thousand insect eyes.

I'm shaking my head over the screen, rattling out a crusty build-up of unwritten, unsaid words. There are only beginnings in there. No conclusions. No answers. A dozen stories begun and lost.

Nothing left but the woman at the coffee shop. She puts her to-go latte on a table, places her hands together in prayer pose, and bows her head. Opens her eyes to scoop up the cup and she is gone.

Nothing but the doorman at the strip club. He wishes me a Merry Christmas as I pass. He looks me in the eye and says it with gravity, almost reverence.

Nothing but the family who folds me in as though I have always belonged.

Nothing but the one who puts his arms around my splintered self and sees where I am whole.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sunday:
The thing you're not supposed to do is meet someone's eyes. The man sits on a stoop. He's gorgeous. I look right into his large brown eyes.

"The white man's time is over," he says, conversationally. "We will kill you all.

"White devil," he adds as I pass.

Tuesday:
It's 8:30 in the morning, and a guy is pissing behind the courthouse in my alley. He's pissing, yelling something at me, but I can't hear what he says, not about to pull out my earphones to listen.

He's coming toward me, too late to avoid his eyes.

"...the FUCK away from me!" This much is clear through the music. He shakes his pink penis at me, drops scattering in a sunlit arc. I step out into the street to give the man plenty of room.

Wednesday:
First day of my mini-vacation, and it's raining. Can't find my hat, nothing but a scarf to shield me. I huddle in the bank, where it's warm. Hang out at J's office, delaying the trip home in hopes the weather will break.

The weather doesn't break, and I finally venture out. I head for the bus stop, but the rain is hammering down, I'm already wet. I'm already wet, why not keep walking? I walk and relax into the rain, listening to leaves opening up, soaking it in.

These two strangers knocked me off course this week. I don't know why I care. Random people in the street. But it matters.

I'm at the top of the hill now, back at the labyrinth. Nobody else is here today, not in this weather. There's another one inside the cathedral, but I've made friends with the rain.

I walk, and the rain soaks in, softening, opening me up. Today on the bus a woman smiled, genuinely, for no apparent reason except in recognition of another human. I wanted to hug her.

Monday:
There's a crowd outside the courthouse. People are holding small U.S. flags and signs that say Marriage Equality. A woman is crowned with laurel leaves. Two men carry stark black and white signs about God's Law. A woman in pink smiles at these men. Her little sign says Marriage is Love. The crowd is subdued, respectful.

The whole world is here, in my neighborhood. It all matters.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Makeout Room

It's Monday night. I'm standing in a place called The Makeout Room. A disco ball revolves overhead. I'm forty-two years old.

I'm talking and trying to buy a raffle ticket and instead dump change on the floor. I'm on my knees, reaching for coins. "I only care about the quarters," I say, and then hope nobody heard me. Quarters for laundry.

I used to own a washer and a dryer. I used to own a house. Two houses, one after the other. A house in Seattle and a house in Hawaii.

The Seattle house was sweet and snugly built and surrounded with green, but it turned cold inside. A candle on the edge of the tub set my hair aflame. Candles, champagne, hair on fire, and the bedroom at the top of the stairs was colder than the basement.

The Hawaii house was warm and open, people showed up at the door to hang out, talk story. Two floors of house plus a lanai and carport, but no doors I could close, except for the bathrooms.

At the Makeout Room, I hold a beer in one hand and dig in my purse with the other. One-handed, I open my little pill holder, lip a white half-pill into my mouth.

I find people I know. They ask me how I am and I want to ask them: How do I seem? Who am I? What should I do with my life?

Someone waves at me, we know each other to say hello. I've read his book, heard about him long before I met him. I move halfway toward him to say something, but realize I have nothing to say, nothing witty saved up, so stop partway and pretend to be fascinated with the crowd. I want to ask him: When does the fear stop?

Being married somehow protected me from awareness of my age, but now I'm bare. I'm older than most here, except for the tall-headed rocker who will play onstage. But maybe he's always looked that way.

You can see it in the way I reach for skittering coins, unscrew my pill keeper one-handed. I can feel my stockings laddering up my thigh. The veins and thin bones are beginning to show in the backs of my hands.

A poet reads about a woman who crawled into a chimney and died there. They found her by the smell. The body is on its way to that stink from the moment we're born, already dying, cell by cell.

A woman hugs me and tells me I smell nice. I want to turn and feel the warmth of her compliment on all sides. I'm also terrified, wondering how long I can keep it up.

It's a good night, a good show, but I can't wait to get out and back to my neighborhood. The junkies slow-stepping through their dreamtime. The bearded street guy hoarsing out his own Pink Floyd variation: Hey you/Out here in the cold/Getting hungry, getting old, can you help me! Together we stand, divided we fall. We fall!

We! Fall!

Alone, among my neighbors, I can begin to reassemble myself, recognize my body as only itself, only me, only forty-two.

Alone with my keyboard under my fingertips, I'm whole, unquestioning. As forgetful as in the arms of a lover.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Labyrinth

I'm thinking too many things today. Each thought piles on top of the other, possibly related, probably not. Each one stinking of anxiety.

It's time for a walk, time to clean some shit out. My friend L asked me if I had a meditation practice, and I said no, or maybe I said something half-assed, like, Kind of, maybe when I go running. But I'd forgotten that, in fact, I do. L said that it's best right after you've been exercising, when your body is tired and maybe you're still panting. This was something I didn't know, but was doing anyway.

Today is a good day for this. I walk straight up one of the steeper hills in town. There are stairs cut into the sidewalk in the last block. I'm panting, utterly out of breath, when I reach the top. At the top is the labyrinth. It's not a maze: there aren't multiple paths leading to dead ends. It's not a puzzle to solve. It's a single path, folding in and in on itself.

I begin to walk. Today is my mother's birthday. She died almost six years ago. I thought I was going to write about her, but she keeps slipping away. My boyfriend J's mentor and friend recently died. I asked J how he felt about it. I'll never get over it, he said. No, you won't, I answered, but it does get a little easier.

I haven't gotten over my mom's death, and that makes me think about Robert's death when I was sixteen. I saw Robert on the sly when I was twelve. I had a hot crush on him, and he introduced me to second base. I thought we were terribly perverted. The last time I saw him was my last day in Provo before leaving home. He took me for a ride on his motorcycle. The next day I called home from Las Vegas and my mom told me he was dead. He'd been riding his bike on the grass in the park, and the cops started after him. He hit a speed bump at 80+ miles an hour.

