Tag: city life

Places I’ve Lived in San Francisco

behind the phoneThis isn’t a place I’ve lived.  It used to be Adeline’s Bakery on Van Ness and Geary.  For years I would get cheap coffee and pastries while waiting for Golden Gate Transit buses or on my way to one job or another.  It was a place full of old people and cranky people and often homeless people.  All the other people came in to get things and would leave.  Now it’s shut down and walled up.  I’m not even sure you can make phone calls from this trashed public phone.  I think it’s missing the phone.

sutter street apartment

This was where Philip and I lived for the first two years we were married.  1350 Sutter Street, a half a block up from Van Ness.  Not a quiet location.  We started with a tiny apartment with a huge bathroom and a kitchen that was barely functional with a fridge that was literally from the 1960’s with a permanent frost problem.  Then we moved to a bigger (much nicer) apartment with a wonderful kitchen that had apple green walls and the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever had.  We loved it!  It had built in book cases in the living room and this amazing built in vanity with desk that I used as my writing nook.  We paid $850 a month for this place.

our old apartment

We had the pretty windows on the top floor with the weird balconettes you couldn’t step onto but that collected really strange crap – garbage and  bird shit and city grime that formed part of our magnificent view.

sutter street kitchen window

I loved my kitchen so much.  This second kitchen was small by suburban standards but a nice size by small apartment standards.  It had a built in china hutch, a modern newish fridge, room for a dining table, and a pretty window ledge that I killed many an African violet on.  The African violets looked stunning in my green kitchen but I couldn’t figure their needs out.  I was very busy writing poetry at the time and rather hoped that plants in window sills could just be watered when thought of and flourish.

522 Hyde

I have shared pictures of this building before.  Several years ago, I’m pretty sure.  This is the only place I ever lived all by myself.  I was very proud to finally be completely on my own as I’d always dreamed of – single girl living city life in glamorously grimy building.  This building and my life there is what inspired the first novel I wrote that is forever stuck in rewrite mode.  I paid $520 a month for this one bedroom apartment that came complete with a major cockroach population, a brick wall view out of one window (very city-chic), bums in the entryway of the building, a main entrance door with constantly broken entry code, a creepy landlady who took a real fancy to me and frequently tried to lure me into her stuffy scary apartment, and as if that wasn’t enough for anyone wanting a real urban adventure, the building trashcans were in a basement meant to be used by serial killers with a barely locking flimsy back door to the alley.

city life

To top the whole luxury package off – my bedroom window looked out on whore alley.  When the moon was high and I opened my windows to let in the night air and gaze out on the moonlight – I could count on being serenaded by a blow-job in progress or by some happy heroin addicts shooting up together, their needles shining in the moonlight like diamonds.

flies and crazy stink

This is Ada Court.  This is the tiny street I had to stroll up to get a look at my old bedroom windows and see the old favorite spot of whores and addicts that gave me my daily entertainment.  This street was full of flies.  An unnatural number of flies.  And stink.  Like unwashed bodies, dog shit, and old concentrated urine smells but with the number of flies you would expect near a decaying corpse.  Which made me think how happy I was to not know the real source of the flies that might be hidden in any one of the basement grates and windows lining this little court.  The graffiti is quite pretty though.

I took this tour of places I’ve lived in the city on Friday.  I went in to meet my friend Alice (of Futuregirl.com) who I’ve known on line for 7 years but never met.  We had lunch at Darn Good Food and I had a great time waiting for her arrival watching herds of suits roving the streets looking for sustenance.

There was a scary homeless man with long white hair in a knitted cap whose bottom lip was a huge misshapen mass of bumps and twists – like it had once been put through a meat grinder and then reattached to his face.  The poor dude was not in a good way and once having passed me on the street he fell down.  I wasn’t sure what I should do, if anything, he seemed like he might have been drunk but what if he was simply really sick?  There were a pair of officers of some kind in a car right near him that did nothing.  I wanted to ask him if he needed assistance but I’m ashamed to say I was really scared of him.  Two men walked by and I heard one of them say to the other “I was tempted to kick him in the ass!” which made me very angry.  If my son ever cherishes the urge to kick a homeless person when they’re down (or at all, under any circumstances) I will know I have either failed as a mother or I gave birth to a bad seed.  Fuckers!

On my walk to meet Alice I also saw a man with three penises.  At least he looked like he had three penises because his pants were so tight that the things he had in both his front pockets made it appear like he had three penises.

