San Francisco Daze: May and June

Here for your continued reading pleasure are the May and June entries from San Francisco Daze, a daily meditation on life in our fair city that I kept in 2005, now finally seeing the light of day.

May 1

Sitting with Gwen at an outdoor table at a café near Fisherman’s Wharf. Home cooked breakfast, the sign claimed, and it came out on paper plates, with plastic forks, coffee steaming in styrofoam cups, more home-style (for me) than they knew. Afterwards we strolled down to the Maritime Museum. She and I talked love and relationship (ours’ with other people, not with each other) while old boats creaked and ropes mooring them to the dock squealed like sea lions in the ebb and swell. An orange cat strolled by, momentarily pausing and turning towards us as we made clucking sounds and held out our hands, before he executed a haughty turn and continued on his way. The sky above blazed blue, and tourists (they must have been tourists- locals do not touch the Bay earlier than July) swam at the little beach in front of the amphitheatre where the fireworks are held each year. The spring sky brought out the brown and green in her eyes and highlit the fetching streaks of gray in her hair until they turned silver.

May 2

Television baseball, unnaturally brown and green field, rich orange-brown of wood panels brass gleam over at the bar, red shade on the lights over the pool table, olive all over, writing with Jen at the Plough and the Stars on Second & Clement, on a surprisingly busy Monday night.

May 3

Every day we are presented with signs and wonders. Today at the foot of Telegraph Hill I beheld a small ceramic cartoon figurine cartoon with long thick dreads holding a rolled up cigarette standing next to a pile of joints that had “Legalize” printed in big letters. It was seated on a cement wall, positioned for all the world like a figure of the Virgin that one might expect to lay flowers and other offerings before. Later, at lunch down on California Street, just across from Wells Fargo Bank, I saw two guys loading bags full of Chinese takeout onto one of those big steel elevators that go underground (to service the cable car lines?) and then descending into the depths with the food. I had visions of a massive feast for slaves of an underground kingdom. And tonight, on my way to this very café where I now write, tucked into the bushes on 4th Avenue I found a stuffed animal— a donkey on two legs, wearing a blue blazer and missing one ear. Further comment seems unnecessary.

May 4

Have I mentioned how fascinated I am with Skinny Writer Girl? She’s sitting across from me on the bus. Her face is serious, maybe even sad, but her gaze is steady and piercing. I know how she feels. Her notebook is bigger than mine and is turquoise, but otherwise very similar in its stretchy binda-thingy. Her handwriting is tons neater than mine, and incredibly straight up-and-down. Her long bony fingers and pursed lips are driving me wild. She’s writing in pencil, a lime-green push-pencil. Suede coat with fuzzy lining inside. Dark jeans, tennis shoes. No nonsense. Who is she? What does it all mean? I must leave off now, to ponder that in writing another day.

May 5

String of disasters one on my much-delayed night out with ex-girlfriend Leah: there was no showing of the movie we wanted to see at the Metreon at 6:30, even though we had each confirmed the time, on separate websites.

String of disasters two: when we hit the street to contemplate our next move, a passing car hit a puddle and splashed my pants with muddy water. Actually, I’ve been waiting my whole life for that scene to occur.

String of disasters three: deciding to take a taxi to the AMC 1000 on Van Ness, we waited in the rain, continually outbid by others, until we found one, only to have it refer us back to another. That one lurched forward three times just when she reached for the handle, finally tiring of the game and coming to a stop.

String of disasters four: safely at new theatre, with a showing at a fine time, tickets in hand, we went to Mel’s for a pre-show dinner. I knocked over my glass of water right when I reached for it, spilling it all over the table.

String of disasters five: just before the show, she got a cell-phone call from an old friend of her’s announcing cancer in his family.

Somehow, despite all this, we had a great evening.