The path folds, and folds. My parents never knew about Robert and me. There's more to the story, there's always more, but now I'm thinking about Chrissie. I don't remember the last day I saw her. We were in first grade. The last day I saw her was like any other day. The day after the last day I saw her, I walked to her house to pick her up for school. Her mom said she was sick. Then she was in the hospital, and I wasn't allowed to see her. And then she was dead.

We were best friends. I was her and she was me. She was my adventurous, tomboy self. I'm not over her death, either. If I was a fictional character, I could draw a straight line from Chrissie to an inability to hold onto friends. I could paint it as fear of loss. But that isn't quite true. I have good friends who have been friends for years, but sometimes I go days without answering an email from one of these friends. Sometimes I feel like there's no one I can call when I'm feeling alone.

The path folds. The puzzle I'm solving is my own thoughts. I follow the path in toward the center and think about all the people I loved who have died. I think about my marriage, too, like a death. I think about writing about this, about fiction vs. memoir, about how much I should say, who I should protect.

I used to be suspicious of memoir, of self-revelation. Ralph Waldo Emerson said Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures, and I think that's true, and it would be even more true if this were fiction. But I've been reading some very good memoir lately, and if it's done well, it's about more than just the individual experience. It widens out into something bigger. A reader can see himself in memoir or fiction, and feel less alone. Or she can understand something new about the world, or about how to be a better friend or how to forgive. Or she can taste, for a second, the terror of divinity.

I'm at the center of the labyrinth, and look up to see city rooftops. A flag at half-mast, another fully aloft.

I begin to unfold as I follow the path outward, my limbs moving more loosely, my breath deeper and calmed. A white-bearded man waits to one side as I find my way out. I turn once to see him step into the labyrinth, his eyes following the path.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Virtue

Market Street will never smell so fresh as it does at 5:30 in the morning. It's full dark out, my feet slapping pavement and shopkeepers hosing down the sidewalks. On the second floor of the building at 3rd street a woman is running on a treadmill, under bright lights. I'm a block down the street, two blocks, and the woman in the headphones is running in place.

A man stands partway in the street, his eyes focused high on the building with the abandoned deli, his hat to his heart like he's pledging allegiance.

"I thank you," he says. "I thank you..."

My breath comes hard and I think I can't keep running, I'm sure I can't and I almost stop but then feel the spring inside winding up again, it's only at the very bottom that it winds through and I'm running and it's okay.

It's easy to feel virtuous, running early in the morning when most of the city is still asleep. It's easy to find the division between Them and Us, Them and mighty, virtuous Me, but I don't run to for virtue. I do it to be pretty, I do it to not be sick anymore, I do it for all the selfish reasons.

And the dividing line is not so clear. I live here. I'm one of the people in my neighborhood. I've sat in the strip club, watching the woman's eyes grow bored when the big tipper leaves his spot at the front of the stage. She shakes and steps high because it's her job and the act is dropped, but enough of the customers don't see or don't care. Her skin is smooth and I think it must be very soft. When I was younger, I thought I wanted her job. I wanted to be seen.

We all have our drugs.

There are thieves and con-men and assholes here, just like anywhere, the thug in a good suit is still just a thug. The thieves here aren't so successful, or they'd be somewhere else. They're broken down, like the rest of us.

Ginsberg wrote about human seraphim: The security guard who closes his eyes at me like a blessing. The cluster of early shifters waiting for the bus, a man nodding into sleep on his feet, jerking himself awake. The fireman in his gear at the bottom of the stairs, smiling slightly into the rolling light from the truck. The woman leaning in the Ross entryway with her paper cup of coffee. She squints through the glass at temp workers moving slowly, near the end of inventory, reassembling the store one blouse, one dress, one jacket at a time.

I'm almost back to my building, the awning in sight. I want to stop now and walk the rest of the way, but I find the spring again, winding up and pulling me the last few feet to my door.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not Boston

Today I'm craving cream and meat, so I go to Boston Market for lunch. It's a fast food place that's trying very hard not to be a fast food place. Today, this is good. I have to get back to the office quick-like, but I don't want to look at a screen while I eat.

The cashier is grandmotherly. Would you like to donate $1 to end child hunger and get a free side with your next meal? she twinkles. How can I say no? She gives me a paper to write my name and my favorite side dish, and I write my full name, realizing it was the wrong thing too late. They post these on the wall. It's just an ad.  I write down green beans, although I didn't order them today.

A matron gives me the stinkeye for sitting in a booth. I'm reading The Adderall Diaries, and I can feel her eyes boring through the pages. She has bad hair and a gaudy purse. Her daughters are miffed on her behalf, but a helpful Boston Market employee shows them to another booth.

A homeless guy wanders in. His nappy hair has a layer of dust, like powdered sugar. There's a commotion among the employees. They're trying to make him go away.

He plays with the plant, pulling at the leaves and watching them bounce back, a purse of drool falling from his open mouth. The woman at the next table turns up the volume on her conversation, determined not to notice him. One of the servers hands him a to-go container of food and lifts her arm toward the door. Maybe it's macaroni and cheese, I can't tell.

I need, he says. I need.

The girls in their Boston Market uniforms are moving fast. Napkins and plastic utensils. He's handed things in a flurry, and a tall employee, her chin up, walks toward the door, beckoning him like a child. He follows her outside.

I called Security, but they were too slow, she says, her bones loosening as she walks back to the counter.

It's an interesting bargain. They bribe him with food to leave. He holds them hostage by being there, stinking up the place, making people uncomfortable.

I want to know his story. I feel like I'm getting close to something, but I can't be sure.

How do you know?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trust me, again

Tonight I'm with friends. We're looking for someplace to have a drink, and when a man says Excuse me, in a polite voice, we stop. Without thinking twice, we stop and turn our attention on him.

Can you help me, he says. He gives us his name. He says he's from Alabama. Are you lost, we ask. Lost is the least of it, yes, you could say I'm lost. All of this preamble shifts the tone. Urban suspicions on the alert. He keeps starting and stopping, playing it out. I watch the line of his cheekbone. He is playing the part of Exhausted, annoyed with himself, proud and humiliated by the situation. He says he needs to get to Pittsburg on BART. We give him another chance, ready to tell him how to get there. I know how to get there, he almost yells. I want to clap. We're getting the whole show.

Just tell us what you need, we finally say. He lets out a groan. I don't have the money.

I don't have to look, I can hear the disappointment turning my friends' faces blank. In a flat voice, D asks how much. Six dollars and fifty-five cents, he says. My name is XXX, I'm from Alabama. I can give you my email address and return the money.

His props are better than the other guy's. Bluetooth headset. Smart phone showing a map. Handwritten notes, of course. How much for a cab.

