My Russian barber, to whom I’m ridiculously devoted, leaves the barbershop where he rents a chair, and prepares to open his own shop. In the meantime I need a haircut. I risk my head at a shop down the street and jesus, she fucks it up. There wasn’t much to fuck up, but she does. I come home and within five minutes I’m shaving it all off. Just in time for the holidays (sorry, Mom) It looks a little severe to me, but my sponsor (AA jargon) tells me it’s not much of a difference. I don’t have the most astute perception of myself, I admit.
Later, Louie and I cross South Van Ness Ave to the east, over to what has become one of my favorite neighborhoods. I’m the only gay boy in sight. Lots of old warehouses and funky flats, parking lots and laundromats. Little corner stores and burrito joints. Very Latin and working class. There’s SF Fire Department Station 7 two blocks away. In the lot next to the firehouse they’ve put up a skinny, seven-story building for training. I haven’t yet walked by when it’s smoking, but I’m waiting. The Atlas Cafe, on its quiet little corner, is crammed full of neighborhood artist types this morning. Pumping my coffee from its carafe, I remember the night The Ex and I sat at the table next to the window with the paper’s rental listings spread out. Four years ago, he drops quarters in the payphone and does all the talking, while I look out at the brick buildings, hoping SF will let us in.
Empty parking spaces. Side streets that run into other side streets. Weeds growing up through cracked asphalt. Trees changing color and dropping leaves. Once, a few mornings back, Louie and I pass a car parked all alone. I realize as the driver and I make eye contact that there’s a woman’s head bobbing up and down above his lap.
On the wall surrounding the PG&E parking lot someone’s painted bright, elaborate murals like a Carnival. Against the corner of the wall squats a small man dressed in faded work clothes, his baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. He’s so still, he’s hardly there.
A woman in her thirties, dressed in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, pedals past us on a small girl’s bicycle. It’s pink and white, with a wicker basket on the handlebars. A pink plastic daisy stuck to the front.
We pass back over South Van Ness, on to Dolores Park, which becomes swampy in the winter. The neighborhood dog owner’s association has left a box of donuts from the morning playtime. It sits on the bench next to me, the chocolate melting and sticking to the plastic window. When I can’t take anymore of the other dog owners (like the obnoxious, all-knowing parents you’d avoid at the playground), I whistle for Louie and he trots after me, mud streaked on his face, smiling. It’s a beautiful blue-sky day, and from the hill you can see across the bay.
My city is not the city of Tales of the City. There is no 28 Barbary Lane, and though I may often feel like Mary Ann Singleton, there is no Mrs. Madrigal to rent me a room and tape joints to my door. We have to make stories of our own, like it or not.
My friend Lil’ Gummi, he of the beautiful soul, sends me Instant Messages on AOL at home. I mop the bathroom floor and while it dries we joke back and forth, and then, he asks me out. And now I am the one giving the unwelcome answers. Yes, god, I see the irony.
On the treadmill at the gym I can’t help but see myself reflected several times over in windows and mirrors. My head shines with sweat, but I move so much slower than I feel. Inside I’m Chariots of Fire, and outside I’m Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together rag-tag and waking up, lumbering. Learning how to walk. To move with grace.
Coming home I run into my roommates Smokey and Red, the couple. They’re piling out of a big ol’ blue American car. They’ve come from the hospital where their friend is dying from Huntington’s Disease. Red, who also has HD, tells me the doctors will take their friend off life support tonight. The car is his gift to them.
The campfire is warm tonight. These flames, they dance.