The night hasn’t begun and I’m already asleep. I wake awhile later with a shiver, still wrapped in the picnic blanket and biscuit crumbs of a late lunch in Dolores Park. The sun is just settling behind the baroque dome and baby tower of Mission High School. The last straight rays gleam off the windowed façades downtown.
Munder, an old soul golden retriever, in my stead for the weekend while his family is away, lies sleeping beside me kicking at the clouds, chasing or being chased under the spell of a dream.
A couple hours earlier, my fourth feed on the spoils from Thanksgiving dinner had left me groggy. So I’d rolled myself up and slept.
After a final short nap at Munder’s home nearby, I follow the sloping leafy corridors west of Valencia Street past talk of Sunday brunches and the toll of over-exuberant family visits.
I have no design on the night, no inspiration other than to write what I see. And no money in my pocket. Just a loyal, loving dog as company.
It feels like the world had been saturated with temporary good grace and optimism, and was now taking a quiet breather before the run up to the next round of holidays.
Back at Dolores Park, a boy in a hoodie with the scratched, sly face of an alley cat stands over his friend, who lies coughing on the ground.
“Yeah she’s really f&$*ed up right now,” he says into his cellphone. “She’s on the ground throwing up.”
“Heroin,” a passerby declares. “Her system’s shutting down from withdrawal.” A few of us sit anxiously and wait, asking if we can help, until she thankfully recovers enough to be helped down the slope to her friend’s car.
“If you notice, there’s a major drug problem in this city,” the stalled passerby continues, now passing a joint to his friend beside him.
Munder the dog tears a stick noisily apart. I walk him back down the hill, past the brightly lit tennis courts, alive with the flat pop of felt-wrapped rubber on racket and the screech of skidding sneakers.
A friend meets me at Bi-Rite and treats me to “humanely raised” and gently pulled pork sandwiches. “Do you think they died happy?” he asks, looking genuinely concerned.
We sit at the single, outside metal dining table next to organic kabucha (a mottled green squash) and tiny golden mangoes, waiting for the rest of the night to begin.
A lone punk rocker in a worn leather jacket, glaring sullen-cheeked with lips curled in jest and defiance walks by riffing on an electric guitar with a built-in amp.
Blocks later, Valencia Street echoes with giggles and the abrupt U-turns of taxis, picking up guys and girls with shiny hair who seem to have given up on a relatively quiet Saturday night.
A girl in a raccoon fake fur hat walks along with a friend – “…that’s crazy. When I lived in New York I slept in a bunk bed.”
A skateboarder grinds by at 17th Street weaving around wind-blown plastic bags and torn newspaper.
A second stylish raccoon cap passes by. A couple of guys on the corner, eyes furtive and peering, fidget with their collars.
Approaching 16th, an older man shuffles forward moaning loudly, past a similarly aged man with tangled whiskers hacking behind the metal grating of his doorway in between drags from a cigarette.
At 16th and Mission, some younger kids throw up gang signs and blow snot at the sidewalk. Tightly folded cash slips hands, carts clink with aluminum and glass, a well-heeled crowd hurries by.
Two men in ties dash gleefully by speaking Vietnamese.
A driving beat creates the illusion of excitement at Foreign Cinema, but up close only a quarter-capacity crowd wiles away inside.
“Where is everyone?” I question two guys looking a bit dyspeptic outside. “Not here. Hungover from turkey and shopping?” one ventures.
Four men with shopping carts idle in the shadows of the New Mission Theatre speaking scratchy, breathless Spanish. Across the street, the Blue Macaw has a line 28 sidewalk squares long. I announce this to the girl at the back, Roxanne, but she isn’t sure why she’s waiting. “We got dressed up. What else should we do?” she says to her cohorts.
At the Make-Out Room, there’s more malaise. I ask what’s happening inside as excitedly as possible. “Eh, just some DJs,” a girl says unconvinced, stubbing out her Marlboro. “Is it worth it?” She shrugs, smiles and goes back inside.
At the Revolution Cafe, a blues band wraps up their set, and the energy is up a notch. I’m hit on by Raphael, just months out of the Navy after a dishonorable discharge for admitting he was gay. He’s disappointed to learn I like girls, but still serenades me with a bright smile and cowboy song in an odd faux-British accent.
“Don’t let that cowboy follow you ha-ome,” he warbles, somehow managing to sound haughty.
A guy in a blazer and slight beard discusses Nintendo Wii with his friend among the spillover from the cafe bar. “Nothing’s inspired me since Mario Tennis,” he laments.
Jazz horns over a dub beat quiet the crowd and those on the sidewalk shuffle and sway, locked in groove and conversation.
Doors down at OZ Smoking Lounge, the small group inside looks crushed, slumped along the wall on floor pillows, pulling slowly from hookahs.
Chris, a 56-year-old elementary school teacher in the Richmond District, sits alone outside the Latin American Club.
“I come here for the vibe,” he tells me.
After a brief exchange, he dismisses the future of journalism. “It’s a dying beast, a romantic profession.”
“I appreciate the left-leaning coverage of Latin America from El Reportero,” a bilingual weekly newspaper based in the Mission, he says. I tell him of the editor’s increasingly conspiracy-minded editorial rants and fawning over Ron Paul and the recent anti-tax, tea party rallies.
When I interned there months ago, the editor Marvin had convinced himself we were under Martial Law in the United States, but did not know it. This week, he explains the H1N1 vaccine is a tool of the corrupt banking elite to reduce the U.S. population.
Chris tells me of a book, “Media Monopoly.” “It was revelatory when I was a student,” about how “media – mainstream media – brings in readers just for advertising.” I agree that’s a troubling business model, though one under some threat as internet news sites figure out how to become sustainable.
Our tables and chairs are taken away with last call. Munder’s excited to continue our wander.
“The Pope is poop” is stenciled onto the sidewalk. Nearby a woman hunched over a cane pleads with cops – “Will you take me to the hospital? I need… I need… I need…,” she stammers, then repeats “Will you take me to the hospital?”
“I can’t move, help me,” she says swaying slightly on her cane. The officer responds from a car’s width away, “You can’t stand?”
“Help me!” A final shouted plea rings out as I walk slowly, unhelpfully away.
A man topped with a Santa cap leans against a mailbox at the corner. “Those cops ain’t going to help,” he warily declares.
A couple lingers in a doorway. They shuck and jive, then one last kiss before parting.
Munder’s still beside me. Patiently waiting for the rest of the night to begin. I feel tired; in the words of anthropologist Wade Davis, “like a crystal of sugar on the tongue of a beast, impatiently awaiting dissolution.” The slopes of Dolores Park are deserted by 2 a.m., except for three guys in the upper reaches of the jungle gym speaking of Amazonian women and reindeer.