city life

Dolores Park, Sunday, July 7th, 2013, 1:39 p.m.

A man in tie-dyed pants has come to the park with amps and turntables and records and is spinning house music that can be heard over the chatter and barking dogs and the occassional clack of the train at the top of the hill. He appears to be alone and no one is dancing.

A girl twirls a parasol embroidered with gold with gold fringe on her shoulder, and it twinkles. She appears to have stepped out of a Delia's catalogue, her mini-dress and spiderweb tights and platform boots (complete with hippy headband across her brow, puffing up young hair) completely out of place on the perfect, cloudless Mission District day when you can see a bank of fog over Twin Peaks and wave at it from the distance.

The park is filling up now and young women are drinking rosé straight from the bottle. This park is a bit of a miracle as park-goers openly drink and smoke pot and even buy edible marijuana treats from a man with a Yelp listing and 63 reviews. Even as I write this the man directly in front of me is telling his out-of-town guest about the guy with the copper kettles and the potent truffles you should "eat only half" of. 

Two men on a too-small blanket to my right are sharing a glass pipe stuffed full of medical-grade marijuana. They are discussing the strain and whether it was worth the amount they paid. They agree it is.

People are starting to dance now.


It's getting closer to 2, and the park is filling up. A guy wearing a red sweatband is rolling a blunt, licking the paper with his fat, flat tongue. His small dog is wearing a pink flower with streamers that trip it up when it tries to get away.

The house music is bad. A baby wearing noise-blocking headphones (always cute) is tossed gently into the air. A new group of three is smoking a hookah. 

A square-looking couple has brought along a table, a small wooden table, on which they have placed average beer and middle-of-the-road potato chips. They dance awkwardly from a seated position, both with heads down scrolling through their phones.

I suddenly find myself envious of a girl now dancing to the bad house music. She's the only one, really. She's wearing a long flowing dress and a devil-may-care grin, young limbs flailing effortlessly. Even as the DJ crashes and burns she makes it look easy and delightful, as though no one is watching. It's as if she has no neuroses at all.

Much like the girls, the 2 or 3 among hundreds, wearing bikinis. Even as beautiful, how do they?

A woman lowers sticks tied with string into a bucket and pulls out an enormous bubble, a giant floating orb refracting light. A toddler claps in delight even as the bubble disappears before her with a soundless snap.

A woman of likely meager means carries a bag on a heavy stick that rests on her shoulders. She approaches blankets and waits as people down the rest of their chardonnay so that she can take the bottle, which fetches 5 or 10 cents.

An earnest face in sensible glasses is collecting signatures, and I hope he does not come over here.

"Support AIDS walk? Buy a Jell-O shot?" is overheard coming from a man rolling a blue cooler.

A guy in Vibrams offers two girls in tank tops a palm reading. They wince at his offer, and I feel bad for everyone involved, but he is gone just as quickly as he arrived.

The air smells of grass. It is light, faint, barely touching any of us.

[photo: potential past; creative commons license]

I Like Mornings In The City

I like mornings in the city, the rush and choreographed chaos of the urban commute.

I like to see people with wet hair, an intimate look often only seen by families or your lover. Wet hair makes people look more vulnerable, more alive. 

I like to smell the fresh soaps and aftershaves recently applied. 


I like to watch the women transform bald eyes into feathery, smokey things at each bus stop. 

I like to watch the scurrying with cups of coffee held close to cold faces. I like to image what they packed for lunch in those cooler packs. 

Hours and hours lie ahead to spoil everything, but in the morning there is a sense of tenacity and commitment that makes it all seem okay, since there is all of us.

The Story of My Sexual Assault on Muni in San Francisco

Something happened to me yesterday that has happened to millions of women in cities all over the world. This is my story of sexual assault on public transportation, a bus in downtown San Francisco:

I was sitting in a seat by the window across from the rear doors with headphones on, listening to music, being careful to hide my loaner phone in my purse after I had my iPhone stolen out of my hand last week. A man sat down beside me in the empty seat.

