July 2010


Mice in the kitchen, bums on the streets, gay men in short skirts–a day in the city is one of colorful encounters, sightings, interactions. In the spirit of a day spent among these streets, here is a collection of verbal snapshots, moments captured in memory in San Francisco:

The mice in our kitchen on Haight Street loudly announce themselves at all hours of the day. It is as though we invited them to inhabit the crumb-filled corners of our old Victorian. Perhaps, though, they’ve simply lived here longer than the rest of us and have no qualms staking their territory. This morning I wandered to the kitchen around 8:30 for a shot of espresso and caught sight of a dark grey body scurrying beneath the trash can. Ugh, gross, I thought, eyeing up the trash and the random bits of food scraps around it. While cooking up lunch a couple of days ago, I was serenaded by squeaks coming from beneath the refrigerator. Can’t they keep it down? I thought. People live here! I guess having extra bodies around is kind of friendly though, and given that our kitchen is shared by six, what’s a couple of more? At least they aren’t the hand-sized cockroaches my best friend Katie had in her apartment in New York; if they were, then we’d have a problem.

Given my current state of minimal employment, I often find myself roving San Francisco’s streets. Despite all of the incredible and enticing ethnic eateries that I constantly refrain myself from stepping into–I repeat the mantra ‘once I have a job I’ll eat at [insert scrumptious ethnic restaurant name]…’–San Francisco is an excellent city to be unemployed in. With all of the wild, view-boasting parks, picturesque streets, diversity of faces and otherwise beautiful surroundings, who could get bored? A surprisingly large population of homeless people agrees. As common a sight as flannel wearing hipsters on the sidewalk is, passed out bums wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags strewn across the pavement are just as common. Yesterday I passed a bedraggled woman on Church Street who sleeping on the sidewalk, half covered by a filthy once-white blanket, a ripped open paper bag of chips next to her face. Her mouth was half-open as though she had fallen to the sidewalk and passed out mid-chew. Today I passed a black man in a sleeping bag on Market. His head and upper body were burrowed in his overturned shopping cart; it was as though the shopping cart was his house. During my morning strolls through Buena Vista Park, I routinely encounter rustling in dense clumps of bushes and can just barely make out the shapes of bodies behind the branches and leaves. My friend Andy, who lives in Aspen, recently told me about a bear who tried to enter his house one night. It reminded me of my Aspen days when I’d fall asleep to the sound of bears rattling the lock on the dumpster. Homeless people are the bears of the city. They descend from the parks, the alleys, the nooks in the sidewalks to roam around and eat the discards of others.

Life in this international city is fantastically diverse. On any given day I ordinarily hear snippets of Chinese, Indian, German, French, Spanish and other languages I don’t even recognize. Yesterday I stopped in to the Fax and Copy store on Divisidero. The sign outside advertised $.05 black and white copies and a brown skinned Asian boy and girl greeted me when I entered. As the copy machine rattled off reprints of my restaurant resume, I noticed beautifully patterned Asian shirts hanging on the wall beneath a sign that read ‘Handicrafts for sale.’ “Where are your handicrafts from?” I asked the girl. “Nepal,” she replied. “Are you from Nepal?” I asked. The girl nodded in response. As it turns out she is from Kathmandu and has been living in the city for four years. “It’s a slow adjustment,” she said quietly, a bit sadly. She misses Nepal but her family lives here now. I paused for a minute digging in my brain for the once familiar Nepali phrases I’d learned while traveling, “Tapaioke nam ke ho?” I asked. The girl’s eyes widened in surprise and she laughed. “That is good!” she said. “My name is Paravati, and yours?” “Manasseh,” I replied. “Well it’s nice to meet you.” We shook hands, I paid my $.39 for the copies and walked out with a smile that beamed from my heart.

Skinny legs on wedge pumps

a Fedora and flip of straight coal hair-

the girls of San Francisco are beauty queens,

so are the boys-

their knee high boots are shinier than mine,

snug skinny jeans accentuate perfect butts,

square-cut sunshades fit just right.

Competition for male attention in San Fran is spread

across two genders, you better hope you catch the eyes

of the cute boy you want, and not the one

who’s eying up the boy you’ve got your eyes on!

I’m sitting on my inflated Thermarest camping mattress on the hardwood floor of my new room in Lower Haight. In the absence of furniture, my belongings are half-falling out of boxes and scattered around the hardwood floor, my yoga mat, Thermarest and sleeping bag are my bed, a box of books my computer stand, mug on the floor my water glass. I’ve entered the nesting phase of moving, that glorious span of days when my belongings explode out of their respective boxes, suitcases, containers and I can finally really see what I actually own. Much like the artist’s process of painting a rough outline of indiscernible shapes before filling in the details, this nesting phase is a vital part of the art of moving.

Moving, like creating art, is a continual process of refinement. We refine our understanding of ourselves and the world around us by observing  our reactions to new places and situations. We experience new things that we don’t like, that further solidify the things that we prefer. For instance, I once spent three months living in a yoga ashram. While it was an enlightening experience in more ways than one, it also confirmed that living situations that are far removed from the bustle and activity of the rest of the world do not suit me well. I like the option of being able to walk a couple of blocks, or right down the stairs, for a cup of coffee and hum of a coffee shop espresso machine. I enjoy witnessing others  living out their lives whether they are doing so on the quiet streets of Carbondale, Colorado or on the busy corner of Haight and Fillmore. Thanks to my experiences in a situation not ideal, I come closer to placing myself in a situation that is ideal. For some people this constant refinement of their opinions and desires is disconcerting, for others, it is fulfilling.

The most important thing to maintain while moving continuously is some sort of grounding force. For most people, a home, a kitchen, a bedroom, a lazyboy chair-those are the things that ground them. Location is foundation. For the nomad, foundation is more elusive, it needs to be fostered in ways beyond physical location. For me, a mug of fresh coffee in the morning–even when sipped to the chaotic rhythm of horns honking in Kathmandu–is foundation, gazing at my belongings spread out on an empty floor, the heart pounding effort of a long run through a new neighborhood. These are tangible pieces of connectedness that supersede a steady location.

Not to say having a solid homebase isn’t at times a wonderful and very welcome thing. That’s part of the art of moving, too: knowing when to stop. For now, even if only a six month span or so, I’m content to let my physical motion settle in the high ceilings of this old Victorian in Lower Haight, and for the refining process of this new living experience to begin.