San Francisco Daze: April

Continuing to bring San Francisco Daze, a series of daily observations of life in our fair city that I wrote in 2005, finally out into the light of day. With a little bit of non-SF contamination in this one from a trip to Seattle. The Soviettes, FYI, have since broken up. This is very sad, but my love for Sturgeon remains undiminished…

April 1

How Do You Write About A Place in Its Absence? (VII):

Last night in Seattle, and tonight I went to the Fun House to see a passel of punk bands, headlining in the Soviettes. Who advertise in Kitchen Sink, one of my favorite local journals, and Alyssa, my Yahoo! Personals contact who has her own music blog loves them, so I figured they must be worth checking out. And they were. The place, first of all, was spectacular. The juke box was all punk, metal and honky-tonk, which confirmed my suspicion that Seattle is full of kindred souls. The place had a long wooden bar, full of the tattooed and pierced and dyed. Not much seating, but a lot of standing room, especially near the back where the bands played. And the stage— an inch off the ground and a foot away from the crowd, well there’s no better way to see a band. The first few bands were fun, in the amped up but repetitive way that punk bands are fun. But the Soviettes were something else entirely. Three girls and one guy, with songs that bristled with energy and personality and an actual fun lyric or two. I was so enthralled that I bought both of their CDs, and embarrassingly gushed to the band members as they circulated through the crowd after the show. On top of that, I fell in love with their guitarist, Sturgeon. I am not fucking kidding— I would bear her children at the drop of a hat. Come to me, oh tall rock goddess with the pixie-cut and the alluring grin!

April 2

How Do You Write About A Place in Its Absence? (VIII):

In the airport now, headed back to San Francisco, after my week in Seattle. At last, the story can be told. These were the songs that were the first thing that popped into my head during each day of the trip:

Sunday- Hurricane (Bob Dylan)

Monday- Landspeed Record (Tanya Donneley)

Tuesday- Something in the Way (Nirvana)

Rock & Roll All Night (Kiss)

Wednesday- Could You be The One (Husker Du)

Thursday- Old Lady Behind the Counter in a Small Town (Pearl Jam)

Friday- Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)

Saturday- Iron Man (Black Sabbath)

April 3-10

Egad! What happened to this week? No daily observations at all. I guess in spring a young man’s fancy really does turn.

April 11

The pink blossoms in the brick courtyard near work were as big as buttercups today.

April 12

Yipes— final bus stop on the BX, and they are upon us. The Swarm. The Human Wave. The contingent that must stand because all the best seats are gone. My ride was guilt-free until now, the few spare empty seats that dotted the bus guaranteed expiation. But now, seats gone, standing room only, one must wonder— is some little old lady going seatless because of my ease and comfort? Perhaps a nun even. A nun leading a group of school children. With kittens. I’m probably clear on that one— I would hear the noise of the kids and kittens, even here in the back of the bus. Who I actually see standing in front of me is a tall young guy in jeans and a suede jacket, listening to his I-pod. Beyond him, fading into the hazy distance of the midsection of the bus, some vigorous looking young ladies. Still a twinge there, gentleman sitting while ladies stand and all, but modern bus etiquette is clear on this matter. And anyway, I don’t see any other men giving up their seats. So I’m off the hook for now. But still, I do so fear the onrush of the crowd each time it comes.

April 13

I live at the base of a mountain of parrots. Okay, actually, I work there. But it really is a mountain of parrots. And those parrots, the parrots of Telegraph Hill, scream like flighty feathered madness in the morning. They swarm like yellow and green lunacy at lunch time. They migrate like clucking tittering insanity in the evening. Pets, let loose on a lark a few decades ago. And now they are always with us.

April 14

The building says

“Beamis”

in gold letters

against

peeling salmon paint

on the way home

from my office

to the bus stop.

How

have I not seen it

before?

April 15

“Don’t judge.”

That’s what she said after she got on the bus. It was hard to take your eyes off of her, she was rail thin, clothes tight and yet somehow worn and loose, hair matted and dirty, eyes bloodshot and hollow with that kind of hollowness I’ve sometimes seen before in my own. Hard not to stare, but of course you don’t want to be rude. This leads to surreptitious glances, by their very furtiveness drawing attention to the fact that one is looking. Which no doubt is what led her to say, to noone in particular, while staring straight ahead from her seat by the window, “Don’t judge.”

She was silent for a while after that. Then, as she stood and made her way to the door several stops later, the torrent started.

“Don’t judge. You ain’t got no right. You don’t know. You don’t know a damn thing. So keep your judgments to your own damn self.” And on and on in a similar vein, loud but not angry, as her frame lurched in a jerky off-balance way.

Just before leaving the bus, she looked at us, smiled and laughed, raised one arm above her head in a move that somehow reminded me of a prima ballerina, and said, “Have a nice day. Gosh dang!”

And then she was gone.

