Peter has provided a visual soundtrack to his personal musings on interactions with Tenderloin residents and characters. He has kindly allowed TLRS to repost this series. You can see more of his work here.
She looks like a grandmother who ended up living on the street.
She is always by the entrance of the same store, sitting on the sidewalk. Unless she is going somewhere, she takes her shoes off and puts them by her side. I don’t know, why. Her stomach looks unnaturally large, but this is because she carries all her things stuffed under her sweater.
I don’t know what to think about her. I have seen her having a normal conversation with people, but other times she just blurts out random things at everyone who pass by. I have seen her eating a pile of rice off the sidewalk or emptying her bowels on the curb, but also having a good laugh with people, in a genuine way.
She was just walking around when I asked if I could take a picture of her. She said “Okay”, and sat down. I told her about the extra time I will need with my camera, and then set up quickly across from her.
While I took the first picture, she kept turning her head and body away, then back. I asked her to be still, but she didn’t stop, as if she couldn’t decide to be in the picture or not. I tried to take a second picture, but she simply turned away.
I didn’t want to disturb her too long. I gave her some change and wished her good luck.
“Thank you”, she said, and smiled. Her face had sharp, distinctive features.
Zero 135 camera by Zero Image, Kodak Professional 125 PX film
FILED UNDER URBAN SURFACE SERIES
Farewell To Koko Cocktails
AUGUST 13, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH LEAVE A COMMENT
It’s been an amazing run. For the establishment, for TLRS, and for all of us. This reading would not exist were it not for Justin, Lori, and Chris. We are so sad to see them go, but hope that you will all join them again up the street at the future Hi-Lo Club on Polk. We’ll post a bulletin about its opening when that information becomes available. The last TLRS at Koko was a special night for all of us, and for those who would like to relive it the generous words ofNicole McFeely at Litseen encapsulate the end of an era for TLRS. There is video as well. The Tenderloin Reading Series will live on, at a to be decided new location. For now, we have once again been kindly invited to participate in the annual Litquake festival Litcrawl on Saturday October 15, 2011..details of that reading are to follow shortly. We have a very special holiday event planned for December, and more on that to come as well.
If you have been following our progress you’ll note that tenderloinreadingseries.com has continued to expand the content we regularly post; drawing on a number of now-regular contributors, as well as expanding the scope of Tenderlogues. Expect more of this as well. For now, here’s my fond farewell to the bar that started this all:
THE MAN WHO WOULD WAKE TOMMOROW
The man who would wake tomorrow
Would arise tired and hungover
With a vigilant tingle of last night’s wine
In the space between his teeth.
The sun would enter
Through the curtains he would leave drawn open
Before going to sleep the previous night
And there would be a parade of garbage-men
In noisy vehicles following him
From the tail end of his dreams
Into the morning light.
There would be a late night he could vaguely
Remember with a woman he had known
So clearly, had sketched out a mental picture in the
The boozy fog of last call and now seeking to recollect
And there would be businessmen erect, walking power points
Next to street urchins erect and unsheathed at the 38 bus station
Waiting on the long L that winds from downtown towards the ocean
And he would pour his morning coffee
And he would top it off with whiskey
And he would watch, when there were
Birds that congregated in the eaves of the adjacent buildings
And would remark to himself on one thing or another
And at some point the crowd would disperse
And he would let his eyes traverse the messy amalgam of
The Tenderloin streets again.
If there was a summer it would start to be felt
In the streets on that day
The man who would wake up tomorrow would walk down
To Sing Sing and smoke cigarettes in the backroom
Watching Vietnamese talent shows and playing slot machines
And stubbing smoke butts into the leftovers of banh mi sandwhiches
And would take an ice coffee as thick as engine oil and feel it flutter
Down the chamber of his gullet as Ellis Street began to stink of human waste
And crack smoke and spilled liquor with brand names like college baseball teams
And he would wander the dollar stores
And stop to talk to women in doorways
Of single room hotels whom he would gladly take home
If it weren’t for the fact that
He has no idea what home is anymore
He would wander toward the edge of Union Square,
And the corporate portrait of the city would be enlarged
Long enough for him to grow weary of the tourists who also wandered around
Their heads all detached from their bodies
As though they were searching for a sign
From a place beyond the Cheesecake Factory.