I did what I usually do and quickly, discreetly sized up my seatmate. He was a disheveled middle-aged man with blonde hair that was either dusty or graying. He smelled strongly of alcohol on his breath, body and clothes. He didn't smell like piss and weeks upon weeks of not showering, like other unfortunate people who sometimes take the bus, but he looked like he was swiftly headed in that direction. This man was clearly intoxicated and behaving strangely. He swayed in his seat and repeatedly made the sign of the cross, which is highly disconcerting, let me assure you. When women would board and stand next to where he sat he would try to engage them. They would quickly move away. I should have followed them.

He tried to engage me as well. My defense was to aggressively ignore him on the very crowded bus by staring out the window and keeping my headphones on. I had just three stops to go. When he tried to talk to me (words I couldn't hear due to the music) I shook my head no and held my hand up, flattened, to signal that I wished to be left alone.

Muni Bus

The bus continued to lurch down busy Market Street. I pulled the cord to signal that I wanted off when the bus was due to stop again at 5th and Market.

I stood a few seconds before the bus came to a halt, a clear indiction that I was getting out and off the bus. When the bus stopped the man to my right swiveled his legs around rather than stand, so I took a wide step to get around him and as I did he grabbed me between my legs.

Without thinking I turned and swung my heavy purse containing a server's book, a hardback journal and loose, sharp pens at his head, but barely connected. I think the purse grazed his face. I screamed FUCK YOU, also without thinking, and fled off the bus.

I stepped down onto the concrete platform, my head swimming in a raucous tide. A young man beside me asked what happened. "He grabbed me between the legs," I told him. 

The young man shook his head. "And that man said, 'What?,' like he didn't do nothing."

My legs moved forward in spite of myself. I was floating down the sidewalk on Market Street trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was trying hard not to vomit. I felt ill; I was physically revolted. I shuddered and tears collected in the corners of my eyes. 

My lip quivered as I crossed the busy mall to the elevator that would take me to the restaurant where I work. Everything was foggy. My feelings were foggy and my vision was foggy and my mind was foggy. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't believe how awful it made me feel. 

As I hit the button in the elevator for the 4th floor I realized for the first time I'd been sexually assaulted. I'd considered whether or not this was a big deal, checked the facts against my feelings and decided that yeah, it kind of was.

I walked into the restaurant in a daze. I walked over to put my bag away when my friend Leo put up his hand to give me a high five. I blurted out, "I was just sexually assaulted on the bus."

I told Leo and Marc more specifically what happened and the embarrassment rose in my face and the revulsion in my gut. I sat down at Table 100, put my forehead on my forearm, burying my face, and cried really hard.

Poor Leo and Marc stood there mostly silent. "This fucking city," was certainly uttered, as were several I'm sorries. They were both very comforting in their presence, but they seemed at a loss for words. And who can blame them?

"Do you want a glass of wine?," Leo offered. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking.

"YES," was my emphatic reply.

He went and poured a hefty glass of gruner veltliner, my favorite, and handed it to me. "Here. Slam this."

And I did. It helped immensely. My nerves were completely frayed and I was a mascara-y mess and I had a new two-top at Table 49. I freshened my make-up in the bathroom and by the time I took the couple's drink order the wine was kicking in and my nervous system began to unclench slightly. 

I made iced tea for the lady at 49 and waited for the bartender to pour a Trumer when I felt the first bubbles of boiling anger begin to rise within me. I was moving through the stages of grief very quickly. Suddenly I was fucking pissed.

I wanted to punch someone--specifically the asshole who grabbed me between my legs. Just typing that sends puke rising into my throat. I can recall with precise accuracy the sensation of his hand between my legs and I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It felt like wrongness and violation and horror and evil. 

Marc, the sous chef, sensed my anger. He stood watching me fume.

"Is it too soon to make a joke?," he asked, knife in hand.

"It's been 15 minutes," I said. "I think it's probably overdue."

He grinned. "I'm going to say I was sexually assaulted, too, because I could really use a glass of wine right now."

I laughed and laughed and was grateful for the levity. And the wine.

As my shift continued I thought more about what had happened. "I was just wearing my work uniform," I thought. "It wasn't even anything..." I stopped myself before I could think it all the way. I was about to consider what I'd been wearing in trying to process what had happened to me. 

