San Francisco

February 20, 2012
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San Francisco, the city that knows how. Knows how to what? That was the question he would ask himself relentlessly every morning. He would wake up too early for comfort, and listen to the cacophonous creaking of his bed, wishing he was anywhere else but there. The ceiling of his bedroom, oh why did he have it painted black? A dismal sight that blended too much into his sleep, it sometimes confused him when he woke. The walls, cluttered with bittersweet memories he meant to lose, but had yet built the courage to let them go, blinded him with a color wheel of blankness. Red seen as white; blue, green, black, all white amongst the walls.
He would begrudgingly exhale, and set course for a terminal destination in the bathroom. He would drag his heavy feet and exhale again, this time with a greater sense of disarmament, for he no longer would have the cradle of his sheets to protect him from the foggy air that moved in through the windows he swore he closed every night. His feet now felt even heavier as he approached the shower. When he first moved to the city, he would explain to himself that taking a shower first thing in the morning would exterminate all the sorrow he had felt the day earlier and replenish his energy, a source that had ran out of batteries and lost their reserves months ago. Now, his morning shower had become so mundane that he disregarded all emotions as the water poured down his back, leaving the melancholy scars of the first year he had spent in San Francisco.
He had concluded, on a strangely foggy morning he had yet to see since he arrived, that Mark Twain was not just a literary genius, but must have also been metaphorically referring to coldness one received during San Francisco summers. His only worry was that it hadn’t stopped shining since he got there, and winter looked but oh so far in the distance. Breakfast had become a bore after the second straight week of his bay attendance, so he reserved to simply getting dressed, and departing from one misery to the next.
As he opened the door, he stared to the Northwest to find Sutro Tower: a myth to him, for he had never spotted the supposedly noticeable monolith. As was accustomed most mornings, he gave up, and set on foot toward the bus stop, where he caught the 37, that dragged him past the liveliness of Castro to Church, where he transferred to the 22 to take him the rest of the way to the Marina. How he had come to dread that word, Marina. It was the main reason he had made the venture to San Francisco from Phoenix. He was told there would still be sun, but that the Mediterranean climate would soothe his mind. Now all he could think was how in the world Alexander the Great wanted to capture and control the Mediterranean, because he certainly wanted no part of it any longer.
But alas, he could not return. He left after his parent’s death. He convinced himself that he had no future left in Phoenix and had found a “wonderful” position working at a small digital camera company in the Presidio, minutes from the cold and heartless ocean. With a handful of classes taken at ASU, he knew it was the best opportunity for him. Now, he longed for the opportunity to take it all back. He knew, however, that he had no money to get back to Phoenix, and even if he returned, he had no life left there either. In truth, he did not know where his life existed or where it belonged.
After yet another monotonous day on the phone with salesman from the upper Northeast, soliciting a new product he wished he could believe in, he decided around noon that he deserved, or rather needed a lunch break. When he stepped out of the office, he noticed a blink of sunlight coming from the East, and decided that it was worth the extra mile to walk down to Crissy Fields to have lunch. As he crossed the street and set food on the sanded gravel, he eyed a simple green bench. As soon as he planted himself in his throne of thorns, the San Francisco fog replaced his blink of sunshine with its repulsive children.
And so he sat there, as his breath became colder and colder. After five minutes, he began monitoring his watch, as if he was counting the seconds to his execution. He waited patiently, until a shadow covered the face of the watch and he could no longer see the numbers wasting away the time. He began carefully studying the shadow, noticing an extremely mastered work of art that was in front of him. He eyed the real body, which impressed him even more. First at the feet, jutting out of a pair of ankles crisper than any Phoenix sun had shined. His eyes wandered the legs, and made his mouth tremble with skin as gracious as sand yet as soft as silk. As his journeyed ventured through the curves of a polyester doll, his eyes stopped when they reached her neck; he now knew that what he was looking at was not of his kind. Beyond the neck, he wished to see her face, but could not. His eyes were blinded by a burst of sun, as though the fog had melted the moment she had passed with her shadow.