And he would have stopped in the small grove called the Tenderloin National Forest
With a brown bag and the fading daylight and been content
With a day spent in precisely the way he pleased
And as the sun would go down he would remember some one
Who on the previous night seemed to know him so well
Starting at the Edinburgh Castle, to the Geary Club, to Frankies 21, Ha-ra
And ending where he would now return
To recall with the bartender last night’s avails
In the dim-lit corner of Koko Cocktails
And the bartender would remind him that all went well
That he remembered to tip
That she seemed like a nice girl
That he should consider calling her
If she had made that much of an impression
And all of this might have happened
Precisely in this manner
Were the man who would wake up tomorrow
Been able to stroll from the doors of his apartment
Up the corridor and into this room
One more time.
FILED UNDER UNCATEGORIZED
THE POETRY OF WILLIAM TAYLOR JR
AUGUST 11, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH LEAVE A COMMENT
William Taylor Jr. is the greatest poet that I know. I feel fortunate to have raised a glass with this man, whose words have reached some silent part of me and stayed there since I first had the good luck of being introduced to him. His work is powerful, insightful, and worth every second of your attention. He has been kind enough to allow us to re-post the occasional poem of his here on the TLRS website. You can read his contribution to the Tenderlogues project here.
THE FACES AND THE VOICES AND THE REST OF IT
I wake up
and call in sick to work
because some days the faces
and the voices
and the rest of it
are just a bit too much to face
and time is needed just to stare at walls
or get righteously drunk
or do nothing at all
which seems to be a dying art
in a dying world
it is a Sunday afternoon
and I walk along Geary Boulevard
until I find a bar that has no name
just a doorway to a darkened little room
an escape hatch from the day
I duck in there
and the bartender is kind
I order a beer and she gives me that
and a shot of something on the house
I look up at the television screen
and see the city of New Orleans
and a voice says hey Elvis
I turn my head
and at the end of a bar
a blonde woman old enough
to be my mother
flashes her tits
I smile weakly and buy her a beer
glad to have found
a new place to hide.
FILED UNDER UNCATEGORIZED
PETER BALOGH: URBAN SURFACE SERIES 1 NO. 1
JULY 29, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 1 COMMENT
San Francisco, 2011
ABOUT THE URBAN SURFACE SERIES:
The Urban Surface Series is a photographic narrative project by Tenderloin resident and artist Peter Balogh. Using an old-fashioned wooden pinhole camera, Peter has provided a visual soundtrack to his personal musings on interactions with Tenderloin residents and characters. He has kindly allowed TLRS to repost this series. You can see more of his work here.
I’ve seen him many times before.
He is always in the same place, sitting in a folding chair, wearing the same hat and poncho, reading a book. I have an old picture of my dad reading a book like that.
He seems very organized, polite, and in great physical shape. He might have some military background. He never asks for money; instead, he has a cup on a string with a small fishing pole, for those who want to help.
When I walked up to him, I was nervous. He wasn’t. I asked him if it was okay to take a picture of him, he simply said “Yes, of course”. He only got excited once he saw my wooden pinhole camera. “It looks old”, he said. I told him it’s an old method that takes about ten seconds to expose the film, so I would need him to be very still. “No problem”, he said.
He and his friend beside him were watching me quietly as I placed my camera down on the sidewalk about ten feet away. A third man, someone they apparently knew, walked up to me and tried to start a conversation. I didn’t mind, but he kept walking into the frame as I tried to take a shot.
My guy must have seen my frustration because he told the disruptive man to stand to the side and let me do my thing. I rolled the film forward and took a second picture. It was a success.
I said thank you to him and put some money in his hand. Some of the others began talking to me again, very fast and excited. I couldn’t really understand what they were saying.
“Don’t mind them,” he said, “it’s the drugs. I don’t do drugs. I drink, but no drugs.”
“It’s all good,” I said, “I drink, too.”
We smiled and I wished him good luck.
Zero 135 camera by Zero Image, Kodak Professional 125 PX film
FILED UNDER URBAN SURFACE SERIES
TENDERLOGUE: JOEL LANDFIELD
JULY 20, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 3 COMMENTS
I SAW YOU ON THE BUS DOWNTOWN AGAIN TODAY (HELLO STRANGER)
WITH APOLOGIES TO BARBARA LEWIS
I moved across a bay
But the last time
I climbed on to
a bus downtown,
it was the most
I’d ever been on,
People pushing and shifting,
like the front row of the Danzig show
we went to
that time you lost your skirt,
or cattle on a train.
