Summer left all kinds of marks on your legs. Thick bands of red from the metal flatbed of your dad's pickup truck. Raised welts made by cut grass criss-crossed your thighs. Jean shorts and sandals left stripes of burned flesh after long afternoons in the yard with a book.
The heat didn't keep you inside. Not when Aunt Shirley would promise a trip down to the store for something sweet. She'd pile all the kids into her aging maroon sedan and carry you around the bend down by the big house with the horses on the front lawn.
Eager children's limbs spilled out of the car and into the store where air conditioning filled all the space within, instantly freezing swimsuits and wet hair. You got to pick one thing--and hurry up--and you'd usually go for a Nutty Buddy or an orange push-up pop. You raced to eat your treat before it liquified down your arm. Then you'd fold and fold and fold the sopping wrapper into a fat sqaure and shove it into the smallest pocket of your hand-me-down cutoffs for your mom to find later in the laundry.
The nights were a respite, but not by much. The night air was still thick with wet, but when the sun dropped the stars showed themselves to you in the black tapestry of night, pulsing overhead, nestled like jewels. When the frogs and crickets gave pause you could hear their secrets.
There was nowhere but there.
Face into the fan you'd sing ahhhhhhhhh as the blades whipped your voice into a hilarious thing.
You needn't move anywhere. Besides, where would you go?
The creeks were the thing when you knew no one with a boat. You'd slip off socks and shoes and ease into shiny water, scrunching toes over mossy-smooth stones, wavering, gripping, standing steady as the water filled in around you, delighting in every almost-fall. You were told to be on the lookout for broken glass or sharp rocks, but no one mentioned water moccasins, so you got to watch your father beat one to death with a stone.
Why would it occur to you to leave?
Anyway, how would you go?
You'd lie in bed at night, legs sometimes over, sometimes under the thin sheet. You'd find triangles where the walls met the doors. You'd count them. Seven triangles. Seven intersections of three. Some were flags and some were pyramids, but that would change depending on how far the door was ajar. So many hours to find your own flags and temples.
You lived in your head then, back before you left and learned just how hot it got.
[Photo: Brenton Rogers]
To say I had a shitty weekend last weekend is really underselling it. And Friday is always the toughest day for me at the office job in terms of workload. Add to those things a little dash of payday, and I knew it had to be done: I talked my girlfriends out of yoga and into the wine bar.
It was not a hard sell.
What happened next is something that never happens: I went to the Marina. On purpose.
For those unfamiliar with the San Francisco neighborhood, here's a brief primer: The Marina is a gorgeous part of town that is clean and smells nice and not at all like pee like so much of the rest of the City, but it is also filled with very rich young people who migrated north after graduating from Stanford. Collars do get popped. Here, I'll just tell you the story my friend Sarah told me as we were making our way to our Marina wine bar destination:
Once Sarah and her boyfriend went to a store called Shoes and Feet in the Marina so Sarah could get shoes appropriate for waiting tables. Her boyfriend was wearing a brown zip up fleece shirt. Out of no where a man accosted him. "Is that the new Patagonia shirt? In chocolate brown? Because I was going to order it online but they changed the name of the brown, and I wanted to make sure it was the right brown."
So, yeah. That's the Marina. I never go there because it is far away from where I live or work, and so I always assumed the shade thrown at those who live in the Marina was overdone and unnecessary. Are Marina guys really awful bros and are their female counterparts really that skinny? (Here's another tell: There is a restaurant in the hipster-drenched Mission District that sells tacos. They also have a "Marina Girl Salad." I'm surprised it has cheese.) All things told, could the Marina really be that bad?
It's that bad!
We went to the Marina because a friend of Sarah's works at a wine bar there. It was a brilliant move, because he greeted us with sparkling rose and truffle popcorn. Did this man get some kind of cheat sheet prior to my arrival? Those are all the things I love! I also loved the outdoor area with the fire pit and the lovely weather, but then there were the people.
These people looked like they were kidding. A woman was wearing a seersucker short suit. Let me say that again: A woman was wearing a seersucker short suit. Not one, but TWO unironically popped collars were spotted. It was such a sight to behold.
My friend Leo joined us after we'd staked out a little corner by the fire. I could see his wide eyes as he entered the place. "Where are we?," he whispered upon arriving, and we nodded knowingly.
