- He fought the fires he built.
- Tears blurred the ink-written phone number.
- "This Daddy loves you," he said.
- The dog's chain broke its neck.
- He couldn't hear the crying stop.
Me: "Hey, I worked out this morning."
Co-worker: (gives me an evil death stare) "I was only awoken nine times last night by the baby. Nine times. Every hour or so. Now we're in a cycle where my wife is so tired she can't hear the baby crying, and then the next night I am so tired that I can't hear the baby screaming and back and forth. But it's fine. It's really fine.
Me: "One day I'm going to have children and look back on this and think, 'what an ignorant childless person I was.'"
Co-worker: "Having children is a staggering life change. But good job on working out."
"Español?," the old shop owner asks me.
"Pequeño," I lie.
"Are you Russian? You look Slavic."
I shook my head no. "I'm German, I guess."
"That's it?" He cocked his head to one side, his face that of a person confused.
"I don't know really."
"You are born in California?"
He nods his head but he seems far away.
I've come for a bottle of soda water. I put it on the counter a minute or two ago, but he's busy pulling off small strips from a roll of duct tape.
He is my height, thin, and he looks frail. He seems to work long hours almost every day. If he is not behind the counter it's the very fat man who smokes pot in the back room and tries to mask the smell by burning incense.
The old man takes the bottle of water and points it at me, eyebrows raised. He's asking with his face if that's all I want to buy. I tell him with my face that it is.
"I was not born here. But I've lived here a long time."
"45 years. I came when I was a boy."
I do the math, and he seems much older. I wonder why he lets the punk-ass kids in the neighborhood take his chips and candy without paying. They bully the old man.
"The kids call me OG. I don't know why or what it means."
"It means original gangster."
He looks at me and shakes his head.
"I will tell them to stop. I am not a gangster. I am not OG. I am not gangster."
He shakes his head and seems very far away.
I put two soft one dollar bills on the counter.
He looks me in the eyes and blinks. He is thanking me with his face. He pushes a small chocolate wrapped in dark red foil toward me, then presses two dirty pennies into my palm.
"You live close to here."
"Yes, just three blocks away."
"I will see you next time, mi amor." He takes my hand in his, papery and soft. "You will come back."
"It is hard to be without him in this city. There are pieces of him everywhere."
A woman with smooth brown hair and a French accent is telling a tale of heartbreak between sips of hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream.
"He doesn't want to be my friend."
Rain falls, blurring the windows of the cafe. Her voice is sure and unwavering, without a hint of sadness. She presses her finger onto fallen flakes from her almond croissant and places it on her toungue.
"I told him, 'You will forgive me when you fall in love with someone else.'"
Her mouth slides up at the corners. She strokes the handle of the mug.
"He said he didn't want me to come because he was scared of getting hurt. But I had to."
Her voice suddenly goes from matter-of-fact to giddy.
"Because Max is driving up from San Jose."
She polishes off the pastry with a quick flourish, then rubs her hands together, sending a fine flurry of powdered sugar into the air.
"He would die if he knew."
(As seen and overheard at a cafe in North Beach, San Francisco.)
Before long we'll never be in that room again. We'll never fill its space with our sighs. We'll never fog up its windows with our heat. We'll never lie on its floor, limbs and fingers and mouths and even our eyelashes folded into one another, gripping softly but for dear life.
Before long we'll never splash that room's walls with our laughter. You'll never prop yourself up on the arm of that couch against that wall and say, "Come sit on me." You'll never play for me from exactly that spot. Our silly songs and sillier jokes won't exist in that place.
Before long that room won't hear my wails as you hold me tight enough to press into my bones your promises. We'll never cup each others chins there, eyes little trembling pools, heads shaking no, no, I couldn't without you. We'll never cross off ideas for future children's names up those two flights of stairs and down the hall.
Pretty soon I won't place my hand on that closet door for support. Pretty soon any moans within that room will belong to someone else. Before long we won't slow dance to the sunrise breaking into its panes.
In no time our mornings will come much earlier.
On Sunday as I sat across from my boyfriend at brunch, my plans were to share a meal with him and then spend the rest of the day reading or writing or both. He'd made mention of needing to write charts that afternoon, so when he looked at me with that grin, the one that starts on the right side of his face, and said, "What if we went to Six Flags today?," I didn't think he was serious.
Then he pulled out his phone to make sure the park was open (it is January after all, even if we are experiencing 70 degree weather every day), and sure enough, it was. He looked at me again, grinning even bigger this time.
"Want to go to Six Flags?"
I didn't need to think about the answer. Of course, I wanted to go to Six Flags. Especially with him.
The spontaneity of his proposition reminded me of one of the happiest days of my childhood. One Sunday, before my parents were divorced, my sister and mom and I were on our way home from church. In the car I asked my mom if we could go to Opryland.
"Ask your father," was her response, and every kid knows exactly what that means, and that's a big, fat 'no.'
I asked him anyway, knowing full well we weren't going to be riding the Wabash Cannonball that day.
"Daddy? Can we go to Opryland?" I was already deciding on which coloring books I would fill that afternoon as consolation when he said yes.
Plot twist! What?! You mean I just *asked* if we could go to the amusement park on a Sunday afternoon without any advanced planning and the wish became a reality? I was drunk with power, loopy with giddiness. I was about six years old.