After urging from others I decided to go to the police precinct and report the crime today. I was reminded that there are cameras on Muni buses and that there might be viable video of him touching me. Even if not, these crimes are grossly underreported and even one more record of this kind of assault might mean more police presence in the future.

So, after my short lunch shift this afternoon I took a cab to 6th and Bryant to the Southern station to file a report. I took a cab because the next bus was reportedly 47 minutes away and I felt unsafe walking. That happens when you've had your crotch grabbed on public transit and the police precinct is in a sketchy-ish part of town. 

I entered and told the security guard I was there to report a crime. He told me to walk to a counter where officers were protected behind thick plastic or glass. I had to use a phone to talk to the policeman on the other side.

"I'm here to report a crime. I was groped on the bus."

"What happened?"

"I was groped on the bus. He grabbed me between my legs as I was exiting."

"Where did he grab you? Sorry, but you have to be more specific."

"He grabbed my vulva." I tried to tamp down my embarrassment.

"Okay. What do you want to do? File a report?" His tone made his words sound more like, "Are you serious? You came all the way down here for this?"

"Yes," I told him. Yes, I wanted to file a report.

He asked for more information. I gave it to him. He told me to wait. Then he came out and spoke with me face to face.

"We have two options here. We have a Muni task force. We can give them this info and they can be on the lookout for this guy. Or you can file a full report, but it won't do anything."

He made sure to tell me this guy wouldn't be caught even if I filed a report. For a moment I hedged. For a split second I considered not filing a report. He nearly convinced me. Then I remembered what I came there to do.

"I realize this guy probably won't be caught, but this crime is underreported and I want to do my due diligence and make sure this one is. And if it means more police presence later, then even better." He did not agree with me; he said nothing. The amount of sympathy he managed could fit into a thimble.

I waited more. While waiting with no where to sit for many minutes. I considered the infirm or pregnant or elderly women who would be very physically uncomfortable waiting to file a similar report. With nothing to be said of the emotional discomfort.

Finally I was given a slip of paper with my case number on it. I was told that usually sexual battery requires "skin on skin contact," but that that was how my case would be labeled. He told me I could follow the case online.

I initiated a hand shake. He finally, finally mustered that he was sorry this happened. He told me to be careful. It sounded a lot like, "don't let this happen to you again."

A less confident woman would not have filed this crime report for sexual assault. I know this, because I nearly didn't.

I have a lot more processing of emotions to do before I write more about what happened to me and how the situation was treated by SFPD. Plus, there is more to be revealed with how this case will be handled. But I wanted to write about this now for my own therapeutic reasons, but also to shine a light on a crime that happens regularly and that just might be downplayed by the people in charge of our safety. 

If this happens to you I urge you to report it to the police. Do not let them convince you to walk away without filing a report. Being groped against your will on the subway or bus or anywhere is sexual battery, and you deserve to stand up and have your assault counted.

More soon.

A Hard Story

9-San Bruno, inbound:

I find myself facing a wild-eyed man digging deeply into his mouth full of missing teeth. On his neck is "nadia," in cursive, and his arm is crudely tattooed with the word Mom, a heart and the abbrevation F. T. W. Under his right eye is an inked teardrop. His nose is a jutting, sharp-edged remanent of several smashings. He fishes so violently into his mouth that I fear he will pull something out of it, so I turn around and face the other direction.

At the next stop many people jostle off. I take an open seat at the front of the bus. The obese man beside me makes no attempt to close his legs closer or use less space. The fat from his thighs squishes into the fat of my thighs and I shudder at the melding of my flesh with his.

9 San Bruno

I get up to change seats. A man with a pink plastic bag makes a move for the same seat at the same time as me. His face registers annoyance when, because I am a woman, he defers to me.

"It must be my lucky day," my new seatmate says to me. I wish harder now that I hadn't left my headphones at home.

"How are you?"

"Fine. How are you?"

"I could be better," he tells me. "I just got here. How I got here is a hard story, harder than people realize, and they try to use it against you. But I'll make it."

"Well, I hope so."

"I don't suppose I have a choice, do I?" he asks me, even though some people do choose not to make it. 

"I could go back to Texas, but I don't want to do that."

"No." I agree.

I watch an old man with dark skin that looks thin as paper hold a very small dog in his lap. The dog is a pretty thing, the color of a burnt sienna Crayola and it has a pink nose, to boot.