We don't have anything, we start to say, but then I see my friends pulling out their wallets. I give in to peer pressure and dig some laundry quarters out. D finally just gives him six dollars. I can give you my email, he starts to say. He sounds angry. We turn away and start walking.

We're quiet for a few steps. I tell them I know this scam. J tells about someone who tried it on him every day. He'd say You already tried this on me yesterday, and the guy would just say, Oh. Oh, and move on to the next mark.

D says, Why don't I feel better? I gave him six dollars, and I just feel worse.

I know what he means. I don't like being played. And with these specific markers. The implication being that people will help someone who already has money. Someone who is just in a temporary tight spot, through no fault of his own. We can imagine such a thing happening to us.

But we can't imagine ourselves homeless. We can't, or we daren't. I live surrounded by people who have fallen off the edge, and it becomes harder every day to see the sharp lines between them and me. I used to live a thin four miles from here, but it was a different planet. I was insulated from these alien creatures who rub up against me now. I didn't see them. If I thought about them at all, it was in abstract terms.

Abstraction is no longer possible. So I come back to this again and again. What does it mean? What do I do with this? Is there a way to push through, to find the common heart that beats for the guy with the Bluetooth headset and beats for me? Could I fly past my own fear to learn his actual story?

I come back to this again, and again I feel I'm no closer to an answer.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Just this

One day, I'll look back on this time with nostalgia. Do you remember, I'll want to ask.

Do you remember walking by Mr. S. Leather when the handwritten sign is out front, announcing Fetish Photo Shoot Today? The afternoon sun wraps around the bare skin of a man standing just inside the door, chain looping down from the collar around his neck to the slim hand of the man beside him, who has turned to talk to someone just out of sight.

The Asian woman who bursts into open-mouthed sobs. She's helped to the sidewalk by her husband/boyfriend/brother/friend. They sit down on the curb and tears are shocked from her eyes, making a cartoon arc before dropping.

The sweetly ugly tranny at the taco truck. She is businesslike and earnest in her white platforms and uncombed wig. Getting a taco before heading back to work.

The desperately beautiful tranny on the corner of 6th, her mind unlooping into the street. Her skin is darkly polished and her hot pink thong shows a perfect ass while she harangues nobody, everybody, crossing Market and turning around to cross again, her angry voice riding above bus brakes, cabs, the F Market singing in its track.

The suited man outside Market Street Cinema, slipping me free passes as I come home from work. Store owners and hired brawn watching the street from their shops. One waves and asks why I haven't called.

Do you remember, I'll ask. When I could walk into the gallery space and people would say hello like family.

When the whole world seemed to turn around the axis of Market Street, and all I had to do was hold out my hand to catch a piece of the Everything.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pobrecito

Several months ago, I was living in the Mission. Along my walk to work, I spotted a poster of a woman in a fairy godmother outfit. She looked something like Lily Tomlin, but not.

Pobrecito, I thought. Shouldn't it be pobrecita? And why was she a poor thing?

The word was assembled like a ransom note.

The image got under my skin in a strange way. I'd be feeling sorry for myself, obsessing over the cataclysmic changes I was making in my life, and then I'd walk by the poster.

Pobrecito?

When I scraped my knee as a kid, my mom would kiss it better. "Oh, le pauvre," she'd say, a gentle reminder that it wasn't so bad as all that.

My friend P's mom spoke Spanish. She'd call him Pobrecito in the same tone of voice. Poor boy. Isn't it awful?

Eventually, I moved downtown. I take a different route to work now, coming from the opposite direction. One morning, I see another pobrecito poster.

This time, it's Catwoman.


Or, someone in a Catwoman costume. Why the masculine form of the word?

Are they cross-dressers? Transgender? Or is the "poor thing" the person looking at them?

Is pobrecito a band, maybe? Or a poster artist? Is this his body of work?

Pobrecito follows me into work, sneaks in on me during the day.

It's entirely possible the answer is something depressingly ordinary. In a sense, I don't want to know. The mystery sustains me, in a quiet way.


Thursday, walking home from work, I see a new one.

I don't even know what's happening in this picture. Is she sucking on her toes?

Pobrecito, I think, as the homeless guy cheerily greets me. I tell him I don't have any cash today.

"It's okay," he says, waving me on, "I know you're cool. See you soon."

Pobrecito, I think. Pobrecito.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A nice girl like me

When I turned in my lease application, the building manager said, "I hope you don't mind my asking, but why are you moving here?"

Here is where I can look out my window onto the alley below. If I lean out far enough, I can see transactions of all sorts in the doorways. I climb a ladder to get into bed, and I leave my apartment and walk through the hallway to use the shared bathrooms. I learned today that Stephen Elliott lives in a building much like this, but his sounds like it is larger, and doubtless hipper.

When I tell people about my building, about the shared bathrooms, they say it sounds like a dorm. Stephen Elliott made the same comparison. I've never lived in a dorm, but I don't think that's quite it. There's no communal hubbub, no running feet, no towel-snapping. People try not to run into each other.

Someone did leave a Spinoza paperback in there last week, though, so maybe it is like a dorm.

Here's what it is like:
I get up to pee in the middle of the night, fuzzily stepping into my slippers and walking down the bright hallway with my eyes slitted. From the bathroom, I hear loud voices. Unforgivably loud, for this time of night, or morning. When I leave the bathroom, the hall is blocked with a forest of cops. My neighbor, skinny and shirtless, says: "...keep it down, please?"

"What for?" a cop says, loudly.

The neighbor swings his bony arm in my direction, "So we don't disturb the neighbors."

I have to ask a cop if I can pass so I can get back to my room, my bed. Another cop, in a quieter voice, tells my neighbor he has to leave, now. He asks if he can get his stuff first. Put on a shirt.

The neighbors' open door faces mine, and I can hear the girlfriend talking to the cops inside. Pieces of things, tiny shards, are lying on the floor in the doorway.

Today I meet the little girl staying in the apartment on the other side of mine, the one with the Santa Claus on the door. She asks my name and tells me many things about her mom's boyfriend's kids, but she doesn't let her own name slip. I ask, but she prefers to tell me a complicated story about a brother and a sister who both, apparently, have my name.

The neighbor at the end of the hall invites me in to meet his cat. His Wanted poster is taped to the wall. I look closely at the photo. It's him, younger and with different hair. He points out the window. "You see those lights?" he says, "That's the city jail. I used to live there. Now I live here, and look out the window every day."

There's a whole universe behind every door in this place, galaxies of people and their lives and the people they know, ever-widening circles that overlap and extend into infinity.

