San Francisco Daze: January

Back in 2005, while I was in endless revisions on my novel, I realized I needed to be practicing writing something new on the side or I might go batty. So I decided I’d do a daily record of life in San Francisco, in any different forms of prose or poetry that came to me that day. I didn’t quite do it daily, but I did do it often, all through the year. It being a New Year now, I thought it might be a good chance to share it at the end of each month. Two disclaimers: It was 2005, so the dates won’t match up with days in 2008. I mean, duh, but still. And, although I don’t drink now, hoo boy did I then, so don’t be alarmed if you see occassional references to it in here. Now, without further ado, here is January…

January 1
After a week’s worth of rain
the New Year began
with alternating columns
of
Gray
and
Gold
that lit up the streets
in oily prismatic sheen

January 2
Sugar Bowl’s
gilded
lights
reflected in the rain
theatre marquee
orange and peeling
jutting up
against liquid gray sky shingles
of Kan’s Restaurant
thick brick, red and lumpy
next to cherry-colored pho place
seen from inside
dusty windows
damp shoe smell
and ceramic cup clink
Café Zephyr
Balboa Street
San Francisco
on a rainy
January
Sunday
afternoon

January 3
Today, on the eighth consecutive day of rain, the precipitation was cut with humidity. The 38 Geary, heaters turned up against the alleged cold and packed to the limit, trundled down to the Financial District like a mobile sauna. I didn’t mind standing, except that it meant I couldn’t write. That, and the young Asian girl seated in front of me on the orange plastic bus-seat kept waving her hand back and forth in front of her face. To try and relieve the inherent steaminess, I’m sure, but I was afraid it meant that I stank. Now, rolling on the N-Judah toward an open-mic show, life is good. Or at least, I’m heartened by the sight of the chubby girl with curly red hair and geeky glasses, wearing a hip bowler hat, red fishnets and shiny black boots.

January 4
Today was about
clear light over the Bay
framed with pregnant lumps of cloud
light white on top
heavy gray underneath.

January 5
I learned this afternoon that there is a Western Union in the bowels of the Safeway tucked at the end of the Embarcadero. Not so grand a revelation, but kind of useful when Visa has just called your ex-wife in an attempt to get her to call you to scare lose an old credit card debt.

January 6
Leaving work tonight, on my way to meet a friend for dinner in the Castro, bleary-eyed, blazed and glazed with days of budget work, I beheld downtown like a sea of glass surrounded by rising fog.

January 7-9
The lost weekend began with a late night’s work Friday, escalated through John’s party on Saturday, was catalyzed into its full glory by the curly-haired young blonde accountant upstairs neighbor’s techno music and Jack and Coke that was almost all Jack, ushered in Sunday with sleep past noon and ends now, scotch in hand, writing in bed on a Sunday night.

January 10
Looking down from Diamond Heights
Tonight
The hill’s bottom
Curved up to the lights of downtown
Muddy pearls
Lost in the fog
And rain

January 11
The Transamerica Pyramid squats in the midst of all of my dreams like a vast friendly marble bullfrog, higher than the sky and heavier than heaven.

January 12
Last night I visited a bar just a few steps shy of being under the overpass on Valencia Street. Amy said she thought it was a biker bar and indeed, a collection of silver and black hogs guarded the entrance. Not that the entrance needed much guarding, it was so non-descript, almost the door to a shack, that most people would easily breeze right past it. We breezed right in, though, and the toughness of the place was belied by the big friendly doorman in muttonchops sheepishly asking for my ID, and the fact that the obligatory TV above the bar was playing the Food Network. It wasn’t as if they had no bite, though. They served us a Jack and Coke and gin and tonic both of which may have been flammable, and they had one of the toughest jukeboxes I’ve ever heard. The MC5, Nirvana, the Cramps, the Ramones and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got me through my drink and into the second before we called it a night out of respect for the jobs that waited for us in the morning.

January 13
Walking by Dolores Park tonight I caught the acrid exhaust vanilla-cream whiff of crack smoke coming from somewhere in the bushes.

