IN SAN FRANCISCO you can gain one kind of perspective by going to the top of a hill and looking down. Take the Ina Coolbrith Park at the top of Russian Hill. You look down on Broadway and North Beach. If you love those places, it is like standing back and looking at the body of a beautiful woman. You feel good and excited.
Or go over to the "poets' corner" of the park and stare out at "The Rock." Gives you another feeling, a little eerie.
The cool, gray city of love is a woman with breasts in that poem by George Sterling. A curvaceous "she" who lets you explore her body. The park on the hill is one of her nipples.
ALABAMA OD'd on coke or heroin, I can't remember which. Nor can Alabama, not being here anymore. Nina tells me. She is standing out on the street in front of the Hungry i. Alabama's boyfriend found her. The police can't turn up any relatives. Sounds like San Francisco in the old days.
The coke or H got her worked up. She felt something. But it took more and more to get the feeling. Now she has no feeling. And we are trying to feel what we feel and go about our business. The stiff upper lip does not work so well at the Hungry i. That is not what it is all about.
I drop by now and then to get the news. Usually it is better than this.
MY FRIEND CRYSTAL is full of feeling these days. Most of it pain. But she is getting radiation to deal with that. It should make the pain go away. But then it will make her hair fall out and cause her to loose her memory.
She is a brave soldier. "Hmm, what my name?"
We joke when there is no other choice. Is life a joke? You decide.
SOMPIN' NICE is Bistro Yoffi over in the Marina. It will take your mind off the darker side. It will nourish you, even entertain you.
I took my friend Xiao Fan there the other day, not because it was her birthday. It wasn't. But because Vicki Burns was singing there. There may be a better jazz singer in San Francisco but I haven't found one. I would tell you more, but I'm being sparing with the words today.
The food is sompin' too. It is a one-woman kitchen run by Sara, who turns out beautiful plates of food like Angel Enchilada. You may not go straight to heaven with all the seafood in this dish but you are going to feel like life on earth may be okay. Give it a try.
"BLACK GUYS DON'T FLOAT," the black guy next to me at the bar at Chelsea Place told me. I had never given it a thought. He said it's due to body fat, or the lack thereof.
"Ever see a black guy in a swimming meet?" he asked. I shook my head no. "Well, that's the reason," he said.
"You float," he said, "I sink right to the bottom." Okay, now I know the answer to something I had never wondered about. Ask me a riddle and I reply body fat, body, body fat's why. Phoo to you too.
CHINESE DUMPLINGS. I love 'em. She is pinching shut the small pancake containing shrimp, egg, and vegetable. There is now a big bowl of har gow waiting to go onto the steaming tray.
It is a small kitchen. The two chunky young Chinese women are cooking and talking at the same time. I can't follow their rapid chatter but they are having fun.
"Hen hau," I say when I have finished eating. I use what Chinese I know. I take some of the dumplings home and fry them in hot oil, purposely burning them on the bottom. I have pot stickers now. I like them even better that way.
AT YONG SAN LOUNGE we are talking about Shakespeare. Judy is sleepy as usual and I talk with an older women who reads a lot and manages a building across the street when she is not at Yong San drinking beer. She is not the usual customer at Yong San.
We are on the subject of tax collectors and lawyers. I say they have always been ill regarded. I mention the Queen Mab poem in Romeo and Juliet. Queen Mab in her hazelnut chariot gallops nightly through the brains of lovers, making them dream of love, and over lawyer's finger, making them dream of fees.
"Did he say 'lawyer'?" she asks. I say I'm not sure. A week later I have checked and tell her he used the "L" word. Lawyers got beat up even back then. For the tax collector it was even worse. Read the bible if you doubt that.
THE WEATHER suddenly changed from cold and foggy to clear and pleasantly warm. It is weather that makes you want to get out and walk and visit your favorite places. At Yang San on Bush and Taylor you can see every detail of Potrero Hill.
Down at Le Central, Scott, the new bartender, makes me a Negroni. It is a little pale. He upped the gin and downed the vermouth. I prefer them a little darker and sweater. But it is a great day.
Over on Broadway at Enrico's Enrico himself is there. He looks a little sour. When Enrico's was Enrico's and he ran the place, things were .... Well, ask Enrico. It is still pretty good on a day like this. I walk up the Street to the Hungry i and talk with Nina, who is wearing a new silk blouse. We talk about the feel of silk on the body. She loves its cool smoothness. If I were silk and smooth, would she wear me? Her smile is inviting.
