Now let’s switch it up and tell it from his girlfriend’s side of things. I loved how John Fowles did that in The Collector and always wanted to try. Let’s see.
Guy wakes me up at 4;30 and expects me to jump in a cab and come to him. Anyone else but Alberto I would have, but for him, I decided when I first met him that I was going to give myself completely to him and let it play out until the end. We first met a party my friend Alice took me to. Everyone brought a dish and just put it on the table. There was a huge box of wine and plenty of everything else. The room was full of noise and good music. There were a few spades tournaments going on all around me. One of the players was Alberto. I didn’t even see all of him. Really it was just his eyes over the Mickey’s 40 oz that was never far from his lips.
When he finally got up from the table, I took the cap of the bottle and put in into my pocket. I knew it would be something worth saving. We partnered up that night and lost the spades tourney, but the looks we shared across the table were worth a few first dates, so when we finally went out for the first time, it was like meeting up with your boyfriend already.
Now I was in a cab rolling down to the Marina to meet him. He had been so broke since he lost his gig I hadn’t seen much of him because his pride wouldn’t allow him to let me take him out. We we were both working he didn’t mind because it was choice, but as of late, without a choice, he just went dark for a bit. I should have questioned where he got the money but I was thinking love and not cash.
The cab let me out right by the water and I saw him looking out over the bay just behind his bicycle. Joggers were moving past and new mothers trying to look like they looked before they because mothers pushed their strollers. A few high school kids who had not intention of going to class rolled joints. An old couple did their rituals in front of the water. The noise of the city didn’t exist. It was the beauty of living where were did.
He felt me behind him, kissed me hello, and handed me 2o dollars.
“What’s this,” I asked. “That was free.”
“For the cab. I was going to be there to pay the man when you got out the door, but I got caught up looking at Alcatraz.”
“Where’d you get the money?”
“New job. Messenger services. Private clients. No more questions about it though. You hungry?”
“I’m barely awake.”
He grabbed my hand and we walked along the water until we reached the Buena Vista, which was filled with everyone you’d expect if a painter had gathered one of every kind of person in the city to for an Edward Hopper moment.
The Buena Vista was one of those places in San Francisco that claimed the city for itself rather than let the city claim it. They claim to have made the first irish coffee ever – used as something to help the dock workers back it through years of systematically breaking their backs.
We walked in an joined the mosaic.
“Order what you like,” he told me. He was so full of pride that I didn’t want to push any further about his new job. I ordered an eggs Benedict and he did the same, along with two Irish Coffees. The sun was up outside and at our backs, and we were at a bar that had sat thousands like us over the years.
I the mirror in the background, I could make out the necklace and the Bee on the bottle cap, though the reflection caused the image to invert. Alberto was smiling next to me. Life froze in that moment and everything else dropped away. The coffees came and slowed us down even more – stretching out the white noise around us to a note that of music that was played a million different was but in perfect rhythm.
The Bartender smiled at us.
“I’ve made a few drinks in my time,” he said. “And if you don’t mind me saying so, I think they have a bit of glue in there for those who are truly in love. I believe that’s what I’m seeing in front of me, and what you’re seeing in front of you.”
I was warm all over from the whisky and the breakfast with my man. Now we had the pleasure of strangers noticing us. I played with the illusion until breakfast was over and we walked along the steps that led into the ocean near the Marina. That area of the city was untouched by buildings or worries – unless of course you looked at the people folding into themselves and wondering what they needed to do to stand up once again. There was a sadness in the sounds of the ocean – probably because it was the water that had been separated by it.
I can’t tell really. We walked and Alberto seemed distant from me. Could have been the whisky and probably was even more than that. I realized how early it still was an how awake I felt at being up and at the world with such a shot.
“Why not just go and grab a paper. We’ll stay in the Marina all day.”
Jesus Christ she sounds too happy go lucky. Too flower girl. Everyone else has an edge here and is pretty smart so let’s see what we can do about giving that to her. It’s late right now – around 2:47 in the morning and everyone is still shooting fireworks in the street. It’s a grand time to be able to write like this so late without having to worry about the consequences of what works going to bring. It’s roasting outside. We should all do some kind of sun dance when that thing finally goes down. Cheering it into the ocean and hoping that it drowns away.
Let’s see if we can’t get her to change it up a little bit. We’ll have to go back and clean it. So, from here, let’s start again. She can’t just hang out in the MArina al day. Needs a job. Teacher would be good. Up at the park in North Beach. Here were go.
“Why don’t we just hang here all day,” he said, looking at me with those same eyes I couldn’t walk away from the first time. “We’ll just watch the fog peel away.”
