The Spirit of ’21

photo of trees and rainbow

OK, so it is not quite the summer of love out there, but San Francisco was rocking some definite party vibes this afternoon. There was a spring in people’s steps, the sun is shining, the weather is verging on hot – positively heatwave- like for this city of fog and marine layer coolness, the Giants have clinched at least a wild card spot, if not the division, and there is an excited buzz and chatter in the air: this is the late San Franciscan effort at a summer of love in a mid pandemic world.

Crossing over Polk on my way to pick up a parcel that the UPS service hadn’t bothered knocking on my door to deliver, side-stepping an interesting young man with no top on. He was muscular and young and lean to the point of wasted, but not beyond it; hair long and greasy, straggling down past his shoulders in a shock of brown white boy locs, legs crossed like a yogi in the lotus position, selling assorted nicknacks and mandala paintings. He appeared to have done enough psychedelics to temporally migrate from 1967. A gaggle of girls were fussing around asking him how he drew the mandalas, and giggling over his intense happiness, as people milled around, here and there buying flowers and fruit, weed and pitchers of beer. He had an interesting Arizona parlor guitar that he was selling for twenty bucks, neck looked alright, it was just missing most of the strings and had a few scuffs here and there. I almost asked him if he would take fifteen, but to be frank it was worth more than he was asking, and I was sure some hipster would give him what he wanted and I couldn’t drop on it.

Solidarity from one freak to another. He was blatantly not interested in the girls who were admiring his little van conversion that he had parked up behind his little sidewalk store. My time travelling friend seemed to have something else on his mind. I wish him fat stuffed bags, and Owsley purity lsd. Psilocybin and wall to wall cross tops, the finest flares and knitted tank tops. I wish the world was that colorful, and simple, instead of this smeary dull obscured distant palette of disease and indifference to suffering. It is all I’m alright Jack, fuck you, except for a few shining exceptions. I hate all politicians. I am headed back out from my Trump induced fury, back into my apolitical steadfast refusal to take part in a system that tried to destroy me and everyone I ever loved.

No compliance. Not with the politicians, not with the agents of the systems, not with the doctors, not with the law. Not with the courts, nor the people who seek to define me. Freedom. I’ll do my bit to not hurt anyone, and that is all I can do. Freedom from men. Freedom from the past. Freedom from guilt. Offer me any prize, and I’ll choose freedom every time. Freedom from labels, freedom from expectations, freedom from living by rules I cannot comply with and survive.

Laying on a trip into the past, into a summer of love without disease: no HIV fucking up fucking, no killer virus making human contact impossibly dangerous, the airwaves ringing with real talent,the glory days of the sixties in full swing and the 70s just around the corner, with punk peeking it’s scuzzy head into view, waiting for the bowery to explode into CBGB’s glory, all of that possibility and actuality, all that hedonistic boogie woogie, all the drugs – that good Owsley acid, the weed, and the smack still being smack, and the coke lining itself up on the glass topped tables of CSNY and every bloated rock and roll millionaire from the British invasion heading their way from the other side of the pond…and the Dead…those Grateful Dead, hanging on the uncle sam patchwork coattails of the beats, commandeering Dean Moriarty from a Kerouac gone to seed and booze, who had no need of him and his hammers that he juggled, turning him into their Speed Limit to drive Furthur – the Merry Prankster Grateful Dead bus. Everything was cosmic, everything was sparkling in that way that the fairy dust of LSD sprinkles onto the dull grey of the sidewalks and the black top, and the flat sheen on the still waters of a world that I fear has gone forever.

Passports and permissions. Restrictions and lockdowns. I don’t fit in this world. I am bored of the war. I am tired of the fighting. I want to hug and hold and kiss and dance closely again. I want to feel another human being close to my skin, their electrical impulses striking mine. It is essential and life saving, and I am compliant as I can possibly be, but don’t ask me to be happy about it.

Back on Polk a gaggle of young men mill around wearing sports team related hats and shirts. They are brimming with vitality and vim and vigor. One young man leans in towards another, and whispers something to him. They hug. The hug continues longer than a bro hug usually does. One leans in closer, and puts his head on the taller man’s shoulder, who responds by patting the back of the shorter man’s head. I go to look away when I hear one of the other boys yell, “Hey, ____! Put that dude from Chicago down!” There is jeering from the other men there are homophobic slurs thrown, the men leap apart, that electrical impulse throwing them away from each other in fear of the prejudices of their peers. It broke my heart. A little bit of that rainbow glow drained out from the world. The Hippy sighed. I sighed and I walked on down the road.

I picked up my parcel, I went and got a bunch of grapes from the grocery store, wandered around past people drinking outside bars, past people laughing and holding each other, past couples and friends, and dogs and their friends, and a San Francisco that is trying it’s very best not to suck. It is not wholly succeeding. I now have two unhoused neighbors, one of whom yells ‘help me help me help me’ like a stuck alarm clock. I watched someone offer to get him an ambulance, but that was not the help he wanted. Sometimes down there you don’t even know what help looks like or what kind of help you desire. You don’t know what will make life better, you just know you need it to improve because it sure as shit cannot carry on like it is.

San Francisco is not what it was in the Summer of Love. It is not what it was even a few years back when I was last here before I loaded our suitcases up in a little yellow taxi and slammed that screen door shut. The world deals harshly with people who won’t comply, or don’t fit in, or those who cannot afford trust because every time they do the world tried to kill them or throw them in a jail cell. I kinda hope the techies retreat and the artists return and the world can try and stop being insanely miserable and stressful. In the meantime I’ll take these fleeting days of sweet sunshine, put on the mamas and the papas, and sing along about preachers who love the cold and the California dream. If I believed the dream was dead, grateful or not, I think I would give up.

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