January 14
They look just like the Amish, but they can drive cars— Overheard tonight at an art show opening in Varnish Gallery on Natoma Lane
Getting there takes an act of faith. You have to pass Mission Street on the approach to Hell on Earth (aka the Transbay Bus Terminal). The next move requires a sharp turn just before Howard, exactly where the Satanic cement overpass of the bus terminal looms. In fact, the rest of the walk is in the shadow of the overpass, down a dimly lit street that is little better than an alley. One side is scuffed wall and cracked opaque yellow windows, part of the bus terminal superstructure, the other concrete pillars supporting a freeway, surrounded by chain-link fence. You pass the boarded up remains of a hip South of Market bar you visited once during the dotcom boom of ’99, and just when you begin to doubt, really doubt, where you’re headed in life, there it is. The happy little neon sign of Varnish popping out of the night. A swift turn to the left and there you are, in a mid sized gallery with skylights, a full service bar, and additional display space wending its way around the thin metal railing that frames the second floor.

January 15
I left San Francisco city limits for the first time this year. Returning, I was haunted by the sight of the doomed pylons of the second Bay Bridge expanse rising ghostlike from the black waters. Cranes blinked, steel and concrete slick and shiny in the fog, despite all their spectral beauty, destined to be confined to oblivion due to the Governor’s decree.

January 16
Looking out my window
during morning meditation
I saw
the eucalyptus treetops
of Park Presidio Avenue
swaying like angry heads of broccoli
in the winter wind.

January 17
My favorite moment on the N-Line is when it first comes out of the tunnel, just before Cole Street. The blank black rushing roar suddenly gives way to a busy shopping street. And there, like a beacon of all the hope and goodness in the world, is the neon sign of BurgerMesiter shinning in the night.

January 18-21
After four days of immersion in the boiling sea of overwork I surfaced during a lunch-time walk down to the Embarcadero to see the real sea. I had only the briefest of glimpses, past the restaurant that stands like a little wooden shack at Pier 29, but it revived my soul. And what did I find, turning back to the hedge that lines the street as I prepared to cut through Levi’s Plaza? One of the small historical plaques that lines the street explained how, when the despondent masses of the 1930s hit San Francisco with nowhere left to go, Mother Jones fed them and cared for them. In a building, judging by the photograph, on Sansome Street at the foot of Telegraph Hill, EXACTLY where my office is now. I can’t say we’re putting it to better use, but it felt good to connect for a second with what went before and to realize that I, and all my busy thoughts, are just passing through this world and enjoying our moment in the sun, spirits lifted by the fresh ocean breeze.

January 22-24
Again I went under, lured by the siren call of completing the 2005 Budget for the Internet company I work for. I was brought back to my senses this morning by the sight of the setting moon, burnished like a smoldering copper coin in the pre-dawn sky.

January 25
What the fuck is up with the buses in this city? Why must we be confronted, again and again, with the pain of waiting 20, 30 minutes with no bus in sight, and then have two or three of them come at once? The 24 Divisadero is the worst offender, but the 22 Fillmore and the 1 California are both suspect as well. The ultimate indignity, however, is the 38 Geary. At peak morning commute hours, all of us who live in the Avenues pile into this, our shinning chariot, like obedient little lemmings. And it is there for us. 38. 38AX and BX. 38-Limited. All aimed like rockets towards downtown, each individual line coming once every 10 minutes. Or so says the schedule. So HOW THE FUCK can it be, as it was this morning, that narrowly having missed one bus, I faced a more than 20-minute wait for the next one? A Limited, so packed to the gills because everyone else along the line had to wait 20 minutes as well, that I refused to claw my way on board with the rest of the 20-minute thick crowd that by then had accreted upon my stop. And not three minutes later, what should come along but a 38, with a 38-Limited fast upon its heels. If there were even a tiny, rudimentary attempt at routing, wouldn’t this be mathematically impossible? Oh, the indignity.

January 26
The trees waved lazy green fingers
In the gusts of wind
That sent big puffy white clouds skidding
Through the hollow blue sliver of sky
Peeking out above the swimming pool
In the canyon
Between the two red brick buildings
Visible
Just outside
My office window

January 27
On my way home from work tonight
Shafts of rain falling straight down through the empty night sky
Windows in columns down the towers of the Financial District
Both the same, honeydew gold jewels
Bright
Against black velvet

