(this is annie)

Choose your own adventure

I went to the café tonight. Across the room, a man sat alone with a pot of tea and a glass of water. He had no book, no phone, no newspaper, and a direct view of the door. He sat quietly and patiently and looked toward the entrance with a steady look in his eyes. It was ten to 9; he must be waiting for someone, I thought.

Nine came and went. He remained alone, quiet, looking — not watching, looking. Every so often I'd glance up and he was still doing the same thing, as though waiting for something without knowing what it was. He didn't look miserable, but his face was slightly melancholy.

So now is the part where you get to guess what happened next!

Was it...

I don't know what came over me, but I walked over to his table. "Hello," I said. "Are you waiting for someone?" (SO NOSY.)

The man looked surprised. "No," he replied.

"Are you all right?" I said.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm okay."

So I smiled and wished him a good evening. Then I trudged back to my table and felt like a royal jerk. He continued to sit and stare alone, and I returned to stringing words together.

Or is this what happened?
The minutes ticked by. He removed his sweater, got up for some water, and put the sweater back on. Finally, at 9:13, his eyes focused and brightened. I followed his gaze toward the entrance, where a shortish woman in a corduroy skirt and wool jacket was dragging a suitcase behind her. Their eyes met; the world disappeared around them. When she reached his table, she cupped his face in her hand and kissed his forehead.

I report, you decide.


Life lessons

While walking north on Valencia just now, I saw a well-dressed woman talking to a tree. This in itself is not noteworthy, because people talk to inanimate objects more often than you might expect.

As I got closer, I saw that she was talking to a boy, maybe five years old, who had climbed the tree and wedged himself into a crook of the tree. He was wearing brown corduroys, a striped t-shirt, a devilish smile, and a light blue bicycle helmet. (No bicycle nearby.) He had a bad case of the giggles.

"Now _______," his mother said as I approached. "What do we always say is the most important thing to remember?"

The boy paused to think for a moment. Then, in all earnestness: "DON'T POOP IN YOUR PANTS."

I burst out laughing, the mother sighed, the boy looked vaguely confused, and we all carried on with our afternoons.

Labels: ,

From beneath you it devours

Tonight, down in the bowels of Powell Street station, a very skinny woman with wild hair and wilder eyes was talking with a man. Talking at him, more accurately, because he had that polite but uncomfortable "mm-hmm" face. The thought bubble above his head read "Please, god, get me out of here."

She wanted money and, as you might guess, he did not want to give any to her. "Give me a dollar and I'll go away," she bellowed. She had a voice like a dying bullhorn. He tried to reason with her. "Gimme a dollar!" she continued. His train arrived and he darted away.

The woman slowly spun around on her bird-legs, her glazed eyes scanning the crowd of people. The trains were running late (thanks, MUNI) so the platform was more crowded than usual. As she made her way toward the bench where I was sitting, I stood up real casual-like and quietly walked about 10 feet away. It felt like backing off from a puma while wearing a coat made of filet mignon.

The woman accosted two more people before coming my way. She almost didn't; she walked past me, then turned back to begin her pitch. She stood maybe 18 inches away from me, a little closer than I like most people to be. Up close, her face was even sadder. It was gaunt, deeply wrinkled, and pained. There was an inch-wide gap where four of her bottom teeth should have been. Even covered with a layer of glassiness, the bright blue of her eyes hinted at past beauty.

Here we go, I thought.

"Hey, miss! You can help me," she said. "I need money."

"I'm sorry, but I can't help you," I replied.

"You know what your problem is? You can help me but you don't want to give me your money," she yelled. (She had a point.)

She started sticking her index finger in my face. "I'll tell you what's wrong with you," she ranted. "You won't help me and you're dirty inside, sick soul, sick sick soul! You don't listen to me but I can see where you're going, I see the darkness in you. You can help me and you won't, you black heart."

A smarter person would have just let that ride, but having witnessed her badger that man, I realized that being polite would get me nowhere. So I decided to pull the alpha female card and hope that there wasn't a shiv hiding in her sweatshirt.

"I'm sorry that I can't help you, and I'm sorry that you've got me all wrong," I said in a loudish and firm voice. "Please leave me alone now."

She glared at me. "I see where you're going and it's a bad place," she hissed. "You have no idea what you're in for." Then she wandered off to approach the next person.

A pretty woman a few feet away gave me a sympathetic look. "Cheese on Aeron," she said, shaking her head.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Cheese on Aeron."

I still couldn't understand, and I began to wonder if I was actually having a nutty dream about gouda and Herman Miller. So I asked her to repeat herself again.