After meeting Alice for lunch I walked back down to Market Street and kept walking until I found a Muni stop where I could catch a Hayes Valley ride.  When I caught the Muni I sat down next to a very tiny shriveled old man who shrieked when my leg grazed his coat.  So I stood for a good portion of the way listening to two men talking about really dumb people they know who committed a crime they got caught for that they wouldn’t have got caught for if they weren’t such dumbasses.

My one pair of comfortable shoes needs the elastic fixed so I chose to wear my ghilly brogues which used to be really comfortable.  My feet are bigger now and so by the time I made it to my friend Kate’s house in Hayes Valley my pinky toes were reduced to stubs of flaming pain.  I’ve been friends with Kate since I was 17 and she was 35.  She’s like family.  We haven’t seen each other for quite a few years.  First she moved to Texas and then I moved to Oregon.  It was great to finally meet up again.  I also got to hang out with her son who has the same birthday as me and who I frequently chatter with on Facebook, and her husband who is such a kind and cool person and who, it should be noted, inspired Philip and I to explore brewing our own alcohol after he shared with us an amazing bottle of strawberry wine with us that he fermented himself.

Kate says I can come stay in their guest room any time I want.  That’s like having a pied à terre in San Francisco!

This weekend I got the first chapter of the second Cricket and Grey book written!  5,000 words!  It’s total crap, of course, as all first drafts are, but I finally broke through whatever barrier was holding me back (trying to start the second book in third person was the main barrier, I switched to first which is how I started the first book too) and can now start the second chapter.  It feels great to get back on track with that.

Jane Doe is still hanging out in my head all the time and I still don’t know how to fix it.  I’m just going to keep hanging onto it until it comes out.

Now I have to go make chutney and get more produce and I just have way too much stuff to do for a Monday.  I have to start photographing my shop items and I have to write my tutorial posts (majorly avoiding it – bad Angelina!!) and so much else.  I want to make ginger  beer and I have the ginger but haven’t done it.  The beautiful thing is that I can fit a lot of this stuff into my days now whereas I could not do it before.

So I better get on it!

Hope you all have a great Monday!

Take Your Blessings with Your Salt

When I was growing up I knew Portland as the city that swallowed runaway teens up whole and spat them out on the streets as heroin addicts.

I also knew it as a city of lights and snaking twisting raised freeways that was gorgeous as you drove up to it from the south at night.

I knew it as a place of brick and mortar and the place my mother took us for a book signing for her cookbook that my dad and she printed themselves.  She dressed beautifully and I have a very small photo of her from that trip that I cherish.

I looked out over roof-tops and thought it a place of vast possibility and vast decay.

When you’re an adult you don’t hear about the runaway teens so much.  They don’t tell you things.  They don’t reach into your sleep.  There’s still heroin and runaways but it’s less personal now.  It isn’t myth and mist.

Now I see signs like this and I live in a different world where parents are trying to make a living to support children and the economy is smashed to bits in every personal kitchen except Donald Trump’s and who cares about men so clueless they insist on the ridiculous comb-over twenty years past its prime?

I almost cried when I saw this sign because it doesn’t matter if it’s a gimmick, it doesn’t matter if the dry cleaning company has a line to throw, I’ve been there.  I’ve been the person with the ratty clothes and no proper laundry soap but a harsh bar in the bathroom sink and that is so much more than many had or have now.  I didn’t have the polish needed to convince anyone but Wendy’s to hire me.

There are moments in a person’s life when an offer for free dry cleaning for your best outfit for job interviews is like winning the lottery.  I will never  be so jaded that I don’t applaud a business for an act of kindness so simple and so important.

I took Friday off from all work and personal responsibility.  I took the whole day off to see friends, to walk the city streets, to get out of bible town, to remember I belong to a larger community, to meet new friends and visit with old friends.  I centered my entire afternoon around Powell’s Books, my Mecca, my place of prayer, my imperfect yet magical place of peace.

Portland is San Francisco twenty years ago; rough, refurbishing, developing strong identity and conscience, rising, shouting out loud!

Except that Portland is full of lush trees and a lot less trash.

There is no perfect city.  There is no perfect place.  There’s only the place that calls to you the most loudly.  You listen if you’re smart.  Portland is my place right now.