May 6

First time to the South Bay this year. The eerie glow that lights up the 101 at night shone its light on the haunted wrecks of the dot com era. Empty office park next to Candlestick (I will not call it Monster Park) where Snowball.com once lived. Electronic billboards by the side of the road now touting car dealerships rather than operating systems. The empty glass palace where Excite@Home once stood. On and on, a roadside ghost town at 70 miles per hour.

May 7

Ikea

Is an asylum

Ikea

Rising like a Megalith form the Emeryville mall space

Ikea

Front door massive yellow awning dwarfing us mere humans

Ikea

Blue arrows sending you through a thousand living rooms

Ikea

Inspiring kitchen envy

Ikea

Making me consider whole new places to stick floor lamps

Ikea

Suggesting my need for cutesy things exceeds my expectation

Ikea

Terminating in a kingdom of hot apple pie and Swedish meatballs

May 8

Today I discovered something new in San Francisco- Louis’. A family-style diner perched on the side of the Pacific Highway, just up the hill from the Cliff House, established 1937 by a Greek-immigrant family. Inside are multicolored tile and booths and lacquered countertop and old carpets that show delightfully little sign of having changed in decades. The food holds no pretensions, but does feature some of the fattest hash browns ever. The food, the place, everything seems caught in the same time warp that once included the oceanside Funland. And outside, the headlands glowed in rain swept green, darkness peeked out from hedged cypress, seagulls floated in pools of rainwater collected in the ruins of the Sutro Baths and the angry sea foamed against the cliffs. I’ll be back.

May 9

Moon setting low over Pacific

tiniest sliver

facing upwards

a bronze boat

sinking below the horizon

May 10

After writing group last night, John, Jodie and I ambled over to Trader Sam’s for a drink. The rest of our compatriots had abandoned us, spouting inanities about long drives, work the next day and such. The three of us ended up, of all things, talking about business: John’s former consulting job for Siemens. Jodie’s interviewing with an IR agency as she attempted to escape from her biotech marketing job and my stint in IR when I first moved to the city, just before the bubble burst. All of it made me think of the unique tech work culture that we share here in San Francisco. Even itinerant writers, once you get a Sierra Nevada in them, have tales of IPOs, product launches and org chart disfunction.

May 11

The Canvas Café deserves to be written about. Because of the bright primary colors it’s painted in. Because of the massive height of the ceiling and the inverted wood pyramid of the skylight in the middle of it. Because of the TV screen mobile-construction sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Because of…

(to be continued?)

May 12

Single silver ear-

ring hanging from a tree branch

Near the ATM

May 13

Red haired bus girl,

in the flowing pink skirt your

calves were exquisite

May 14

Black Uhuru’s version of “Hey Joe” is going through my head right now. Or is it Jimi’s or Patti’s? I think they’re all mixed together in there. Such are the dangers of Green Apple bargain-CD diving.

May 15-17

Dispatches from an overcast rainy May: It is so freaking humid these last few days here in the city. Maybe global warming really is starting to bite.

May 18

Down on Mission tonight in the rainy evening a pair of brunettes walked past smiling me at me. As I stepped to one side to let them pass, a man carrying a long curvy mirror, its reflecting side facing me, passed on the other. Motion to my right and my left kindled with longing and reflection to open up a moment of clarity. It revealed the machinery of the universe, wheels turning out a moment of synchronicity whose meaning currently escapes me.

May 19

At Jupiter in Berkeley, on the upstairs level waiting with a beer before meeting friends for a movie. Swirls of fifteen year old college undergraduate depression surround me, apropos of nothing going on at the moment. Even so, the barking laughter of the guys at the table across the room pierces.