"She's. On. Air-o-in." The woman tapped her arm.

Ohhhhh. Right. "Sad," I said.

"I know," said the pretty woman.

I didn't regret not giving the scrawny woman money, because, well, it was clear she needed a fix. I did feel sorry for her, though. My train came soon after she disappeared into another part of the station. On the way home I wondered how she wound up being who she is. She was a little girl once, I thought, and this cannot be how she imagined her life. How does a person go from one point to another to this?

Then I thought about the heroin-kicking taxi driver, as I often do when a cab blows by. Is he staying clean? Is he struggling? Does he imagine that a stranger is quietly wishing that he'll make it? The answers will never reveal themselves, but tonight I hoped that he sees where he's going, and it's a good place.

Labels: ,

Hardened regards

My roommate and her friends (JC, too, but not here) have been watching The Bachelor this season. I never got into the show and had no idea that it was still on the air, but apparently needy singles are still doing rose ceremonies. Tonight, Meg had some girlfriends over and despite my initial plan to do bad emo covers in my bedroom, I was lured into their show-mocking festivities.

Things I learned from watching The Bachelor:

  1. To be on this show, it helps to have very bad hair.
  2. People on this show frequently thank each other for "sharing this journey together." Who talks like that?
  3. The women proclaim their love for some putz of a pilot, despite the obvious lack of chemistry.
  4. The women, at least these two finalists, do not seem to have a surplus of self-esteem.
Sadly, there was not much more to learn. Fueled by half of a pear cider, I joined the ladies in talking back to the television. The putzy pilot lays out this faux-consolatory speech to the girl he doesn't pick, going on about how she's so great blah blah blah and she's going to make someone (else) so happy someday. Which is probably true because she seems nice enough, and you get the sense that the pilot picked the other girl only because she puts out. But still.

The 25-year-old loser's feelings are understandably hurt, and she says something about how she's heard this sort of thing before. "You shink you're tired of 'earing that NOW?" I slurred, pointing my half-full cider at the television for emphasis. "Jushoo wait until you're MY AYSHE."

After the program concluded, there was a special reunion of the bachelor, his betrothed, and the loser girl. I made it through five minutes before leaving the room. The poor fragile girl had to talk with her woulda-been lover Captain Bland, and despite her attempt at putting on a brave face, we could all see where this was going. "Don't do it," I impotently bellowed. "Don't ask him why he doesn't love you." All of us agreed that doing so is just the worst because no answer will ever be satisfying.

I looked at her face and saw that she wasn't going to heed our advice, and I couldn't bear to see this poor girl extend her heartbreak on television. If she were a friend, I'd remind her that rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel. What that show needs is more Moz, obviously. It would be a ratings goldmine.


What holds us apart

After work yesterday, I scurried to BART it to the north end of the Mission. I was walking quickly on 16th Street, keenly aware of the six minutes that remained before I'd be late — and I hate being late — when I heard a man call out to a woman. "Excuse me! Miss?" he said. I kept walking. He kept calling. Then I turned and realized he was talking to me.

I am ashamed to admit that when a strange man approaches me in the city, my first instinct is to wonder if he wants money or to sexually harass me. Because of this response, I am always a little guarded. I looked at the man slowly.

He was a small, slight man with one of those faces that could be 40 or could be 55. It's not that his skin was completely rough and leathery, but it had spent some time in the tannery. Like kidskin. He had bright eyes, dark short hair, and wrinkles that suggested a painful past made livable by trying to smile through it. He was pretty well put together in the way I always imagine Ethan Allen Hawley to be: wearing inexpensive shoes, but wearing them with a shine.

"Hi!" he said. Very nervous.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi," he repeated. "You're a fast walker." This is true. Even with a still-not-quite-right foot that ached, I was marching toward Valencia quickly. I smiled politely and said that it was just a habit.

"Hard to keep up with ya," he said. He was nervous, not slick. "But I saw you and I thought, 'I gotta say hello to her,' and you heard me!"

"Well, hello," I said. "Are you from San Francisco?"

"I was born here, but then I lived down in San Jose, and now I'm back. You're real pretty."

I smiled, this time genuinely. Truthfully, I had been tired all week, and my face showed the kind of exhaustion that makeup cannot conceal. If you are a stranger, especially when I look like the female version of Dorian Gray's decades-old portrait, flattery will get you everywhere!

"You have a pretty smile," he said, all dazzle-eyed. "Amazing smile. Beautiful."

