Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday, 13

Walgreen's isn't open yet; delivery guys are loading boxes through the front door. One guy's shirt collar opens to show a perfect, lipsticked imprint on his neck. A kiss, preserved. It's so pristine I wonder if it's a tattoo.

I'm walking through the park when the fountain comes on. A sudden wall of water. I think this should make me happy, and it does, but in an abstract way. I observe myself being cheered.

One of my neighbors has wind chimes. The wind is sharp this week. The sound of metal on ringing metal is layered above the sounds emerging from the alley below. I don't know where the chimes are; I can't see them when I climb onto the window seat and press my face against the glass.

Today I'm visiting S at Laguna Honda hospital. A man in a wheelchair sits in the community room. He looks as though he may have severe cerebral palsy, like my cousin, my great-aunt. His neck stretched long and his head high against the headrest. His whole face smiles when I say hello as I pass. He lifts his chin as though to nod back at me, as if to thank me for recognizing the man inside. Or maybe I assume too much.

An elderly man in a black leather vest - missing teeth, tattooed arms - carries a bicycle wheel through the hallway.

There are snacks in a side room today. Guacamole and chips, wine and beer. H says she's feeling a little tipsy; she hasn't had wine in years.

"There aren't many of us in here," says a fast-talking man, "but we take up so much more space, with all the wheelchairs." He talks like he's trying to get out as many words as possible while someone is listening.

I hug S goodbye, wave to the others as I leave.

In the elevator, another wheelchair-bound man asks me to push him to the corner. I end up pushing him through hallways and onto a different elevator, through more hallways until we finally find the smoking area, a last patch of sun. He mumbles, his words trailing off to nothing; I keep bending over him to try to catch what he's saying. He asks for a quarter.

A skinny man on his way back inside is stopped by my companion. The skinny man asks him to repeat himself three times before pulling out his pack of Marlboros and handing him three cigarettes, taking a dollar in exchange. Price is up since I was a smoker.

I ask my charge if he'll be okay now. He nods, says something like Yeah, so I leave him in the sun to find my way back. Down the broad steps, onto the train.

A woman on the train carries a tight bouquet of white roses. A kid by the door looks like a hayseed, the arms of his plaid shirtsleeves cut off at the shoulder, threads hanging. I don't know if it's a carefully crafted look or the opposite.

A few steps from my building, a new sculpture has been installed: giant wooden blocks. I want to look for the monstrous toddler who left them here.

Outside my window, the chimes are ringing.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Fallen, Inc.

There is the man in the sandwich board, Revelations in black on white, Fallen, fallen is Babylon. He seems standard-issue street prophet. Tall, thin, bearded, weatherbeaten.

But there, across the street, another man in another sandwich board. A competing philosophy? No, one morning I detour to that side of the street. Identical fonts, identical texts. This man is short and bald, wearing dark aviator sunglasses. He looks more like the driver of the getaway car than a street prophet. Or the man who calmly tells you why the goons are breaking your legs.

I'm oddly disappointed. A lone street crazy with his words of warning carried on his chest is human, full of pathos. But a franchise? How does that even work? They aren't asking for money. They have no literature to hand out. Only a scriptural warning, judgment raining down on the whorish Babylon of San Francisco.

Last week the man across the street was replaced by another short man, this one with brown hair and inoffensive eyes.

Today I see the tall man from the bus. He's conferring with the man in aviator shades. The brown-haired man across the street walks slowly. Is the man in sunglasses in charge? Is he paying the other two to carry his signs?

His face has the jowly, dissipated look of a cut-rate villain in a movie. The type who wears a heavy gold chain around his wrist, who gestures impatiently with his chin, whose smile is more horrible than his accustomed scowl.

But a man can't help his face.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

May day

I catch myself toying with the phantom of my wedding ring. The way I would fiddle with it with my thumb, pushing it up and down the ring finger. The first day I took it off, I couldn't stop worrying at the empty space, and when I got back to my room I put it back on in a panic, sat on the edge of the bed and got my breath back.