Today I think, there's no place I'd rather be.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Really, it's not so bad as all that

It's fogged in, but the air is fresh this morning. A man wearing the neon orange vest of a city worker rests against a fire hydrant. He's Asian, well over sixty. His hair, in two long braids, stands straight up from his head like antennae. His eyes are alert and smiling.

A woman at the bus stop beside me must be older than anyone I know. She's toothless, skin wrinkled and cracked. But her gray hair is in a ponytail. She wears skinny jeans and tennis shoes, her hands slotted casually into pockets.

I give up my seat on the bus for an elderly man wearing a perfume of marijuana. He looks at me closely around cataracts, nodding his head. "Somebody raised you right," he says. It's only a little thing, but he's tickled.

A black man rattles toward me on the street, his arms and legs moving loose in their joints. He throws one arm at his reflection in a store window. "Back in your motherfucking box!

In your box!" he laughs, passing me on the sidewalk.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sin

A man is lying on his back, halfway into the street. A well-dressed woman stands over him, making gestures with her hands. It looks incantatory, like she is calling his soul forth from his body. As I get closer I see his cane, his back resting awkwardly on the edge of the curb. Now I can hear what the woman is saying, "Can you roll this way?" Her hands eloquently calling to him. "Can you roll far enough to get out of the street?"

"No," I hear him say. He doesn't sound distressed. Like he's just fine where he is, thank you. "No."

I walk by, only slowing my steps long enough to take it all in, I step over his cane and keep walking. Behind my back I hear a man's voice: "Is everything okay? Can I help?"

Have I sinned against this man, against all of us, by not stopping? I'm quick to rationalize the decision: there isn't much I could do, even between the two of us, we wouldn't be able to move him, he seemed okay with where he was, not many people drive down this alley, there was still room for a car to pass. If the driver could see him.

My neighbors live close to disaster every day. They're out there on that edge: the man with blood running down his face, the woman with the bruised face and missing teeth, shoeless, shaking, crying out. In the morning I can hear voices from my window. It's hard to distinguish between ordinary street person fights and true desperation.

But there are are people who take the time to make that distinction. People who work in the free clinic, social workers, legal aid. I see them out here, too.

At the bus stop, a man with a black eye approaches me. I'm already steeling myself for the usual answer: I don't have anything for you. Is it a sin, my fear? My fear of knowing him, of knowing too well what he needs and my inability to provide it. Or worse - maybe I can give him what he needs, but I don't want to.

He introduces himself as Vince. He grew up here. He wants to ask me a question. Here it comes, I think.

"Do you really, truly believe that we landed on the moon?"

This is of great importance to him. He wants to know what I think. "Yes," I say. "Yes, I do." I don't go on to say it isn't a matter of belief. His face shows astonishment.

"Really?" He says, as I step onto the bus. "You really think that." I watch him as long as I can from the bus window. His hands are in his pockets and he's shaking his head.

Monday, June 28, 2010

There is a subway in Los Angeles

To get from Long Beach to L.A., I board a train. I've been told that nobody checks tickets, that nobody bothers to buy them, if they ride the train at all.

"I rode the train. Once," says my Long Beach friend, dropping me off. She has lived here for most of her life.

The train, however, is full of people. A young Latino guy and his little brother wearing a child backpack walk down the aisle. The older brother holds a cardboard box, cut open to show his wares.

"Chocolate," he murmurs as he passes. "Chocolate." This can't be legal, so he speaks low. He passes once through the car and gets off at the next stop.

A band gets on. Guitars and tambourine and bongos, a crowd of people. I wonder if they're a Jesus band. They sit a few rows behind me and tune up, and then nothing. I start to wonder if they're going to perform at all. And then they start. No count that I can hear, nothing: they just start, in perfect time.

She was just seventeen
You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another (ooh)
When I saw her standing there

They're good. They hit that tight harmony, clip along at a bright pace, make it their own. And then the song is done, the youngest member in springy dreads walks up and down the aisle with a plastic garbage bag for offerings - and that's it. No more songs.

"People down here are serious," said my San Francisco friend a day ago. "Not like in SF. We just play around up there."

Another guy comes through the train with a cardboard box of goodies. He's a big black guy in his thirties. He doesn't keep his voice low.

"Snacksnacksnacks, twoforadollar, twoforadollar," he says, moving quickly down the aisle. "Snacksnacksnacks." And he hops off at the next stop.

More people get in at Rosa Parks station. This is where I realize I'm the only white person on this train. This is a comfortable, at-home sort of feeling. Is it some insufferable smugness in me? Am I trying to align myself with people in that presumptuous way of edging someone out of her seat, that unbelievable claim that I am One of You, coming in with my big feet and very white whiteness? I don't know. Nobody on this train seems to care one way or the other.

The next snack vendor is in his fifties at least, a Latino man with a trim mustache. He has no patter at all, and sits down at the end of the car, holding the box of chips and candy bars in his lap, staring into nothing. He touches one hand to his forehead and slowly blinks his eyes.

The car is full, but only one person is reading a book, standing. Another reads a pamphlet, his lips making mouse-sized words. Another talks into his cell phone. "Fuck America," he says, then, "I'm done. I'm moving."

I can see the towers of Los Angeles ahead. The sun shines in hard and bright, and we all wear crowns of fire. The light opens us from sternum to navel and our hearts shine back while we turn our heads, eyes bored with all this beauty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

We escaped places like this

An official-looking truck passes slowly. There are lights on the roof that are meant to flash, though they are not flashing now. Along the side are sober black letters that read: Code Enforcement. My friend L says they are measuring the grass, checking that trash cans have been taken in by noon, that paint schemes are approved colors.

What sort of code violation emergency would require the lights to flash? Does it have a siren?

The streets are wide and sunstruck.

"This place reminds me of Texas," says L.

"It looks like Utah," I say.

"I escaped from Texas."

In the cool of the evening we walk through the street fair. The sign at one booth reads: Questions, Meaning, Destiny

A smaller sign asks, Evolution? I see the evolution of man silhouettes beside another chart showing silhouettes that are all human.

Across the street another booth promises Chocolate-Dipped Waffles on a Stick.

A man bends down to ask his kids, "Do you want to see people with feathers on their heads dancing?"

We do. The feather headdresses are gratifyingly high, rippling in the breeze. We don't know what tribe they are meant to be. One dancer is a flabby white guy in a cop moustache. He dances in an offhand manner, elbows in close to his sides, condescending to make a flicking gesture with the tassels in his hands. The woman in front seems to put her heart in it. She stomps and swoops, grinding her enemies to dust.

