Wednesday, April 28, 2010


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.