December Comes for Fillmore Street

December 1- December 3

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December is the one month that makes itself known. All other seasons and months creep into each other, seemingly like the last week before it and then you’ll start seeing flowers bloom early, leaves turning brown and falling one leaf at a time, and maybe the temperature drops or rises a few degrees beneath fog that never goes away. December is an entity on its own, the diva that makes her hurrah and appearance at the 11th hour of the year. I read on Facebook from a pretty-font picture shared that “December you’re last, so be the best” or something to that sentiment. And doesn’t that ring true, and pretty literally, as bells high and low around this town and the world ring with merry and cheer and to signal that Christmas and Hannukah and the lights of the city and coming home for the Holidays amidst the dark days and cold is here. You just know.

Every year I know when it’s December, you just see it. And I saw it for the first time in the way it should matter, frankly. My neighborhood, the very streets within proximity to the very air I breathe in the mornings and before I go to bed at night. The neighborhood you live within is how you make your bones in this city, the place that gets you up in the morning and motivates you to taste everything San Francisco throws at you. The steep hills lined in paint-chipping Victorians leading from Van Ness and through Japantown up to Fillmore Street. I live here, and it’s only right that I feel the most alive when walking around these streets whose unique stories I help create and feel obligated to tell. It’s a good thing San Francisco is a tiny space of 7×7; it’s big enough where I easily neglect to hang around my own neighborhood in search of other exciting ventures beyond its borders like the Mission or Hayes Valley. But tonight, here I remain, and here I see the month makeover the neighborhood at the arrival of the diva I proclaimed December.

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Fillmore Street is the hub of Jazz on the West Coast, or it was where it fermented into the phenomenon that brought life and  bohemia and inclusion beyond the Mississippi. In one of these shacks Allen Ginsburg first exposed the words of his infamous Howl to the literary likes of Beatniks before they knew what the hell they were (and reveled in the namelessness), and it wasn’t called the Harlem of the West without the endless nightclubs lining the street that I now call home, and jazzed up in a different way from that of the 40’s. The music being sung tonight is a typical hum of classics being crooed from beyond the doors of the storefronts lit up in warm white, a glow familiarly cast throughout the year, but spectacular when heightened by the strung lights between the bushy trees that pave the sidewalks. Saturdays the rivaling cafes Peet’s and Starbucks cater to the crowds out and shopping and wandering up and down in and out of these stores, but as we pass Starbucks we see in its quiet facade it is not the victor of this evening. The cup of hot peppermint cocoa cupped in my hands is bubbling and perfect and from Peet’s anyhow, with its pristine corner spot and spacious seating that always spares a few open chairs no matter the crowd size. Too bad theirs doesn’t smother my cocoa in whipped cream on top.

I’m walking besides my boyfriend as we meander up Fillmore towards Pacific Street, a dark peak overlooking the shadow of the bay amidst the buildings frosted in cold and more twinkle lights. We stop at an Antiques store with its door closed to the red walls where shelves house spoons and painted jewelry boxes and fine china that make me nervous sitting close to the edge of the shelves. Outside is a bargain table, all entertaining just the same, especially with a silk top hat, a bit shabby, sitting atop some of the goods and ready for my boyfriend to try on. He smiles at me, and politely declines my offer.

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Turning around at the new Blue Bottle that’s taken over the old vacancies of Tully’s Coffee and the relocated magazine shop Juicy News, we occasionally stop and inspect the new restaurants that cross our path, examine the menus, and mutually agree that we don’t come out to eat here often. It’s mostly me going to his in the Outer Sunset. A corner restaurant is long and dim inside and there’s nothing on the gray walls, but it’s crowded, the new restaurant that I later find is The Snug– it sadly looks anything but.

The Room’s monthly midnight showing is tonight at The Clay theater, 12AM on the dot. It’s a special month though, one that sees The Room more in the spotlight as usual thanks to James Franco’s tell all new film The Disaster Artist. We tried seeing that earlier today, but $15 is still too much for a ticket in the wake of all the Christmas shopping and deposit-saving that looms in the back of our minds. If we had money, we wouldn’t be wandering here, anyhow.