The moon is bright and high as we walk back to the car, the Evolution? booth disassembled, chairs stacked in the empty street.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Too tired to write

My brain won't settle. Today I impress a client by spilling soy sauce, sloshing it onto my coat and over the bench where I sit; I feel a cold puddle soaking into the backside of my light tan trousers.

I order dos tacos al pastor at the taco truck for dinner. The man in the truck asks me a question in fast Spanish. I don't follow quickly enough. He speaks to me in English after that.

A couple with a wooden cart are picking up detritus from the street under the supervision of a pair of cops. The cops don't help.

Four homeless guys have set up a shantytown at the bus stop. What will happen to them when the new ordinance goes into effect, prohibiting sitting or lying on public sidewalks? They nod a friendly hello. I decide not to wait for the bus here.

A walk is better anyway. I cross the street and look back down Folsom. It's stunning: low clouds lit up by a diffuse sunset.

I stand in the middle of the street while the Walk sign counts down. Three, two, one.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A freaking giant

The man is a freaking giant. He lurches through the train, his pants folded up to make shin-high cuffs, held in place with tiny safety pins.

How is it possible for him to find pants that are too long? His head could contain two of mine, his smile a gentle giant smile. He shakes his head, smiling, at the drunk that just got off the train. Drunk, he says, looking at me, smiling, and I smile back.

He keeps talking, speaking now to his reflection in the window, Drugs are bad, drugs, he says, shaking his vast, heavy head, and now I see that gentle giant smile is maybe a simpleton smile, maybe a retarded smile, maybe a psychotic break smile.

All the same, all the same, I smile back, getting off the train. All the same, he seems like an okay guy, just a little loose in his head, a little unjointed, pinned together with tiny, shining safety pins.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sunday go to meetin'

Sunday morning. Last night, this was a dance club. Today folding chairs stand in neat rows in the middle of a wide concrete dance floor. A guy in a gray hoodie sits onstage, casually holding a mike. "Go inside," he exhorts the crowd. "Go deep inside and find what's really there, what you really need."

Two hipster chicks walk to the front of the room, each carrying a small loaf of bread and a glass of wine. They stand beneath the mirror ball as people shuffle forward, taking a piece of bread and dunking it in the wine.

"Jesus had a feast," says the guy in the hoodie. "Called the Last Supper. He told his friends to remember his body, his blood."

The band takes the stage and the lyrics flash onscreen behind them. The guys running the sound board groove to the music.

A white boy in sagging jeans stands and moves behind the chairs. He closes his eyes and turns his face up to the stream of sunshine from a skylight. He lifts his hands, palm up.

Sunday afternoon, and my route is clogged with a street fair. People in outsize platform shoes and streamers and masks, costumed up like show horses. Skin open to the sun and stinging gusts of wind.

A pack of hula hoopers writhe and roll, the hoops always in motion, now vertical, now horizontal.

One girl moves her hoop like a lover, her eyes closed, ecstatic. She turns her face up to the sun, moving her hoop like a prayer.

I make my way through the crowd to the gallery. I'm the first one here, and I find a spot in full sun from the skylight, put on a pot of tea. One by one the others arrive. We open our computers, our notebooks.

We write and we read, and we close our eyes, listening.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Three days of spring

Dolores Park on Friday: I see my first naked man after hearing about sightings for years. He is face down, belly spreading out to either side, meager buttock cheeks pinking in the sun.

The wind is whips and chains, but if you sit on the grass, you can duck below it, find the still place where sun cooks in. I roll up my pant legs and lean back on my elbows.

A group just behind and to my right speak French. In front of me is a crowd on blankets. Two girls have taken off their shirts, daring in bras. Between them and a boy in shorts lies another girl. I see just bare legs and shoulders, and wonder if she has stripped everything away, her friends acting as minimal screen, thrillingly half-seen.

A gaggle of gay boys is behind and to my left. One of the girls in her bra squeals, one hand over her mouth. A train has just pulled in. The girl gathers up her things, breasts swinging, no time to dress, she scrambles in her black boots and jeans up the hill, shouting again and again as the train closes its doors, rolls away without her.

"You go, girl," yells one of the boys behind me.

I see the friend wasn't naked after all, revealed now in a bikini with the straps down.

Another blanket island of people to my left. Men and a luscious woman, overflowing her tank top, long eyes looking demurely to one side. She lifts to her knees. "I am not a tranny!" she says loudly enough for all to hear. "I may have balls and a dick, but I am NOT a tranny."

"Tranny!" yells the boy from the peanut gallery. The woman laughs and falls back onto the blanket.

Saturday, Washington Square: The grass is full of people. A white guy with a sad little beard holds a glass ball in blackened fingers. He stands and rests the ball on the back of his hand, curved slightly backward to cradle it. He juggles the ball, spindly arms turning long and full of purpose, the ball shooting sunlight across his face.

A set of geekish kids practice backbends, leaning into each other, ankles wobbling. One falls, bringing the rest into a giggling heap beside her.

Sunday, Yerba Buena: I'm having tea with a friend, sunlight sluicing across one arm, the left side of my face. I wonder if I'll burn. A woman appears beside our table, staring stolidly. "Do you have something." Her lips are cracked. We shake our heads, slowly. "I'm sorry," I say, but she stares for a long accusing moment before turning away, pushing into a young couple's space until they have to look up, have to engage.

There are toddlers in flowered springtime church dresses. A mother holds her daughter's hands, crab-walking behind her while she balance-beams along the edge of the fountain.

Another woman raises one hand against the sun, pinching her face away from its light.

I want to absorb every drop of sun, store it in my bones so that tomorrow, in the office, it will radiate heat and grass and hiked up skirts and lazy leaning into shoulders and the quiet rustling of pages in a novel carried to the park.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sunset

I've hardly been outside all day. Rain was forecast, but when I step outside the sky is blue and a vicious wind whips hair across my face.

No, the sky is not blue. It's lit up like a scrim. The sun is setting somewhere west of here, invisible behind downtown buildings. I used to live west of here, and the house where I grew up had enormous windows facing west over the valley. It's easy to be seduced by garish sunset, but you can miss the light of the sky behind you, the blue over pink, fading to white at the curve of the earth.

I walk uphill, gazing down corridors of buildings at each street crossing. Two white skater boys carry their boards listlessly, not talking. A Chinese guy briskly exits his building, checking that the door closes behind him. One black girl is reading from her iPhone to her friend. Bits of her monologue float over the street:

"I'm sorry...I never imagined I'd meet someone like you, someone who brings together all of my dreams in a single person...what you don't know. So beautiful and creative, artistic in a real way, I didn't think people did that anymore, and funny...I don't know where to look...such grace and intelligence...a goddess, you look around and don't see what you do to..."

