Saturday, November 26, 2011


This weekend was meant to be the beginning of my nomadic year. On Wednesday I learned my foot was fractured, tying me to earth. I'd had fantasies of walks up and down the long hill where I'm staying this week, but I'm forbidden to walk more than a few blocks at a time.

I've had to slow down. As I walk to dinner in my old neighborhood, I see a man in a doorway with his back to the street. My instinct is to turn my head away as I pass. There are many things a person can do in a doorway, especially in this part of town, few of them are things I much want to see anymore. But this guy was playing a bamboo flute. Not in that broken, half-assed way I expect of my neighbors. He's good. He's facing the wall and the sound bounces out onto the street, sweetening the slow walk, my foot rocking heel to toe in its stormtrooper boot.

At the bus stop, a man asks a cabbie at the curb if he knows how to get to Sparc. It's a marijuana dispensary, he says. Oh, says the cabbie, that's all the way down near 11th. A middle-aged Latino man in a suit is walking by, and he stops to say there's another very nice dispensary just in the next block.

A guy with a bullhorn is talking in Spanish about Jesús Cristo. A queen with a pink blossom tucked behind one ear smiles. She's well over six feet tall, closing in on seven.

I sit in a seat reserved for the elderly and disabled on the train. A woman sits beside me, long white hair in a turquoise clip. Gray pleated skirt and rose-colored coat, black felt boots. She turns a single-trip ticket around and around in her creased hands. We get to my stop, and she uses her hands to pull herself to her feet. I make the identical gesture, the two of us moving slowly out of the train. She's ahead of me as we go through the turnstiles, but she turns back from the stairs. I follow to see the escalator is out of service. 

Looking for the escalator? she asks, as I turn toward the other exit. Yes, I say, and we keep each other company out of the station.

Tonight I'm re-reading Housekeeping. In it is a woman who chooses, for her own eccentric and half-understood reasons, to wander homeless. A strange piece of inspiration for my wobbling liftoff, weighed down, obliged to look around in every minute, slowed, but not stopped.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just when you're ready to leave, you meet the neighbors

It's late after a night out, past time for bed. I put on a robe and slippers to go to the bathroom. My building has shared bathrooms. It's not so bad. They're professionally cleaned every day. Some days they need it more than others.

Tonight, someone knocks on the door. This is not something we do here. If the door is closed, the bathroom is occupied. Just a moment, I call, drying my hands. I open the door to see my neighbor, his blue eyes open all the way.

Please, he says. I've cut myself. I need you to dress the wound. One hand is cradled in the other, wrapped in a towel. He leads me across the hall to his apartment, like mine but with no window. The man is easily two of me - maybe three - tall and broad. He walks with a cane. He leaves the door open and points at the drawer that contains his first aid supplies. There, he says, and stands back, as though I need plenty of room to work.

Usually, this neighbor avoids my eyes, but this week he's been friendly, saying Hello when we pass in the hall, on the street. He was in the stairwell when I was on the way to work the other morning, almost dancing, earbuds in. He turned a big smile at me. A certain flavor of bright attention, it's familiar to me.

The drawer is cluttered. He's explaining how he has an expensive knife from Japantown, but something just went wrong with it, he didn't know how it happened. My choice is between a large gauze pad and a regular Band-Aid. Let me see, I say to him. He looks a little taken aback, then shows me his finger. It's a small cut with a lot of blood.

You're going to be fine, I say. I wipe the cut with an alcohol pad and, unwrapping the Band-Aid, ask him his name, tell him mine. His face is open, eager eyes sticking to me. Are you a nurse? he asks.

I'm putting on the bandage when a woman appears in the doorway. She's my size, gorgeous, seemingly not much older than me. Hi Mom, says my giant of a neighbor.

Are you going to the hospital? asks the woman. At first I think she's talking about the cut, and I start to tell her it's not serious, but then I see this is a different conversation.

I'm different on this medication, Mom, he says. People tell me so.

What people? she wants to know.

The man at the smoke shop. He says I'm not myself.

I'm standing between the two of them in my robe and slippers, bandage wrapper in my hand. The mother touches my arm. Thanks, she says. I tell her - and him - to let me know if they need anything more. I mean this. I can't tell her how normal this feels to me, how light it is to me to put on a Band-Aid and make small talk, how they aren't completely alone. 

But she nods me back to my room, down the quiet hallway. The door closes behind her, the two of them, mother and son. It's the middle of the night, and it's only them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Walk outside

I wasn't going to write today. What could I possibly write? There's too much happening out there and in here, and it seems impossible to throw a few puny words at that massive mountain.

So that's it, then. I can stop writing and put away the books and the tweed jacket with the patches on the elbows, stop calling myself a writer and rearranging the world to provide me with More Time to Write, because, and this is a secret: no matter how much you get, it's never enough.

And, still, it's always enough. I can sneak away like I'm cutting school, take a little walk.

And there's the young woman in the park, lying on her back, examining a leaf she holds at arm's length while she talks on her cell phone. An older man stands on the sidewalk and flosses. He works at his teeth with great concentration, and I love him for it.

I hear a man tell the girl beside him that she'll learn a lot while she's here. To not get caught is the main thing, he says, Ask yourself, do I need to not get caught standing here? She hasn't grown hips yet, her skinny arms a little too long for her body, she holds them out to the side, nodding.

One of my neighbors picked up a Halloween mask last night and wears it back on his forehead, over the top of his hood. It's new and shining silver, a brilliant red feather on one side. A short wind flirts through the feather, flaps the legs of his pants against his skinny shins.

A hundred thousand human beings, each one a hundred stories, all right outside my door. Any time I think I don't have anything to write, all I need to do is walk outside, like Exene said:

Hey baby, Baby take a walk outside.