May 20-22

Weekend out of town vesting parents returning on Cal Train Blues:

You got your San Jose Diridon

Burning in the sun

You got the Palo Alto stop

Ain’t no damn fun

Slipped into Redwood City

Just about fixin’ to die

Memories of Burlingame

Can make a grown man cry

Millbrae

Got a tight connection to BART

South San Francisco warehouses

Set off an achin’ in your heart

Bayshore

Got the Candlestick-Monster blues

Pullin’ in to 4th and King

Sure is some powerful good news

May 23

cool sea air

caressed my face

this morning

before

the doldrums

of afternoon humidity

set in

May 24

Trader Sam’s was all but deserted on this the night that the Writing Group reviewed half my novel. Empty except for the punk chick in the corner mackin’ out with her boyfriend, and the heavyset guy from Atlanta who was shouting and on the edge of flying off his handle as his Asian friend tried, with limited success, to calm him down. Dimo gave me a break on the two Amstel Lights I ordered for Jodie and me, though, so all was well.

May 25

46th and Sloat, near 11 PM. The fog pinpricks through the air, nearly the only motion in the otherwise stillness. Across the four land road that ends at the ocean only a few blocks away, the stone gates of the zoo yawn open. No teeth in the blackness visible through their portals. What animals are stirring inside now that the nocturnal glory of their kingdom has come?

May 26

It is not clear why Pizza Orgasmica, which is a Brazilian-style pizza chain, has tribal African décor and safari pictures inside (have I mentioned this before?). It is even less clear why the area near the entrance is given over to little Arabian crash pad low tables, hanging tapestries and pillows everywhere, making it seem that a hookah should be close at hand. What is clear is that this little paradise was made for reclining with Jen and contemplating the mysteries of her scent while drinking beer and waiting for the “Aphrodite” pizza to arrive.

May 27

Sitting in a café near Valencia and 16th trying to catch up on San Francisco Daze, I gaze out the window to the faded avocado two-story across the street, and spy a pigeon-scaring fake owl on one corner of it’s roof trim, big as two footballs.

Weird Postscript- Getting on the train just now at 16th & Mission, there was a grizzled old man playing a medley of Beatles’ songs on a flute. An entirely different grizzled old man from the one who, when I got on the train on the way to the café at Montgomery, had been playing “Blackbird” on guitar. I look forward to seeing what happens when I get to the Berkeley BART station tonight.

May 28-30

Memorial Day weekend, writing from a sunlit meadow at Bass Lake, somewhere in the wilds of Point Reyes. A powder-blue dragonfly just buzzed the blanket, and a light breeze is ruffling up my shirt and tousling my hair. I can hear at least five kinds of birds in simultaneous calls. A moment ago I saw two white butterflies dancing around each other in the air. Speaking of which, Jen, gorgeous Valkyrie Jen, is laid out on the blanket beside me, lightly snoring in the sun.

May 31

King of Thai Noodle House is an empire. Its vast reaches enclose a downtown and Sunset branch, and at least three on Clement alone. My favorite is the Original King of Thai Noodle House, at 8th & Clement. It’s barely wider than a door-front, but extends back deep into the block. You make your way past the counter, which really only one person can do at a time, and then get to the realm of tables, each with a massive decanter of chopsticks and an assortment of hot sauces. The place is not as much fun since they got rid of the vintage Thai movie posters on the wall in favor of tasteful art prints. Unlike the King of Thai Noodle House on 4th & Celement, it doesn’t have its liquor license, so no Singha for you here. Still and all, the crowded ambiance and ability to see everything that happens in the kitchen (as it’s just behind the counter) does it for me every time.

June 1

arise from morning meditation

look out my balcony

on the shorn tree-stump

in my neighbor’s backyard

dog barks in the distance

June 2

Grumpy’s lies down a side street that I never knew about. Green maybe? Or some other street? Off of Battery. And thank God it does. A stocky jowly bulldog mascot (but really, do bulldogs come any other way than stocky and jowly?). Forest of dollar bills tacked to the ceiling. The whole place is bricky and woody and the walls are covered with framed pictures of sports stars and other local illuminati. Diner food par excellence. My fitfully employed companions had beer at lunch but I demurred and went for the diet coke. Margarita night is Thursday. How had I been working in this neighborhood for six months and not found this place yet?

