Giant Butterflies and Breaking Levees

I decided to take a walk to another part of the ‘Loin today. I ran out of weed, and the cheapest and best pot shop is in the roughest part of town. Now I don’t have to take the Boy with me, and leave him outside, it is possible to go down there. Their prices are good – $10 cheaper than the shop in a better part of town, for the exact same edible product, and to be frank better trimmed bud. I took the long way round, stopping up in Nob Hill for fruit and sticky picture hooks. I have never had the need for picture hooks. The non-damage ones just stick on the walls. I have a large Georgia O’Keeffe Poppies print, and an Alice in Wonderland one above my bed. I have flowers by the window, and pot plants on the bookshelves. I have started drinking tea out of a mug not a travel canteen. I kneel by my window at night, the cool air flooding the room, and blow smoke rings into the street, irritating the dog walkers passing underneath. To be frank, I don’t give a damn: I am developing the arrogance of a woman who has her own space for the first time in….forever. This is mine.

I even have glasses so I can see where I am going. I’m not used to my distance specs yet, and peer out of them vaguely panicked at the clarity of the world around me. I am not going to tumble downstairs now, but have lost that blurred softening of reality that my poor vision lent to me. Turning downhill from the grocery store, going deeper into the ‘Loin from a different direction to the one I took at the shelter, I noticed a gigantic butterfly painted onto the side of a building, it’s gorgeous wings spreading against the city skyline, ready to take off and float above the suffering, above the money grubbing, above the drinking, partying, the machinations of a city that doesn’t seem to know who She is any more. Techie oasis? Beat Central? Hippy Holdout? Millionaire’s Playground? Down and Out Destination of choice? The zeitgeist is not just confused in 2021 San Francisco, it is positively dumbfounded.

A man in white boxers, no shoes or socks emerges onto the sidewalk from a tent. He yawns and stretches skywards towards the butterfly and the blue sky, waves hello to one of his neighbors, and is a perfect Mr Rogers of the neighborhood in his underwear and calloused feet. We are in his bedroom, his home, his space, and he tolerates me walking past, with a smile and a slight tilt of his head. Just over from the Butterfly building there is a large ornate five or six story in an ornate art deco style. The buildings of the ‘Loin are not all disasterzone hovels. Ok, so the Hotel Chelsea mini look-a-like needs a pressure wash and some T(ender) L(oin) Care and attention, but it rose dignified and stately above the street, like a woman past the first bloom of youth, but having gained some kudos and haughty gone-to-seed bleach blonde actress verve. The two entirely decorative towers of the fascade twist upwards, screwing themselves into the skyline. The building is going nowhere.

I’m starting to appreciate my block, which is relatively quiet, and tries to mascarade as lower Nob, instead of upper ‘Loin. The hustle and bustle of the city fades into a quiet hum by the time it makes it to my window. The invisible levee that separates the cultish cool of Nob Hill, is cracking and breaking. Every week that goes by I see more desperation down Polk and California. There are regular sleepers down streets that used to have no unhoused people living on them. All these empty apartments, office buildings and churches, all that park space that could have organized camping with hygiene facilities, all the money that could keep people in their apartments, and instead people are driven onto the streets to suffer, be disrespespected, hurt and in danger, and then sanctioned for the non-crime of being on the bottom of the poverty ladder. That levee is gonna break further than Nob Hill. In this world of rising prices, ridicuous rents and job insecurity we are going to be in the ridiculous position of more people on the street than in the housing – ok so I am being ridiculous here, but when you are on the outside looking in, or my precarious position of being inside and scared of losing it all when the subsidy runs out, getting into a home and staying in there is an almost impossible proposition.

Back home some and sitting on my window seat, the people are rushing down my block at a scary rate. They stop and start in fits controlled by the traffic lights. The breeze blows briskly, even the night seems to be in a hurry to rush in and take the sun out of the day time. Perhaps it is this rapid fading of the light which is causing the movement and speed of the people to increase. Everyone seems nervous, everyone is swinging their arms, doing that San Franciscan shuffle, dodging the poop, stepping over the trash, trying not to step on a spike or let their dog sniff alcohol scented piss. A woman drops some food on the floor and picks it up again. The five second rule doesn’t exist in San Francisco: I said so. Anything fallen onto the floor is gone. The floor is lava. Nice Giant’s baseball hat? Forget about it, brother. Your lipstick that cost a small fortune in Macy’s? Sayonara, sister. I’ll give it any bag of drugs from weed to eternity, that shit can be picked up. If you don’t want it….you don’t need it man. I guess I am a snob over sandwiches. I never did like make up….Or else I have my priorities twisted. The runner stride by in the corner of my eye, as I realize that the Led Zep album that I am singing along to by my window is not audible, but I am. I would say I am blushing, but that doesn’t convey the full horror of the middle aged hot flush I am having. The levee has definately disintegrated.

Car lights flash, the neighboring buildings faux gaslight lights are mostly dead, the streetlights click on in concerto perfection. Blink. All of a sudden I don’t feel as if I am up high enough, as if I want a few more hundred feet between me and the ground. Zero.

Matching Old Glory sequinned mask couple are walking along to the beat they do not know is thumping in my ear. A queen in six inch high heels makes it up the road in a valiant effort of human vs gravity and what looked like six shots of hard liquor. This is the only city I have lived in where booty shorts and a vest top is equally climatically appropriate as the long trench coar and uggs of the woman walking next to her. I can’t decide if I am too hot or want to turn the heating on.

Robert cries in my ear that “when the levee breaks, mama you gotta move”. This mama ain’t moving. He got that deep dirty bump and squeal deal going on, Page is en pointe, the synergy is beautific, the energy is undeniable. Let Robert go to Chicago, I am happy in San Francisco. Runners go up, runners go down. Cars go one way, life goes another. Nothing helps shift my uncertain uneasiness. In direct contradiction to the fast moving city, a group of school children lazily meander up the road. I suppose they have time to fritter, time to waste, time to meander not get home, or hustle for a taste. The time of innocence is brief and beautiful. An old man struggles uphill. He bizarrely goes up to an empty can of beer that it sitting on the sidewalk and sniffs it. He then proceeds to spend a good five minutes crushing the can with his foot, picks it up and takes it with him. Grandpa, you can’t give cans in if they are crushed! He moves like he has all the time in the world, or as if time is running out but he has done everything he wanted to do anyway.

The cars had stopped for so long I forgot they pass by. All of a sudden they flood the hillside pouring downhill like water. Dog pullers. Suicase haulers. Car people. Foot people. The light is out, and I don’t know how to change the lightbulb.

I wouldn’t wear a long skirt while riding an electric scooter. It looks like one wrong movement in the wind could tear the entire confection to shreds.

In that moment the spell is broken, and the pantless Mr Rogers’s are showing off their legs…


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