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!

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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.

I once embarked on a seven-week game of Rummy. It began on the blue carpeted floor of the San Francisco International Airport, my travel companion Andy and I crouched over our fresh deck of colorful, cartoon flower adorned San Francisco playing cards that slapped together stiffly as we tried to shuffle them. The playful flowers reminded me of Dolores Park, a memory of a sunset spent sitting in the grass there that would return to me nearly every time we shuffled the deck during our seven week journey through Nepal. In those hours before our flight left for Kathmandu, an epic card game was born that would not only test our minds and skills but also provide distraction, resolve and sometimes even comfort, particularly as we ascended in altitude.

I can’t remember now which of us had the initial idea for the game; I don’t think we’d ever played together before that afternoon in the airport. Like most great ideas, though, once it was born it grew legs, took on a whole life of its own. Before long we were playing while sipping Everest beers in Thamel, dueling on the sun-drenched patio of Kathmandu’s Hotel Malla, killing time in the mess tent on the Annapurna trek while the cook crew prepared dinner. Andy got in the habit of constantly keeping the deck at hand so at any moment we were ready to duke it out again, to add to the running score he kept track of in his pocket-sized green journal. We invited our trek companions Mark, Peggy and Carolyn to join. At first they resisted but when Mark and Peggy decided to give it a try, the stakes grew with our increased numbers and soon we were all irresistibly hooked. The challenge became who could get the highest score at the highest altitude–we had our sights set on the 17,868 foot summit of the Thorong La, but would settle for 16,000 foot base camp if we were too loopy at the top. It turns out we were too cold–who knew the wind could whip so cold and so fierce above 17,000 feet?!

The game provided a distraction on those chilly, thin-aired evenings when at 7 p.m. it was too early to go to sleep after we finished dinner, but conversation was as thin as the air outside and we needed something to keep us awake a little longer so as to avoid waking at 3 a.m., ready to start walking. In the dim candlelight of the shadowy mess tent we’d pass around the chia (tea) and tato dudh (hot milk), and, if we were lucky and it was on the table, the Borne Vita, India’s version of Ovaltine. Round after round we played, passing the shuffle and deal to the left, tallying scores that extended far beyond 500. I learned the strategies of my companions, knew to watch Peggy’s pick ups and discards (she was a shark that always seemed to go out when we all least expected), kept track of the cards around the table, could almost determine who had what and which of my cards was consequently safe to discard. Rummy became more than a game during those later days on the Annapurna, it was an art, a dance to be gracefully, tactfully practiced. We had our final performance in the village of Dhampus, the striking angled summit of the Fish Tailed peak, Macchapucchare, fading into dusky evening as our last cards hit the table and scores were tallied. The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the score. Maybe Peggy won, she among us was the most likely to have done so, but the scores were simply a fun addition to the game, hardly a reason for playing.

Andy and I continued our game–now four weeks strong–as we headed into the Khumbu region, setting our sights to the great and almighty Everest–Base Camp, that is, no serious mountaineering expeditions for us aside from our Imje Tse (Island Peak, 20,300 feet) aspirations (which failed). From the start we insisted our new trek companion, Casey, was welcome to play, but Andy and I were too deep in the groove of our month-old endeavor for a newcomer to jump in, and so the game truly became a game of two. And it was harder. With fewer cards out at any given time, I couldn’t really be sure of Andy’s hand. My playing grew sloppy and I blamed the altitude which increased steadily as we ascended the valley toward Everest. I remember one particular afternoon in Pheriche, a lunar landscaped village set well above tree line at 13,900 feet. Andy and I split a can of Everest beer, a can mind you, and got a buzz on while we worked our card skills. Two days later on arrival at Gorak Shep, the last stop before Everest Base Camp, we played a couple of rounds and I was pleasantly surprised at my general level of brain function at that altitude. The pleasant feeling was short-lived, was hastily replaced by the very unpleasant effects of altitude that set in deeply that evening and stayed for several days beyond. Few rummy games were played during those rough days of stomach aches, head aches and general malaise, those nights of patchy, shallow breathed sleep that sometimes left me gasping for air.

Eventually, our time in the Khumbu ended, stomach aches ceased, sleep returned, heads cleared and Andy and I found ourselves back in the bustling, friendly chaos of Kathmandu. We were then nearing Week 7 of play, our highest altitude being nearly 17,000 feet at Gorak Shep. Though Kathmandu sits at a mere 4,500 feet, our highest altitude game awaited us still, this time on the legendary summit of Rum Doodle, 40,000 1/2 feet above the sea.

There was no high altitude approach to this peak, no break in tree line, no drop in temperature or increase in wind speed. We stumbled upon the base of Rum Doodle after winding our way down a crooked Thamel alleyway. An easy climb up worn wooden stairs brought us to what could be the most domesticated summit on earth: wooden tables, soft music, a roaring fireplace and a full bar. Well then, forget Everest beer! How about a rum and coke? One of our final games ensued that evening as Andy pulled out the deck and I shuffled the cards, now soft and giving from so much play. I smiled at the flowers and San Francisco emblem printed on the back of each card. San Francisco–I’d soon be there, and for a moment, I was. But then my shuffle and bridge lent themselves to a stack which I dealt and the game was on again, just as it had been for weeks. From the beginning of one journey to the end, the cards kept playing.

To this day, I still don’t remember the score.

10/03/09

A mist falls

to the irregular rhythm

of horns honking,

in the streets

sad dogs lay

draped across sidewalk,

beggars whisper, bones

stuck out of

sullen faces,

cows wander

dropping dung

at liesure.

stall after stall of colorful goods

overflow,

the burnt incense smells

sweet,

the forbidden fruit

too.

quietly I wander

western eyes

adjusting slowly.

“Namaste Madame”

a Napali man calls

“would you like some hashish?

a very good price!”

I shake my head

a horn blares behind

the bike’s engine whines and

I leap quickly left,

its sideview mirror

grazes my arm hair

raises my neck hair,

my elbow nearly bumps

the orange-cured

pig laid out on a wooden block

quartered and chopped

course black hair holding still

to its back.

nose wrinkling filth putridly

rises from a trashpile

nearby, three children

sit beside it, motioning

to me that their mouths

need feeding.

above my head

the store signs are stacked-

Pashminas! Yakwool Sweaters!

WiFi! International Telephone!

Bhudda Cafe! Nepali Food!

Trekking! Yeti Tours!

a colorful 5th avenue of

third world Nepal

just as loud as

Manhattan’s streets

and, to me,

far more

real.