His eyes then shot down, for she slowly turned around, presenting herself to him as though he was a gutless fashion critic she was bound to impress. She gracefully inched toward him; he was sure his life was moving frame-by-frame at that moment. She nestled down onto the bench, placing herself ever so slightly onto the scale, immeasurable as if she had no weight for she was floating. While looking up towards the suddenly bright sky, he could see her lips spread open and her tongue roll back.
“Do you know what time it is?”
He turned to her, as a butler does to the lady of a manor, and presented her with what she requested. “12:51,” he said and then took a harsh breath, embarrassed for a mistake he was sure he had made.
“Thank you. You’re very kind.”
He was sure she could not have spoken about him, for he had never heard those words brought about in conversation with his name. Rejecting the idea that she needed information from him, he returned to staring up at the sky. Meanwhile, her eyes spied a newspaper rolling across the dirt. She immediately rose, and pounced on the paper like a tribal hunter finding scarce food in the desert.
She spotted an advertisement for a “Buy One, Get One Free” ticket to the Exploratorium. She was immediately impressed by the delicate drawings that showed so much energy on a simple piece of paper. She was intensely intrigued, and so she turned to him, and with a watered mouth said, “Hey, do you want to go with me? It’s half off if you come, and I don’t have any money.”
He had still been reluctant to search her eyes, but instead, he kept his head toward the earth. “I’m sorry,” he told her, as her eyes began to drop. “I don’t have much drive for scientific endeavors.” She suddenly chuckled at his diction. “Anyway, I have to go back to work. I’m already going to be late.”
She sat there, still, like a doll, but with such emotion that he could not walk away. He was petrified where he stood. She stood up and put her soft, smooth hands on his shoulders. He could feel goose bumps begin to scatter all over his own skin. He had never felt that dichotomy of warmness she exuded and the coldness of his skin. Even more stunned at the moment, she decided to break the romantic silence.
“Please. I have nothing to do today, and it looks like so much fun.” She pressed now even firmer on his shoulders that he relinquished all control. He could no longer find his ability to return to work, and so he reluctantly returned:
“Sure. Let’s go. I could get paid the same anywhere else.” Even knowing that his justification was flawed, he did not fear losing his job. It was a strange feeling that suddenly overtook him. She ran toward the crosswalk, elegantly skipping. At that moment, he had finally seen her bright red sun dress, and it was at that moment, that he felt an escaped feeling; like he was leaving the life he was chained to for so many months and now obtained this enigmatic sense of freedom.
As they approached the museum, he asked a question he thought nonsensical. “How come you don’t have any money?” She turned around, puzzled. She stared into his eyes; he had but a hunch of what she was thinking. She simply stated, “I don’t know,” and resumed her liveliness. Sure, he felt like a creep when he asked her if she was a child, adult, or student at the ticket counter, but afterwards he found the moment quite hilarious. And so they entered with a gust of wind from the outside blowing them into the building.
Yet again, he looked up toward the sky, now simply a dark roof. She did not follow his actions, but rather looked toward the center of the museum. He stayed swiftly behind her, but could not halt her excitement. She then took a sharp right, and ran behind a closed curtain, as he anxiously followed. When he entered the room, she was standing so close to the other side of the curtain that he rushed into her, and only by grabbing her around the waist, did he save her from falling. He was completely concerned with her safety, that he was unaware that they had stumbled onto a cow eye dissection. She quickly grabbed his hand and dragged him into a seat behind the rest of the staring crowd. He could not help but smile when she screamed and laughed and even smiled like any of the joyous kids in the room.
Even though he was present for as much of the dissection as she was, she could not help herself to exclaim about how amazing the procedure was, as if it was his eye being dissected and his mind had not been there first-hand to see the excitement. He paused in his step, and as she glided away to the antipodal side of the museum, he wondered how one person could have such a beautiful smile, in a city that had failed to evoke a single one from him.