Lastly, disgusted by the $50 mini trees at Mollie Stone’s, we circle back to the narrow shop of the Paper Source, dear to my heart and a monument to my past. Only three years ago I spent a bustling holiday inside, name-tagged and running around helping new faces to the tiny paper craft and stationery store where I ran workshops on gift-wrapping and card-making and quoting invitations for hopeful brides and realized that I was meant for behind the scenes, creating and not catering to. But the store looks nice as it ever did, the new seasonal kits on display to show how easy they are to make, the quirky wreath-shaped tinsel sunglasses or the calendar art pasted against the walls where the punny cards collect dust. A Fillmore Street exclusive delicacy to the store is the Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints– I wonder if they still damage the boxes to mark them out for the employees to snack on behind the counters.

Talk about magic. It’s a beautiful night in the neighborhood this first week of December and it’s not as glamorous of a stroll as Christmastime in the city is sung about. We didn’t hear silver bells, the sidewalks aren’t crowded, and there is a slight chance you can step on dog poop in this dark. All the more charming and unique to the way I start this year’s festivities, and unique, as I sit down on the steps of an apartment building I don’t even live at, to the scene before my eyes where a new home comes to life in a way that only you can see, and know, that a most wonderful time is upon you.

 

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A Twilight of Sorts

October 9 – October 15

It was Sunday around 11 when sleep was ready to take over my stiff body lying down on the couch when I smelled the smoke. I swore I was not crazy; I woke my sister up to make sure she could smell it too. It seemed like it was just above my head, maybe only in my head– but it grew and sweltered in our little apartment, no heat but just the thickness of a smoke nearby, like a wire spark. I opened the fire escape but the alley was dark. I looked out onto the street, nothing. Nothing, but something was up.

And then the ashes fell in the morning. A sheath of crusted gray covered the car and on the tops of tables outside of cafes on Chestnut Street. We wouldn’t be sitting outside in this stinging air except we had Bentley. A week later, whether it was the smoke or just because of his daycare, he would get sick, congested, a bad cough.

All through work I stayed in. I never noticed how cool and sharp the air 41 stories high in this building was. Stepping outside meant your hair would smell like the pack of Camels you didn’t smoke. It meant deeper breaths stifled by the quickly-ascending sick that couldn’t be shrugged off anywhere there was open space. A pink, hellish haze blanketed the skyline, the Golden Gate a clouded patch of whiteness, nothing.

Friday the 13th seemed fitting to fall right in the middle of this nightmare. At least in the city, it didn’t feel like one, but the devastation, the fear– it loomed and made everyone uncomfortable even if cities away from the true hell that was happening north. But it was on the 13th that something spectacular happened. The evenings seemed not darker, but cooler. Smoky, but a mist where pixies waited in the shadows. I was reunited with old friends and they with my new ones, and new friends uniting me with their olds. Walking around those nights as the fires burned bright and deadly far off, but here in this city it was dark and shadows of the night outlined lonely houses and twinkle lights edging the windows of second-floor apartment windows and living rooms. I remember only feeling good on those nights, not sick– not panicked. But I still felt strange. How was it these seemingly magical moments were on the worst of times for this place I called home? To the North, it was all nothing. Nothing was left. Everything was burning.

It is only I realize that, in the wake of these fires dying now, that feeling of hope. Something always magical lingering. All that remains are stories of devastation but just as many stories of love, hope, miracles. Odin and his goats, the wedding rings rising from ashes, the half-charred photographs that still possess those never-forgotten memories of the humans who may have lost everything, except that happiness, those moments. Though I cannot understand the total loss and devastation of what happened beyond the dark, the dark is only fleeting now. In the morning, it will be a different sort of light, the kind that warms without burning, the new day and moving forward and not without lifting up our neighbors in need.

