The City’s Table

I don’t like shopping on California, with it’s fifty dollar king crab legs and filletted cuts of meat that litter the sidewalks, that blow round the alleys, that sleep in tents, in boxes and pallets. I don’t like shopping on California for sweet potatoes and half baked ideas, while flocks of children grub amongst the heirloom tomatoes and men squeeze the juice out of peaches to see if they are yet ripe, and once deciding they are not, discard them on floors to sit amongst piles of half-rejected bullet-hard avocados. Old men, their freshness past, form canonical priestly processions shoving women and children away from the bread, whilst scattering profane platitudes; beautified filling carts with two dollar wine to ease their withered hearts.

I don’t like shopping on California with it’s stores that hold pretensions and aspirations, in this city where desperation grows by the hour, blossoms like a flower in a pile of excrement. Queenly impressing their Empire before them, women who live further up California, or on Lombard or Steiner, stately stand before the fish counter, beholding the fruits of the sea, the cans of tuna standing between them and me, they declare I am in their way, they are San Franciscan royalty, and the people who serve are proud to be part of such a clean machine, an American dream. They look like they resent having to take my money, my paltry sum, my exchange of quarters for a carton of rice noodle ramen. I left the tuna behind: it was too much hassle to navigate the aisles of Empresses and their snarling sly shark smiles.

(Image by The Paltry Sum)

Wan faced boys, lithe and long, couple up, buying seemingly only non dairy creamer and Columbian coffee beans, whole, not ground. By the watermelons they bend down. By the discounted pork chops they kneel and cry. Fiji water is in their washpot, and though I think avocados are beyond nationality, they always choose Mexican over Israeli, no matter how creamy and ripe and softly perfect the product. I get fixed in a gimlet eye by a tall guy in Balenciaga’s and Versace who is standing holding a single gladioli leaning against the communal recycle can, “six feet!” he screeches looming irate. I put my cardboard into the can, call him a twat and call it a day. He is left, head tilted, salty eyed, still yelling at anyone near that his boundaries are clear. Softer than a hothouse tomato, the brain of a cabbage, how can a vegetable man ruin my day?

Down in Filmore the women pray over perfect kabocha and two legged daikon, tastebud nostalgia, a cultural lexicon wrought in soup and mounds of pickled plums. The things I do for cotton candy grapes and rice noodles, soft and spoilt, lazy walk to the brighter side of town where I do not belong.

Someone fed the pigeons again, dirty hordes of them descending, divebombing, no trees to roost in. The America I lost and loved in is somewhere out there still, with it’s stores full of kraft mac and cheese, garlic bread, texas toast and freezer cabinets full of health draining things that should not be eaten in any quantity. It is out there with it’s rusted out cars in neat driveways, trees and cows, horses – it might as well be Mars! Nothing outside the city exists anymore. Not the blue house in the eastern part and the oak tree that dwarfed me. Not the camper or the truck, not the road or the streak of cruel bad luck. Not the 5, or the coastal highway, not the buffalo nor the wild turkey. The ghosts of the past blink by in my rear view mirror, waving softly. Bags of weed. Bottles of liquor. Sea sand days, and somebody’s finger was always on the trigger of destruction.

The city breathes on in fits and starts, living and dying by feet and yards, feasting and fasting in a modest pulsing of life lived in concrete and street cars.

I don’t like shopping on California, with it’s fifty dollar crab legs and the meat of the city that sleeps by the store front doors.

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