I looked up, and there you were,
both of you smiling down
at me from
just above all of our heads,
between an ad for a
personal injury lawyer
Both of you
smiling down on me,
(Sh-bop sh-bop my baby)
like a spotlight
(Sh-bop sh-bop my baby oooh)
the late afternoon
taking me from
all the way back home.
Just a photo.
This ain’t no fucking metaphor,
it wasn’t a woman that looked like you,
it was a picture of you.
(Seems so good to see you back again,)
taken from way back
(how long has it been? A-ooh)
and put on this city bus,
a spot for
“I never hit her,”
I wanted to say, to explain,
(It seems like a mighty long time)
But, of course,
they couldn’t know,
Just some woman
and a little girl
in an ad on the bus.
(Oh my my my,
sh-bop, sh-bop my baby)
I had almost forgotten the
today. I got on
the bus, downtown
I looked up,
see you there again
(seems like a mighty long time)
(I’m so glad
you stopped to say hello to me,)
your faces. Smiling down
(remember that’s the way it used to be?)
You told me
you’d like to see it sometime
(Sh-bop sh-bop, my baby oooh).
Well meet me
We’ll ride the bus.
FILED UNDER TENDERLOGUES
JULY 9, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 2 COMMENTS
The Tenderlogues Project is now openly seeking submissions. If you have stories or poems about specific experiences or periods of time you’ve spent in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, we’d love to see them.
There are no length requirements, but please use your best judgment. We’ll publish a chapter, but not a novel. Your piece must address an experience, a period of time spent, or a topical exploration into some aspect of the Tenderloin. You will then be contacted to set up a photo shoot with Julie Michelle. A short bio is welcome too.
Please send submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can’t wait to hear from you!
Jonathan & Julie
FILED UNDER TENDERLOGUES
TENDERLOGUE: JONATHAN HIRSCH
APRIL 28, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 3 COMMENTS
(Photo Courtesy of Julie Michelle @ iliveheresf.com)
DEAR MS. TENDERLOIN
Dear Ms. Tenderloin
The sun hasn’t
Shone in my window
In a week.
The other night there was a flash of light,
Then an explosion on O’Farrell Street…
This is not
A social commentary.
Dear Ms. Tenderloin
Drinking a bottle of Andre
On a Saturday night
When a fire broke out
In front of the bar
With the password
And the dress code
I went out there in my sweatpants
And a to-go cup
Just as the firefighters were
Winding their hoses up
And all the suits
On the manicured corner
Of Jones Street
Looked like they were
Trying to avoid the gaze of a ghost
As they stood outside the bar
Puffing their cigarettes
Into the cheap air
Fixated on some arbitrary point
In the distance
Like trained performers
Did we smile together there? It felt like old times.
Dear Ms. Tenderloin
I thought you were mine
But last night I saw you dancing
With cocaine in the doorway
Of the Lincoln Hotel
His powdery lips bunched up against yours
His vim in your bloodstream
Like sperm swimming upstream
Can you hear me when I talk to you like this?
Sometimes I think you can,
But it has been so long since I felt at home
In your arms.
I was younger, this is true
And I quickly became enamored
With everything about you
I spent my sunrises on your floors
Picking out a tune
That the neighbors on the other end
Of the air shaft sang along to
Sitting on their kitchen floor
And I walked out the front door
As you slowly came to
Your arms tattooed
With cross-town traffic.
Dear Ms. Tenderloin
I shoveled pizza into my face at 1:30 in the morning
I spun around on a smoke blanketed dance floor
Bright dresses, buttoned collars in the bomb shelters
Of backroom clubs
Made love to strangers
With the graceless ineptitude
Of a virgin
All to be nearer to you
I thought we had an understanding
And was so relieved to return to you
After getting hustled out of a twenty
For a bag of weed I never wanted
By a bus boy in Chinatown
Whose remaining teeth
Must have been erected on landfill
Before the big earthquake hit
And my lover and I sit
Leaning out on a ledge
Overlooking Shannon Alley
And I watched you slide your sad fingers
Up the shirt of an old girl
In a goodwill miniskirt
With embroidered pearls on it
And you gave her a panged relief
That was feverish and bittersweet
A covenant of madness
That made it easier for her
To spill her guts back out
Onto the street
And you sponged them up
Propelled by the heavy rain
They swirled down the drain
Into the bowels of your wide belly
Stop yourself if you’re thinking of telling
Me that everything and nothing is the same
I know this is true, but I’m not a tourist
And somehow still I am not a part of you.
