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Holiday Hospital Cheer

Transcribed: “I’ve got an hour to kill, having discovered too late that the little neighborhood store that sells stuff like sugar skulls and tin angels for the Christmas tree is closed on Mondays. So I’m sitting outside SF General Hospital as the sun sets, waiting for my doctor appointment. Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower standing silhouette, the hills are dark paper and pinpricks through them gleam. Long strings of headlights flow down the hills in thin rivers. The trees along the hospital roads are lit. My breath rises. People trickle out of the buildings, for a moment some of them look where I’m looking, and then turn and smile at me.

“I’m feeling a little mute, maybe I blew a fuse after the last entry. Maybe it’s that when I called home yesterday, Lee told me that Mom’s not doing well. Very weak and tired, the brightness in her eyes dimmed. I’m glad I’m going home.”

Later. T-cells 909. Viral Load 170.

On the bell curve of his patients, I’m much better off than most. I could go for years without meds, he says, cautiously optimistic. I’m so healthy, in fact, that we just sort of smile at each other, not much to say.

Most uncomfortable moment: When he asks if I’m having sex. I say no. He says how long has it been and I have to think. Hard. A couple of months, I say.

I get the third Hepatitis B vaccine shot, all caught up there. I catch the 33 going back to the gym. On the bus there’s a girl in her twenties with bleached blonde hair. She’s wearing a surgical mask and hopital clothes, like pajamas. She’s wearing platform shoes. A tube snakes out of her bandaged arm and wraps around her wrist. She pulls out a compact and powders her nose and the cheekbones above the mask.

Ski leaves for New Jersey the same morning I leave for Minneapolis, early. We make plans to take a cab out to the airport together. I haven’t flown since August.

Blue Sky

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.

Night Talk

The campfire is a little quiet tonight. It’s a cold night in the city, and I’m hunkered down over the flames, warming one side of my body, and then the other. The embers glow. Despite dog fidelity (and a cat making compromises with my laptop) I’m feeling a little heartsick. But I get that way when I see Ski, god forgive me for not being a truer friend. Unavailable men. They make the world go round. Hard to play for keeps when you’re competing against the dead lover’s memory. If the ghost ever pales, I’d better be the first in line. But companions on the road can be rare, and it’s not my style to want things black or white. I only wish his tent would sleep more than one.


Tonight a hooker ends up walking side-by-side with me and Louie on our way home.

“I like dogs. As long as they don’t bite”

“He won’t bite. He’d run away first,” I say. (I didn’t raise a dumb dog)

“I had a half-wolf once. Half huskie, half wolf. He had silver eyes,” she says.

“Did he howl?”

“Sometimes at a full moon. Of if he heard sirens. He thought they were singing.”

Suddenly she breaks rank with us, and steps into the path of a tall, middle-aged Asian man who’s looking very nervous. She wraps her arms around him. His arms hang at his side. She kisses him on the cheek and says “Merry Christmas”. He stands there, absolutely bewildered.

“Yeah,” she says, like an affirmation, then crosses the street, leaving him standing there as Louie and I continue.

For the second time this week there’s a cop car outside a building on my block, and again one of the cops has fastened one ring of his (her?) handcuffs to the front gate, preventing it from latching behind him. I figure it’s to give his back-up an easier entrance into the building.

In contrast to yesterday, today was all about LEAVE ME ALONE at work. And nobody seemed to pick up on it. I really need a vacation. But I’m digging reading everyone else’s blogs on company time, especially with the T1 connection. (Yes, I admit it, I use a 56k modem at home. I’m poor. Or at least, poor enough)

One of my three roommates is settling into the living room next to my room. There’s a set of pocket doors that separate the two rooms, which means little privacy (I’ve had sex here, like, maybe twice) and I’m not an extrovert. Which means a slight er, moderate resentment towards my housemates, which isn’t fair, because one of them pitied me enough after my break-up to give me and Louie a place to live. But………but…..but I’m not cut out to live with others, unless the other is Significant. Sorry, the whining will stop here.


Places I pass in the five blocks between work and home: A printing company, a lot under renovation, a building that houses a consulting firm and a children’s book publisher, a warehouse of messenger bags, a warehouse of Levi’s t-shirts, a parking lot full of PG&E repair trucks, a leather wholesale supplier, a dot.com, a motorcycle repair shop, a funeral home, a wood door and sash company, a dance studio/school, a gas station, a defunct dot.com, a corner store that lets me bring Louie in when I get my morning coffee, a fencing studio, a retirement home, several auto repair shops, and several apartment buildings or flats, depending on where you’re from. It’s not the quietest, or the best part of town. In fact, given the choice I’d probably rather live in several other neighborhoods, preferably one with a good park for Louie. But it’s a quick commute, I get to read billboards in Spanish, and the hookers are nice to my dog.

I thought about Louie on the way home, which isn’t hard to do, since I’m tethered to him at the time. And I choose that word carefully. If one is less tethered, are you more or less happy? It’s a definite balance. Louie’s certainly worth it. Aside from him, what’s got me tethered? Family, friends, AA, this new Campfire. Sex, even if I’m not getting any now. Infatuations. A curiosity about other people and about how my own life will unfold.

Okay, I have to take any chance I can get at adding kindling to the Campfire. My first review, even if it is from a friend. He writes (and I can quote him because I know he likes the exposure as much as I do):

“I LOVE the journal and I’m so glad you’re keeping it! I was actually wondering if I should “encourage” (read: browbeat) you to start one. I really do love the directness and rhythmic quality to your writing. And you are so cyber-slick — linking to everything like you do — very smooth. I also love the feel of the city and the times that I’m already picking up. You’re a natural observer. Well, it’s obvious you’re a writer, period, even if you’re feeling out of shape…Can’t wait to see where this goes. I’ll be watching… 

Thank you, Devon. I can’t claim credit for being slick when it comes to linking. Better blogs than mine showed me the way. But for what it’s worth, I love that you are hookin’ and lovin’ it. And that we ran into each other again. As I seem to recall, I met you while I was looking for the literary Huckleberry to my Tom Sawyer. Or something. Do you think Huck, growing up in today’s world, would venture out to SF and become an escort? It doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me.