(in my nightmares)
Parasols of specific and distinct design, navy blue capelets, old men-friends not explicit and yet not inexplicit, missing hats, new entries into China town that lead to Macy’s, lost toddlers I can’t leave parentless and adopt, Chinese salami, and tipping the hat.
My unbelievably gorgeous Chinese American friend Cam who is shocked with pleasure at the gift of half a salami.
(or, rather, much farther in the past)
I’m not sure how this has happened but suddenly I’m listening to The Pet Shop Boys “It’s A Sin” and I am on my dad’s empty wood porch on Paradise Drive eating weird frozen pastries from his freezer because I’m house sitting and have no food of my own. I’m sixteen. There is coffee and hairspray. There’s dancing alone in a posh house I’ll never live in or own. Views of the bay. It’s not my life.
“Private Dancer” also played endlessly with the smoking ashtray.
Endless loops of “Meet the Beatles” and strange clarity about my place in the world.
It’s all of a time.
I remember Paris perfume and rides in Mercedes Benz’ through the night, watching the highway speed by and knowing my life was disconnected, knowing my life was going to derail, knowing that the smell of the perfume in the night floating across the leather seats was something that would fade to myth. It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t even my own memory to claim and hold. I let it go, let it aspirate into the rain streaked tarmac.
Somehow I ended up in a light filled apartment on 27th and Geary. Years later. It was filled with late night pattern drafting, writing desperate poetry at five in the morning, barefoot runs to China Beach where I still haunt the rocks. You want to know me? Go. Go to China Beach because I’m still climbing the rocks there in my skirts and petticoats, rubbing the care from my feet in the frigid surf against the coarse sand. It’s where I live. Always. I’m still there.
I made a gorgeous cornish game hen I must have tasted, though I can’t remember such taste. I made it for the original Stallone Pantone whose magnificent nose I put in the first unpublished novel “Jane Doe”. The game hen was perfect, and even then I hated that I’d cooked a dead bird. It might be okay for others to do it but I knew I had a secret contract with the other beasts of the earth never to eat them and I violated it to impress a hook-nosed dark-eyed impossibly tall Italian man who told me all old women in Italy are named Angelina.
There is no more complete way to tell a girl she’s circus-ready.
I wore a thin voile dress with a slip underneath it and threw the casement windows open to let in the sultry afternoon while Besse Smith told me how much laundry made her want to kill her man (the “Laundry Blues” inaccurately interpreted by me) and I mopped my forehead with a cooling gin and tonic I wasn’t legally old enough to drink. I was barefoot and the hardwood floors absorbed my summer skin like a virgin oiling heroes.*
The city roared through the open casement windows. A hundred years of thick white paint cried out to be writ, to be seen, and creaked and stuck and then gave itself up to the spell of heat. Always a breeze drifting through the apartment whether lusty and peremptory or gentle with persuasion, the air always moved across the rooms like fresh thought.
The same place was smashed by the Loma Prieta earthquake. Everything was tossed from the cupboards and crushed across the floor in glittering mess. Kittens huddled underneath the bed, shivering in fear. The Cala foods across the street emptied out like a Russian breadline. People shoved old ladies out of the way. Once the assholes got away the rest of us out-polited each other and cried because the old girls were so scared. Those of us not blinded by fear would have given every last can of peaches to the grandmothers who, in turn, wept with appreciation and left blessings in their paths.
I didn’t sleep for a long time.
Back then I knew I was a poet. Back then I knew that I was going to write and carve a path of words forward that the lost would find and follow. Back then I knew, with no doubts or false modesty, that I was going to write things that would change the world, would change people in ways they had no idea they could change. Back then I knew I was going to be something I’ve never become.
I wasn’t a drug addict. My brief assignation with drugs ended on my nineteenth birthday in a great dangerous debacle of misplaced trust and unremitting unbelievable stupidity I have yet to square with myself. It was on my nineteenth birthday when I accidentally snorted large quantities of cocaine and heroine.** I went to a club underwater and was followed relentlessly by a bald bad man who took the same muni home that I did and to this day I have no idea how I finally lost him. I made it home safe and never did anything besides drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes again.
27th and Geary. A magical place. The place I learned to make rosemary polenta. The place I finally embraced the fact that I am female. I am not a boy. The place I finally came to terms with my girlhood by hanging out with three heterosexual men not interested in me. A magical time in which I haunted the old San Francisco public library card catalogs for undiscovered mysteries. I loved the stone, the marble, the steps, the magnificent endless isles of books, records, and study corners.
It’s beautiful, this culling of memory. This brassy etching of time, this furtive collection of images and smells. What about Steve’s Greek Pizza with the endless loop of bird twitter, the rotisserie shaved animals, the fake grapes crawling the corners? What about the rent boys and Jack? What about the bath shop with those lovely packets of scented salts I thought might change the world?
The Polk Gulch. Panhandling for 40 ouncers which made me want to retch.
Somewhere on a piece of paper I have the words in French to “La Vie En Rose” and I used to sing it to myself out loud. I used to dream in Piaf.
I’m Bukowski after the last call has been made.
I hope I’m a little prettier.
I hope my hands look like angels.
I hope my life reads less shabby than my dreams.
Let’s speak in quiet parentheticals. Let’s speak in boxed pasta and cheap plum wine. Let’s speak in sea water and cigarettes. Let’s speak in pseudo virginity and how the gorgeous bridge between us tears like nylon gauze.
Let’s wipe the tears to the floor and take control of this ship!
You, smelling of pine and the resin of sincerity; you wreck every cover and shake down every corner of complicity.
What remains is the smell of Opium and cigarettes at the Muni stop. What remains is a hollowed out memory of sharp collars and gay room mates. What remains is the broken glass. What remains is the ghost of China Beach and the skirts that dragged up the wooden stairs and slapped the pink mansion, knowing the scent there, knowing the spirit there.
What remains is the barefoot girl with the five petticoats stealing reflections in your windows. What remains is the ghost of your girl, the memory of your sailor skirt waiting on the rocks past midnight, past drugs, past everything. Even light.
*Okay, I rarely do this but I just have to say that I have no idea what I meant by that. It simply came out and I’m leaving it because I like it and am intrigued and want to say it a few more times but if I erase it I will forget it and feel I’ve lost something.
**No one “accidentally” snorts drugs (just like no one smokes pot but doesn’t inhale), the “accidental” part was not knowing what I was snorting. I thought I was snorting speed. Not particularly noble or safe of me, yet for all I was comfortable snorting some speed back then, I would never have intentionally snorted an eightball nor done heroin in any form. I think a true eightball is smoked. I’m not sure it’s called that if you snort it.
Not knowing what I was snorting was entirely my fault. No it wasn’t, it was my room mate who provided the powder but failed to disclose where he got it until afterwords.
UPDATE: a good friend of mine pointed out that an eightball is a large amount of drugs. This is true, it can refer to an amount, but way back when I told someone about what happened and about the experience and they called it an eightball. The slang dictionary gives three different definitions for it and they seem to hinge on how you write it: eight ball, eight-ball, eightball. Anyway, for your interest I submit my source: Drug Slang Dictionary