During the course of our wine consumption the topic of the Power Shower came up: the cold beer in the hot shower thing. Everyone's done it--after a sweaty run or a long bike ride or when miserably hungover. At least I thought! But Leo has never drank a beer in the shower. Not only that, but he'd never even heard of such a thing. My mind was blown.
I was two glasses in when I leaned over to the butter blonde with immaculate highlights and said, "Have you ever drank a beer in the shower?"
This woman had no idea what to do with that question. She looked at me as if I'd slapped her.
"I'm gluten sensitive." That is what she said.
Leo recoiled in horror. "Don't try to make friends," he mouthed. And so I wisely went back to my white wine and cheese plate and stopped pestering the locals with low-class questions.
Got my passport stamped. Not sure when I'll travel back to the Marina, but if I do I may try to rustle up a seersucker short suit.
When the thick cream infiltrates the iced coffee it creates a black and white sex scene in my cup. The liquids--one creamy, one thin--meld themselves together in unctuous streams, tripping and falling over ice cubes, until they mix to form a milky brown oneness. I am eager to consume the sex scene in my hand, but will only do so after holding the sweaty cold drink to my forehead.
I used to place iced coffees on my face when I lived on an island called Manhattan. On this island there was no where to escape the endless spankings at the hands of a brutal summer sun. Iced coffee became a portable cooling device. I'd stick the chilly cup under my arm pits when no one was looking, even though on that island of Manhattan someone is most certainly always looking.
I lived in a high rise apartment I couldn't afford and would stay inside the small studio most days, propping my ass up on the narrow vent of the air conditioner by the window. I could see all the way to Brooklyn from up there. I'd sit on the air conditioner until my thighs grew raised bumps, cheap binoculars pressed to an unwashed face.
Twenty dollars is not enough to spend on binoculars if you really want to know what's happening inside your neighbor's home. You should probably spend at least $75, unless you can find some heavy, old binoculars at a flea market and flirt yourself into a good deal. The heavier the better, because when you are holding binoculars to look into the windows of strangers your hands shake. The fight the tiny Asian lady is having with her meathead boyfriend becomes blurry. You can't tell if the makeup session at an expensive dressing table is for her or the man who might come later. Splurge on a telescope, I say, with all the money you save staying in.
Sometimes I'd imagine someone was watching me, too, so I'd put on productions in my apartment. I'd pretend. I'd pull the blinds all the way to the top and open my laptop and stare at it, unmoving, for hours.
In Manhattan, you can have a single iced coffee delivered to your house.
[photo by Duncan Spalding]
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.
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."
"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.
A girl at the cafe scratches at her huge pile of black hair. It looks like a Newfoundland on her head.
"I like that you talk, but I don't like the fact that you're so stupid," she says to no one, eyes narrowed in fierce anger. "So shut the fuck up."
The tree behind the gate is still leafless despite the frilly green dresses of its sisters. It stands naked, frail and shamed, as it has every year since she was born.
Seeing it bare out there every year, day after day, tears Mindy's heart to little bits. Sometimes she breaks into the yard next door, shimmying over the locked iron gate and climbs up the bare tree's crumbling trunk and hugs its craggy necks.
Her parents always change the subject when she brings up the strange tree. Science is her worst subject, but she knows that Spring means flowering and budding of life, and that tree has never done either. It just stands there, dead.
"Get away from the window, Mindy. Shoo. Go play with your sister in your room." Her mother was always telling her to get out of the window, always telling her to go play with her sister.
The younger sibling is all big rosy cheeks and shiny hair and a laugh like a bubbling fountain. Mindy finds her in their shared bedroom melting crayons onto poster board with a hairdryer.
"Does the weirdo tree not want to play with weirdo Mindy right now?" her sister said never looking up from the puddle of hot colored wax she is creating with full-blast high setting.
Mindy drops to her knees and watches her sister make her liquidy Crayola art that will dry into something their father will praise endlessly and perhaps even frame and hang in his dingy office at the insurance company. She watched the purple wax spray and land in fat dots on the warping cardboard and planned how she'd go out later after everyone was asleep and pick the lock on the iron gate to the yard next door and go give the tree a gentle stroking, a few reassuring pats, then sleep beneath it for a bit until she could sense the sun coming up through closed eyelids.
