San Francisco was changing quickly. The shows we used to go to and spend 3 dollars at the door to get into were vanishing under newly sponsored beer company project superstars. The old warehouses South of Market were becoming places to live rather than walls to lean against. The police were putting homeless people in one section of the city and doing whatever they could to keep them from overflowing to the rest. Once you do that a few times, there’s no need to put up walls or assign districts. Everyone knows where their boundaries are. I don’t yet remember seeing a cell phone. There were still opportunities for late nights at a pay phone to make calls. I just remember people being outside. Who knew how much the world was changing to the future everyone predicted in those science fiction movies – only the road we chose to take didn’t have cool robots, but personal computers that were going to prevent us from looking up to see what was falling on top of us.
Waking up in the morning, my mind raced to all of the places familiar throughout the city – the old men sitting a cafe’ Trieste with manuscripts that might not get realized, the chinatown shop owners opening up for business another day while their kids walked as fast as possible away from them and to the school, the metal gates of the mission district rolling up and revealing 99 cent stores and decent burritos, the oddities of Church street just below market where bookshops that couldn’t support themselves on revenue did so against economics – perhaps so that the cats inside had more purpose in life.
I remember going to the movie theater on Castro with Josephine to watch a double feature of The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent 7. If you’ve never been there, you’ve never been to the movies. It is a giant venue and gives you the feeling of being at an event. As you walk through the doors you’re lost in the size of the space. I can remember, and I hope to be remembering it right, how the walls are painted with glorious frescos and the ceilings are carved with care and detail. A movie house is a place where Americans come to worship – church is pretty much secondary.
As you walk down the aisles to your seat, you hear the sounds of a piano, which you soon realize are coming from the man in front of the front row playing the same keys he has been playing for 20 or so years. It settles you in and allows for a true breath. The calming sounds were such a contrast to the haunting tunes of what I was used to at the Musee all day, and a release from the selections pumped in through the Loehman’s speakers.
Just before the move would start, he would finish his playing, grab the hand of his wife who was sitting in the front row, and walk together up the aisle and out of the theater for the night to the sounds of the audience applauding. I usually went by myself, but I took Joesephine to show her the magic and hope that she would associate me with it. She wasn’t looking at the walk down the aisle, so I pointed it out to her.
Now the theater on that night was full of couples all waiting to see the crew of the magnificent 7 do their thing, then go back home and act out whatever fantasies they might want to engage in from being so stimulated by the men on screen. Every time there was a close up of Charles Bronson they’d hoot and holler something wonderful. Nothing like watching a movie you though was the most manly epic of all time among a group who turned it into their sexual fantasy.
We didn’t stay for the second feature and headed out into the cool night, not saying a word. She looked at me deep in the eyes and looked more through me than at me.
“You have that same feeling in your look as he did,” she said, trying to move my head into the same image of what she was looking for. “I saw it right away. It’s why we moved in. I wanted to be closer.”
The Friday night traffic moved around us but the sounds of people faded.
“I couldn’t move when I first saw you,” I told her. “I had to be with you.”
“I can never be with anyone, really,” she replied, her eyes almost bursting. “It’s not in my nature to be anyone’s. I tried that as best I could with him and now he’s just haunting me. Maybe he’s haunting me through you. Are you going to help me through this? I could use that right now. Nobody ever listens really to what I’m asking for.”
Now there was a small voice in my head telling me to get the hell out of there, but men don’t think with their heads in these situations. In fact, we make our minds create realities to settle in to some way of being that allows for the mistakes we are about to make feel like the righteous path. I was close to getting her in bed and getting what I wanted, even if that meant not listening to what she was asking for.
It was a convergence of miscommunications. I leaned in to kiss her and she let me. My heart raced and she fell inside of herself. Inside the theater people were starting their second feature, but on the sidewalk out there on Castro and Market, I was following a path that someone else had cleared out but fell off trying to get to the end of his journey.