January 28
Rousting about in the used CD bin at the Green Apple Annex on Clement this cloud swept rainy and sunny Friday morning, I struck total pay dirt. Rifling through the little cardboard box of $5 CDs next to the checkout counter, I started with my usual pattern of picking up one or two “I definitely want this” selections, and then searched for a few maybes, so I could get up to the magical 4 that makes it an even $20. As I listened to the elderly couple behind me ask the clerk about where to find “that movie with Pierce Brosnan and the girl from Terminator” among the DVDs (they found it, it turned out to be “Dante’s Peak”), a magical thing happened. Before I knew it, I had 10 CDs in my little pile, and the challenge became winnowing them down so I could get to 8 for the even $40. I ended up with:
– A collection of Fleetwood Mac covers (who could not want to hear the Cranberries cover “Go Your Own Way”?)
– General Public (one of my favorite cassettes of yesteryore, to be forever associated in my mind with high school adolescent yearning)
– A Grateful Dead collection (leaving me only Jefferson Airplane to add to Janis Joplin to have the perfect San Francisco Scene 3-CD random shuffle)
– Guns & Roses’ Appetite for Destruction (one of the Great White Whales of used CD bin hunting for me)
– A Judas Priest greatest hits collection (now I can be Breakin’ the Law while I’m Hell Bent for Leather)
– The first two Led Zeppelin albums (on the road to fulfilling a New Year’s pledge to round out my Beatles and Led Zeppelin CD needs)
– The Smashing Pumpkins first album (ah, the 90s, that brief millisecond when the world took notice of my generation)
I love living in a city where even people’s castoffs are solid gold.

January 29-30
Sunday morning coming down. Well, actually, Sunday at 2:00 PM, in the street-level sub-basement café at the Hotel Nikko on the penumbra of Union Square. Two flags wave in the wind next to the polished gleaming faux marble pillars visible through the windows. One is the translucent white and fine blue lettering of the flag of Hotel Nikko International (is it its own country?). And then, barely visible in the gap between the pillar and the window frame, red stripes over white stripes folded over on themselves, wrinkled, my country tis’ of thee. And I do love her. Looking out on this street, how could I not? Video Tokyo’s printed sign in drab orange and green, but above it happy neon sign spelling out bi-day-oh in katakana. Silver Honda CRV, proud bastion of yuppie glory, and yet sporting a red and white walrus sticker on the side that says “OBEY”. Rain worn stone tenements above the shops, discolored curtains in window after dirty window, except for the one with bright kitchen tablecloth style curtains with pink flowers and green leaves. Fire escapes criss-cross in the alley between the buildings above graffitied walls. Ubiquitous urban liquor store sits on the corner, affixed with a neon red Golden Gate Bridge in the window, glowing lure for the tourists who thicken the streets in this neighborhood.

January 31
boarding 38 geary home from work circa 6:15 on a monday night
bus driver impatiently waving people by wendy’s sign red haired devil girl just past the montgomery street stop girl of my dreams gets on is brown haired serious faced but why does she have a huge bag of laundry with her powell street stop union square where once a sand dune stood but now just that silly winged statue on a pillar biscuits and blues just off mason where lianne and I went and we had a fight about but really I think it was just that that guy wasn’t very good nobody could have complained about seeing finis tansby at the boom boom room for example girl of my dreams gets off at jones with huge overstuffed laundry bag still in tow and then there’s leavenworth which always makes me think of prison not so ridiculous after all given the extremely reliable population of prostitutes and drug dealers at that street corner and food and delis and liquor and neons and espresso and tecate drinking guy tweaking on a bike riding it around in haphazard circles on the sidewalk at larkin and then suddenly van ness and the fever is broken mel’s diner in silver chrome glory so fucking wholesome you can’t believe it and the amc 1000 but there aren’t nearly that many theatres there I’ve counted and the wide busy lanes teaming with cars both ways seemingly designed to cut off the riff-raff of the tenderloin from the cathedral hill hotel and then at the top of the hill why yes indeed there are cathedrals big marble glories but they have to compete in bigness with the weirdly out of place high rise housing of the western addition and speaking of weirdly out of place there’s the japantown pagoda with its bizarre antenna to god aperture on top and why is there nobody on this bus here we are at fillmore and it’s practically empty the masses must have held out for the limited and now past fillmore everything opens up and its wide and quiet as the red haired lady in the leather jacket face worn and tired who seems to be reading the bible sideways and we chug past divisadero and baker almost to the top of the next hill where the phase shift that began at van ness becomes complete all space and quiet and ease inner richmond like a security blanket laid out before us in little golden lights stretching all the way to the ocean and we roll downhill to where I must take my leave because I’ve had an appointment with pancho’s mexican grill brewing in my mind all afternoon long

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