June 3

From the backside of Telegraph Hill as seen from Pier 37 or 38 Coit Tower rises from the top of the hill. As it does from every other view of the hill. But from this direction, the tower is backed by the Transamerica Pyramid. The bleached white triangle and white bleached cylinder stand together like some bizarre set of siblings from this line of sight.

June 4

La Isla De Los Angeles. So the Spanish called it. And I knew about the Chinese, thousands of them held for years, carving poems into the stone walls of the building that housed them. But so much more I did not know. The Civil War garrison guarding the entrance to the Bay. The quarantine station loaded with Cholera, Plague and Smallpox victims. The Nike Missile batteries! Or the velvety black butterflies bouncing along in the sun near the top of the mountain, for that matter. And nothing of all I’d known before could have prepared me for lying on one of Angel Island’s picnic table-tops with Jen, staring up at the twisting branches of trees that formed a canopy overhead.

June 5

Blue Danube

Sunday Afternoon

Redhead reading

Hip-hop playing

Indian beauty

Day-glo paintings

Lesbian sportswomen

Espresso machine

Dreadlocked writer

Sunshine traffic

Newspaper reader

Summer breeze

Countergirls laughing

Refrigerator humming

Sunday Afternoon

Blue Danube

June 6

Tonight was my first public reading ever, at Lit at the Canvas. And I had two members of my writing group show up, as well as an old friend and a new one. Having an audience was both comforting and nerve wracking, but the place soothed my soul. So familiar, so dear. The latest display there, graffiti-style hip-hop urban DJ art, was a weird kind of complement to my reading on becoming (by surprise) a Heavy Metal fan over the last year. The low-key mic crackled and buzzed, and half the section of the café the reading was tuned in to their laptops and lattes. But I made it, with even a laugh or two from the audience. The hostess Melinda sparkled and shined with her mass of curly red hair. And the other reader, Pat Carey, kicked ass with his comedy tales of Irish-American family madness. Only us two writers, Melinda the MC and a small audience, but it felt real. So, one small step for a writer, maybe one giant leap for my literary kind.

June 7

Q on Clement Street at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning. The slight guilt of playing hooky from work is assuaged by the thick mustardy smell wafting out from the kitchen.

June 8

The building downtown

splits in two,

with mirrored wings

that end in

antenna-topped prongs

like some bizarre electric toothbrush

or rabbit-ear aerials gone awry

their tops lost

in the misting semi-rain

of morning

June 9

The crowd at ATA, a ramshackle little theatre at 21st & Valencia given to independent videography, is its own kind of riot. Flaming brown queen shouting, “last call for all-coo-halll!” just before the show closes, mixes with Zora, the little girl on stage in the Velvet dress who half the crowd is cooing to, and the frizzy-dark-haired wine sipping maven to my left to form a pastiche of hip and artistic San Francisco in this early 21st century moment.

June 10

Sometime you’re not sure you see the things you see:

Black man

not quite old enough

to have more than a slightly silver beard

wearing sweats

and tattered windbreaker

stands on the steps of

Star of the Sea Catholic church

facing a lit candle in the shape of a small scowling figure

perched on a piece of driftwood

before the doorway of the church.

June 11

One of the Twin Peaks

(the one capped with Sutro Tower)

reclines today

in the hazy summer morning

a green firry hill

leaning back

in the early heat of day

June 12

Ran all over the campus of USF today looking for the annual “Rock and Swap” sponsored by local outlaw radio extraordinaire KUSF. I finally found it, via two out-of-it bushy-haired twenty-somethings carrying a Scorpions album who gave me contradictory directions on how to get there. And while not the Tad or Soulwax I had come questing for; it was well worth the effort. Dead Letter Office, My Aim is True, Graceland, Let it Be, and the Wall later I left a rather happy camper.

June 13

The end of Clement Street

rises up

like a roller-coaster

just before the plunge

twin rows of streetlights

arching into the night

up by the Legion of Honor

and above

one solid end

of the half-moon

dissolves

into mist

June 14

The air was solid today, cold and warm at the same time.