You can find more information on assisting/donating to the Fire Relief for Northern California here

Row Boat for Sunday: Summer Vignettes

It’s a luxury that I’m used to be completely secluded with my loved ones. It was last with faces from college when our boat was Rihannon, and now in a nameless rower we’re still just the two of us, untouched and separated from the beauty of these old trees and turtles below that find us circling and troubling these shining waters where as we try to stay afloat, we’re still falling in deep for each other.

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Magic Moment

October 4 – October 8

And just like that, the magic is upon us.

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October magic. It’s what they used to say about your baseball team when they made it into the playoffs, it’s how you feel when you see your Halloween costume on for the first time. Something wonderful this way comes, and when they say the Most Wonderful Time of the Year on other days– well, I can’t help but think Hallmark is wrong.

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In California, it’s a different kind of magic. The weather up along the coast is warmer for only so long and the Pacific looks bluer, when you make your way out to it. The way we did, it was a backroad, a bypass I never knew existed having only gone up and down the 1 so many times. But there’s dry hills there, a lake we pass over, dark trees scattered at the bases of this new landscape that are usually dusted by the Marine layer. It was a lucky day to be experiencing this magic, discovering a new road and just like that it brought you back to the past. The last time I was in Half Moon Bay was five years ago. I wore a funny outfit with tights worn under shorts and long leather boots with a white fleece scarf– in the spring. We were exploring the town, family and I, and my sister’s ex boyfriend who wasn’t really supposed to end up an ex. Everything was green and the houses around the Main Street seemed beautifully aged, not old. Today things seemed old, a bit run-down, but resigned. Happy. They live the good life out here on the water, far enough from the city yet close enough to be the perfect day getaway for anyone looking for a bit of that magic.

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Scenes of Half Moon Bay, 2012.
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By the sea

And when you come here, to the waterfront, the Brewery where dogs lounge below in the shades of the tables, kicking up the dirt at the many pumpkin patches lining that backroad in between the cracks of the foothills smothered in sunshine, you better not be alone. Have a dog, it’s the best. Have a sister, she’s truly your best friend. And have a partner, a lover, the love of your life so that when you experience days about on small adventures like this, you can actually stare into each other’s eyes and feel blessed that though one day, there will be other days to follow. A small party to take in the day, to sit around in a car while music from high school is blasted driving along the same waves where the Mavericks happen. Too many people make you feel alone, makes the moment forgettable. Too many people might make you forget that you’re wanted.

Half Moon Bay is a little known treasure to those within the Bay Area. And we all know the best time to see it is now, on a sunny day in October when the small town is glowing, explaining its most popular even the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival. It’s a pasture of heaven, worth the drive, a true breath of fresh air for anyone longing to feel those true affects of change during the fall. Change for the best, in this case, as you see the town get comfortable in its own skin beneath the sun.

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There is no reddening foliage from the few trees, no log cabins, no crisp cool air or button-up plaid. This is fall in California. Almost perfect, a bit off, never-changing. It stays the same– and it only matters if, as the visitor, it has changed you.

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Caen’s Truth: Summer Vignettes

June 2017

The fog might thin and the heat may swelter, but then this city becomes a gem that’s fallen out of a dream and into the hands of women in rompers and boys who wander parks wth coconuts filled with rum and falling shades. I sat there by the Phoenix poolside and on the slopes of Dolores waiting any minute to die and truly find that Heaven was nice, but it wasn’t San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts I Have About Having A Dog in my Life

September 25 – October 3rd

How much more do I need to wash my hands? The answer, I learn, doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve probably hand-fed Bentley his good boy treats countless times after popping some candy corn in my mouth or removing a stray lash from my eye.

Puppy smell–and especially the breath– is real. The first night someone asked to smell him was a Friday night at the Skippolini’s in downtown Clayton when we were staying over to visit my parents. The woman took in a big whiff, right up on his soft, dirty fur– the face of my mom was priceless.