They spent the next hour at the museum, wandering like nomadic tribes, but at such a pace that he was out of breath most of the time. He resigned to watching her, whether painting a picture of lights or running up and down a deformed house. In her, he saw so much life; he imagined that she must have been of a different walk of a life. A walk of happiness and emotion. A walk he had wished to take many days before.
When they left the museum, he had a feeling that his moment of sunshine would flee him, and he would return to his solemn life, no better off for the experience. She, however, had a different itinerary, and desired it lived out. As they walked outside, she grasped his hand, turned the corner, and ran toward the Palace of Fine Arts. She was mystified by the grandeur of the architectural dome. Yet again, he found himself look up toward the sky, a sky filled with intricate shapes. He had seen the monument everyday as he crossed into the Presidio to head to work, but now, it was if he could see the true fineness in the dome itself.
She then turned to him and said, in a laconic manner for she was still spellbound by the beauty of the palace, “Where should we go next?”
He stared back at her, and was amazed that there was no lapse in beauty between the ceiling and her. It was if they both exemplified a sense of magnificence he had never understood before. When he looked into her eyes, he suddenly had an idea, an anomaly for himself.
“Have you ever been to the Castro?” He spoke now with a sense of happiness that was unbeknownst to anyone who knew him. She simply smiled, shrugged, and let him lead the way. As they walked to the bus stop, he could not stop looking at her shadow. Her occurrence, he was still convinced, was not real, but he was flabbergasted when he saw how beautiful even her shadow was, leaving him with doubt that the shadow had any realness in it either.
They boarded the same 22 he had taken that morning to ride back to Church. Strangeness fell upon him when he entered the vehicle, for it was not until that moment that he had realized that there were more than 4 bus drivers in the city. He had only known the drivers who drove the 37 and 22 in the morning, and two more that drove them at night. He was embarrassed for feeling so strange, but nevertheless, he enjoyed the ride with her. After many dreadful San Francisco hills, she asked if there were any more to come. When he replied that it was relatively flat, she nestled up to him, and lay her head down on his shoulders. Goose bumps yet again overtook his skin, but this time, he was not surprised. He welcomed them and enjoyed their feeling.
As they walked to Castro, he began eyeing her hand, swaying back and forth like a delicate swing, that’s push needed to be just as light. He spent millennium studying its pattern and speed that he almost ran into a tree. Finally, with firmness, he grasped her hand, and she grasped back. The sweat down his forehead, that he was sure would subside after he completed his task, only became worse as he walked with her down the busy street of Castro.
They passed shops, and into every single one she would enter, no matter the selection sold there. At first, he felt awkwardly misplaced, down the bustling street. After she had mistaken several shops for common bakeries and movie stores, he began to laugh and smile, as his perspiration sweated away.
As his watch marked 4, he smiled. His work day was over, and he had never returned. When they had soaked the sun out of Castro, she turned to him once again. He now no longer needed a question to know the answer. He started at her, grasped her tight, and spoke, “Let’s go to the Haight for dinner.”
He had never acted as spontaneous in his existence as he did at that moment. As they waited for the 33 bus to take them to the Haight, both standing, they did not speak, but looked at each other. Each processed a different emotion. He could not begin to fathom what she was thinking, which scared him a little. He was rescued however, when she stood up on her toes, smoothed out her lips, and laid them on his cheek. Whether he really did blush that red, or whether her lipstick caused the new color to appear, he really did not mind. He could not stop smiling.
It did not matter to him that the bus arrived fifteen minutes late, or that the cables detached twice on the now thirty minute ride. All that mattered to him was that this strange oddity was holding his hand, and resting upon his chest. He saw only her wonderful eyes, and her powerful smile. He now saw only the beauty of the city as it was reflected in her eyes.