I laughed. "Thanks," I said. "I've had braces three times."

He chuckled and then we were at Valencia. "Well, this is my stop," I said. "Going to meet someone for a drink."

"Oh," the man said. "Maybe I'll see you again?"

"It's a small city," I said.

"Goodnight," he said. And then, his sweet, heartbreaking coda: "Thank you for for being nice to me."

As I watched him cross the street, I wondered how often he talked with women, and how often they were or weren't nice to him. Later that night, I thought about how frequently people (myself included) are too scared to speak. We worry about what someone might think of us, or we talk ourselves out of going after what we want because we don't believe we deserve it. And then we wonder why we're dissatisfied with the situations we've created for ourselves.

Vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness, but paradoxically, the more you embrace it, the more courageous you become. I'm glad that man approached me because he inspired me, as corny as that is to say. In a quiet, subtle way, he was the strongest man I'd encountered all week.

I hope someone out there enjoys the Chain of Strength allusion because that band continues to crack me up.

Labels: ,

En train de...

It was the commute from hell: nearly an hour to travel three piddly miles from work to home. I knew I was in for it when I saw the train platform stuffed with people, most of whom had a half-hopeless, half-annoyed screen over their eyes. When the trains finally began coming into the station, they were already crowded. But we boarded, and some people even got seats. We tried to make the best of it.

The train crawled about 25 feet, then stopped. We waited. As the train stood still, the air became warm and stuffy. I was wedged into a corner, with only a few inches of space between me and the people around me. The stale air, lack of movement, and sensation of being trapped were highly unpleasant. Nobody looked happy.

Ten years ago, I might have turned to a fellow commuter and shared some sort of sympathetic small talk about the delay. I wanted to do that tonight, but the man next to me was listening to his iPod. The woman in front of me was listening to her iPhone. The long-haired goatee man was playing games on iPhone, the teenage girl was texting on her Sidekick, and over on the other end of the train, a woman had turned up her iPod loud enough that I heard jolene! joLEEN, joLEEN, jo! LEE-EE-EEEEN! through the earphones.

The train eventually shuddered forward, then stopped again, then started up, and so forth. Aside from the two coworkers talking about a new relationship ("She's great, but I'm waiting to see how she fights") the train was essentially void of conversation. It was typical of urban life, it was nothing unusual, and it was sad.

I recently got an iPhone through the boss man. Earlier today, I mentioned this, and someone made a comment that stuck: "You get one and it's like you create a little relationship with it." That is the problem, isn't it? We look at phones, not into people.

And yeah, I enjoy all of the things the iPhone can do (Angry Birds and Hipstamatic are so much fun) but I can't help but feel that we're losing a lot. Tonight I kept my phone in my bag during the hour-long commute and wondered what might have been.

Labels: ,

Annie meets another Jet

While I was waiting for my Pterodactyl Airlines flight to Caye Caulker, a tiny little old man came up to me. Or more accurately, he came up to my boobs. "Ellomeese," he said. Close talker, shrill Lynchian purr of a voice. "Wattis your nay-ayme?"

I told him.

"Ah, Annie! Mrzrll jetbarumrrrbunch!"

Oh Jesus. "Pardon me?" I said.

"Mrzrll jetbar rumbunch! Me! Bessin Belize," said The Man From Another Place.

It took a good minute to understand that this wee man was trying to get me to visit his airport bar. As a solo lady traveler, I felt it would be unwise to have rum punch before getting to my tropical destination. I am a lightweight and I imagined myself falling out of the puddle jumper. "I'll have some when I'm leaving to go to the States," I told my new friend.

He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in. "Meesannie," he stage-whispered. "If you donut try, you donut have bessin Belize!"

Abruptly, he walked away, only to return a minute later with a Xeroxed magazine article. He'd autographed it for me: ANNIE LOVE JET. I sat down and read the story, which described our friend Jet and his bar. Apparently, Jet is notorious for accosting ladies in the airport and persuading them to try his rum punch. Or hot dogs; he has those, too.

"See? Famous! If you donut try..."

At this point, he leaned in to kiss my cheek. Oh hell no! I love a harmlessly lecherous old man as much as the next young lady, but I draw the line at first base. "My father was older than you," I blurted. I don't know why. It stopped the smooch.

"How old?" he asked.

"He would have been 79," I said.

"Ha!" Jet said. "I'm seventy-two."

All right then. Normally, random smoochy men raise my Take Back the Night hackles, but I couldn't help but smile at this character. So before I hop aboard my flight back to the States, I will head to the airport bar, order some rum punch, and remind Jet that my eyes are about a foot higher than where he's currently looking.