June 15

A pair of handcuffs

Chained to pole on Sansome

How strange this city

June 16

Thursday night Bitter End writing blues. Jodie, Dave and I, nee of the Writing Group, are here. As is the Jukebox. The Stones, “Waiting on a Lady”. The following line: “The only time I ever had a guy touch me there, I was on vacation in Hawaii.” I was in the restroom when I heard that one, somewhere in the bar outside; I’ll never know who said it. Now “L.A. Woman” is playing. Jim had a guy touch him there at some point, I bet. I got a start on “Lust”, one of my Seven Deadly Sins series. But then hit a stopping point, right about when my writing group friends stopped. Thus this entry.

June 17-21

I have nothing to say for this five day period except:

Journey to the East Bay embarks at 10:15 AM, via the 38 Geary. The masses shuffle on board. It’s actually pretty packed for a Saturday. The weirdest scene is the little girl in the checkered cloth coat sitting next to her mother on one of the sideways seats in the accordion section. Nice coat, cute little shoes, that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is how she sits, slumped against her mother, staring fixedly at me. What do I look like to her? Meanwhile, beside me, my traveling companion reads a local literary journal. More to follow.

* * *

11:00 AM (give or take a minute), boarding the Fremont-bound BART. My traveling companion has just shared her chicken-themed short story with me, which was a delight. In general, this car in the train is itself delightful. It is both beautifully and frightfully loud, the talk-talk-talkity-talk coming from all directions— From a gaggle of little girls in pink in the seat behind me. From a family surrounding a kid with a catcher’s mitt. From people on the side-seats talking about baseball trades. We’ve just broken above ground, to sun and massive gray-white piles of cloud, just in time to see Glad Tidings Church of Christ, which is in exterior a large broken-windowed concrete warehouse bereft of even a hint of gladness. Oh excellent— ramshackle two-story house a few hundred feet further on with “Jesus Saves From Hell” painted on the side. The word “Hell” consumed in garish painted flames. At the Coliseum stop the noise and joy and life of the car disembarks for an A’s game.

* * *

12:02 now, on the 180 Bus, theoretically on the way to the Great Mall in Milpitas. A really nice bus, although the cushions have that slight whiff of urine smell that mass-transit seats so often seem to have.

* * *

We are now deep in the bowels of the Great Mall. Actually, in Anderson bakery, which is rather near one of the main entrances. So, not quite a bowel. More like an esophagus. But still. The trip here took about two hours and ten minutes, all-told. We have now done one complete circuit of the mall on the way to ending up here. It’s impossible to reconcile and record all the sensory stimulation that the lap entailed. What pervades everything, like madness, is a slow mellow background beat, soft rock hissing out of innumerable speakers. The stores present, as my traveling companion notes, “So much choice, but no diversity.” This is crystallized in the Food Court. At first, it seems like Shangri-la. Chinese! Japanese! Hot Dog on a Stick! La Salsa! Khan’s Mongolian Fast Food! And yet, when you end up at, say, the Cajun place, the rice, noodles, lemon chicken and spicy fried shrimp there could as well be from the Chinese place, or the Japanese place, or…. And so it goes— clothes, gifts, shoes, you name it. The whole thing is bringing up great vibratory waves of fossil depression in me. Strata of blue laid down by how bored and trapped and unable to connect to another human soul I felt during almost weekly visits to the Northridge Mall while growing up. Heck, that’s how I felt anywhere while growing up. Fortunately, that’s not at all how my life is these days. I find freedom, hope and opportunity to connect almost everywhere I turn now. Witness, as one example, the gorgeous, mirthful hellcat I’m sharing this experience with now. Who’s muttering to herself while she writes, and has turned this trip into a hunting expedition for social and political insights. Yes indeed, my only real problem this afternoon is holding myself back because of intermittent fear that she’ll grow tired of me if I let out too much, when in fact holding back is the thing that makes others tired with one. And what is my life these days if not: not holding back. Thank you, Great Mall, thank you! For reminding me what it felt like then, and where I’m at now. And congratulations, by the way, on the two sports bar-restaurant-arcade-billiards room you have hidden in the true bowels of this maze of consumption. It beats like a great dark heart, surprisingly vital beneath the placid little wood-framed side-door that leads to it. Reminding us that, beneath every seemingly orderly and settled exterior, there are always chaotic irruptions of life.

