I never wore a watch at that time and cell phones were still only used by a few. Getting in touch with someone would mean that you’d not only need a pay phone, but that that person would indeed need to be home to reach and nobody I knew was every home at night. I walked into City Lights, which was always the most calming place in the world for me. At that time, they hadn’t built the poetry room upstairs. so if you wanted to hear the creak of old wood, you’d have to go downstairs where all of the history and politics existed. Now, there are ghosts everywhere in San Francisco, I guess because when they die they’d rather stick around than go up to heaven. Why not? It’s a mellow enough city for that. I think that people just put their lives into becoming part of everything there, so that if you do get accepted into it, the cost for doing so is your eternal soul. Now, if you believe in the afterlife, than that’s a heavy bargain. If, however, you think that this go around is it, you might think it to be a pretty good deal.
I didn’t feel like that about all of San Francisco, but I for sure felt that that about City Lights. The events that took place and the books that held the history was more important than the vatican. I’d sit wherever I could and ether read or just watch everyone else look around. There were always cute girls with interesting bags looking for some words of wisdom to guide them through these times where they understood their bodies but they had to deal with boys who just didn’t. Are we ever the same age as each other? After an hour or so, I walked out the street with the faint sounds of John Coltrane following me, but those quickly faded away with each step.
Walking up Columbus, I found myself in front of Steps of Rome, a cafe’ spot run by Italians who just kept bringing their relatives over to work behind the counter. Phil and Madison were sitting in front talking to the new waitress and practicing to see if their macking skills would translate. We usually ran into each other around here. We could only afford the coffee, but the view was amazing. Just sitting on the sidewalk on a San Francisco evening, we were all out of place to be sure, but it didn’t matter.
“Where’d you roll out to,” Phil asked. “Levi gets a little paranoid when people just vanish.
“I tried to get with that girl,” I told him. “But she turned into a beast on me, so now I’m here with you two again.”
Madison smiled a little and kicked out a chair for me to sit in while he mixed the tip of his smoke with some herb.
“Got it from Levi. Credit. I’m on the list.”
“You better be careful,” Phil said. “I like that guys drugs, but I don’t like that guy. Don’t trust him either. Make sure you don’t get too much in debt.”
We were all a little too young then to realize that we weren’t really that young and that even the small mistakes that were about to be made were gong to ripple wide.
We sat and talked loud for hours, then got edgy, and made our way down the block, turned 2 dollars each into quarters, and headed towards to Lusty Lady.
It’s funny that the underbelly of North Beach is not all that dirty when you look at it from the outside. The Lusty Lady was a strange spot to go now that I think about it, and we went often. It was a strip club, but not like the kind you see in the movies – though I’m not sure what kind of movies you watch. There were individual booths that you walked into, closed the door, and dropped quarters in – which triggered a window to open that revealed a room full of naked girls dancing around. There was a box of tissues there for you to do what you needed to do. Only one of the rooms had a one way window, means that you could see them but they couldn’t see you. The rest were just glass, so when yours opened, one the girls would come over and start dancing in front of your window. The key would be to stack the quarters on the ledge of the window without actually touching anything there.
It was a crap shoot because if the girl who came to your window was nasty, you’d have to stop in the middle, let the window shade close with the timer, then hope someone new would be there when you dropped another quarter in. There was an entire system. The room they danced in was meant to be like an ancient harem, with pillows and lace all around. The back wall was all mirror which was supposed to me the room look bigger, but if you looked at it, you could see all of the little faces of the men watching the women dance, so it was best to stay focussed on what you needed to do – the illusion was best kept for as long as you could.
Thing is, when you were done, and your animal was released, there was still that glass in front of you, the smell of yourself and a few others who had been there before you, and the eyes of the girl looking at you. I felt the history of her and what she must have gone through to end up here. There were levels of strippers in the city – the sex industry was like any other you see. High class whores, Sex dungeon folks like those who I lived with, and the working class who made decent cash but not enough to get out, and certainly not enough to support the drug habits they needed to develop to keep their maximum earning potential going.
Back out to the streets, Madison and Phil were just getting started with their night, thinking about going to club until the sun came up. That loud music just wasn’t in me, but I let them convince me that I would be missing something if I just went home and crashed. You need to be careful of people who tell you that adventure exists at the next turn, because it turns out that they are not really walking into a story, but running away from a history that chases them throughout time.