Labels: , ,

One of my goals is to be a kinder and more thoughtful person. Most people think I'm nice enough, but in my mind I'm not always so friendly. I genuinely want to like strangers, but they frequently make it difficult by (non)virtue of being rude and selfish. A reluctant misanthrope. So if I can't automatically like people by default, maybe doing nice things will help.

Last night I got on a mostly packed train. Two stops into the ride, a woman hobbled on while carrying grocery bags, calendars, a broom, and some other stuff. Basically, she was overloaded in an overcrowded train. Because she was carrying so many things, she couldn't hold on, which left her teetering like W.C. Fields. I tapped her on the arm and offered her my seat. She politely refused, but I insisted.

I stood up from the seat and did the "no, really, you sit" thing to Broom Hilda — but as soon as my ass had left the seat, some girl greedily darted in there as fast as though she'd been playing musical chairs. Broom Hilda's face fell and she tried to regain balance. Calendars fell. It was awkward. Now, see, this is where I'm only partly nice. If I were really kind, I would not have thrown my mother's disapproving stare at the oblivious seat-ganking girl. Did she really think that I was just ditching my seat so I could stand next to it in a sardine tin of a train? Ugh!

At the next stop, someone else alighted, and the other passengers politely pretended to not want the empty seat. "You could sit right there if you like," I said to Broom Hilda, who hadn't noticed the seat. She smiled, and as she shuffled over, the younger woman's face had a look of ashamed realization. She stood up and insisted that Broom Hilda take her seat. The older woman did, and for the rest of the train ride, she and the guy next to her chatted happily.

So you see what I mean? My initial instinct is to be considerate, but I have this weird impulse to judge. And then I wind up feeling like a bigger jerk than I would have if I'd just stayed in the seat.

Labels: ,

Get off my lawn

The good thing about getting older is that — if all goes well — you are wiser, more experienced, calmer, and more mature. The bad thing is that you realize what a nincompoop you were when you were younger, and the even worse thing is that you know you'll say the same thing about your current self 10 years from now. Which, in a way, is the same as the good thing. Oh my gosh, it's the CIRCLE OF LIFE.

Recently, I was working on a project with a few people in their early to mid-20s. They said things like "it's the bomb dot com" and "chillax." And in the annoying way that very young people complain seriously about "getting old," they began grousing about their alleged hoariness. "Wow, we're ancient," the tattooed 22-year-old said.

"Then I'm paleolithic," I said.

Blank stare.

"Ancient," I said.

He asked my age. I don't like to give it out very often, and this has nothing to do with fear of aging. It's because I take after my grandfather and like to create a little mystery. (That, and I sometimes forget if I'm 30 or 31.)

But I was feeling charitable, so I revealed the number to our young friend Mr. Inky Knuckles. He looked surprised. "No way, man," he yelped. "I thought you were way younger."

A pause. "Man," he said, "if I'd known there'd be cougars here, I woulda brought some catnip."

Shortly after this exchange, I moved to another area where I could be alone with my large-print Reader's Digest. Later, S. told me that she'd spotted Inky Knuckles rubbing circles around his nipple. When she asked what he was doing, he cleared things up. "Turnin' on the heater," he explained. I sighed, did a shot of Metamucil, and vowed to procure a lawn just so I can tell the damn kids to stay off of it.


Scene snippet



Two elevators open their doors at the same time. ANNIE looks left, then heads right into an empty car. She balances her juice on top of her oatmeal and presses a button. Just as the doors are about to close, MIDDLE-AGED RICHARD WIDMARK LOOKALIKE steps in.

Good morning.

Good morning.

What's that you got there?

This? Oh, juice.

What kind of juice is that?


Well, that is crazy! Carrot-orange juice! Now why would you want to drink that?

It's... tasty?

Me, I don't eat anything that's orange. Filled with chemicals, that stuff.

It's orange because of the carrots.

Well, I don't trust it.

Oh. Well, uh, here's my floor!

You have a nice day!

Thanks. You too.

Annie exits and the door closes. Annie wonders what this man — or anyone, really — could possibly have against carrots.


My Muni hero

After this past weekend's transit cutbacks, I should have known better than to count on a normal commute. In fact, I had an odd impulse telling me to take the more roundabout way to work. Instead, I took my usual route and paid for it in a couple of ways.

