Friday, October 28, 2011

Live everything

There's a crowd tonight, and they show me their IDs as they line up at my bar, hopeful eyes on me. So many of these kids were born in 1990.

The obligatory contingent of sexy/slutty costumed girls, but only three. There are wizards and nerds, Mexican wrestlers, and the guy in blackface is a black guy. Two blond girls tell me they're Mary Kate and Ashley.

The bands playing tonight do covers of Misfits and Gang of Four. I'm wearing the spiked collar I wore when Gang of Four was still touring, before most of these people were born. I'm dressed as myself of many years ago, plus devil horns, because why not?

My teenage self envies me, if she thinks of me at all. She certainly never expected to see this many years, certain of flaming out before reaching such advanced age. Dumb luck, I tell her, but she's moshing, she doesn't hear.

One environmentally aware kid at the bar doesn't want a plastic cup for water. Instead he crouches under the spigot, mouth open.

I love these people. Another kid petitions J about a benefit for Occupy SF. I just had the idea now, he says. He has the angels on his side.

There are nights when I like nothing better than this: pouring drinks and watching the crowd. I don't hear it when someone kicks a hole in the wall, but I do see the kid who booked the show. The room is almost empty by now. His cheeks are red beneath his blue wizard hat, and he keeps saying he can't believe it. Nothing he says will un-kick the wall, he's on the hook for the repair, and the injustice of it all pops the air around his head like cartoon swears.

I should have some way to end this post, some exit strategy, but that's it. Bar packed up, drunk kids roused and sent home. There's no knowing how many more nights there will be like this, and every thought in my head is a question. I'm trying, like Rilke counsels, to " patient toward all that is unsolved in [my] heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms," he says, "and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue."

And what the hell, that guy knew how to put words together, even in translation it comes through:
 Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16 comes every year

Last night I read a story in a bar, bought a beer for a Pulitzer-winning author whose previous book made me stay up all night reading, and danced awkwardly with a roomful of writers. I wore my mother's ring, it makes me feel like I'm carrying her with me. I think she'd have loved every moment. If she still exists in any form other than behind my eyes, if she gives this world any thought at all, I like to think she's grooving on this literary life along with me.

Today is her birthday. It's San Francisco summer, October and one of the few days of the year when I can walk outside without a jacket. Outside the mortuary are six men in dark suits and crisp white and black hats. They hold trumpets and trombones, waiting.

I pass an open house, people who are able to contemplate owning a place in San Francisco heading up the stairs. A man stands just a few feet from the Summit Real Estate sign. He has his own sign. "Summit Real Estate are Thieves," it says. The sign is upside-down, resting on the sidewalk while he shakes out his arms.

On the steps outside Coit Tower, a woman's purple dress blows up in the wind. She's wearing matching shorts underneath, but still she holds her skirt down against the next gust. A grandly fat tourist and his blond daughter try to open the JCDecaux toilet, the girl prying at the door, listening for sounds from inside, the father concentrating on the display beside the door, occasionally poking the button with one slow finger. He finally sends the girl to join her siblings and gives his wife an I tried expression before tramping off to find some accommodating bushes. I wind my way down the steps, seeing the display as I pass the toilet: Out of service. Could none of the ten people close by the small drama read English? None of them tried to help the man as he pointlessly pressed the button.

Not even me.

I head up a street I've never walked before. The last block is steps leading up to a low wall. A young couple from the neighborhood are sitting on the wall, staring out at the view. The Bay Bridge, white sails shining like metal in the sun. The city is so beautiful today it hurts.

I wish I could call Mom.

Back downtown, people left flowers and notes and candles outside the Apple store in San Francisco. The outline of a cloud hangs in the window. I imagine Jobs perched on his iCloud, our very own capitalist saint. In the next block are the hip-hop dancers, a guy with his hair dyed bright orange, shaped into a square with a shelf cut in on the left side. A drumline winds past them, high school kids led by a tall kid with his bass drum, boom boom, a kid with a donation jar bringing up the rear. Another block and the tourists thin out. One of my neighbors is just waking up, putting on his shoes, squinting up at the sun from under the scaffold that serves as his roof.

Outside the International Art Museum of America is an explosion of flowers. Although they've been open for months, today is apparently their grand opening. The flowers are meant to be celebratory, but they strike me, today, as funereal.

I can't remember the last thing I said to Mom. Did I talk to her on the phone? Or was it on my last trip there? She was so diminished that time, but it never occurred to me that she had one foot already in the next world.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


It's Saturday morning, and the sun is out. I walk through Civic Center, where the giant dandelion sculpture replaced the giant blocks. A young man in artfully scuffed leather jacket and steampunk goggles steps between the metal leaves, looking up at the dandelions. Maybe he's rolling on acid, or maybe he's never been in the big city before, but his face shows open wonder, that soft toddler gape.

A neighbor is just getting up, shaking out his shoes before putting them on, standing on his bed for the night, a clean rectangle of cardboard. I'm in his bedroom, walking down the street. A woman in a wheelchair is forehead to forehead with a man, her boyfriend maybe, the man kneeling in front of her, her arms tan and toned, a scarf around her hair, they're having a private moment, and I feel rude looking, but I don't want to look away.

Last month I was in Utah, and as my nephew drove us into town I was lost, the place has changed so much, I thought I was in a different neighborhood entirely when I saw the bones of the tabernacle, and I was jolted, the whole town shifting around this point, one of the few lovely old buildings still standing in my home town. And only barely standing, its burned naked ribs exposed, this is what they mean when they say a shell of its former self.

This week it was announced that the tabernacle would be rebuilt. But they're turning it into a temple, which means this sinner will be prohibited from entering ever again, unless I undergo a conversion, see the light, and purge my amiable apostate's soul. Not likely. So the place where Dad sang The Messiah with the Ralph Woodward Chorale, where I sang countless times with church choir, where I solved the mazes my brother drew for me, where we played hide-and-seek backstage, where I attended Stake Conference with the Osmonds, and we cracked up - silently, our faces turning red - to see that Donny wore spangled purple socks with his Sunday suit, that place lives only in my head. The last time I was there was for a friend's memorial. A nonsmoker, he'd died suddenly from lung cancer, leaving behind a wife, small children. I reconnected there with his little brother, a best friend when we were kids, I'd promised to pack him in my luggage and take him with me when my family went to Paris.

I was already on my way to other homes, even then. I'm home now in San Francisco, my neighbors making occult signs to nobody at all, arguing and singing in the alley beneath my window, when my music stops at night I think for a moment it's still playing, but it's my neighbors, the people who share this piece of earth, this moment, voices calling into the night.