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.
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.
The biggest thing to happen to Goodlettsville, Tennessee in a long time is a, as my Dad puts it, "good lil' ole team" in the Little League that is advancing in the World Series. These kids just beat California and will play again on Wednesday night.
My Dad's been calling me and keeping me up to date on their progress. He just called to tell me that they projected the game on a giant screen at Moss Wright Park, where I used to play softball. (I rode the bench.)
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I remembered this little cheer my Dad used to sing when I was a kid. We lived in Goodlettsville--I began kindgarten at Goodlettsville Elemetary--and I remember distinctly sitting in the backseat where my father taught me a sing-song taunt:
"I can tell the smell that you come from Goodlettsville. Sardines (clap, clap) and pork n' beans."
As my father updated me as to the Little League team's new win I said, "You should sing your cheer." And he laughed politely, but I prodded, "Do you know what I'm talking about?" Then I started to chant: "I can tell by the smell that you come from Goodlettsville..." and he joined in for the rest. "Sardines (clap, clap) and pork n' beans...I can't believe you remember that!"
I asked for specifics of the origin of this cheer and he said that for some reason he was at a Goodlettsville High School football game as a teenager, even though he went to Cumberland, and that the cheer squads would volley taunting cheers at one another, and that was the one lobbed at Goodlettsville.
"I lost it," he said. And thus he remembered it. Then taught it to me. And now I'm teaching it to you.
P.S. Go Goodlettsville! I'm sure y'all smell great!
I wrote this one year ago today, when I lived in a far off magical kingdom known as New York City:
I woke up late. I wake up late a lot, but when I woke up today I was already late for work by two minutes.
I scared the shit out of my cats by tornadoing around my apartment throwing on clothes and chucking food into their bowl and beating it out the door.
At 9 am cabs in NYC are scarce. I got to the corner and stuck my hand out and watched two people dressed better than me get cabs even though they’d gotten to the corner minutes after me. When it was about to happen again, with two girls in their early twenties, I spoke up: “Excuse me, but I was here first.”
Turns out, though, that someone was already in the back of the cab. When one of the young women saw me turn back around toward the corner she let out this bitchy, exaggerated laugh.
I didn’t even think, I just spoke. “Is that funny?”
She turned away from me and stared at her shoes. Her friend looked at me and said, “What?”
“I asked your friend there if she thinks it’s funny.”
She grabbed her bitchy friend’s hand and they ran across the crosswalk.
I finally got into a cab and told him 30th and Park and, of course, there was crazy construction traffic the whole way. Once at my destination, only 24 minutes after waking in a frenzy, I was mere feet from work.
Then his machine broke.
“You have cash?” No, I told him. I have a card.
He started cussing and randomly hitting buttons and they would beep but not show a total. I looked at my phone. I opened the car door.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” I told him I was going to work, that I was already late, and that this issue sounded like his problem.
“I HAVE TO GET MY MONEY,” he screamed.
“ME, TOO,” I yelled back. “That’s why I took a fucking cab to work. I’m already late.”
“You need to relax,” he told me.
He finally got the machine to work and I swiped my card and overtipped, as usual, and walked in to work and got settled.
Minutes later I hightailed it over to Bread & Butter for a quick bagel and coffee so I could fuel up and start my day. I got in line behind a couple and their teenaged daughters.
When the guy behind the counter said “next,” the father of the quartet began to speak in an adorable British accent: “Can you recommend a traditional American breakfast? I dunno, maybe bacon. Maybe pancakes.”
NYC delis are not known for their recommendations. You tell them what you want and they make it. The guy behind the counter looked at them with an “are you serious” face.
“Bacon and eggs?,” he offered, when I am sure he wanted to say, “I’m from Venezuela, I don’t know shit about traditional American breakfasts.”
There were more questions about the validity of the maple syrup. The girls wanted only two pancakes each, even though the menu item came with three. Patience oozed out my ear.
I wanted to spin them around and say, “You know what Americans do for breakfast? They order fast, and they get the fuck out.”
But I didn’t say that, in part, because it’s not even true. That is what New Yorkers do.