I waited for the train for about half an hour, which made my foot ache, which put me in a mildly crabby mood. (Also, when Muni makes me late, especially after I've made an effort to leave early, I worry that my boss is going to deem it a dog-ate-my-homework excuse.) Anyway, the train finally came. Boarding the train is embarrassing because I kinda have to pull myself aboard; the steps are too high for me to crawl aboard normally. Most of the time, people either politely pretend not to notice my graspy struggle, or they immediately offer assistance. Either is fine by me.

Because this morning's train was late, it was packed, and there were no seats. Nobody offered his or hers to me, so I thought, "Well, A, you're going to have to stand." A middle-aged man dressed in pricey wools and silks (Brooks Brothers?) and sporting a boring but expensive haircut sat in the seat directly in front of me. He looked like a wealthy businessman, and because of my irrational distrust of tweed, I imagined him to be the kind of person who donates to anti-choice political candidates. I was hoping to make eye contact and whip out some Guilt Face, but he was engrossed in The Economist. Oh well.

Next to me, standing: Youngish guy reading Martin Amis. About a minute into the ride, he crouched down to be closer to Mr. Economist.

"Excuse me, sir," he said politely.

Mr. Economist looked up at him slowly, without expression.

"I was wondering if you might give your seat to this woman," Martin Amis continued.

Slight eye movement toward me. Back to Amis with a blank stare.

"...because, see, she's in a cast..."

Cold glare at Amis, lips pressed together.

"...and perhaps it might be easier for her to sit?"

Mr. Economist simply gave an icy stare to Martin Amis and didn't say a word. The entire car was watching this tension unfold until a woman stood up. "Hon," she called to me. "You sit down." She insisted. So I sat and thanked her profusely, and I thanked Martin Amis for being so kind.

At that point, Mr. Economist's steely glare was reflected on him tenfold. "Aren't there any more gentlemen in the world?" one woman asked pointedly.

"Well, there's at least one on this train," I said. (MY HERO! Seriously, that dude could have picked up so many phone numbers on that train.)

During the rest of the ride, Mr. Economist stared at his magazine while the rest of us had a whole commuter-solidarity thing going on. The woman who'd given up her seat later regained it, and we had a pleasant conversation. Everyone smiled at Martin Amis, and you could tell he felt rewarded by his show of gallantry. Shortly before my stop, a different woman sat down and spilled her coffee. I held the half-empty cup and her purse while she cleaned herself off, and then we talked about broken bones. (She'd broken her collarbone last year.)

It was train camaraderie, us against the jackass. Ultimately, I felt sorry for that bitter little man. Because while he sat in his seat, he had to hear other passengers create connections. In the end, it all turned out well, even if I wound up late for work.

Labels: , ,

Fairy tale in the supermarket

In Chicago, the Rainbo is for carousing and Rainbow is for buying inexpensive and highly flammable polyester-blend clothing. Here, Rainbow is for grocery shopping. It's one of my favorite places to buy food in the city because — as silly as this sounds — there's no meat department, and the cheese selection is choice. Plus, unlike the cashiers at Safeway, the Rainbow workers do not call me Aldona Uburtis — which must be the fake name I gave when signing up for the corporate discount-club membership years ago.

Today I made the mistake of heading to the Rainbow Grocery on a mostly empty stomach. Fueled by that vacancy, any food that seemed even mildly appealing went into the cart. Gianduja bar! Apple cider! Sparkling apple cider! Hard apple cider! Cheese! Honeycrisps! Fake buffalo wings! All of it and so much more went into the cart with very little concern for cost. Unfortunately, my cavalier attitude and lack of food selectivity means that I hauled home $180 worth of snacks — by far the most I've ever spent on groceries in one trip. Our pantry is now overflowing with impulse buys of little nutritional value. If armed robbers burst through the door and demanded a sandwich, I could only feebly shake a box of ginger-caramel sesame popcorn at them. (And a variety of apple ciders from which to choose.)

After dropping off the car, I had a peculiar walk home. I crutched past a mostly toothless homeless guy whose leathery, suntanned skin was more or less the same color as his shirt. He took a break from digging in a trash bin to say, "Oh, what happened to you, baby?" He didn't say it in a sleazy way at all; the "baby" was tender, not leering. "I broke my foot," I said. He gave me a sympathetic smile and said, "You've got to be more careful." I smiled, thanked him, went on my way.

