July 19-July 26th
A new weekly post on the blog just about the odds and ends and magical thoughts of life as it happens.
Last Sunday started off in Noe Valley on a blazing hot afternoon. This is the sort of place that makes you not miss New York. I’ll start off saying that and work my way into the heart that makes this neighborhood southwest of Market Street so thrilling. And to understand this few blocks of gourmet shopping and dining, know that this was a strange love affair between a person and a place that made life in such an unforgiving city worth it.
You can peep into the life that passes through Hayes Valley once you exit from the 101 towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Some grass, a big steel web of red and blue for the kids to climb about, and palms shading over a green building and above a flushed pink sign where the Miette Patisserie Shop is open for business. I didn’t know this was Hayes Valley then– only a curve in the road that drove me up the University of San Francisco. It teased me with every time we passed on the road and it always seemed to have a glow about it come rain or shine or fog. And now it’s always there for me, the lovely end of the line for the 21 bus that too passed USF. In college this was the perfect spot to just get away and study and become inspired for the crazy stories I would write for my classes; now it’s a tame but youthful neighborhood always bursting with colorful characters and colors in the business and buildings themselves. If you’re seeking a spot to dine in an alley with your best friend to some serious Chili Fries and hefty salads or enjoy a pint of Saint Archer with a tattered copy of Love in the Time of Cholera as across Patricia’s Green ladies line up in a back alley to get fitted at the new Corsetry boutique, then come join me at Hayes.
Fast forward to this Sunday, and I’ve not gone anywhere today– not any further than my kitchen table. That’s another thing. Apartments. If you got one– let alone in this city– cherish it TO THE MAX. It’s not every time you live in a big town and luck on on decent accommodation and with roommates (or none) that you can actually get along with. I feel like I always hear about friends and acquaintances constantly having new people moving into their places of switching out roomies and I just think, shit. The nights where I can come back home to my place and it’s just my sis already sprawled out in front of the space heater in sweatpants watching TV with a glass of wine is just one of the more worse things I put up with when sharing a studio. Most days, like now, she’s not here. It’s almost perfectly like I’ve found a place all to myself, where only God can judge me for blasting ABBA and clean at 11 at night like I’m at a disco from this city’s hey-days.
When I first moved to San Francisco it seemed like the thing to do was be out on the streets all the time, and an apartment was just a warm place to sleep at at night. But the months drag on and I choose now to have days like this where I never want to leave. Just a place you can just have all to yourself and that’s there for you whenever just being out and about the city overwhelms you. For example, this past week I devoted solely to making it a wonderful birthday week for my sister turning 26. In stringing up crepe paper in Frozen-themed blues and delicious photos of her favorite actors up on the wall with lit candles and a surplus of Chardonnay– I realized it didn’t take much to make a celebration feel grand. Forget fancy dinners or bar hopping and blowing $$$ on a karaoke booth somewhere. When it was all finished it hit me how lucky we were just to be living here, to have a place to finally pull something off like this. It may not be the biggest and best and most beautifully decorated apartment in the city but it’s what you make of it– always make something magical of it. That’s where your time here counts– the home really is where the heart is.
So yes to all of this. Yes to being lazy today as opposed to last Sunday, yes to being hungover in part to my sister’s birthday out bowling last night, and yes to not giving any cares about trying to meet up with people. A place like this can make you a flake. But that’s okay, it just depends on the city you’re in where that’s not such a bad thing, because they’ll always be here. In fact, San Francisco is perfectly (or inconveniently) small where you’ll always run into a familiar face. At a population of only 800,000 people, that’s an easy feat.
PLACES YOU RUN INTO FRIENDS, ACQUAINTANCES, AND HOOKUPS:
An Etsy Craft Expo. at the Embarcadero
Polk Street, Harper & Rye
Polk Street on the street
The 1 bus line (the last people you want to see, particularly)
The 21 bus line (for your best friends heading to get their glasses repaired at Warby Parker after breaking them in a benefit walk in Golden Gate Park)
The 31 bus line (strictly USF grads)
Sansome Street heading to work, either direction
Westfield Shopping Mall
So trust me, stay in. The faces will always be there.
I think I was six years old when you first helped me with math problems. Gosh you looked amazing, and cool– a concept lost one me yet still so enchanting. I wanted to be just like you, wear jeans and be tall sporting that sweater striped in different colors right around the chest. And the Chuck Taylors, even though I had no clue that’s what they called those roughed up, suave things.
Thinking back on it now, and you probably weren’t in high school. Your name was Jack, I think, and you still humored me about how I couldn’t wait to be a teen. But as a teacher’s aid in college back then– and now in your forties, we can come to the agreement that neither of us would ever want to be in high school again.
When I look up to the skies, I think about how I lost you to the planets. Across the stars that sprinkle down onto Manhattan there is not a moment when I’m not searching for your smile. Yes! It’s finally happened madam, I’ve made it to here. New York’s worked out for me, and it’s still a dream spiraling out before my eyes– and no one’s stopping to contain it. This is all I wanted, but no matter how grand this city grows it will never get me to you.