Perhaps you have endeavored to love us all equally
You are San Francisco’s statue of liberty…
But sometimes I look at these streets
And feel like the runt of the litter
Clamoring to feed on the busy sacrifice
Of your defeated body
Do you hear that?
To a two-step
Facing the window
“You don’t miss your water, till your well runs dry”
I’m not altogether sure
If I’m hungry anymore
Exiting the liquor store
I spill my change onto the street
And don’t pick it up
FILED UNDER TENDERLOGUES
TENDERLOGUE: PAM BENJAMIN
APRIL 28, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 1 COMMENT
FAITH IN HUMANITY
Faith in Humanity
Sometimes the planets align in just the right manner,
and the air is clean and cold,
and the stars seem brighter,
and things are just too perfect,
and my limited faith in humanity is refilled.
Filled to overflowing
with the generosity of strangers.
“I’m Mary. This is my partner Joseph.” We squeezed into their boundary at the bar hoping for a space to put drinks down.
“Get this, Get this!” Whit screamed hands waving dramatically, “He’s a carpenter!” She was the first to hone in on the bar stool with a wink and a smile to Mary; they were hugging within minutes of introduction.
“I don’t believe you. This is a clever ruse you two perform at bars to hustle strangers. Do you juggle too?”
“No, but he’s trying to convince me to name our first child Jesus. It’d be just blasphemous enough. I could yell, ‘CHRIST! Jesus! Get the HELL in here!’ when he was playing in the street or something.”
Joseph had a thick red beard, lumberjack style. “I sort of have a thing for Lumberjacks.” He pulled out a picture of himself atop a 50 foot tree.
“Funny enough, I WAS a Lumberjack before I traveled around the country with The String Cheese Incident.” He spoke eloquently with Bostonian accent, a juxtaposition that almost caused cranial aneurism, while his friend played poster child for the Massachusetts Accent Council with phrases like, “Wicked retarded, kid. Wicked pisser.” Which came out phonetically as, “Wikkid Reeetahhded, kitt. Wikkid Piissahh.”
We laughed and talked and yelled and danced and made fun of accents and admired beards and drank and smoked listened to the juke until Mary said, “You guys should come over!”
Now, I usually don’t go home with strangers upon first meeting. I live in the Tenderloin. I have trust issues. I don’t have faith in humanity. I don’t have faith. I get in these mindsets where I think that everyone is evil and after me and that flying monkeys are going to descend from the sky and steal my bus pass or my keys or that someone is going to slip a roofie in my beer or lace my bowl with PCP, that wild dogs will tear my throat out on the street and I’ll be found days later by a top-notch CSI team going through my purse pulling out empty baggies and scanning my body with black-lights, heads shaking, muttering to one another in hushed tones, “She had too much faith in people”.
You could say I carry an unhealthy dose of paranoia in my personal baggage.
You could say I have a lot of undiagnosed fear.
You could say that my desire for adventure is often overshadowed by my limited viewing window to reality.
I had none of these feelings around Mary and Joseph, genuinely good people (No, GREAT people), when they invited us into their home.
As we stumbled down the darkened streets of Hyde and Ellis, Whit picked up their accents screaming, “You drunk! You pahhked your cahhr in the bahhr!” and continued butchering the noble Boston sound to impossible levels of absurdity as we fearlessly ping-ponged down the alley to their apartment.
My cup overfloweth.