“It’s too late to call a substitute,” I told him, looking at my watch and remembering what was real. “Come on, I need a ride.”
We walked to his bike and looked out over the bay together, before I jumped on his handle bars. I leaned back slightly so I could feel the hardness of his chest against my back. I had ridden like this so many times with him that I knew how I fit in every part of his body. He started off. We passed by the old timers still haunting the docs like ghosts in the fog looking for their youth to come back but only seeing the lines and indents in their hands to remind them of what was taken from them. The fog only covered so much.
He increased his speed and we continued on the strip that bends around the bad holding all of the old piers that used to house ship but now only remained to create an edge for the city. We moved past Pier 39 – resurrected into and amusement part and shopping center to keep from being riddled off into the world of nostalgia. Balloon blowing clowns and unicycle riders stretched and got ready to entertain for the day while a woman hunched over drug her cart full of fruit past them towards the incline that led into North Beach. We probably could have followed that road, but we took the easy, longer way around to drink in the moisture of the fog and elongate the morning our moment was turning into.
The rest of the piers stood strong but silent as the old dockworkers milled about in their jackets, smoking over their cups of coffee and keeping low so as not to be swept away by progress. The lucky ones, if you want to call them lucky, got jobs as security guards protecting the grounds and waterfronts they used to own by association. I guess that’s the misconception of most workers – that you are really a part of or own anything.
A high school couple – I guess it was a high school couple, though these days you don’t know – they kissed forever on the side of the wooden planks while tourists started lining up behind them for a chance to get tickets to head out to Alcatraz. I never understood why a prison was such a fun place to visit. I went with my class when I was in grade school here and they locked us in a cell to give us an authentic feel at what it was like to be a prisoner. I couldn’t sleep for the next week as the smells and echoes of what had happened behind those walls stayed with me. I kept seeing all of the eyes of my classmates in there. Looking at the tourists, I superimposed my old dreams into their faces and leaned back hard to Alberto to jolt me back into our moment.
We continued the ride. The fog was lifting in parts of the sky. The old 50’s diner across from the bending road we were riding on had waitresses coming off their shift. Everyone was always getting off their shift in this city. There was that beautiful sadness of a voyeur always present here. Like a Billie Holiday song on loop. Everyone had the blues here and was doing their part in the chorus. We came around the final bend before Market Street dead ended the bay. The greyhound bus terminal shuffled off teenagers ditching school from the suburbs up north and sending off people who might not have made it and had to check out early.
Turning up Market, skateboarders, who never minded what kind of day it was, practiced their tricks while girls in hoodies sat hunched taking pictures thinking they might be able to catch a moment and send it on in to Thrasher Magazine. The sounds of wheels on cement is universal.
Well dressed business folks headed into the building on the end of market street, though they didn’t push and shove each other for space. The pace was easier out here than on the east coast. It was all movements.We rolled past the wall where all the bike messengers used to sit and wait for calls come in on their shoulder radios. I felt Alberto’s chest shutter and and heart beat tough through his skin.
Making a right up Montgomery, where the hill inclined a bit, there was a different kind of business worker. Women wore tennis shoes with off label pencil skirts and their good shoes in the opposite hand of the lunches they were carrying. The buildings there were moving into were old and gothic, but nothing about them screamed retro. Had you removed them from the picture and put in the right kind of lighting, it would have made a perfect gangster movie.
Now to the top of Montgomery where the line starts to blur into Chinatown, you could see the men in the park playing games I could never understand while the women either waited for them or paid little attention to what they were doing.
Now up Columbus where the hill was steep. Alberto shifted to a down gear and started his push up. I could feel his heavy breathing and moved back as far as I could to be part of all of his movements. The bakery trucks were just finishing dropping off their goods, and the strippers were finishing the late shifts and waiting for buses or taking cabs depending on how good they had done that night. My school came into focus – it was right next to the church in Washington Park. I think there is a Washington Park in every town in the country. The sounds of the children shuttling in through the gates got louder as we slowed down.
“Hello Ms. Lawson,” came the out of breath ones trying to beat the tardy bell while their hair was still wet from last minute trying to get ready mothers.
I jumped off the bike.
“That was the ride of my life,” I said, taking the napkin I had wanted to save from our breakfast and using it to wipe the sweat off of his face. “You know what time I get off, right?”
“I’ve got work to do,” he said. “This new gig is going to take up some time at strange hours, but it’ll be worth it.”
The bell rang.
With his face as dry as I could get it, I kissed him while giggles came from behind the fence. I moved in and felt him watching me go, but I couldn’t tell if we were saying goodbye or not.