To think that in those years you were already an unreachable girl. Admitting to it now, no one back home thought you would make the cut. There was only one certainty and that was in your heart, armed with a fairy tale. The myth of Atargatis was your favorite because she founded mermaids. Your reason for going was to find out where else in this universe might be a chance to start anew. We both were aware that what we were seeing from our hills in Oakland, beyond downtown’s skyline, was also fixed in the minds of the 78,000 others across Earth– like you, all discarding this world as a wasteland.
Every few months they narrowed their lists until those beautiful words for ROSE JANE M. arrived in the mail, gilded gold letters. Of course they would love you. Anyone would kill to carry your innocence across moons. In that moment you were called away to begin anew on the Red Planet our nights changed. Stars shone brighter for you– I saw blackness.
78,000– then out of the blackness– 100. You were number 9 of the remaining 10. They cut people every day and each time that blackness descended onto the wasteland that kept us together because you stopped coming to the hills with me.
Your family hosted your farewell party to time it with the CBS special where they interviewed you with the other 4 Americans who got selected. A bio-medic researcher from Milwaukee, and a geologist from Orlando were among your elite. Though none of those things, it was clear that watching you on TV you belonged there.
I apologize to you now rose for my lingering bitterness. None of it will ever truly go away since we lost you here on Earth. I’m sorry too that it got the better of me, fighting with you on that long drive through Coachella desert when we went to see your brother out in Blythe. I wasn’t thinking about how those last hours in the dark, after midnight, would be your last time to really feel the Earth beneath us, beneath the stars that would steal you away to a Heaven no one here can understand. You don’t deserve my anger. My burdens. Tethered to my own fears and I try and still wish sometimes that I can still pull you down into my silent drowning.
Those are my best moments here in the city with ever-flickering lights, trying to shine new paths in this dog-gone place crumbling on its own fresh paved roads over the old. It’s that sea we swim in farther and farther thinking something strange and beautiful is out there when it’s been us the strange ones all along.
It isn’t really a loss now that I search fr you up there. All still black, but a faint starburst now that only you and I can see.
There really is just something beautifully strange here about the row. That may be a generalized statement, but nonetheless it’s true. It’s nearing an hour in the late afternoon proclaimed to be a magical one as observed by the founder of this place in the fictional mind– and it is him who keeps drawing me back to this sleepy and much overlooked peninsula of Monterey Bay.
Even before I knew anything about John Steinbeck or classic literature, the mystical adventures of the sea had lured me in with promises of seashells scattered like gold and perhaps the glimpse of a mermaid. Why the ocean? As a kid I couldn’t tell you, in the way that I still can’t. You can’t give a rational explanation for a feeling that creeps up on you like the tides of these Pacific shores. But traveling to this place isn’t like the coasts down south in California; there’s a certain ruggedness to your soul that finds itself here unwillingly for a redeeming quality you’ve yet to find here yourself. Swap the glamour for honesty, the max of promises in the lights of Hollywood and Silicon Valley for the miniscule pleasures of the little that surrounds your senses. And in those pleasures, you get things like the rickety brown little Marine Biological Center that still stands in the majestic gray shadow of the Intercontinental Hotel, the back pathway where rented surreys cruise by permanent train cars and the movie theater that once housed a grand carousel. It’s the absurd rush of making enough of a salary where you don’t feel guilty on buying Dippin’ Dots in the ice cream shop. Sometimes it creeps from behind and from the past itself in still seeing in the windows blue-haired plastic dolls with their legs tightly tucked into iridescent pouches made to look like a fish tail– there was nothing I wanted more so badly from this place at age seven.
For anyone else that’s here, it’s none of these things that excite them and with so many visitors in one spot you must fall victim to the generic splendor of the al fresco dining and eclectic wares you won’t find anywhere else in the world besides these converted Canneries and the fairy-tale cottages in the south– you blend in in order to get along. But people come to the Peninsula for a reason– to feel the finer things in life for so little. And the man that made this possible, well, I don’t think anyone comes here for him. But I love how Steinbeck truly is everywhere. Signs, plaques, statues, plazas– and even though I could not validate this claim and am sure it was just my dad’s humor, “Wow, they really are cashing in on that guy; he’s everywhere, even in the men’s bathroom!”
I like to think he’s made his presence well known for opening the locals — the people that mattered most and served as muses for his early works– up in the humble delight that sometimes home can be enough. The man didn’t have to travel far. He knew what he wanted out of the human experience and he looked no further than the truths of his own land. Not everyone has to travel halfway around the globe for the holy spirit to hit– it’s what you can make of the existing wasteland around you to turn into Paradise, and that’s the simplest answer to your doubts of writing anything.
And on the last, late night here drinking in the sour wine that tastes so sweetly now in the memory, it was a glorious little hour atop a corner balcony overlooking the mist and streetlamps that lit the way for wary sightseers trudging in from the calls of the sea lions out on the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, imagining that here in the glow of this little hacienda-like facade where everyone slept except me, maybe that’s why I come back, in my own sense of this trip. John Steinbeck, the man forever I’m in service to for taking on this path of scribbling notes about a little-known coast of California and beyond its waters, for discovering his works of brutal love and honesty on the most unlikely tales for modern American literature– was the best man I ever knew and never met. He knew what he wanted out of this place– so what about for me?