The old man sees me smiling down at the dog and he leans over and kisses the dog tenderly on its face, four kisses to the snout. It is so clear how much the man loves his little dog that I wonder how old the dog is and which of them will die first.

See You Soon, San Francisco

I'm going home.

I've been in New York for exactly one year. For me, one year is plenty. 

I'm going back to San Francisco. I'm moving to California on December 1.

New York is a lot. For this gal, it's too much. Did you know that I hate crowds? Oh, yes, I really dislike crowds.

As I write this I struggle to think over the stabbing sounds of horns outside my windows. I'm sitting as high as clouds, and I can see all the way to Brooklyn through the haze. The view here is spectacular, but the view I miss is that of San Francisco as it spills out at 360 degrees from atop Bernal Hill.

I've discussed this with another former San Franciscan, and together we agreed: there is something miraculous about being able to pull back and take in your city from high above. San Francisco allows this at every turn. Each next climb is a new look at the splendor that is San Francisco, so beautifully nestled between the stark sea to the west and the placid bay to the east. It's the most gorgeous city I've ever stepped foot in, and I want to go back. So, I am going back.

There is so much to do here. There is too much to do here. It overwhelms me. It makes me spend money I don't have. I can't climb a hill and pull back and take it all in. If I lived here all my life I'd never scratch the surface of all that this vibrant city has to offer.

I feel like I can handle San Francisco. It's my size.

I got lost in the vertical horizon of New York City. I couldn't find my way. I grew stronger as a result of the struggle, but it sucked me dry down to my bones.

It's hard to live here. If you can handle the hard, it has to be worth it. My God, the place is crawling with world class everything. If you can stand the snow and the summers and the crowds and the expense and the grind of commuting and the non-stop jostle that is living in New York, then the payoff is tremendous. But I don't need world class everything. I don't need the best ballet in the word. Just having a ballet to go to suits me just fine. 

I miss the nature that San Francisco provided. It's a big city in the midst of some of the world's grandest scenery. When people talk about being in San Francisco and being able to be at the ocean one day and skiing the mountains the next, you've heard it a hundred times before. But until you've lived in that kind of paradise, it's hard to comprehend. San Francisco is splendid. New York is splendid, too, but in a grittier, harder, more concrete way.

I'm going back to San Francisco a different woman. New York City is a spanking, and I've learned many a lesson. So many that I know I won't know the breadth of them for a long, long time.

I miss San Francisco so much that I am going back without a job. I've secured housing, but I have yet to find work in the city by the bay. I've been looking, but it's difficult to get hired from 2,500 miles away. I don't care. I can temp, I can wait tables, I can stock shelves, I can work three jobs if need be. I will make it work.

My job at Modest Needs Foundation was incredibly fulfilling and the skills and experience I gained there will carry me far. I am grateful for my time there, but that job requires that I be in New York. And as great is New York is, it isn't great for me.

I'm selling everything I own to afford to move back. I'm bringing my cats, my clothes and a few other valuables, and heading west. What lies next, I have no clue, but I'm up for what ever adventure may await.

San Francisco makes me happy. I did an important thing in coming to New York, but it's time to go home.

Thirty days and counting.

Drunk Girl Wearing Nothing But Heels and Bra at My Door at 2 a.m.: An Analysis

Choo The mystery about the drunk girl outside my apartment wearing nothing but heels and a bra has been plaguing me. How did she get there? Why so little clothing? Why did she call him both her boyfriend and her husband? Why did she think she'd brought her wallet? How does she afford such expensive shoes?

Her being a prostitute had been suggested by many, but I was like, "Nah. She's my neighbor."

Not until today did I consider that she's both: she's my neighbor and a hooker.


It's the best I can come up with. Or as my friend said, "If you end up locked out in a hallway wearing nothing but heels and a bra, you've been having hooker sex."

The Time A Girl Wearing Nothing But a Bra and Heels Rang my Doorbell

There are plenty of people who would be thrilled beyond reason to have a young woman ring their doorbell at 2 a.m. wearing nothing but a bra and sky high heels. I am not one of them.

And yet, this was the very scene outside my studio apartment this Saturday night.