April 16-17

A Lost Weekend. No writing, but clearly do I recall Jen’s lackadaisical voice, Valkyrie build and cute round face framed in curved blond hair. That and the puzzling African safari theme revealed in the flickering firelight of Piazza Orgasmica on Clement Street, which is, after all, a Brazilian-owned chain. Most curious.

April 18

A blustery spring wind blew through the city today, whipping leaves around, rattling newspapers and sending my hair flying in golden strands that I had to keep gathering together and tucking back behind my ears.

April 19

The back side of the fountain in Yerba Buena Gardens, cool marble corridor memorial to the Civil Rights movement, where the waterfall pelts you with cool mist, will always be the first place I kissed her.

April 20

Kincaid Room, Unitarian-Universalist Church on Franklin, setting up for a meeting. Defining features: hard plastic chairs, dirty chocolate milk brown and slightly Oreo-dipped white, in a circle. Concrete walls in prison gray. A cement inset in the ceiling, featuring six perfectly square Jackson Pollock-pattern asbestos spattered tiles in the middle. Simple standing lamp in the corner as befits Unitarians. Grade school black counter-top drawers in the back of the room. Tan carpet, square patterns in frayed disrepair. The pervasive smell of old couch cushions, though none are in sight. Dusky sun leaning through the slanted blinds, casting multiple dim shadows of my pen across the paper. Outside, cars roar past as Geary & O’Farrell split in two and flow around the church. Echoing voices, footsteps and creaking doors in the hall outside. Ten minutes to go.

April 21

There’s a little two-block stretch on the ride in to work (if you take the BX, that is). A little two-block stretch along Bush Street that takes in the mysterious stairway leading to the French Consulate, the glass front of the Goethe Institute German Cultural Center, the Taiwanese-run weekly-rate Hotel Astoria where I almost stayed one of the times LiAnne tried to kick me out and the red-gold-green gaudy magnificence of the Chinatown gate on Grant. All in two blocks, within a few blocks of the all-business no-nonsense Financial District. This city inspires such love in me.

April 22

Dusk came today with a green-blue fire over the Pacific.

April 23

South Van Ness is so unlike Mission, which again is unlike Valencia. Valencia is Roxie Theatre glowing on the corner, French crepe restaurant just up the street, well-heeled vintage stores and bars that straddle hip and dive. Mission the same, except it is also Pentecostal churches in Spanish, booming music from discount goods stores and the crack dealers and prostitutes that congregate around the BART stations at 16th and 24th. And then South Van Ness, and suddenly it’s auto supply stores, warehouses and gas stations. Three parallel streets that might as well be in different cities.

April 24

Three-tiered

Gray stone birdbath

In the green grass courtyard

Of red brick

Saint James’ Presbyterian

Is dry

Full of black soil

And planted

With seed that promises

A bright spring explosion

April 25

After getting through the whole day without incident, a half block from home, on the very corner where I live, I see a guy smoking a cigar, wearing pajama bottoms with horizontal stripes, a plaid blazer with vertical stripes, and a firemen’s hat loitering in the vicinity of the SF Weekly news box. San Francisco defends to the end her right to present you with the bizarre.

April 26

Telegraph Hill was awash this morning with hummingbirds, dragonflies and butterflies upon the face of the verdant emerald deep.

April 27

The bus ride home today was a festival of dialects. Big bountiful blond girl talking on the phone about the people at work with thick Russian English. Black girls reading out loud from the newspaper about “that guy who got shot in South City, and they killed his ass”. And a Chinese office ladies threesome engaged in nonstop Cantonese-Chinglish all the way home.

April 28

The sky was opaque white, pouring rain this morning on the way to the bus. But by lunch the clouds had piled up into big white and gray masses, scuttling across the baby blue sky as they skidded over the bay out of office window. And tonight, leaving work, the sky was transparent purple, with stars standing out in bright diamond relief.

April 29

The benches in the new Union Square have been designed to encourage the homeless not to loiter in this public space. Accordingly, they are cold hard steel, with straight backs, and left and right armrests dividing the bench into four person-sized seats. It’s impossible to do anything other than sit rigidly facing forward, unable to touch the person next to you, or turn and look in their eyes when you talk. Let’s hope that the whole city doesn’t end up this way.

April 30

I heard the most refreshing thing of the month today. Loitering around North Beach with time to kill before meeting somebody at the movies, I was directed by posters advertising “Art in the Alley” to Jack Kerouac Lane, tucked between Vesuvios and City Lights. The alley was packed with dyed hair, argyle socks, paintings and bass-string jazz notes. When I had my fill, I wandered into Vesuvios, thinking I might do some writing in Jack’s old haunt over a cup of coffee. When I ordered a latte (which, in my defense, had been suggested by the sign out front), the wiry white haired guy with a goatee behind the bar said, “If you want a latte, you should go to a café. I can’t make a good latte. I’m a bartender.”

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