At "goddess" she releases a nervous laugh, reading on.

The Golden Pearl Spa at Sutter has a bright awning but vizqueen over all the windows. I want to walk in and ask what services they offer, but I don't. A Subway sandwich place is directly above.

A tourist stands in the middle of California Street, snapping photos of the long road down the hill.

Grace Cathedral, with its yellow lights shining upward, looks like a cutout against the bright sky. In the park across the street, dogs off leash snuffle in the bushes beneath the sign saying Dogs are welcome on leash. Two white guys with dogs stand next to the fountain talking loudly. One has a throaty voice, deep for his age. A lanky Asian guy in black leather pants, jacket, and leather newsboy cap pulled down over his eyes sits in half-lotus on one of the benches. An iPod in a speaker dock plays soothing music. His left hand is palm up in his lap, the right palm down, held in front of his face. He holds air between his hands.

It's dark when I start home down the hill, but the air is still and mild. A young guy in a cap offers me a fist bump. I know what's going to follow, but I can't resist the fist bump. Then of course the ask, and I have to tell him I'm sorry, I have nothing with me.

This is how I know I'm back in my own neighborhood.

A woman with lips painted black, extending so far beyond her own lips I think she's wearing a false mustache. Crazy Horse and the Warfield, where I saw X and Henry Rollins play, never imagining I'd live here.

The lights of Market Street Cinema shine the way to my building. In the lobby, someone has set a flower arrangement at the edge of the water feature. Yellow roses and dark purple blossoms.

The flowers are real, just on the edge of withering.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What happens when you walk outside

It's dinner from Tu Lan tonight. I step out my door and skirt around the woman with long blond hair and tape holding her glasses together.

Got a dollar? she asks. I shake my head, and she smiles, sympathetically.

At Tu Lan, the guy behind the counter asks what I do. I tell him, and he shakes his head.

I guess the stereotypes aren't always right, he says.

Why? What did you think I was?

A librarian.

This cracks me up.

I take my soup, but the doorway is blocked by a woman staring in. She looks like somebody's mother except for the shiner, one eye swollen shut. African hair wrestled into neat French braids. I edge past her, but she puts out one arm to stop me, one dry hand on my arm, the other on my face.

She leans in and kisses me on the cheek, then turns away.

It's like a mother's kiss.

I pass the blond again. Sixty cents? she says. Her price is dropping.

I walk home, the air cooling the kiss on my cheek.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday evening

Across the street, the man with the walker leans over like he's reaching for something on the ground, but his hand hangs loose at the end of his arm. He leans, bent almost double.

A woman walks past him, bag of groceries held tight to her chest. She yells, loud enough for me to hear across Market Street.

"Do you see the people standing next to you on this street? They are selling drugs," she shouts.

The man with the walker is still bent over, hand reaching toward nothing.

A girl with shocking pink hair laughs as I pass. Her bare feet are flat on the sidewalk, skirt pooled around her hips showing perfectly white, round thighs.

Outside a gated store sits a paper bowl containing two neat pastries. A styrofoam cup full of coffee with cream beside it. Something unidentifiable splashes the sidewalk in front of the offering.

The leaning man now hitches up the front of his trousers before squatting in slow motion.

Four women in shining bare flesh and tiny dresses emerge from a cab, and the street boils over. Hey Baby and Oh Darling and I love you, you know I love you and Aaaaaaaah give it to me please. The girls blink mascaraed lashes. One smiles, showing teeth, while the others shrink closer together, tiny clicking steps in their heels.

The man with the walker looks at his watch, then slowly leans over again, again the hand reaching.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

6:17 p.m.

I'm walking home from work. I hear tires screech.

All afternoon I've been hearing this. I work on the fifth floor; traffic noises don't rise, but four times today we all went quiet at our desks, listening. The first time we waited for the crunch, but there was none. The second time we waited again. The third time a colleague got up and walked to the window, looking out and down. The fourth time we looked up for a moment, then back to our screens.

I'm walking home from work, and again I hear the screech. I'm not paying attention. I'm shamed from an email exchange with a friend. I was clumsy; the friend stung.

At the office, I locked myself in the bathroom stall and covered my face with my hands. Last week, there was a woman crying in this stall. She was past the point of being quiet. All she could do was lock herself behind the metal door of the stall. Symbolic privacy.

I don't cry.

I'm walking home from work, and the screech is right in front of me. A white car veers onto the sidewalk then sharply away, into the middle of the street. I know there was a clash - there were two at least - but the sound is strangely distant. Like it's happening in a soundproof room.

The car reels toward me and I can see the driver inside, her arm lifted.

Why doesn't she put on the brakes? I see airbags puffed out stiff. She passes only a few feet away and I turn to see her door open, the car still going, but the door open.

The door is open and she's past and she rolls out of the car. Something stops the car, but my mind can't hold onto it. The car is stopped and she is two yards behind it, on the street.

She's lying on her back. She's young, maybe twenty. She's crying.

I'm walking into the street, dialing 911. She's almost at my feet when the operator answers. I look up to see two cops. There are already police here, I say into the phone, and then I see the highway patrol building is right across the street.

One cop lifts the walkie-talkie on his shoulder to his mouth.

I hear a quiet voice behind me. It was me, she says. We all turn to see another young woman, blond, half-smiling. She holds one hand to her chest, one finger pointed up toward her own face.

It was me.

The woman in the street is crying. I can't breathe, she says. Of course she can breathe, or she wouldn't be able to speak, but she can't make words for what she's feeling. I can't breathe, she says again.

I want to cry, too, but I don't. It would be rude to elbow into her disaster. I'm just someone passing on the street, already in the way, already cruelly gawking.

I am aware again of the bags I'm carrying. I pull away, and start slowly down the street. The story shows itself as I go: the blond's white SUV, headlight smashed, rear-ended the little white car. The little white car was pushed into the parked truck. The truck's owner is there. Did you see what happened? he asks a man smoking. The smoking man shakes his head. All I saw was a car on the sidewalk, ready to hit me.

I see the truck's tailgate is demolished, tools lying scattered and twisted in the street.

More police are arriving. Shards of the accident have stuck to me, sticking in and sticking out. Anyone to embrace me now would be shredded.

The wave follows me out from the center of the accident. A woman is yelling at her boyfriend, ineffectually putting her arms around him as if to throw him to the ground.

Four blocks on, a man shouts. Can I help you? He yells. Can I help you? A man crossing the street the other way yells back, but his voice is lost in the siren.

An ambulance turns my way, beating it past me and down the street. The siren is gratifying. Appropriate. I'm the only one to turn and watch it go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Trust me

The man is on a cell phone, clearly upset. Almost - theatrically upset. I'm walking down Market Street and he is half a stride behind me. It's Friday night, and the street is crowded.

