Wednesday, November 4, 2009

City Walking: A Misplaced Travelogue

I always wanted to attach photos to words and location names that weren't factually accurate. It was part of my project, DecoVerite, which I'm trying to revive as a methodology, a mythology, a poeisis. I wanted to send postcards that were total lies: local venues, streetcorners, San Francisco locations masquerading as locales from distant lands. Assemble tourist guides for areas where nothing, conceivably was happening. All of these ideas happened the day I lost my architecture assistant job. And recently I found photos, randomly, in my computer that I've culled for the notes below.

I took unnecessary side-streets the other night.

I was reviewing October derelictions, autumnal missteps. I also wanted to remember everything that had happened to me in the City. But mostly I was in a meditative mood and I believe solely in meditation in action, mostly on foot or by the pen or the bottle.

Moments when, at the sun-stroke of morning when the sky was pierced with nearby children's cries, I held my stomach and wondered whey I did those things the night before. I'm like a wedding planner who always shows up at funerals.

The beginnings of a fever started pulsing behind my ears. But it wasn't anything except the cabin version.

I had a rendezvous, but it wasn't for an hour. My route always begins the same, down the flat street, to the corner of that mysterious and beautiful warehouse with the tawny bricks and the stained windows and then downhill on the edge of the roaring, Mission-penetrating traffic. From the top of the hill, downtown looks like a whole other city away, a place where things are long and straight and made of green glass reinforced with million dollar steel. Where you can't even imagine how the flotsam must heap in the thin streets that race between the tall and long structures.

The shoeshine guy has closed up shop.

The Indian pizza smell dominates everything.

The Outer Mission has become my galaxy, for better or worse, going on a few years now. Which means I eat a lot of cheap Chinese food, Thai food, Indian food and Cambodian food.

I wonder at the chain-link fences guarding grassy lots, fences that have multi-colored twisty-ties on them.

I wanted to be out there, a helpless satellite under the yellow moon, walking on wide, unlit sidewalks that pedestrians don't much care for despite the cleanly-cropped houses with their clearly-demarcated edges.

Once, I find myself on the backside of a familiar establishment, like the grocery store, but the back is all broken mortar and stinking vents and little fenced-off alleys where all the carts are corralled like pigs. Clearly, I'm on a sidewalk that isn't favorable for most walkers. It feels like it's the wrong end of something, an access road, a backdoor, a trapdoor.

It was the same in the Excelsior, but more extreme: for instance, the Safeway was next to the Mortuary, and instead of shopping carts, there were rat corpses, abandoned cars and men in the bushes hunting for lost needles, as the pink neon flickered in the red fog.

I find places to photograph the moon.

Of course, it doesn't look like anything. Just a ball of hot butter above the cracked ramparts of crowded apartments.

The other day I walked to work as I always do. It takes five minutes.

I make the same left turn. I see the same dogs, the same happy people. This time, and for the second day in a row, inside of a second-story, street-facing window, a woman was singing opera while a man played the piano. Thin, aqueous curtains obscured them. I couldn't tell if there was an audience. There was an amber, archival light suffusing that room. It was comforting, even more so by the fact this was at least the second day in a row they were performing. And all the stoops were strewn with rotting pumpkins as the opera wafted out in the night, loud enough to be mistaken for a radio turned to eight.

And not just because of the heat I wanted to be out.

It was more the smells that drag me to certain parts of town, that unearth undying memories. Smells that make me think of being freshly landed in this city with all the excitement of a virgin or an astronaut. Walking down Capp Street, on the part where it's just a dark, shallow canyon flanked by docile Victorians and a perpetually unused parking lot and a stoop where businessmen sit and drink beer and talk on the phone, I always wonder what I might be stepping in, but actually it's clean and then suddenly it's bright.

It's 22nd street where old businesses congest even as new chains are emerging.

I walk to the corner where I used to live, I am full of scenes and intimations from Erick Lyle's book, as well as a surge of memories from that interesting year and a half I lived on that house on the street flush with the piss-stained sidewalk, the people fucking in their cars, the men smoking drugs in my doorway. The frozen yogurt store is still there. And so is the Latino bar, El Trebol. And the Buddhist temple that long ago took residence in the old Gothic-looking Episcopalian church.

I realize I never went inside the temple. I never felt reverential enough. I always felt like a tourist.

I did used to walk passed the temple, to the corner of 22nd and Valencia and admire the weird things that always ended up on the window ledges of the boarded-up Driscoll's funeral home. There was something there I grabbed once and I think I've since lost it. I can't remember what it was except that I was reading Jean Genet on the toilet that morning and thinking about how my landlord was going to turn that funeral parlor into an overpriced hipster bar. Since going to press, the mortuary remains closed.

The other thing I remember, and also lament never actually getting documentation of it, was that there was a sign next to the door of the mortuary. It was an oval-shaped porcelain sign inlaid with a flowery mandala in the center of which were the words, Tomorrow Farm.

How appropriate? How morbid? How Honest? Who knows, but I neither photographed the sign nor swiped the sign, even though both were viable options.

But that night I went walking, I saw everyone sipping wine under extinguished heat lamps at a place that used to be called The Last Supper Club and is now called Beretta. The beauty of everyone's arms, probably still warm to the touch even as cobalt dusk rubs away to a total black.

The other night we were in costumes, just the two of us. She was the missionary, I was primitive man. And after fetching candy, we found ourselves on top of a mountain, alone, one that is parched and red and lunar and toasted a sleepy Halloween without anybody in sight. A bench on top of it provides an unimpeded night view of the dark and sparkling city, all the rows of candy houses, splashes of shiny water far away, and shiny forest even further.

It's a challenge to the landscape to be the only two people in costumes for miles around. Or if you happen to find costumed people staggering down the unlit sidewalks, stragglers from some long-dead party, you have to wonder what brazen mishaps they've gotten themselves into, just to be so far from the conventional circuits. On that cool night summit, nothing could see us so we could do what we wanted, we could say the strangest things about things we've accidentally remembered that have no bearing on the lives we have now.

Being lost in San Jose, dragging my luggage in a shopping cart from one forlorn depot to another.

Being alone in an empty church on a rainy day in Buenos Aires, thinking about love I had given up on, and pages I wanted to fill with all the details of my loneliness.

The candy was gone fast; the night was cooling; I found I was talking aloud about things she had never known.

No comments:

Post a Comment