Don't know if there is any law against waitresses hitting on you. As Agostino Crotti, owner of Tammaso's, says, food and sex kind of go together.
Not that Tommaso's has anything to do with the sex industry, but they are surrounded by it over there in North Beach. Next door is a video shop advertising the "nastiest videos in town." Across the Street is the House of Ecstasy, the Lusty Lady, and the Hustler Club. And practically right over head is an "Oriental" massage place.
FOR ONCE I walk up Romelo, the little alley by the Hungry i, to the Basque Hotel. I see that the hotel is more than a hotel; it is also a bar. This may be a discovery for me. It is a quiet place.
In fact, there are no customers at all, just a big bar and some empty tables by the window looking out on the alley. I look around wondering if it is really open for business when the bartender comes out of a back room.
I ask a few questions. She is a blond young lady who looks preoccupied. Could there be a boyfriend who is not behaving as she would like? Are her parents perhaps not happy with her North Beach life style? Is she having trouble with this month's rent? You can see some combination of this in the pinched expression of her face.
VALLEJO IS AT THE TOP of Romelo. From Vallejo I walk up to Peter Macchiarini Steps, then head back down to Broadway.
I unusually see these step from the other directionfrom Broadway looking up. And there is usually one or two wasted looking characters with a bottle or a joint part way up sitting on those slab-like steps that run up the hill. I don't know how old the step are but they don't look like they were made by any contractor according to city regulations. They are as irregular as the characters who sprawl upon them.
Though I don't have a bottle or a joint, I'm now looking at the view from the steps down Kearny and clear down to Market. It is a marvelous view across town. If I had a joint and a bottle, maybe I would sprawl here for awhile.
It is the talk of the truly spoiled child. It is the talk of one with "attitude" who makes assumptions about what one deserves. It is the talk of one who does not actually have her nose stuck up in the airthat is not the style these daysbut sounds like she does.
"Las Vegas has things that San Francisco doesn't," says one young-un to another. I don't stick around to find out what. No wonder Enrico is sour these days.
I STOP BY CHELSEA PLACE on Bush Street to see my friend Fong. She's a young woman but doesn't talk baby talk. She tells me about "Cowboy," a customer at the other place she works, Would You Believe out on Geary.
Cowboy is an older guy who comes in with friends to shoot pool. Cowboy is a nice enough guy but he has a problem, or those around him do. He farts. And not any normal farts. They are like stink bombs.
The other day Fong was talking with Cowboy when he set one off. "I try to be polite, but it was so bad I had to get away." His friends he came in with told him he should see a doctor. Unfazed, Cowboy kept right on farting.
CRYSTAL is weak from radiation but she is making dumplings again. This time they are pork and she is boiling them. They are very meiweide.
"Maybe easier if you know somebody," she says. When she came form China a few years back she knew no one. She came in through LA and could not find rice in the grocery stores. So she bought bread. Maybe if she had a friend she could have found the rice sooner. Now she has rice but not so much time.
Her hair is falling out. But that is nothing new. It fell out with the chemo. This time it is falling out in the back where no one will notice. But she notices; she sees it on the pillow. She has no time for baby talk.
When I ask one of the locals about the park, he takes me for a tourist and tells me, a little uncertainly, that Sterling was a tennis star. If that is so, then Ina Coolbrith was a Broadway stripper.
I tell him that Sterling was a writer who spent too much time drinking and not enough writing but lived a most interesting life and deserved a park anyway. As I leave the park, I spot the miner's lettuce around the edges. It looks cool and refreshing.
JUDY IS THERE at Yong San Lounge. She is wearing bright print pantsit must be Springand a thin black top with a silver zipper. As always, she looks sleepy. In Korea I think the young women are taught that sleep is their birthright.
She asks me if I ever get a "massage." I avoid the question. She tells me she has a friend who is a masseuse. "Make ten thousand dollar each month," she says yawning. I say I doubt that.
An older guy in a seaman's cap says that he too doubts that. "Too much competition," he says. Judy looks like she doesn't understand. "Too many girls," he says louder and slower. Judy looks disappointed. I want to cheer her up. I like Judy. I like her slow, comfortable talk. "Well, maybe if you're really good," I say. Judy smiles. It must be Spring.