silhouette of trees during nighttime

San Francisco Nights: Tales From The Window

I couldn’t sleep last night. Partly because a car alarm was going off intermittently and waking up the entire neighborhood, but obviously not its owner. Before I moved to San Francisco I was not aware that car alarms could be set off by a fast motorcycle speeding past, but car alarm triggering by douche on a Harley seems to be the primary mode of triggering the rhythmic din. If the beep was not so regular, not so loud, not so predictable and unrelenting, it would not be so torturous. There should be a law saying if you are not sleeping directly in earshot of your damn car, then you cannot set the fucking alarm. People are due their rest without some electronic noise-war. More importantly, this old girl needs at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and if I don’t get it, I get grumpy, and then no one wins.

As soon as the alarm finally stopped (I hope it ran down their battery), I was thinking about how pretty abalone shells were, the price of tofu, how my feet were hot and I should take my socks off, internally grumbling that I needed to get up to pee and wondering if I should take my socks off before or after, and trying to shake off an ear worm that was remembering involuntary, the chorus to a Tom Waits song that I don’t even like, but vaguely sleepy, when outside all hell broke loose. One male voice yelled loudly and insistently that “Your body is a temple, bro!” Which was followed by drunken gurgling and an exclamation that ‘Oh no! He is pissing!” That was it. The fucking piss factory 3.30am drunken stumblebums had ruined my chances of sleeping without getting stoned. I reluctantly got up to use the bathroom, not bothering to flip on the lights passive aggressively. The Boy can sleep through anything, I could hear him snoring quietly in his room as I angrily ripped off my socks and padded into the kitchen for a glass of water.

I still had vague hopes for another hour of sleep, however much they were diminishing due to the vodka and redbull crowd outside. The night was a mild one, almost warm. San Francisco has the perfect weather as far as I am concerned. It is rarely hot. It is rarely too cold, and when it is cold, the cold is the benign type that means the heating has to go on for an hour or so, nothing more. I peeked out the window. The trees were moving in the breeze which seemed to be picking up quite rapidly. A light was on in the opposite apartment building. Poor bastards, they were not getting any sleep either. The night sky didn’t have even a hint of natural light in it. There was hope yet. The streetlamps and the glow from the buildings gave my street an almost eerie calmness. Except for the three drunk-musketeers with their fallen buddy pissing himself outside my window.

Men can be so dramatic, especially when drunk. Two of them wandered off. One shouted about ‘getting help’, one wandered back, declared that he would never leave his ‘bro’ on the street, and proceeded to try and carry him home, whilst also occasionally slapping his face in a concerned manner. He was fine. He was just pass-out, black-out drunk. I could smell the fumes from here. As the sounds of vomiting echoed round the street, disgusted yowls and yelps bounced off sidewalks and street lamps, and finally, finally, blissful peace wafted over the street, and I shut my window all the way to block out the smell of whiskey-piss and man-vom, I tore off the socks that I had forgotten to remove, and slid back between my sheets. The pillow was cool. The sheets were soft. I grabbed my teddy bear by the ear (judge me: he is adorable and soft and very low maintenance) and curled into a ball.

Then the car alarm started up again.

It would be funny. It would be hilarious, except for the fact I hurt, I am dog-tired, and it pushed my frazzled nerves past the point of coping. I wondered if someone could tow the thing away and leave it on another street. Share the noise around a bit. I wondered if the person who owned it was ok, or if they were perhaps …black out drunk, and been pissing outside my window, reminding myself that tipping cold water from my 3rd story window onto drunken bastards having conniptions outside for hours was probably not legal, decent, going to work, or advisable. At least they had gone.

The traffic sounds started up again, roaring and whirring, buzzing and whining past my window. People always drive so angrily. I miss the road, but not the driving. I was at this point that I realized I had two options: lay here wide awake and feeling worse by the second, or grab a book, find my glasses and read. If I turned on a screen it would be game over. I grabbed a book. A little light Carlos Castaneda. The old goat and his psychedelic soaked shamanism proved distracting. The mushroom is a beautiful thing. Those soft spongy lines, the ability to grow and spawn and form colonies always feel as if they are somewhere between animal and plant. The visions and the colors, the shapes and the wonderings inspired by their more feisty incarnations always feel more like lessons than hedonism. I wondered if whoever set off the car alarm, or pissed outside my window shouting for hours with his blind-drunk buddies, had done some shrooms instead of booze and speed (of whatever chemical or non chemical kind, whether amp or mph), would have led to my sleeping more or less tonight.

I woke up with Castaneda in my hand, my thumb on the line, “Don Juan had warned me to always be a solitary bird…” There was no problem there. I have no friends to black out drunk with. I have no company to visit. I have no love affair to nurture. I have few ties nowadays, even if the ones I do have are immensely strong. A solitary bird it is. Hopefully sleeping tonight peacefully. Silence unmolested. Alone in a city of sounds and smells, sights and severity, the hills and water surrounding me holding in all the possibility that I have left, like droplets in a swimming pool. I feel like water. Formless. Unbound. Going where I will, but corralled and channeled by the topography, and always always going downhill fast. I wonder what will happen when I reach the bottom of the slope and finally head out to sea.


  1. @ErrorCrater

    having lived in cities with car alarms going off and drunken fights out in the street below, i feel your pain. i used to live next to a bus stop, that was a challenge. my nemesis out here is telemarketers/scammers calling from foreign time zones. beyond that i have massive freight trains going by my house at night or howling coyotes to test my deep exhaustion sleep. since the garbage truck only comes once every other week, it counts as a celebration. it’s loneliness that hurts the worst, but the sound of a damp field full of frogs croaking helps.

    1. The Paltry Sum: Detroit Richards

      I am so sorry to hear that you are lonely. I have got to the point where lonely is preferable to feeling unsafe and overwhelmed, but I am strange I suppose. You know, I quite like the sound of those freight trains running. I used to live by some tracks, and once a night or so the train would blow past and rattle the windows, and then it was gone. I always felt as if I could hop on it and get out, go somewhere, just move. Don’t even get me started on the garbage collection! 5.30am every fucking weekday, and they are always yelling and bumping the cans down the basement stairs. Seems to go on forever. I take it you are away from the city and somewhere rural now? I might complain, but I do love living here. The irritations are worth the fact that I feel safer here, that there is a lot to do, and that people, in general, at least leave me be. Have a great day, Mr. Crater.

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