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Being in India for a week I was prepared for the jet lag, the odd hours at feeling fatigue or waking up. 4 am is like clockwork now– and it’s not because of that. I was prepared for the jet lag but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to potty train a puppy in a small San Francisco apartment.

That brings me to budget. When the bills are taken into account, there’s usually a rough amount left for whatever the hell fancies me. Let’s take about a 25% chunk out of that. Let’s just call it a day most days and stay in to watch the dog– and save money.

He’s not much of a walker.

We took him walking before he finished his Porvo shots.

We took him walking after the shots. He still hates walking.

One of my fondest memories of these first walks was over to Lafayette Square, on a Friday afternoon. I think I was hungover, coming from the HAIM concert the night before in Oakland and I was in bed the whole day while thankfully he slept. He slept until 11 and finding things for him to chew other than his actual toys was the name of the game. Then my boyfriend came by to keep us company. Our first walk together was the three of us two blocks away to Lafayette Square beneath small billowy trees still green before the fall hit and fresh-cut grass with those scattered little blossoms he tried chewing on. We sat on a bench as other owners walked by and forgot for a second about their dogs as they looked at us. “Aww!” “So cute!” “Welcome to the world, little guy!” They told us we had such an adorable dog. My boyfriend and I looked over at each other. Someday, we’re thinking to ourselves. Someday we’ll have our own Bentley.

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He’s into big dogs. Namely big girl dogs.

He’s small right now to pick him up if he gets unruly. Same with baths in the kitchen sink. So much water. It won’t be this way for long.

I think about this a lot, especially during the puppy training class we attend at Puppy Prep down on 6th Street Sundays at noon. There’s a special part of the session where the dogs are let off their leashes and they must socialize, not long before owners have to dive in to pick up their dogs as they say “GOTCHA!” in their little ears. How the hell are we going to pull that off when Bentley– whose father was 140lbs–is full grown?

The alleyway called Clementina where we park my sister’s car smells heavily of piss.

You look at the other owners of dogs– not just in the puppy class, but all around the city– and you got Doodles and Frenchies and Corgis and perhaps other little toy dogs that stops Marina blondes in their tracks en route to hot yoga. Not my sister. She gets stares, stares for being a blonde-streaked bombshell in heels and always wearing pink paired with this whopper of a dog, considerably one of the smartest and yet most difficult and intimidating breeds out there. A Rottweiler. Did we make the right choice? Will he get too aggressive? He is now, biting us in class or growling as we try to get him off the ground to keep up his walk down the street. Maybe I should have gotten a smaller dog, my sister says to me, like other girls. She isn’t like other girls though. She loves the big dogs, especially the one she read about as a little girl who, despite his big and scary appearance, made for the perfect family pet and babysitter. We’re talking about Good Boy Carl– the dog that was only meant to be for my sister.

Having a dog means having a new car. My sister’s jeep is mid-sized and perfect for day excursions and getting around this small city with a dog. It’s forced us to get good at scoping for overnight parking and becoming familiar with street cleaning days. And my sister has improved on her ability to parallel park.

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I may be tired, but I’m starting to live for those early 6 AM wake-ups when we all pile into the car and get coffee over the hill and into the foggy streets of Chestnut or Union. Then it’s off to take our boy to Fog City Dogs– from 7 to 5PM. We’re always sad to leave him there for the day but he’s always so excited to be there, especially when he can smell his friends beyond the gate. We can even watch him on the company site’s webcams where he’s tiring himself out with Piper, a Golden Retriever puppy, and Little Mike Tyson– a tiny pitbull pup.

The attention is so crazy. The best way to make it big in the Bay Area is to work in tech or to own a dog.

This won’t be the same for long. When Bentley is bigger, people will be too scared to come by and say hey.

When he does sleep, it’s against walls or in the corners of a room or underneath tables. In his crate he once fell asleep with his head cocked back like some Exorcist fuckery. Weirdo.