It's been over a year since my thumb went looking for the ring. Maybe it's because I wore my mother's ring last night, not on the ring finger, but on the middle finger, right beside it. Mom's ring is large and bold. It suited her long fingers and for a long time I thought mine too short to pull it off, but I like the way it looks now. It is a large glob of silver, pulled into random, organic points around a single pearl. I have to turn it around so the setting is in my palm in order to fit my hand into my pocket.

Yesterday I went to see Nine in Rockridge and I stepped off BART into a residential street. Roses are in bloom, and the smell made my heart cave in a little. I love where I live now, the white ladder I climb into my loft bed, the big window set in the brick wall, my neighbors out at the tender edge of almost making it, but yesterday I wondered if I needed something a little quieter, someplace where I could open the window and hear birds instead of bum fights. I missed, for a moment, my old flat in the Inner Sunset, neglected flower boxes on the lanai, crows bouncing on the power lines, my cats chattering lustfully at the window.

But this morning is bright and warm and people are out on my street. A black man is glorious in a lemon yellow suit, matching hat and shining yellow shoes.
He's talking with his friends, and along comes a giant of a white man, dressed like an extra from The Road Warrior, armored in pieces of tire and leather and steel, a vicious scar along one cheek emphasized with tattooed cartoon stitches. 

"Nice suit, man," bellows the road warrior as he passes the yellow-suited patriarch.

And in only three blocks I'm in the park. They're just finishing the mowing, and I breathe in the smell of cut grass. An elderly man does his tai chi in front of the falling water at the Martin Luther King fountain. Two ancient Chinese women are running, their arms chugging in I'm-running motion, but their feet barely lift from the pavement. I could catch and pass them at a walk.

How many husbands, lovers, children have these women outlived? How many wars, how much self-delusion, how many lies and truths? They doggedly run, one behind the other, turning corners with military precision, every morning they meet to do their run.

Here is where I am now, and maybe I'll live long enough to treasure everything in this moment: my grief, my phantom ring, and all the soft green shoots springing up beneath my feet.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


It's a crazy gorgeous day, sunshine overflowing onto my shoulders and I've walked for miles, up to Coit Tower and down, through Chinatown and along Powell, up Cathedral Hill and down, down into my neighborhood.

I'm only two blocks away from home, among Market Street crowds, I'm texting my friend as I walk. I know, I know, but I'm holding my phone in my left hand, out to the side while I text and then it's bumped from my hand onto the sidewalk. I hear a heavy breath, see shoe slap pavement beside my foot, a hand reach for my phone as I do, it misses, and a voice close to my ear says:


I see his face for a millisecond, then his back, and his friend coming around me from the right, maybe 18 or 19, they are running flat out, cutting through the crowd. I have my phone in my hand again and I'm staring and trying to think what to do. Call 911? Yeah, that'll be their top priority.

They're still in sight, running straight down the block, backpack jouncing on the guy on the right, and some of the tourists are stopped and staring, open-mouthed, and I'm trying to keep them in view, and I think I see them slow down, walking, trying to blend into the crowd, and then they stop at the light.

I am feeling bold and righteous today, and I take some running steps to catch up, I'm maybe thirty feet away and the one on the left has turned to look back and I raise my arm like an avenging angel, pointing my finger at him.

"YOU," I shout, ignoring the people who turn to stare, "You want my cell phone!?"

I am on fire. I'm bearing down on them with speed. I have no idea what I'm going to do next.

His face turns innocent. He points at himself. "Me?"

A kernel of doubt rolls around my brain. Could it be someone different? Could this be just some random guy?

"YEAH," I say, as though there is no need for doubt, as though I am ready to fight him, who cares that he's a foot taller than me, that his friend is half again as wide. I'll take them both.

And then...nothing. It may not be him at all. I have no plan.

I keep walking, passing them, I see a neighbor and tell him what happened as I punch in the code for our building. He tells me this is becoming a common method of snatching cell phones. I say goodbye at my door and put my key in the lock.

My hand is shaking.