21 July 2013
Out walking because the chickens of straight male responsibility are coming home to roost. I'm to be a groomsman twice over. Before being fitted for tuxedos (one shawl collar, one standard lapel), I'm trying to get that 28 inch waist back. The measuring tape at Men's Wearhouse shows no mercy.
I step off the N Judah when the drowsing hobo's urine has made its way to my left foot--Irving and something way out there. The sea feels near on these short, descending blocks--grey-green and hazy like Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series. When I take my sunglasses off it's still not brilliant.
A Sunday afternoon ghost town of ghost-colored homes. The only sound a pickaxe on concrete, a laborer I can only pick out by the glinting arc of his tool, swinging like an oil pump metronome. A mailman dressed like confederate soldier blows by toting an actual satchel. I refrain from calling out "Saturday delivery!" not because I'm a decent person but because you never know which mailpeople might be ex-military.
The Outer Sunset is less metropolitan than downtown San Francisco but more Californian--a neutral stucco rainbow and 80s Volvos from cream to mustard, rusted around the wheel wells. The neighborhood is the color of a weimaraner and I expect to see one. Even the surf shop is brown.
The blocks between me and sea are wonderfully short--I sail through the 30s. I pass, not without regret, an old couple tottering towards the ocean in teal and royal blue sports clothes. They pause and share a smile as if in amazement that the other is still there beside them.
Walking for the train in SOMA, I'd heard through the Frank Ocean on my headphones the hectoring of a Jesus enthusiast, t-shirt patriot and suspected itinerant. He was screaming at two handsomely-stubbled men in Levi's that fit so well I suspected they were not off the shelf. To his harangues they merely clasped hands and strode away on their longer legs.
It's a tough time for bigots in San Francisco but I hope the man demanding repentance in stained sweatpants could take some solace in the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
I take the headphones off in case the sound of the waves is soon to join the smell of salt. A couple of blocks from the Great Highway, there's a housepainter on break. He'll go back to turning a house from taupe to cream when he's done smoking his cigarette. The tobacco he picks from his tongue is shaped like the flecks just visible on his white jumpsuit. I wonder if he's considered that his Thermos is the perfect green--the color of hipster Tiffany's.
A paradox of Ocean Beach is that approaching it always makes me want to put on more clothes. It's not San Diego or L.A. or the swelter downtown today. This is the place William Finnegan surfed, not so far from Mavericks, the latest species of word being co-opted to irrelevance by Apple.
The Pacific high on the horizon brings me back to Richard Diebenkorn (a friend, who was just married, tied in twine, once helped me be saying, "I've heard it pronounced DEE-benkorn"). Ocean Park sounds less redundant than Ocean Beach and has that pleasant contradiction in the name, even if it is Santa Monican. The quiet splash of the paintings glimpsed together is like undone Prufrock poems and long strolls down the seaside, eyes weak from the sun. I'm sure what draws me to the paintings is the correctness of the colors together with a more organized landscape. There are fewer right angles at the real beach and I prefer to look at my portrait-style magnet.
Another of my friends getting married this fall described running over the sand to ask for his future bride's hand. I thought it would be a bad plan for speed but a good one for the kneeling. I like that kind of effort--sprinting over an obstacle course into the future--but worry about my heart rate. Shocking that someone could find such consolation in another person instead of art.
At the first sidewinders of sand today the accoutrements of California beach life begin to gather: Winnebagos, ice plants, inexpertly controlled kites, women whose legs aren't what they once were. The sun's been sucked in hazy whirlpool, twists of #cloudporn over a sea like lichen. On clear days Ocean Beach has an austerity that lends itself to greater, #grassporn photo ops.
After one such afternoon at the end of America I went back into the city with my friend and the woman who is going to be his bride. Strolling from their hotel down through Chinatown the street was suddenly ruined by some feral children spitting firecrackers (possibly, but not probably, to celebrate the fact that firecracker is such a wonderful word).
As an inveterate flincher at all loud noises, this made my walk unpleasant and no amount of crossing the street and doleful looks shook the kids from our periphery. And then they started rolling smoke bombs at us--it was like a living nightmare or, worse, a Christopher Nolan film.
My friend stepped into the middle of Stockton, cocked his fist at them and dispensed with a very baleful: "HEY!" The urchins scurried back across the street. Such unvarnished masculinity made me want to shape up, to fly right.
Sometimes I worry that there are crucial inaccuracies in my factual writing. But then I think of James Salter: "Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future."
The pennies out here have a green cast, matching the ghostly quality of the fingers that hold them. Or so I assume--who carries change any more?
I follow a hawk away from the shore toward a bus stop, wishing that raptors were better breeders. They could terrorize San Franciscan skies, ripping the throats from sea gulls and pigeons till the gutters ran red with the blood of lesser birds.
The Safeway across the street has the unlit sign and peeling siding familiar to me as a retired courtesy clerk. Do today's sullen teens still ruin their cuticles opening bales of paper bags? I remember that I made $5.25 an hour, worked mostly 3 PM to midnight and that my time in the eucalyptus and ennui at the Ralph's grocery on de la Vina is already half a life ago. It tastes like a mouthful of salt water.
After a school year of bagging and cart corralling, I took a senior trip to San Francisco for a flurry of consumerism capped by the $77 I spent on a double lobster tail dinner at Scoma's. I've never paid for an entree as expensive again--two days work for dinner--but it was the turn of the century and Fisherman's Wharf...I think of it as my Wolf of Wall Street period. As I strain to complete this circle, it's time to reveal that the two friends with whom I broke sourdough that night are soon to be married (though not to each other).
Stepping aboard an inexplicably crowded bus makes me think this is only a six-mile walk home. Alongside Golden Gate Park the stops are clotted with small children struggling to hold ice cream and plant seedlings and stuffed white alligators. I feel our excitement turning to crankiness all down the throbbing hull of the 5 Fulton.
30 minutes toward forever later, I step off in a humid huff and sit for a moment in Yerba Buena Park. From nowhere, a hummingbird jerks forward and steadies itself at arms-length, eye level. There's no color at her throat. My first thought is that it's a government drone. America in 2013.