Another day comes when I have to dogsit him and my nerves start failing me. He eats anything off the ground. It’s not his fault, it’s the city’s for being so dirty, I realize. But all the same I worry about the people who pass by and stare and admire him but also worry about how badly they must be judging me right now. The last thing I want to get consumed in is the fact that I don’t look like a good dog owner– and sometimes, when you have to be firm with him or tug a little bit harder at his leash, it might seem this way. I wonder now if all dog owners had to deal with this, still deal with this. A small panic attack starts, and you decide to pick him up to avoid further yelling at him but not without a fight. He snarls at you and lashes near your face, biting up your hair instead. I take another look around. No one, right now.

I know this is not the life my sister envisioned. She would have it still with the man of her dreams. If that were the case, there would be no Bentley. Bentley is here now, a reminder of moving forward with new adventures and responsibilities and a promise to herself that this is better than the nightmare before. It’s difficult now, with the training and the teething and wasting endless paper towels and money on pig ears but with the whole world so happy she’s found something that makes her smile so much, the struggle now is only temporary, and we’re all here to see this exciting new adventure through with her.

We had McDonald’s tonight for dinner. He looks up at up and tiptoes over by my sister perfectly sitting down  while looking up at us, never breaking eye-contact with our McNuggets. We’v discovered he’s finally learn the ways of the dog– food is everything, it is magic to help us through these first few months.

The diarrhea is out of control.

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North Beach Gallerina: Summer Vignettes

July 3- July 9 2017

She’s flowing between the hot lights that cast eerie glows on the black canvases pierced to the walls where faces melt, familiar faces with second eyes and splattered screaming mouths. She’s thrilled to know them and walk and waltz there among the artist and his now laughing muses with their second wines. It all ends when a promising night stabs her in the back and on aching feet only her one spectator in the crowd steps in to lift her from the stage and home in the dark of the Sunset.

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See the works of Emilio Villalba here.

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Tea, and by the Sea

June 19 – June 25

Old friends and new fancies, what more could you ask for a weekend staying in the City?

The breeze isn’t too bad when the sun is out, and the J-car that cuts through the steep side of Dolores Park and on tracks behind mossy Victorian houses is perhaps the prettiest rail line of Muni. I made these plans on a whim earlier in the week more so because of an irrational longing for tea. It’s been a frustrating complex, coming back from London obsessed with the lighter, aromatic luxury that tea feels like, versus the creamy, stiff but heartwarming sweetness of coffee– American style. I am a woman in peril, unsure of which beverage to which I pledge my allegiance. No matter the reason for tea, reason is treason– perhaps this was the British’s secret weapon all along to win back Americans: not Bond, not Harry Potter, not actors from Game of Thrones– but the simple opulence of tea time, and the various flavors that entice you to your liking.

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Lovejoy’s Tea Room, Noe Valley.

Tea is best enjoyed alone, I think. When you finally have a book or book of stories to read and a delicate mug or teacup to really take in the taste, to repose against a lumpy couch or at the kitchen table, it doesn’t matter. But there are exceptions, when there is no book to be had but a favorite familiar face, a face of a friend from the old stationery store you two worked together at and saw the worst of people losing their shit over paper goods. She gets there at the tea room, Lovejoy’s, in Noe Valley just off of the J line, and she’s with her roommate you’re meeting for the first time and that she’s been living with in Martinez for a year. Martinez! When we last met up she was living in Potrero Hill, and I feel instantly bad about making them both drive all the way from the far East Bay to here. But queue the piping hot pots of black vanilla-lavender tea and trays serving fresh fruit and perfectly-sliced sandwiches and all is forgiven. We talk about Europe, how I adored London and missed Belgium and was taken aback by the dirtiness, sadness of Paris. Everything feels sincere too, my friend is a dear. She’s the sweetest person I’ve ever worked with and she’s always in good company. This time, her roommate and I discover we’re both INFPs and I’m doing my best to help her prep for her first visit to Paris, even if my view of the City of Light was rather dim.

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The magical array of teacups for sale at Lovejoy’s Attic, across the street from the tea room.