* * *

Richmond-bound train, circa 6:45. The 180 left the Great Mall around 6:10. Which means we had about 5 ½ hours of direct mall contact— no wonder I feel so wiped out. Even with a plunge into the giant sack in the beanbag store for rest, that’s a lot of meeting with the merchandise meme. Now on the BART there is much less stimulation. Just open space, and sunlight, and East Bay hills burnished by the dusky sun.

* * *

Transfer point: Bayside Station. To make our way from the Richmond Line to the SF/Milbrae line, final stop, Embarcadero. There are rumors that seafood is in the offing. More to follow.

* * *

9:55! I can’t believe it’s 9:55. This has almost officially become a twelve hour journey. Well, it turns out we ended up at an excellent place on the Embarcadero called Montecristo with tuna tartar, and wine. And isn’t an epic journey supposed to finish with a feast? With that, I bid you adieu.

June 22

My Blue Period I (poem):

The sky behind Telegraph Hill

Blazed like blue fire

Through the morning air

June 23

My Blue Period II (prose poem):

Like fire I said, but not quite. Aflame, yes, but as hollow as the deep. Glow behind the glow enhances the empty space in front.

June 24

My Blue Period III (haiku):

Towers of downtown

bathed in clear blue that glows,

like a sea of glass.

June 25-26

I am the Froggie of Power!— The bearded hippie-punk checkout clerk at Whole Foods in Fairfax, repeating back a phrase from a little kid in line.

Jesu Maria, I spent the weekend soaking. Well perhaps not the whole weekend. Just much of Saturday afternoon. But what an afternoon it was, courtesy of Frogs, a low-key and low-cost spa in the town of Fairfax, barely a stone’s throw across the Golden Gate Bridge. Close though it is, the whole Universe seems different over there. Fairfax is a small town with an honest-to-God Main Street, replete with little shops. In any direction you look, hills and mountains wreathed in piney green rear their hilly, mountainy piney-green heads. The sun shines unabashedly, with only faint tendrils of mist around the top of Mount Tamalpais to remind you of the fog that will come with evening. Frogs itself is a small wood-paneled affair. A hot tub, two saunas, private hot-tub rooms, massage rooms, and the sun deck. All quite clothing optional. Sitting in the hot tub, caressed around the shoulders by a cool breeze, I looked up to see a square of blue, dappled with little white clouds. I breathed deep and sighed, believing I’d found paradise. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in the city. But part of maintaining that love is sometimes being able to change the channel.

June 27

Morning fog over Mountain Lake Park

sheets of mist

layered between pine trees

fading into distance

in the direction

of the Golden Gate

June 28

Express

Bus

Morning

Squashed

Between

Cigarette

Smoke

Jacket

Smell

June 29

The crime occurred with bracing swiftness. I was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf at lunch, reveling in the sunshine, light breeze and blue-gray choppiness of the bay without a care in the world. And then suddenly the shadow passed over me, followed by the pressure of its lowness in the air and dark impression of feathers outlined on the pavement in front of me. It swooped down literally on top of the pair of Korean tourists walking ahead of me. Screams, a tussle and commotion, and then the seagull that had knocked a hot dog out of one of the ladies’ hands proceeded to devour it on the ground in front of them. It’s chilling— I don’t know that I feel safe in this city anymore.

June 30

Sidewalk fat furry

Dead rat lying in red stain

Small mammal brother

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