In the next block, a gaggle of lesbians were congregating at the beginning my street. "Ladies, ladies," I drawled. "I'm flattered, but you can't all walk me home." (I didn't really say that.) Honestly, it was intimidating to approach them. I got a lot of standoffish gay gazes, just like I did when walking around Portland with Megan in July. Back then, I had thought that the girls mistakenly assumed I was Megan's special ladyfriend, and perhaps they were giving me jealous dagger-eyes because of that. (Can you blame them? Megan's a catch.) But as I excuse me-d through the gaggle of glaring gay girls today, I wondered if maybe I give off some sort of weird vibe that rubs people the wrong way. Something to think about. On that note, the post title is not meant to be some slur-ish thing. I was just listening to the Raincoats earlier.

Labels: , ,

Five good things about today

(in chronological order)

1. On the train to work, there were about 20 kindergartners loudly chatting about their field trip. I was not thrilled by the noise until one little girl began singing "Jingle Bells" with completely (and unintentionally) wrong lyrics. "On the farm it is to ride in a one horse hope and sleigh..." Wrote that one down in the Moleskine.

2. I found out that a friend had also been dumped less than two weeks after her father's death, so we had a big empathy fest.

3. Sparkle Vamp is awkward. (Don't judge me.)

4. When I got off the train tonight, an inbound train was stopped to let someone alight, so I had to wait to cross the tracks. A toddler was looking at me through the window of the train, so I gave him an exaggerated look of delighted surprise. He grinned back so hard that his eyes practically disappeared. As the train took off, we waved to each other. I smiled my way home.

5. Graham made a video in which he visits JC's studio. They are ridiculous and funny.

Labels: ,

Easy, driver

This morning I woke to the sound of a mosquito buzzing in my ear. It was 5:30 am, and I hadn't fallen asleep until nearly two. I started the day off with the Times, rolled my eyes at David Brooks as usual, watched the sun rise, and hobbled down to the car-sharing pod to go to the doctor. ('Cause that is my new thing, you know. Hanging out at hospitals. Can't get enough!)

Whether my poor focus was due to lack of sleep, numb fingers, or general mental fog, I cannot say. All I know is that I felt like I was dreaming, which is a terrible state to be in if you're behind the wheel of a car. I don't know what was wrong with me, but I could barely focus. This is embarrassing to admit, but I went to turn left into a one-way street and had to do an oh-shit maneuver to get out of it. Later, fter doing the blood draw (didn't faint!) I carefully looked to see if I could turn left out of the hospital. The coast seemed clear, but then a Subaru almost collided into my car. In both instances, it was as though I looked and didn't see something that was there.

As the Subaru and I pulled up to the next red light, I lowered my window to apologize. The man, a NPR-listening type, screamed at me about how I was a stupid woman driver who didn't belong on the road, on and on and on. All I could say was, "I'm sorry. It was my mistake and I'm really very sorry." I repeated this calmly and sincerely. Then, without really knowing why, I blurted, "I'm doing the best that I can." He kept exploding, so up went my window.

When the light turned green, I took a deep breath and pushed the car up to the crest of the next hill. It provided a sweeping view, and since nobody was behind me, I stayed at the stop sign a few seconds longer. The city was still yawning its way awake. It was beautiful.

A dozen years ago, I'd had problems discerning dreamed events from real ones. Dreams and reality bled into each other. I sometimes couldn't remember which conversations I'd had, and which I'd dreamed. It all happened shortly after a traumatic emotional overload, which sounds overly dramatic, but it isn't. Just trust me, okay? I've not had this problem since, but my mind is fuzzy and unfocused in a similar way. Maybe the conscious brain has some stack-overflow defense mechanism that forces it to escape into vivid dreams, or if the brain circuitry becomes so taxed that it can't handle everything at once and goes on the fritz. I'm not sure, but it is an interesting phenomenon to observe. One thing is certain: I plan to consider its meaning from taxi cabs and public transit from here on out.

Labels: , , ,

Noche de los muertos

It's barely dark and already it's a weird night. While waiting to flag a taxi — which is one of my least favorite yet most frequent SF activities — I stood near three people. A man, maybe my age or maybe younger, silently balanced on one leg and wildly slashed the air in some sort of bizarre tai chi/thrash mashup. Four feet away, a woman (wife? girlfriend? One of the two.) sat in a baby stroller with her legs splayed. A toddler squirmed on her lap and clapped at the spectacle. Nobody said a word, but they were visibly delighted.

The full moon does odd things to people. My cab driver has almost had a violent collision three times so far. Like I said, it's shaping up to be a weird night. (Just missed a fourth car. If I don't make it, play "atmosphere" at my wake.)