Summer tea is a real thing. The warmth, the calming feeling and always best enjoyed in the evening when the days are longer. Best enjoyed with friends. Best enjoyed no matter where you are during the summer months. Ralph Waldo Emerson figured it out–

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

The following day when the sea called and the sun was out, the only thing left to do was drink in the air. Best served up salty, cool, and spraying against your feet in the dark sand. Summer tea has no real formula, but just for this weekend, that’s the kind of taste that leaves you wanting more– and to share it with favorite faces, always.

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A Week in Europe: London

5.8 -5.12

I am here. That’s all I can really say— feel about this place; it only took me 10 years to get here. It took Moses 100 to get his people back to Israel— this was nothing.

Upon leaving Saint Pancras Station you’re greeted by the big red double-deckers hurling by on opposite directions of traffic from what I’m used to. The little black cabs weave through the congestion like professional that they are, straight from the scenes of films I’d only ever saw in The Parent Trap or Notting Hill. I watched Notting Hill on the plane, fell asleep to it with a plastic cup of cheap Spanish red wine in my hand. Here I was, two airports and a tedious second train in through the English channel later, the land of my favorite bands and literary heroes and quaint tea-time in the twilight of a cold, dim-lit dusk.

I always dreamt of London and London came true. I wake up to it in the twilight.

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It’s like the financial district, this little part of what’s called Marylebone. Men and women bundled in wool coats and dark trousers pressed against each other at this crossing where my mommy and I sit in Costa coffee. I’m having tea— she asked for a coffee but had to get an Americano, without milk. American style with the simple drip and helping of sugar at your discretion does not exist.

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Costa is a big coffee chain as with Pret a Manger, Boots pharmacy, and Ladbrokes— a betting establishment for soccer games. Pubs aren’t hard to find. It’s England.

The Underground saves us. Navigating the tube was thrilling, especially as the announcement is made that based on the next stop, you’re going in the right direction. Connecting can be tricky— but all is straightforward. For how overwhelming the map looks— the intersecting lines of Jubilee and Circle or the Victoria crossing Bakerloo— I felt my most confident in London taking the Tube.

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Not so much on walking on the wrong side of traffic, however. Or ordering food, asking about whether my card will work of if my coins make up 7.50 exactly. There’s a colder, indifferent disposition to Londoners. You honestly feel stupid sometimes, just asking these little questions— questions in English. Sure, they smile, but out of politeness you might suspect these manners are just to display their pity.

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It makes me a little sad. Not the feeling stupid, but just how once, only a few years ago, I would have felt better being so because dating an Englishman boosts your confidence in their crudeness. Instead of feeling like a stranger as I do now, I would have felt some comfort with all the friends and faces from this country I once knew, now estranged, only feeds on Facebook. From the photos I have posted online, some have reached out— telling me to come visit up north in Chester where “proper” English history (Welsh, Roman) resides, or down to Exeter to experience The Garden of England. All lovely gestures, all outside of London. But here in London, we are alone.

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On the last night of my stay in London we are at the Allsop Arms down the street on Gloucester for some wine, and steak in  peppercorn or hollandaise sauces and chips. Our order is done up front at the bar— so strange that I need to sign everything and they have to look at your ID to match up the signatures— and then we waited for our meal. A lovely window seat dinner becomes spoiled when the meat has a bad cut with two much tendon or heavy fat that I trim off, and on the arrival of a young couple in college taking their seats next to us. The girl is American, her boyfriend is English. They’re hosting their friends visiting from outside of London at their flat on the other side of the Thames and who would even show up. I wonder where the girl is from. She’s a bit heavy with brown hair and a floral dress underneath an unbuttoned chambray and crossbody purse. She’s not from the South or midwest, maybe East Coast. They’re talking and it makes me sad because that girl– all my life I thought I would be here, the American abroad and happily settled into this life. My life is different now. A lot changes in 10 years. And when I was dating Matt, I saw that a lot can change in just 3.

I message him occasionally throughout this trip. I tell him on the last night about how London made me feel. He says firmly, “I hate London.”

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