FILED UNDER TENDERLOGUES
TENDERLOGUE: PAUL CORMAN-ROBERTS
APRIL 28, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 4 COMMENTS
It all starts with me coming home from my telemarketing gig, off the BART station at eleven every night per always, and on up the Hyde Street wind tunnel for six blocks to the Serv-Well corner liquor pusher for an overpriced quart of milk at Ellis Street when a brother in front of me the size of a brick shithouse strolls five, maybe six paces out into Hyde, then whirls one hundred and eighty degrees on a dime at the sound of some shit talk and the bark of a forty-ouncer smacking off the sidewalk; another brother a quarter of the block down Ellis throwing down the corner liquor store gauntlet; two young men about to get it on in the heart of the one and only Tenderloin and adrenalin ripples out from the intersection, pushing uphill, rolling downhill and crawling toward the back of every alleyway evenly over a three block radius and it’s all going down in front of the Serv-Well Market and I gotta go, yesiree I gotta get myself right the fuck across this here traffic, right across this here street and never in my life have I been so happy to see the gorgeous desolation of O’Farrell Street while pistol shots don’t sound like they do in the movies (PA-CHEW! PA-CHEW!) but are a pop popping percussion that leaks around street corners and boxes in my ears while I hole in against a cleft in a brick wall only to find myself with an older, darker sister with canyon deep wisdom etched in her handsome jawbone croaks out “awshit, fools is gonna be dealin’ out they dyin’” right before taking a gi-normous hit off of a tiny glass pipe, then gripping my shoulders while throwing her left leg around my waist and thrusting her tongue deep into my tonsils, allowing her coke washed, E & J flavored crack-hale roll into and overflow my sinuses leaving me heated, swollen and eager; leaving me wanting nothing more than to pull this smooth slab of loving neuro-electric carboplasm, deep inside of me until my wet has somehow consumed her wet but my ears pulse with the bastard cosmic hum of the ether and the distant pop-pop-pop, which caresses me warm, safe and sexy in the piss baked concrete smell of O’Farrell Street where I dream the creamy dreams of the possible for a period of time I cannot measure, but which only ever ends with me prone and alone in front of the stark, steely gray judgment that is the entrance gate to my apartment building…miraculously with keys, wallet and change somehow still in place…miraculously with my cock still dry and comfortably secured inside still zipped up Levis…miraculously with the sickly orange streetlight pall of O’Farrell Street completely abandoned, and every storefront bolted down and tucked snug against each other till the coming daylight, including, I am quite certain, my quart of milk safely ensconced within the Serv-Well market.
I can’t see past the next brownstone-studio-live/work-office-loft-space-apartment housing the local non-profit, communally alternative shared living arrangement. Instead an urban backwash din soundtrack for this seething metropolis of street ghosts; the creamy, swirling hustle – the freak show roll call voices popping and bubbling in the thin wisp cauldron of consciousness designed and marketed for my ears.
Yeah, I see yo’ ass slidin ‘round the way, yeah slidin’ round up on the highway but da law of physics say you got to fall down brutha. The law of the Tenderwomb say you pick and choose how high you get by how you pick and choose how far you got to fall, ‘cause sooner or later you got to fall back down and I ain’t seen you fall yet. I ain’t seen you fall yet. I’m sure watchin’ you fall is a very beautiful thing my brutha. Shit, I wait around all day waitin’ to see you falls; I wait around right here to see you falls, ‘cuz you be fallin’ any day now. But I come back and watch you fall some other day, ‘cuz now I gotta go get high…igh…ay..ay…ay…ay…ay…ay…ay…ay…ay!!!!
And as fast as it comes the cackling madness melts back into the flow of O’Farrell Street and I think I’ve lost my marbles for good this time, yes I think they’ve rolled out my ears and down the grimy hills because there are wharf rats barricading themselves in my kitchen and flying Oscar-fish chewing up my wardrobe. I’m watching people have conversations with fence posts and doors and walls and other people I can’t see, which are not to say they’re not there right? These voices don’t come from disembodied spirits but from disembodied bodies. Except that one time when the old stranger whispered in my ear as I passed “how’s that play you’re working on going?” or when the lumped woman with the backpack sticker that says “JESUS HATES SEX” asked if I could see “Him” crucified on the bottom’s of 747s overhead, and why, yes look there, there’s the savior now, arms strapped to the bottoms of the wings and flapping his dick out all over the city.
It stops becoming them.
Did you hear that?
There’s nothing quite like the sound of a shotgun blast in the ‘Loin. It’s a long, blissed out white noise like sheet metal no wanna-be industrial alterno-grunge band could ever hope to set free; a noise so pure and metallic that it does not die easily in the caverns of a thousand different alleyways. To know what is on the other side of that sound; to see it from out of the corner of up here is to connect ever so deeply with that splash that someone else made before the neighborhood’s landlord association’s steam cleaning contract come to wash that unique masterpiece away in a stream of brown chunks down into the corner gutter is not unlike biting down on aluminum foil and liking it; chewing with a clanging vigor that makes me realize if I never feel any of these sensations again, it will be much too soon.