Labels: ,

The old man and the bay

Until September, I always had eight-plus hours of sleep every night. It was a gift; I genuinely enjoyed sleeping, especially because I remember the odd details of at least one dream when I wake up. Lately, though, I stare at nothing for what feels like hours, and after finally nodding off, I wake around sunrise. I used to sleep like a baby, and now I sleep like I have a newborn.

This is why I managed only half of a smile when a way-too-chipper man boarded the bus this morning. Boy, was he a talker. How'd you break your foot, my wife did that too, hey nice watch, on and on and on. I felt bad because he was friendly in that car-salesman way, but I was tired, and I couldn't inject my voice with enough of the polite interest that decorum silently requests.

He hopped off at Market, and an old man boarded with fishing poles and a bucket in his hands. He looked nothing like my father, but my throat tightened immediately. Even when he was alive, fishermen made me think of our countless evenings spent chasing bluegills at the lake. So there I was, smelling the faint but unmistakable odor of worms in the bucket, thinking, "For god's sake, don't cry over bait." I couldn't reasonably get up and move, because the old man had a sad and tentative look on his face, and I didn't feel like explaining my emotional drama to keep him from thinking that he was offensive somehow. He looked vulnerable and a little worn down, so I stayed and held my breath until my eyes were less wet.

A morning drunk stumbled on a few stops later, and he began roaring at the old man. Something about the fishing poles infuriated him. I was glad, then, that I hadn't moved, and I gave the old man a sympathetic smile. Furious George stayed on for only two stops, then practically fell to the sidewalk. I watched the city go by until we reached the last stop. The old man gave me a slight nod and smile, then slowly climbed off the bus. I did the same, then watched as he sank down the hill toward the bay.

Labels: , ,

A day bookended by song

This morning, I looked left and turned right. Going uphill seemed potentially daunting, especially after a weekend of luxuriously slinking into taxis, so I decided to take a different way to work. At the train station, I turned a corner and nearly collided into a man in crutches. We gave each other the sympathetic once-over and started laughing at our sad predicaments. He'd ripped a ligament and was due to de-crutch next week; we compared crutch tips. (zing!) When we hobbled out of the elevator to the lower level, we walked toward a bespectacled white boy who was about to sing to commuters. Funny sight, but he had the last laugh when he began singing the hell out of the Temptations. I caught his eye and he returned my smile while crooning on: "I know you wanna leave me..." That swirl of life, of strangers' lives intersecting for a few flawless moments, made the day begin so beautifully.

The day might have ended even better if my devious love-connection plan had been implemented. Danny and I went to see Dead Man's Bones, who were fantastically weird and theatrical. All of the singers made me feel a mixture of admiration and inadequacy; their voices were like butter whereas mine is like expired VeganRella. The set was peculiar — Danny said the only word for the night was "queer," not meaning it in the gay way — but kinda inspiring in its odd beauty. Anyway, I'd hoped that Ryan Gosling was a secret broken-bones admirer, and that if only he were to see the crutches, he'd want to sign my cast, if you know what I mean. But at the end of the show, it seemed better to leave during the encore (all the better to catch a cab) and pretend that our love did not blossom simply because I had to jet early.

Labels: , , ,

At 11:14 today, I remembered that I had a doctor's appointment at 11:30. That sort of time crunch would normally send me into a frenzy, but it's almost as though my mind has no room for that, and I simply shift into quiet, purposeful action mode. You just do what needs to be done, and in this situation, I needed to zip across town quickly. Hence the flagging of a cab, my third of the week.

The driver was young, maybe a couple of years younger than me, but then again, maybe not. He had soft eyes, a baby face disguised by whiskers, and a hint of sadness in his smile. I thought he looked like someone who might patch the elbows of his wool sweaters. Like everybody, he asked how I landed in the cast. I told him and we exchanged stories of bicycle danger and inattentive drivers. He had a good disposition.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and I watched the city go by. I was a little bit unfocused because I'd been thinking that the sky looked like it did when my father died. The driver took a phone call, telling someone that he'd pick her (him?) up after he dropped off his passenger, and what should we have for supper tonight? (He decided on burgers on the grill, which seemed to please him. He seemed happy to have a simple dinner to plan.)

He hung up the phone, we crossed the street where I had my accident, and out of the silence, he said, "I'm a junkie." Just like that, I'm a junkie.

I didn't know what to say. "I'm a heroin addict," he continued. No drama in his voice, just a matter-of-fact admission. "I was off it but my girlfriend dumped me. And I relapsed, and now I'm on methadone."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I can't imagine how difficult that must be." Because, well, I can't. I am the squarest quadrilateral; almost everything I know about heroin comes from books, documentaries, and Lou Reed. So I told him about a childhood friend who'd developed a heroin addiction.