I was sleeping on the couch, like you do, when I heard someone ring my doorbell. I found this odd for several reasons, the primary of which is that I live in a doorman building, and I hadn't okayed anyone coming up. Also: 2 a.m.

Thinking I might be dreaming, I waited. Sure enough, the bell rang yet again.

I threw on some shorts and headed to the door wondering what on earth might be lurking out in the hallway. A gentleman suitor? A late night delivery of pizza and wine?

Nope: naked girl in nothing but a bra and high heels.

She tried to cover herself up once I opened the door, but she had nothing with which to do so. She must have seen my gobsmacked face that had just gotten a gander at her hooha, because she immediately exclaimed, "I'm so sorry."

"Are you okay?" I feared she may have been assaulted.

"Yes, I am fine. I just..."

"First of all, get in here." I ushered her inside, and she immediately went to sit on the end of my bed. Without her chonies on. Yeah. That's when I could tell she was drunk.

"I locked myself out of my apartment, and I was hoping you could call the desk and ask them to let me in."

"Of course!" I looked around for my phone.

"Wait, let me get you a robe." I pulled my robe out of the laundry hamper (so, it wasn't clean, but it was clothes) and handed it to her. "You can keep that," I told her.

I made the call to the front desk and told them my neighbor had locked herself out and could they please come up and let her in.

"Can she come down and get a spare key?" No, I told them, she could not.

I think she said she was sorry several dozen times. Assuring her it was fine, I was just thanking the stars I'd never gotten so drunk that I ended up locked out in a public hallway wearing nothing but stripper gear.

Her story didn't really add up. She said that she and her boyfriend had gotten into an argument, and he locked her out. Then she called him her husband. I hadn't heard any banging on doors or pleading to get back in. I mean, you have to have no where else to turn to knock on a stranger's door buck naked at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night, you think she'd be banging on the door where he boyfriend/husband was.

I further questioned her story when she asked me if she'd brought her wallet. She'd hadn't. And besides, who gets kicked out wearing nothing but shoes, but brings along their wallet? Fishy.

Once I got confirmation that someone would be coming up to let her into her place, I noticed her hair was wet. Not soaking wet, but damp.

So very odd.

I told her that someone would be on the way up, and showed her to the door, and she almost forgot her shoes. I picked them up--nude, patent leather Jimmy Choos--and handed them over. "My Choos!," she yelped.

She looked me in the face for the first time. "I know it's a really trashy way to meet someone, but thank you."

I'm not sure we met as much as I bailed her naked ass out.

After she left, and I heard her safely (?) back in her apartment, I wanted to tell everyone I knew: THERE WAS A NAKED DRUNK CHICK IN MY HALLWAY WEARING HEELS AND A BRA AND THAT IS IT. But it was nearing 3 a.m., and no matter how juicy a tale, I wasn't going to wake anyone up for it.

So, I put it here.

I Know, I Know, "It's Only Going to Get Worse"

Met stairs in the rainIt is officially December.

I mean, obviously, because that is what the calendar tells us. But weather-wise, it is also now officially December.

I need a raincoat with a hood. A sturdy one. Because this morning, when I tried to use an umbrella in 50 mph wind gusts, the gods laughed at me. I had a wild tussle with my cheap $10 umbrella in the middle of a busy intersection, and the umbrella won. That fucker turned on me.

You should hear the howls of wind from my apartment allll the way on the west side on the Hudson. It sounds exactly like movie ghosts sound, and I just know I can feel my building bend.

I am not equipped for this weather. And it isn't even cold yet.

A tiny boy decked out like a duck in all yellow rain gear was navigating the streets like a pro, avoiding puddles and leaning into the wind. I felt that kid staring down at my cheap boots and cheap leggings getting soaked all the way through, and I swear I heard him laugh.

[Photo by Alex Barth]

Already Got a New York Attitude

The other day I was leaving the Film Forum after seeing (the awesome) Le Cercle Rogue, and there were two people on bikes right on my heels.

I stopped at the intersection to wait to cross when the man on the bike said, "Let's keep it moving!"


The guy on the bike responded in a calm tone, "I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to my wife."

She was the other person on the other bike.

"Oh. Good," I said.

And then I felt bad.