An Indian Summer stroll through Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley and Buena Vista Heights on a day when the brain was tired and the synapses felt like they were misfiring
The first whiff of aroma that I encountered came from a patch of rosemary planted in a tall bed, high as my waist, in front of the rowhouse next door to the one that Sotheby’s just sold for an exorbitant amount of money. Two million during a global recession.
When my rent check clears the bank I rejoice at my slim mastery of new math and pray I can conjure enough for the phone bill. Can’t imagine shelling out $2mm for anything.
The rosemary cloud lept into the air and enveloped me; a lovely assault. Then immediately thereafter: piss. Baked dry in the sun. Dog or human? On Haight Street there sometimes isn’t much difference, though the dogs tend to have better hygiene than some of their human counterparts.
In a moment the piss stench passed and I was re-visited by a phrase that had come to me as I was making the bed this morning: Frowly ironed the sheets for her lover.
I was making the bed this morning and noticed that our bed sheets are wrinkled. I observed that they always are, from the minute we stretch them across the mattress until the weeks later when I tug them from their roots and toss them in the hamper. The hem of the top sheet is perennially creased – an accidental state of being which arises from the very causal condition of cooking the sheets in the dryer then removing them, never bothering to iron them and giving them only a cursory fold before shoving them in the linen closet. It would be nice if that hem were ironed smooth, I thought, crisp like hotel linens. I should do it but I never do.
I’m not quite sure what it meant or if it would go anywhere: Frowly ironed the sheets for her lover. From which weird chasm did this Frowly character emerge? Sometimes these glimmers – I call them spontaneous misfires of the brain, like subtle instantaneous DNA mutations – turn into something more substantial, like a story. Sometimes, more typically, they spark, peak, give rise to hope and joy, then quickly diminish and die, their usefulness spent in the residue of (if I’m lucky) a personal chuckle.
Frowly ironed the sheets for her lover, and—? And what of it? And nothing. I should iron my own sheets for me. I should iron them for us. But I don’t. I wonder why. Is my time so precious and all those other things so much more important that I can forgive a frumpy bed with such ease?
How’s that for a fine revelation on a fine day in a fine city.
This little I know: I don’t own these strange connections: rosemary, sheets, domestic chores and imaginary people. They come to visit or simply ring my doorbell and run. They partner with one another at the universe’s will in rapid fire bits. They self-organize at will and sometimes I benefit from their association, even if it’s only to enjoy a self-indulgent grin or to wonder what is this thing, Creativity, and does it reside anywhere near the State of Insanity?
Haight Street is surprisingly quiet. No one is sitting outside at the shaded tables in front of Magnolia pub. Surprising, this. The weather is superb. Perhaps everyone is down in the park getting high. There are plenty of homeless, though. It is their rank aroma that punctuates the heat: dogged olfactory insults.
You fucking stink. Take a bath. Drown yourself. Do something.
Due south. Cole Street. In two blocks a different demographic. Different scene. A quaint, block and a half-long village within a city filled with minor villages.
I stop to read the labels on some new earth-friendly soaps and lotions in the window of the bath shop. I’m overtaken by the smell of an old decaying person. I step away from the window, look around – no one. Is it me I abruptly fear, sniffing my clothes and smelling my skin.
Some Save the Animals activists linger on kitty corners from each other at Cole and Parnassus – a prime locale to hit up the commuters getting on and off the streetcar. Yes, I say, I like animals. Yes I have time. No I don’t want to stop and talk or sign any petitions, though. I have no money to pledge. I have nothing to give but my time, however I’d like to reserve this time for myself. For a little plein-air pondering of my own delight. I’m not ready to ponder animals in chains.
The cut-through park above the Muni tunnel is closed for repairs. An orange mesh fence is tied from end to end, blocking access. There’s a matching orange barrier on the sidewalk as well. Looks like the journey out of Cole Valley will be right angles today, instead of the gentle curvature of my usual short-cut.
Along Frederick, before the upslope to the park, a straight German tourist couple, map half unfolded in the man’s hand. Nothing relevant in this observation. No earth shattering observations. Just two visitors walking side by stride in their shorts and t-shirts and backpacks, taking it all in. I wonder if they are going to climb to the summit of Buena Vista. If they pass by the moving shrubbery will they be startled by its liveliness? Or does their tour book warn them that the park, even though we’re 30 years beyond the 1970s, still wiggles with men doing nasty in the bushes? In the heyday, hungover from the end of the Vietnam War and ears agiggle with disco, men with and without closets would flock to Buena Vista Park for their fix. One, two, three times a day or night. My friend Donald lives down the hill from the park. He says that back then the men traveled up and down Duboce Street like ants traveling in and out of an anthill.
Close to home: the half-story rowhouse the two boys are fixing up, all mismatch parts, wobbly stone steps – an amateur if admirable remodel. Plastic pumpkins and ceramic-looking gourds, some of which have lights inside, are planted throughout the front bed. (Will they survive the thieving hands of passers-by?) Better to side on the side of grace and human decency: they will survive the holiday intact, I tell myself, so much so that they will be packed away for the following year, the box in which they lie dormant to be then retrieved on the first of October 2013 with a state of childlike glee and anticipation. The objets will be unwrapped and planted anew for the endless celebration of harvest, the arrival of children, the distribution of sweets, the telling and retelling until the harvests, sweets and treats all run out.
Halloween is possessed of stories I’d personally rather forget. Because of that, I’m grateful to walk by a gardener lifting a grey tub of rocks from the bed of his pickup truck. Halloween is immediately forgotten. I’m reminded instead of the lava rock on our property in Hawaii. We have moved by hand every sharp-edged hunk of a’a-a’a or blue rock at least three times. (How glamorous, you have a house in Hawaii. Yes, let me show you the scars from the gouges.) Gorgeous though it may be today, I miss the island. I miss the labor and the unpredictable weather and the winds and the pigs that tear up the lawn, and all the rest of the incumbent brilliance and challenge. Oddly, I miss moving that lava rock.
Next door to us is the nursing home – they call themselves a Manor House. I doubt it. In the lobby I can see slow moving bodies. It is the rare one that ventures outside.
I don’t want to end up there.