Add thirty years to that six years of age. Cut to me smiling widely over a plate of eggs. We were going to go to Six Flags on the spur of the moment. Because we wanted to. This was the adulthood I always dreamed of as a kid.
Happy and laughing, we took his car to Vallejo. We secured expensive tickets, scoped out which roller coasters to hit up first and then tackled them. We wound through the park hand in hand and stood embracing while we waited in lines. We pecked cheeks and let the sun warm our faces. We shared a vanilla soft serve cone and took our photo with a real, live penguin.
It was the best day.
As we waited for the wooden coaster, our limbs entwined like 14 year olds, I watched an actual pair of 14 year olds. Two girls, both fully teenaged with the scowls to prove it, waited with their arms crossed and their eyes permanently rolled.
"This sucks," one of them said. Her eyes were full of disgust, her body rigid.
Her friend just sighed and ticked her eyes upward in response. One thing was clear: they would both rather be anywhere than at Six Flags on a sunny Sunday.
Suddenly I was transported back to my own year at 14. How I spent the entirety of it with my arms crossed and my eyes rolled, too. How I'd rather be caught dead than having fun, because having fun wasn't cool. And I desparately wanted to be cool.
These teenaged girls were wearing cute little dresses and their hair was expertly rolled. Makeup had been applied carefully and in excess. It was as if they had somewhere they wanted to go, but it definitely wasn't where they were. Their posture read, "I'd rather die than admit I'm having a good time." I seriously think their arms were crossed even as the roller coaster sent them spriraling upside down.
I looked up at my boyfriend, his grin, his face, how happy he was to be waiting in line for a ride, and I exhaled hard. I wasn't there any more. I wasn't 14 and miserable and vulnerable and afraid to show that I'm happy. I'm miserable and vulnerable in different ways, but I'm no longer scared to be seen smiling.
Good thing, too, because it happens a lot these days.
There is an epidemic amongst San Francisco service industry professionals and the plague from which so many of them suffer is contempt. Contempt for customers. Contempt at the world that they can't be practicing with their noise band SatanScratcher at the moment and instead have to work to earn a living. Contempt that you weren't aware that the housemade juniper syrup is lavendar infused. Contempt that they have four degrees a piece and student loan debt that requires they serve drinks to plebes.
Recently at a bar that will go unnamed I waited to be served cocktails. The bartender was busy, though not terribly so, so I waited patiently for her to make eye contact. Which of course, she did not. I did not wave cash to get her attention. I did not try to get her to look over at me. I just waited without a word while she clumsily made two drinks.
When finished with her masterpieces, she took a step back and said, "Who was next?"
Now. Come on, now. I've served drinks at bars three people deep. Any one given a shaker and a strainer should know who was waiting there to be served next.
So, I helped her out. I *discreetly* lifted my index finger to indicate that, since she wasn't paying attention, I was the person who'd been waiting the longest. I said no words. I waved no hand. I lifted a single finger.
Upon doing so the bartender who did not know who she was to serve next held up a fist at me, her index finger in the air. "Hang on! Hang on!" she screamed. "You might not be next."
Oh, ho ho. Did that actually happen? Did a bartender so incompetent that she had to auction off the next drinks at her bar just scream at me when I answered her question as to who was next? Oh, yes. Yes, she did.
She scanned the crowd until she realized that I was, in fact, next. Then she was forced to serve me, a task that made her look like she'd just eaten a spoonful of grubworms.
Of course, I tipped her. I can't not tip. But holy wow, that was one of the worst displays of customer service I've ever seen in this city. I sincerely hope she finds a job soon where there is a roped-off line that clearly indicates who she can scream at next.
(photo credit: by marniejoyce)
I don't know what he was trying to say to me, but I know feeling vulnerable on the train, feeling like you know someone when you don't. I know sitting helplessly as eyes brim with tears, being unable to control your face.
I was on the N for an afternoon of exploring a neighborhood that is not my own. I watched out the window as rows of homes flipped by like a shuffled deck of cards. I wore headphones that filled my ears with sounds I selected.
He was young, a little scraggly looking. He seemed nervous, and I caught him eyeing my phone. I stuck it under my purse. That's when he motioned to me that he wanted to talk. I pulled my headphones down.
"I'm sorry," he said. I didn't know what he was sorry for, but he seemed genuinely regretful.
"I'm sorry?," I said it back to him as a question.
"This is embarrassing," he told me, and with the side of his flattened palm he wiped his eyes.
I didn't know why he was embarrassed. I didn't know why he was crying.
"Are you okay?," I asked him.
"Yeah, I'm sorry. Ugh. I'm sorry; I'm embarrassed." He dabbed at wet eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
"You sure you're okay?"
And so I put my headphones back on, even though the exchange chilled me. I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what he wanted. I didn't know what caused his tears. But I know succumbing to them in public on a train beside a stranger. I know what that is like. And I know what it feels like to try to communicate something you can't. And to feel ashamed.
Was he seeking solace? Did he have a story to tell? A request to ask?
The young man watched as I deboarded at the next stop. His face looked ripe with things to say.
I was worried. I always worry.
I called him twice the night before, but no answer. Not even acknowledgement the following day that I'd rung.
I was worried. I always worry.
When I saw him last night I cried into his sweatshirt. I feel ignored, I told him. I feel unimportant, I said.
I was so worried. Always so worried.
He busy was writing songs, he told me. He was busy writing a song for me.