Nob Hill Waltzing

The light came flooding in this morning. Three men stood outside, grimy with the street and desperation. They were so scuffed and disheveled that you know that none of them have wealthy fathers, or any other kind of social position that is worth a hill of bean cans in this city of bridges and bays, no but yet they are entirely, almost painfully real. Which is more than anyone can say for a lot of people. One leant on the other. The third stood alone, staring into the wing mirror of a car. I didn’t know if he was trying to find a vein or fix his hair. It suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. Let the day deal with it as it will, I thought to myself. The alleys are full of dreams and ideas, hopes and fears. I don’t suspect many of them are long term. A place to stop and rest for the day, and another for the night. Where to find food. How to hustle up some cash to deal with necessities, a bottle, a bag or a dream.

I decided to get outside early today. I have lost my sunglasses and my spectacles got broken when I was shoved to the floor. This is a terror and a horror. I can’t function without something to shut out the Californian light. I am waiting for Amazon to deliver some sunglasses. I can’t replace the specs, and so will have to stumble around like the old bat I have become.

There is something about the blue of a Californian sky that is so inviting. Head inland and it becomes that bleached out sun-driven chromatic blue white light of cowboy movies. The north coast here is either bluer or milky with fog. Either is fine by me. I cannot stand the heat. I am not built for it. It makes me lazy and vaguely panicked.

There are some days out here which are by some alignment of the stars and sun, the direction of the wind and the push of the hours, cinematic in their quality. The moments fade fast sometimes, sometimes linger on.

I walked up hill towards Nob Hill, hung a left onto Polk and listened to a man with an accordion play Let it Be. The storefronts faded into a vignette of San Francisco: sandwich shops and pet stores, hardware joints and laundromats and the blue blue sky that leads out into the deeper darker blue ocean and leads right back to the shores of Chiba and the land of Japan and the place where it, if it did not start there, at least got hung up there for a while. I felt like grasping onto the sidewalk for dear life. Holding onto a lamppost, chaining myself to some railings. Grounding myself into the city electrical supply. Something. Anything to hold on here and stay here, as much a fixture as the streets and the stores and the roads and the rocks of the bay and the clouds that hang around above it.

The people, mostly free of their masks (not me), smiled and walked, and some mouthed the words, “when you find yourself in times of trouble, mother mary comes to me…” Let it be. The city was singing along to those simple, almost holy words that everyone knows as well as they know their own name, at least in this world that I inhabit. One man with his squeezebox brought so much joy, so much happiness, so much spring to the step of people who have been isolated and embattled. He played so good for the few bucks people threw in his pot, and more than that, for a moment he was the center of the vibe. He was the focal point for a small whirlwind of happiness and friendliness and positive thoughts.

People did that Nob Hill waltz. I don’t bump into you and you not into me, and we go and drink coffee and sit outside at small metal tables, and eat sandwiches and pastries and drink Californian oranges and Polish vodka and for a moment, just for a moment, this was not a city of implants and homegrown souls, not a city of have and have not a pot to piss ins; not a city of dumbly thinking everyone has the choice to be in a home and then others proving them wrong, not a city of silicone and thigh muscles of steel from climbing hills that rise into the skies above and descend into the watery Bay. For a moment we were all Letting it Be.

For a moment I wanted to go to the Park and sit and smoke a joint and talk to some serious faced gypsy skirted girl who, holding a copy of Sun Tzu or Kafka, had let the light into her eyes. For a moment I felt alive. It must be the sun. It must be what happens when you let the world in and it doesn’t suck.

Instead I hurried home with a four dollar bunch of flowers and a bunch of cheap asparagus from Joe’s, but just for a moment it felt like we might make it all alright again.

Shit, the jokes just don’t stop today. Who am I kidding? Nothing will ever be quite normal again, not for me, and more worryingly not for anyone else either.

Outside the good vibe continues. Cars are blasting out the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, California’s house band, and all the pretty people are showing off flesh and ideas. I might even keep the curtain open.


  1. Alan Conrad

    When we hear so much about gentrification in San Francisco, and long-term residents abandoning the city for somewhere cheaper, your posts help to remind us that it is still a real place.

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      It is certainly a city of the Have and Have Nots. The people running are the middle class and the techies who can afford to move, as far as I can tell. The ultra rich and the poor still remain. It is my hope that rent prices fall and the city is brought back to its former glory as an artistic hub. I would never want to live anywhere else. I love it here. Thank you for reading, Alan.

      1. Alan Conrad

        Hoping for rents to fall – and I’m hoping with you – is not unrealistic. The giant bubble that is still growing and still raising rent and real estate in most of North America is what is unreal – at some point it must reveal itself.

      2. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

        I don’t think it is sustainable. The problem is that renting out properties has become investment and profession for people who want to make a huge profit and these rich are holding the rest of us hostage using the basic need for shelter as a weapon and a monopoly.

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