FILED UNDER TENDERLOGUES
TENDERLOGUE: WILLIAM TAYLOR JR.
APRIL 25, 2011 BY JONATHAN I HIRSCH 4 COMMENTS
WAITING FOR SAL
It was 10 o’clock on a Friday night when I locked up the bookstore and stepped out onto Market Street. The Castro was in full party mode. I had worked all day with a hangover and all I wanted was home, beer and a bad sci-fi movie. I walked down the stairs to the Church Street Muni Station just in time to catch an inbound train. I sat down in one of those sideways seats in the middle of the car. Across from me stood a smallish woman who looked to be somewhere between 25 and 30 years of age. Her hair was dreadlocked and dirty blonde. She had a number of tattoos, none of which were interesting enough to describe in any detail. In short, she gave off that rather generic San Francisco punk/hippie/lesbian vibe.
At the next stop a very average looking man in a business suit, perhaps about 50 years old, got on the train and sat down in a seat near to where the Punk Hippie Lesbian stood. Their eyes met and immediately they were chatting as if they were old friends continuing some conversation that had been interrupted some ways back.
The subject of their overly animated conversation was the generally decrepit condition and lack of cleanliness of the train car, bought on, I imagine, by the half empty bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos spilled across the floor. “It’s really disgusting how dirty these trains are,” Punk Hippie Lesbian was saying. “BART is much cleaner.”
“O, indeed, indeed!” The Average Man heartily asserted, his head bobbing up and down in complete agreement.
“These L trains are usually the worst,” she continued. “The M’s and the K’s are sometimes okay, but these L’s are always filthy! Always!”
“O, yes! Yes! Without a doubt!” The Average Man affirmed ever more loudly, his head now bobbing up and down at an impressive pace.
At the next stop a young man boarded the train and sat next to me, across from Punk Hippie Lesbian and The Average Man. He looked to be in his early twenties, and looked to be an Art School Kid. He had a fashionable beard and wore a gray hoodie. He carried a backpack and a small white plastic bag. Sitting down, he opened his small white plastic bag and removed from it a small white plastic container. He opened that and inside was some type of salad, let’s say macaroni. He began eating with a small white plastic fork.
Sensing impending trouble, I glanced up to find the eyes of Punk Hippie Lesbian and The Average Man sternly fixed upon Hungry Art School Kid. “Last I heard, there was no eating on the train,” Punk Hippie Lesbian said loudly, half to The Average Man and half to Hungry Art School Kid.
“O yes, I do believe there are numerous signs posted saying that very thing!” The Average Man loudly assented, his head still bobbing at an amazing rate.
“There sure are,” Punk Hippie Lesbian continued, “a lot of them!”
The two of them kept on in this vein until Hungry Art School Kid reluctantly raised his head to take them in, his eyes tired and disbelieving. He looked back and forth between Punk Hippie Lesbian and The Average Man. He smiled as best he could and in a weary but polite voice he said, “Yes, I know you’re not supposed to eat on the train, but I’ve had a long day and I’m very hungry.”
Instead of being appeased, the dynamic duo of Punk Hippie Lesbian and The Average Man were simply all the more incensed. “O,” the Average Man said in a cartoon voice as if he were scolding a seven year old child, “I guess some of us are special. Some of us don’t have to follow the rules!”
“O yeah,” Punk Hippie Lesbian joined in with a similar tone, “I wish I were special enough not to have to follow the rules. That would be great. But I guess I’m not special enough not to have to follow the rules!”
At this point every eye on the train was fixed on our little group. I sat silent in the midst of it, wanting to speak up on behalf of Hungry Art School Kid, but fearing it would only escalate things, I kept quiet.
Hungry Art School Kid stared in silence at the pair for a moment, still disbelieving. He then sighed as he put the lid back on his little plastic container of macaroni salad. He put the container along with the little plastic fork back in his little plastic bag. “Okay,” he sighed, “Sorry.”
Punk Hippie Lesbian and The Average Man said nothing but continued to glare at Hungry Art School Kid in silence. He met their gaze and eventually said, “Guess you guys had a bad day, huh?”
