Strains of Hotel California escape through doors of packed bars, the city is at play, the restaurants looked slammed today. Mason jars of orange (and vodka), screwdriver hipsters in gilets and chuck taylors sit at sidewalk tables relaxed. A man coughs into his telephone, no mask, two beers, one for an invisible date who doesn’t appear in the time it takes me to walk past. A white dog rests on it’s paws, old man sits alone with his drink, grimacing at some invisible pain, his face gurning, coke-wise, ancient yearning. White dog pricks his ears, and I am gone. There’s a new spot on Polk, it smells like onions and cheap liquor. Leopard brindled dog smells sausages and pulls hopefully at his owner’s leash. There are no spots on him. Can’t fool him. He knows she is headed inside to eat sweet salty meat, and doggily hopes for a crumb to fall his way. I am that dog. Hoping for crumbs.
The Head and Soul Saloon advertises cuts for sale. You can kill somebody with a thousand cuts, I think to myself, then realize it is a salon, not some far west shoot out joint serving hard drinks to hard men. Tipsy Turvy Star Wars theme, a dark night elegy march in squeeze box fits and starts hops along the road, there is a gypsy feel to his energetic ramblings, some woman tells him to shut up, and he squeezes harder, making his accordion sing songs from movies nobody loves anymore.
Empty houses. Empty streets. Empty hearts. Empty seats. The city falls away as you leave Polk. A man on a bicycle does a wheelie down Lombard. No shirt, skin glistening with sweat, hair moving with the unwiseness of such endeavors, he jerks up on the handlebars, the wheels shaking in response. This is not a good idea, the force of the downwards slope and the exertion of his peddling conspire to put him in the hospital, as he races towards the bay, towards the deep blue eternal. He makes it, his front wheel slams down hard, and he is gone.
We swing left not right where the wild ones go, gingerly pick our way over grass and woodchips, watching out for hidden turds and someone else’s discarded sharps to wards the Presidio. The Beach is packed full of optimistic souls. It is hot today, white pale girls in tiny bikinis push out their non existent chests at the sun, and defiantly plant bare feet in sand. A child picks through the beach with a bucket and a little plastic digger and comes up triumphant with a dark brown sand covered desiccated thing, she holds it in her hand, sniffs it, and realizing she has struck brown gold, flings it away from herself with a loud UGH. Her mother looks the other way into her telephone. She is not paying attention today, she looks like a woman on her day off. Can’t blame her, but still….the child digs in the San Franciscan sand. No shoes, no masks, sun umbrellas, hands round glass, determined, steely to enjoy the day. I laugh at their machinations and go on my way…to the Presidio. A child shoeless on San Franciscan streets, nice red wagon, expensive looking mother, designer sunhat, totters along pulling her dog and a banana republic sweater. Her mother’s feet are in shoes. Who goes shoeless on streets like this? Only the too rich to worry about medical bills, and the too poor to afford shoes.
The hills, the hills the hills in this town are conspiring to kill me. Hills that go up and never go down, hills that stare you in the face, lead you towards the ‘loin, or else to the bay to drown in ice cream and men eating churros. I can’t ever breathe in this part of town. I prefer to head towards the ferry building with boys on skateboards, some waving their arms wildly trying to stay afloat, others sleekly jumping over planters or skidding down metal railings while I tut like the mother that I am, shaking my head at their wild abandon and wishing I could be like them.
I used to be able to climb hills. I cannot climb them anymore, not without panting in panic, ripping the mask from my face, gulping down air that smells like the seaside, air that smells like rich houses, air that smells like bars and cigars and other people’s fun. We trudge back towards the Tenderloin. I put my mask back on. The air smells like death and pollution. It smells grey and needs absolution on the streets of San Francisco. I love the tenderloin. Beat till tender, the bones of the city adhere to this creed. Beat them till they give up their juice, or else the ghost of any hope that is left. The pigs are taking away the tents on the ‘Loin today, five cop cars to one car of “homeless liaison” advocates who wielding clipboards and stern faces, take away everything these people own, into the garbage truck that loads up lives to bury them somewhere else in the state of California. I hustle on past, think about crossing myself, some devil on my shoulder laughs, and I look away. Tender hearted, tender fleshed, tender life pounds them into a cool empathic hush.