When they reached the next stop on their journey, he led the way down a street that still showed reminiscence of the 60s in every crack. He had never felt so attached to the city; he had come to the Haight many times over, but never experienced a feeling quite like what he felt when he was with her. They walked up and down the blocks for an hour, smiling, hands gripped tight, as the night began to fall, and the street lamps were the only light they needed.

When they sat down to dinner, the red lights from the restaurant ceiling compounded with her dress to bring elegance to a seemingly dark room. She ate silently, as if there was nothing on her plate. Soon, he began to talk, but soon realized that he knew everything about himself, but nothing about her. She spoke little, except for a nod here and there, and glancing looks at him, that he simply ate up, faster than he did his meal.
As the church bells in his head struck 10, his mind began racing. Would she leave soon? What if he never saw her again? Trying to be polite, he asked her where she lived. Again as before when he asked her about her money, she gave him a puzzling look to which she replied, “If we head toward your house, I’ll find my way home.”
He was not sure what he meant, but he did know that he was now promised another half an hour and we was not about to relinquish extra time with the one thing that had made his day.
As they took the long ride back to his home, his phone suddenly buzzed. He answered hesitantly. “Yes, sir. I understand I wasn’t there today.” She took no notice of his conversation, as he began to fear what words were coming next over the phone. “Please, sir. Don’t do this. I promise I will come in and make up the time on the weekend.” No matter how powerful his remonstration, he could not stop the inevitable. When he hung up the phone, he was unemployed. Her eyes were wandering elsewhere, as he stared forward toward to city skyline. All his problems, all his worries, all his sorrow; he was sure it was over, but it now was regenerated. He supposed he would be lost yet again.
They exited the bus at the top of Market, where it meets Portola: a sight overlooking the entire city skyline. He had rarely seen the full skyline as he did tonight. She took his hand and led him to the railing.
“You lost your job, huh?” she questioned him.
“Yeah,” he replied with a hint of his old melancholy tone seeping through.
“Well,” she said as she turned him toward her. “Was it worth it?” she said incitingly. He simply stared at her, himself now puzzled at her motive.
“What do you mean?” he said in a defensive tone, “I lost my job.” He paused before he went on. “I gave up the only thing that I have in my life. Without my job, I can’t pay rent, or by food, or do anything. And I did it all for what? For you! I don’t even know you. Who are you? I really need to know.”

“Why do you need to know who I am?” she returned his plea suddenly.

“Because I think I might love you. And how can I love someone when I don’t even know who they are?” When he ended his speech, he turned away, and rested his arms on the railing.

She quickly turned him around, with a sense of purpose that shocked him into attentiveness. “Why do you need to know I am?” she repeated again. “Why does it matter? Love is not obsessed with names or pasts; love is in the now. Love is in the mind. It’s something you feel when you see someone; something you experience when you laugh.” She paused as well. She then grabbed his face, kissed him unexpectedly, and fell back to earth. “Do you love me?”

He looked at her, breaking no eye contact, as he spoke. “I do. I love the way I felt today. Never before have I seen the beauty in this city. But now I do, because I see it through you.”

She interrupted him, “Do you really love this city because of me?”

He smiled, and kept going. “Before, when I looked out every morning, I saw the sadness I could never rid myself of. Now, when I look out at the city, I see love, because I see you. I can smell the sweet redolence from the flowers. I can see the beauty of the Bay. I can hear the mellifluous traffic behind us.” He was panting now. “You’re right. I don’t need to know you; I just need to see you every day.” He kissed her again, this time as a way of confirming his decision.

She looked at him, and spoke her final words. “What do you see when you look at me?”

He prepared himself and said, “I see love. In you, and in the reflection of me. I can even see the tower behind us.” He turned, and looked at Sutro Tower, now completely visible. “It’s so beautiful, just like it is in your eyes. You know, I look for it every morning and never find it. But I found it in you. I think I love—”

His words ceased when he turned back to her, but she had vanished. He looked all around for her, but could find no trace of her presence. As had become so accustomed that day, he looked into the sky, and found her. He found her in the skyline. In the bright lights of San Francisco, he found the woman he loved. He knew that to be the answer without ever questioning himself. He knew he was indeed in love. Whether with her or with the city, it made no difference, because they were one in the same.

He would no longer wake up solemnly, or drench his sorrow in the shower. He would live in the city he was meant to be. For as long as he remained in San Francisco, he knew he would never lose her. For she was always present: in the sun and the fog and every piece of the city.

She was the city, and he would forever love her: San Francisco.

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