I visited the public library in the Pearl for the first time.  It reminded me of a smaller gentler San Francisco library.  The old one, not the new one.  It was filled with marble stairs and columns, rose covered short pile carpets, and beautiful multi-light windows with rounded tops that let in the bright afternoon sun, muted like it should always be.

The best thing about it was a life-sized cast of a tree in the children’s section.  The metal tree trunk hides all kinds of things like birds and spiggots and everything at childrens’ level is shiny from the polishing of little touching hands.

There is a part of me that knows if I lived there I would cease to be lost, fat, and lonely.

Part of me knows that’s just its siren song.

I spent many hours touching books, inhaling them, coveting, perusing, filing them away for future dreams and in the end, after an entire day in Portland revolving around Powell’s I sat down in the cafe there with my flimsy two purchases and watched the sun sink slowly outside the window with my book propped against my bags, my feet tired, and my brain drifting from the pages I tried to read.  A young red headed girl sat two chairs down from me.  She was everything sweet, young, pretty, and stylish.  I enjoyed her beauty with detachment.

Except that I couldn’t not notice that she seemed really forlorn.  She reminded me of someone.  She stared out the same window I stared out of except that I felt a sharp contrast between us because while I stared out the window distractedly wondering what the passersby thought of the fat woman in the window who isn’t ugly but who is not an ideal person this young girl was staring out the same window with a dreadful weight, not of body but of spirit.  I realized that while I imagined passersby criticizing my fat distorted body I really am happy with most of my life.  Sure, there’s a lot of stress and a lot up in the air but I sat there anticipating the meet up between me and the two loves of my life who might wish me to be a healthier weight but who love me love me love me.

This young girl was looking out the same window like a person heartbroken and alone.  She was truly lovely.  The kind of girl I must think it impossible isn’t coveted and loved sincerely by at least five men (or maybe women- who cares?).   Loved she must be!

She turned her blue eyes to me and asked me if I liked boys or girls.

I asked her if she meant as friends or romantically.  She said “to go out with”.

I told her I preferred boys in that way.

She asked me if we should depend on anyone for our happiness?  Should we expect someone to make us happy and be dependable.  She was very grave and very calm the way heartbroken beautiful young women can be and the smallest tears escaped her careful watch though there wasn’t the least quiver in her voice to betray her agony.

She asked if I thought it important for everyone to have someone, to be paired up, or is it possible to be happy alone.

She wanted to know if I thought it was normal, or possible, to live a good life alone?

I told her that if she was really unhappy being alone then it’s okay if she doesn’t want to be but that if she feels better being alone that’s okay too.

She looked at me doubtfully, not quite the answer she was looking for.

My heart went out to her.  I saw myself in her though I doubt I ever had her delicate beauty to begin with.  How is not half of Portland in love with this lovely girl already?  I answered her.  I didn’t hesitate.  I told her that when I was a lot younger, around her age most likely, I dated a number of men who forced me to ask why I bothered pairing up with anyone at all.  I told her how I scoured myself for answers to my loneliness and I found it.

I decided that the thing to do was to not go out with anyone at all.  My plan was to be single for the rest of my life.  I told her how I realized that I could have plenty of fun by myself and that I set about learning to enjoy my own company more than anyone else’s and that it was really fantastic and for a few years it was great and then I got knocked in the heart by someone who broke through.

That’s how it goes.

I told her that if she’s hurt and sad right now she should spend time taking care of herself.  I told her that it’s natural to want to be paired up but that each of us has to be responsible for our own happiness.

She smiled weakly and looked out the window for a minute before thanking me gravely.

Like a reflection of myself.  She was even writing in a journal.

I wouldn’t give anything for such youth.

I would have hugged her if I didn’t have a lot of natural reticence about hugging complete strangers.

These are dark times.

It’s important to be good to ourselves.

It’s important to be good to those around us.

I felt momentarily guilty when a few minutes after this conversation with the lonely girl my son jumped out of our car exactly in front of me in the street and I was filled with complete joy at seeing his bright face.  Me, the fat middle aged lady, has so much happiness and so much love in her life that I feel flooded with it and I can choose to seek solitude all day but at the end of it is the very best company I could ask for in my husband, son, and at home my own mother.  I felt guilty to be filled with such happiness and to feel so loved when such a gorgeous young creature was obviously grappling with terribly heartbreak next to me.

It’s an unfair world.

So take your blessings with your salt and never count anything.