"His family tried to help him for years," I said. He didn't kick it the first time he tried, or the second, or the third.

"I'm lucky to have good people in my life," the driver said. "But nobody can help someone who doesn't want to help himself."

The taxi chugged up a hill, and then we were almost to the hospital. "I don't know why I'm telling you this," he said quietly. I didn't either, but it felt OK. I told him that I hoped he was able to stay clean. "I hope so, too," he said.

I smiled. "I get to hope that you do it," I said. "But you have to know that you can do it." He smiled, laughed.

The fare came to $10.30; I gave him $14. "You know," I said as I reached for my crutches, "That friend I mentioned? He's been off heroin for about seven years now. And he's married, and he has a job he loves, and he's happy and healthy."


"Yeah. And I'm really sorry about having your heart broken, but I think that you will find someone who's better for you. Eventually."

He raised an eyebrow. "You think so, huh?"

"Well, you have to think so," I said. "Either that, or you can always get a cat." He laughed again.

"Good luck," I said.

"You too," he said. I shut the door and watched the cab slink down to Duboce and Scott. After my appointment, I took in some sunshine in the park and thought about our unusually naked conversation. Sometimes it's easier to tell secrets to strangers than to the people closest to you. Sometimes you have to reach out because you need to be held, if only for a few moments. Tonight I am thinking of the fragility of stability, the strength to be spun from the tiniest thread of hope, and how we propel ourselves forward simply because we must.

Labels: , ,

Christmas Eve

This afternoon, I hopped the 31 and the double-deuce to go to Cafe du Soleil. On the way there, the bus was stopped at the crest of a hill, and I looked out at a man about my age. He was waiting at the corner for someone, intently looking down the street for him or her. Something about his face looked mildly forlorn and incomplete, so I assumed he was waiting for his sweetheart. The bus resumed motion, and halfway down the next block, I saw his identical twin — same furrowed brow, same pattern of thinning hair — running toward the man at the corner. I'm not capturing the scene perfectly, but it was a cinematic moment that I wanted to write down before it slips away into the dusty recesses of my gray matter.


Public transit

Now that I have a Blackberry for work, the particulars of my daily commute have changed. Sometimes I'll write in my notebook, and on Thursdays I like to read my fresh-from-the-mailbox New Yorker in a haphazard manner. (First, the letters; next, the back page; finally, Talk of the Town.)

But on most mornings, I like to fire up the puny browser and read the New York Times editorial page. I don't know when doing so became part of my morning routine, but it makes me feel a little better and more informed when I get off the bus. Part of me still believes that newspapers can give you excellent fodder for conversation, and although I very rarely encounter anybody who wants to discuss that morning's paper, I like to be prepared.

The commute home is another story. At that point, I've read almost everything I want to read online. My eyes are tired. I just want to be home already. If things go well, I get a seat near the back of the bus. And because I have a Blackberry, I can send (unfortunately true) messages like this:

Ugh! On bus and cannot escape creeps! Just fled from furious masturbator only to find bearded tooth picker!

Labels: ,

rice street

The gray sky is swollen with rain. I'm walking my bicycle to the gas station by my house, where I expect to find an air pump that can fix my deflated rear tire. As I lock my bicycle, a ruddy-faced man approaches me. He could be 45 or 65, but either way his body shows the signs of years of mistreatment. He's wearing a white tank top with too-thin straps. When he reaches me, I expect him to ask for change. Instead, he says, "I speak only Polish. You speak Polish?" The only Polish I remember from my youth means either "good" or "I love you."

"I'm sorry, I don't speak Polish," I tell him, hoping that he will go away.

He looks confused, then points to me. "You sad?" he says. Now I feel my heart soften, and I am grateful for the empathy of strangers.

"Well, yes," I say. "I suppose so."

He smiles, and I think we have somehow crossed the language barrier to connect, and it makes me feel better. And then the man starts pointing at the bank across the street. He gestures wildly, first at the bank, then at my breasts, and finally he makes the universal finger-rubbing sign of money.

"You sex?" he says, grinning wickedly.

Oh my god, I've been mistaken for a prostitute, I think. "No," I say emphatically. "Sad, not sex. No sex!"

"I pay," he says weakly.

"No. No sex," I say. "Please leave me alone." He wobbles away, and I go buy a Coke to get change for the air pump.


say hello

    it's anniet at gmail.


© 2009 avt

custom counter