I immediately knew this was not the right thing to say. I think Hungry Art School Kid sensed it as well, but it was too late. Punk Hippie Lesbian exploded in a fury, shoving her face into Hungry Art School Kid’s. “Guy?” she screeched, “Do I look like a guy?! I’m asking you, do I look like a guy!?”
“O, no!” The Average Man chimed in, his head now violently shaking back and forth in the negative. “No! No!” he shouted.
“Do I look like a guy!? Do I look like a guy!?”
“No! No!” shouted the Average Man.
This chorus continued unabated until the train stopped at the downtown station where Hungry Art School Kid and I got off. “Bye,” Hungry Art School Kid offered softly as he stepped off the train.
This simple word sent Punk Hippie Lesbian into an entirely new level of rage.
“Bye!” she screamed back, as if the word were a cry of war. “Bye!” she screamed, again and again, her face and hands pressed against the window of the train as the door slid closed and the train started to pull away. Her eyes shone with pure hatred. “Bye! Bye! Bye!”
Hungry Art School Kid looked at me and I back at him as we walked up to street level. We said nothing. It was public transportation in San Francisco. Things happened. I gave a homeless man my transfer and headed north up Hyde Street toward my apartment.
A tall scarecrow of a man with a wide smile sauntered in my direction. Our eyes met and he smiled bigger. “I got me some fresh Run DMC shoes, and I’m gonna party tonight!” He proudly exclaimed. I looked at his feet to find them sporting a pair of Adidas that would truly do the rappers proud. He had a matching hat to complete the ensemble. He stood in front of me like he was posing for a record cover.
“Damn straight,” I said.
The man smiled even wider, gave me a thumbs up with both hands and then ducked into The Brown Jug. I silently wished him well.
As I approached the corner of Geary and Hyde I saw a figure in the distance that at first looked to be a small child, but a small child standing by herself at the Corner of Geary and Hyde at 11 o’clock on a Friday night seemed unlikely. As I grew closer I noted that the figure was not a child at all, but a small woman. More precisely, a small prostitute. A dwarf prostitute, actually. In truth, she may have been a midget, rather than a dwarf. I’m far from an expert on such matters. Let’s just say she was small.
I’d encountered this diminutive woman of the night a number of times previously. She was often around the neighborhood on the weekend. She was generally pleasant enough, usually greeting me with a “Whatcha doin’ tonight, honey,” or “Lookin’ for a date?” to which I would mumble something incoherent in return and continue on my way. Tonight I gave her my usual sheepish smile as I passed and she smiled back and said, “Blowjob for 100 dollars!”
“No,” I said, “thanks.”
“Not tonight,” I said.
“Why not?” she asked, her voice souring.
“I gotta get home.”
“Can you just give me five dollars, then?”
“No,” I said, “I can’t.”
“It’s just five dollars,” she replied, now thoroughly disgusted with me. I figured if she was charging 100 dollars a blowjob, and gave at least one blowjob a day, she was doing better than I was. I shrugged and continued on as she shouted after me, “Five dollars, you fucking cheapskate! Five fucking dollars!” I decided I didn’t like the dwarf prostitute anymore and from then on would cross the street to avoid her.
I stopped at the liquor store on the corner for something to drink. Outside the store a skinny tranny hooker stood on the corner and yelled for someone named Sal. “Sal,” she cried again and again, “Sal!” Sal didn’t seem to be around, or chose to ignore her. Her cries were desperate and mournful, like an animal abandoned in darkness. I walked past and she didn’t acknowledge me. “Sal,” she howled, “Sal!”
I walked the last block to my apartment building. I took a quick glance around to make sure no one was waiting to mug me as I opened the gate to the lobby. I stepped inside and shut the gate behind me. I checked my mail. Nothing good, so I left it there. I entered my apartment, took a beer from the six pack and put the rest in the fridge. I looked outside the window of my living room and the skinny tranny hooker was still on the street corner, still crying for Sal. I sincerely hoped that Sal would show up soon. Otherwise it was going to be a long night for everybody.
William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. His poems and stories have been widely published in the independent press in such publications as Poesy, The Chiron Review and The New York Quarterly. His latest collection of poetry, The Hunger Season, was released by Sunnyoutside in 2009. An Age of Monsters, a collection of short fiction, is in the works from Epic Rites Press.