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.