Shit! he says, clapping the phone shut.

He's caught up to me, and catches my eye. I'm sorry about that, he says. I didn't mean to...it's just...

He throws his arms in the air. I got carjacked today, he says. My family was carjacked. At the point of a gun.

I stop. I'm sorry to hear that, I tell him. Is everyone okay?

From the moment I hear him on the cell phone, I'm wary. No reason in particular, nothing I can point to - I keep looking for the director, the script girl. He wears a long herringbone coat, leather gloves. A suit. It looks like a costume.

He tells me a long, disjointed story. Pulls out a paper with notes taken on it. He says he has the police report. Details to make it real. The place: just south of here on 101. Their destination: Eureka. They planned to make Eureka tonight. The car was recovered. He's not a transient. You gotta trust me, he says. His wife and kids are waiting by the side of the road. He needs to buy a gas can, gas.

That's when it clicks into place. Gas can. An old friend of mine ran a variation of this very scam some twenty plus years ago. It was a strange and short period for him. He wore a suit and carried a gas can. A story about breaking down just outside of town. Wife and kids waiting.

The carjacking is a thrilling new twist. Violence! Drama!

I stop him there. I don't have anything for him, I say. I'm sorry.

What I really want to say is: how's this working out for you? What I want to say is: I'm sorry you're going to have to go through the whole show again for someone else. It's easier to just ask for cash up front.

What I want to know is: am I getting harder? Am I losing my ability to simply trust?

I'm out with a friend and a woman appears behind us. Help out a woman with a dollar, will you? she asks. We don't have a thing, we say.

Oh, come on, she says. Like we're not playing the game right. Like we didn't just step out of a cab. Like we owe her something, and if we can't just own up say No, without the excuse, we have to pay up.

And I want to know how long I can hold onto my trusting self in this place and this time. If I can look past the scams, the sense of entitlement.

If I can be brave enough to see into a person on the street, if I can learn to not look away, but look in. Look all the way in. And find the person inside who is worth the chance.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The sun shines down

On a day like today, you have to be out in the sun. You have to steal time, walk outside, look at all the women and girls in their sundresses, flesh shining and hungry; white girls already pinking on shoulders, cheeks.

I start in my neighborhood, where the guy selling Street Sheets sings as I pass. We all love you, he calls after me, gold tooth catching sunlight.

As I walk uphill, the street people thin out, drop away; at the top of the hill, a tall young woman rises from the back seat of a limo at the Fairmont. High-heeled sandal, white draped calf, thigh, and now dark hair caught up in a jeweled clasp, bare shoulders, waist: she stands on the walkway in a long white evening gown. Just beyond her, in the doorway of the hotel, an older woman waits for her car, aggressively ugly in clothes chosen to announce wealth: shapeless, heavy, baldly ornamented.

Across from Grace Cathedral is a small park. Bronze fountain supported by naked young men, bronze eyes blank. A woman lies on a bench, head on her purse, eyes closed - almost closed - she tries to sleep but her consciousness keeps her tuned in.

Every bench is occupied and much of the grass, skirts lifted and sleeves rolled to expose skin to sun. At one bench is a man who would look at home in my part of town, down in the flats: dirty beard, dreadlocked hair. He's spinning.

I stop to look closer. I had thought it was a bicycle wheel, but now I see the thread winding from a spindle in his hand to the shining wheel. The wheel spins and the spindle dips and wool or cotton or gold from straw is spun.

The spindle dips and releases me, long running strides down the hill. Soon I'll be home, the mirror in my loft spinning the last drops of sunshine into a jar on the shelf by the bed.

At night, when the back door to the strip club slams and I hear voices spiraling up the walls to my window, I'll open the jar. I'll hear the beginnings of a fight, the Don't you dare, the I'm not the one, and I'll scatter stored sunlight down and over their shoulders.

They'll stop, look up, breathe in, and remember a day when bare toes dug into dirt and grass roots. When sun cooked into shoulders and back. When they dreamed of a spring that never ends.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dianetics changed my life

Sometimes it seems I've moved to a whole new country. A planet of lost souls, people hanging on to the edge of the city with blackened fingernails.

A woman toddles toward me with a terrifying goggle-smile. Her hair is blond and curly. She was cute, once. She might have been pretty. The smile now is pulled painfully over the front of her face. "Helloooo!" she says as I pass. "Helloooo!" exactly the same overbright tone to the person behind me. "Helloooo!"

Inside a restaurant, in a nearly empty dining room, a woman and her children raise their arms above their heads and spin. The woman pauses, and her eyes meet mine. She shrugs, raising her arms again.

A man in a wheelchair speaks a language that doesn't exist on earth.

On the bus, I'm taken in by the Dianetics ad. Indisputably the most read book on the human mind ever written, it says. Indisputably? I think. It seems an outlandish claim. A young man is sitting next to me. He looks like any of a thousand young men in the city. Skinny jeans, expensive backpack. Just before his stop he stands and reaches over the head of the woman across the aisle. He pulls at the ad, diligently. Sorry, he mumbles, as it doesn't give as easily as he expected. Finally he tears it down the middle, crumpling half in his fist before hopping off the bus.

Guess he doesn't like Scientology, a man at the back of the bus says.

The erupting volcano remains.

At night I dream of the blond woman's rictus, her teeth showing in a Joker grin. Helloooo? she asks my sleeping self. Hello, I want to say. Hello. I see you.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Alarm will sound as a whooping horn.

This morning, as I walk to work, I see a man in the middle of the street. In the middle of a lane. I hear a siren coming this way. He plants his feet wide, bending his knees like he's going to go into a crouch. I watch him, curious.

At work there's a plate by the elevator with instructions in case of a fire. It tells me:

Alarm will sound as a whooping horn.

A sign inside the elevator informs me that the alarm will be tested tomorrow morning at 7 am. It will be very loud, it says.

The alarm is very loud. Last week it rattled me at my desk. We filed outside like schoolkids, down the metal and cement stairway and into the parking lot. We stood around and looked at each other while the building screamed.

In my new sixth floor loft, I can't hear much noise from the street. I do hear sirens; after a while they become a sort of backdrop. Tonight I hear protesters moving down Market toward City Hall. I step out on to the fire escape to watch them go by, escorted by police cars and vans and their flashing lights.

I can also hear church bells from my window.

The man in the middle of the street emerges from his crouch as the siren approaches. He's young and beautiful. He stretches one long arm out front of his body, palm up. He's pulling the ambulance toward him. Scooping out into the air with both arms now, and now his mouth opens, the siren is inside me and inside him; I see but don't hear his laugh as it rocks by, tossing his hair back in its wake, his eyes are open and both arms are in the air and he's laughing like he's found the secret of joy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Invisible frogs

I can hear frogs when I step outside. A stagey chorus of frog voices. I hear them, but I can't see them, although I lurked beside the pond this afternoon, peering into crevices. No dice.

I can even hear them in here, in my room. Don't be fooled; it's a creature metropolis out here in the country. Teeming. Last night I needed to walk, but the dark here is deep. I saw a path leading up and into trees and I stepped in that direction, flashlight in hand.

I stepped in that direction, then stopped. All the childhood fears - of things moving in the dark, things unseen, of lives going on in the underbrush - all came running up to hit me square in the face. I'm a grown-up woman who walks easily by neighborhood toughs and crackheads and drunks, but this was too much. An unknown path in the deep dark of the forest is just too much.

I turned back to my room, ready to run laps up and down the stairs.

Today a jackrabbit the size of a beagle looks at me out the side of his eyes, giant ears alert, then dismisses me. I'm not a threat; I barely exist in its world. A mutant bumblebee circles my head, impossibly staying aloft, buzzing like a small plane coming in for a landing.

Two deer have a friendly shit together not five feet away, and I barely register. I'm irrelevant.

A person could get used to this. If I could stay here another week or three, my little dramas might shrink back down into proportion. But it's only another day and a half, and then I'll be back in my own wilderness.

Until then, the frogs belch in their amphitheaters, unfazed by my tromping boots while I try to find them out. They're performing for another crowd entirely.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time to make the doughnuts

Because what a writer does is write. Because I said this blog is updated weekly, and it's been a week. Because when my brother owned a doughnut store, he got up at four or even three every morning to make the doughnuts, yeah, just like the guy in the commercial.

Because there's no such thing as writer's block. There's only the writer and the page and the words and you have to put the words on the page or you're not a writer.

You have to put the words on the page even when you think there's nothing to say. It's only when you start putting words on the page that you remember the German tourist in running clothes asking how to get to Castro, and then to Golden Gate Park, how you point back in the direction he came from and he's off and flying, ready to cover the whole city in his white running shoes.

And his shoes, like a dotted line, point the way to the blond sitting in a doorway, her head down. She asks for a cigarette when you're already past her. She doesn't look up, the words coming out of her like she's been saying them for years, pull her string and Spare a cigarette? and the string runs out and someone else walks by and her string is pulled again: Spare a cigarette?

From her to chalked exhortations on the sidewalk:

It May Not Seem Like It, But Things Will Get Better
You Rock My Socks
I Am A Better Person Because Of You

A neighborhood crackhead wavers on his feet, burning cig between his fingers. His eyes trace the one that reads:

You Are Exactly Where You Need To Be

Monday, February 08, 2010

Shall we dance

The day starts with filtered sunshine, sliding in between the buildings and finding me out in my new little home.

From my bed I can lean out the window and see down the pocket between my building and the next: six floors to the bottom. Looking up I see HOTEL painted in red block letters. Behind HOTEL, GRANT BLDG. announces itself. Across the canyon of Market Street, faded letters spell RENOIR HOTEL from top to bottom. We are an exclusive society of aging buildings up here, a cotillion in gloves worn soft as kitten paws.

The sun is gone by late afternoon, and when I lift my head from work, the streets are shining wet.

It's nearly nine when I'm standing at the bus stop, scarf over my head. A tall white man with big teeth is the only other passenger at the stop. He wears salary man clothes: blue oxford shirt, gray trousers, shined shoes. I see his feet moving out of the corner of my eye. At first I think he's dancing with the cold, but then I look at him properly.

He's just dancing. Holding his coat as a partner, he's marking out steps. Right-two-three, he whispers, and turn! He spins, coat sleeves flying out, and I see his eyes for an instant, the tiny shock of catching my gaze. He calms it down, self-conscious, but I can still see his weight shifting forward, back, side, side.

His feet don't lift from the sidewalk, but he's dancing just the same.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The neighborhood

I step out the back door of my new building, and see a man in a doorway across the street. He’s sobbing out loud, his mouth open like a little kid.

It’s raining hard today and the train is packed, people stuffed close enough to smell. A young man gets on; he reminds me of a kid I knew in college. Open, freckled face, good raincoat. He’s talking earnestly to someone, but I can’t pick out who it is.

“Sure, they’re thinking, why does he get to stand there?”

I look closely at the woman next to him to see if she is the one he’s addressing. She looks closely at me. We both realize it’s neither of us, or both of us and everyone on the train. His hand holds the pole directly in front of my nose. He wears a ring on his left pinky; dolphins are embossed on the band.

“That’s why I’m the focus, that’s why they’re studying me,” he says.

“It’s not crazy to hear voices,” he says, “It’s just crazy to answer them.”

I get off at my station. A man stands just outside the turnstiles. He holds a Fed-Ex box. He holds it out to passers-by, asking, asking, but I can’t tell what it is he wants. I can’t tell what he wants, but I recognize the gesture, the heart’s need for something, and how many of us confuse one want for another? We all want something that we can’t always name. We all sob aloud – in our room if we have one – or quietly, hoping not to wake the person sleeping beside us. I turn away from the naked need of the man with the box, the sobbing man, the woman selling scavenged copies of Street Sheet, unable to answer, ashamed of the echoed need in my own heart.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Catastrophe

I hear the scree of brakes and in the long 30th of a second before the crash, I anticipate it; I live through the long crushing grind six times before it happens, and it doesn't help, it goes right through my teeth and shakes my bones.

A cab has t-boned an airport shuttle, the nose of the cab peeled right back, skinned like a fresh kill, naked innards shoved under the side of the airporter, obscene and intimate. I cross the street at the light, coming closer to the accident, and see five people raise cell phone to ear, almost in unison, one-two-three-four-five.

I seem to be walking through sludge, everything slowed down, it takes an age to cross the street, turn left, walk the half-block toward the scene, glass glittering across the road, sprayed out from under the shuttle bus.

The cabbie is sitting very straight in his car, looking out through the windshield. A man with suitcases is out in the street, turning around, a bag in each hand. He turns and looks, turns and looks, like the answer is hiding just over his shoulder.

Someone opens the cabbie's door, but he doesn't move. He stares straight ahead.

Traffic is clotting in the street. It's a weekday, people are on their way to work. Someone honks, then honks again.

I look one more time over my shoulder as I walk. The cabbie still sits in his car, the man on the street turning and turning, but the rest of us have to get on with our day.