Bending the map - II

Note: the ensuing tale will make no sense to 99% of people for whom the obvious solution would be to look to their smartphone for answers. I do not have a smartphone. That is another [very boring] story altogether.

When I returned home at last from my underground misadventures, I discovered that due to the vagaries of babysitters and parental logistics, a friend who hoped she could, would not, after all, be able to join me at the theatre the next night. I sent a confessional "I just got on the wrong train" email to my MoMa companion and inquired whether, if he had not yet grown sick of me, he would like to come to the play.

He would, he said.

We planned that I would come meet him immediately after work and we would walk to the theatre together. He knew of a restaurant along the way where he suggested we have dinner. He even offered to let me park in his garage to avoid being ticketed since he lives in the huge swath of San Francisco that allows only for two-hour parking between 9am-9pm. This was as tidy a plan as I could have hoped for. I like having a plan.

I had never been to his house, but it was only a dozen blocks from my school and I could picture the corner very clearly, having turned there innumerable times. There is a very large block of new(ish) condos there, converted from what used to be a university extension campus. I don't much care for these condos, much as I do not care for any of the new condos that are proliferating all over the city, looking both identically "modern" and, to me, cheap.  Mind you, in terms of rent, they are the opposite of cheap, which is exactly why I think they ought to look better than they do. When my friend told me he lived on this corner, I felt a pang of disappointment, in fact, as if keeping my friends from living in it would somehow cause this building to cease existing. 

The complex is so large that it has addresses on three different streets. I assumed that the parking garage would be similarly baroque, so I parked temporarily on the street until I could get the lowdown from my friend. I walked down the block of my friend's street and was baffled to discover that his address did not exist. The door that I assumed would be his turned out to be #155, but his address is #200.  

Here are things I knew from conversation the night before:

1. He had lived in the building a comparatively short time.  
2. The building had a roof terrace.
3. The building had a garage.

Here are the things that meant he must indubitably live in the building at 155 even though his address was 200:

1. The building had only existed for a short time, so there was no way he could have lived there a long time.
2. The building had a flat roof.
3. The building had a garage.

I walked up and down the block growing increasingly bewildered.  The next building after #155 is, mysteriously, #65. I walked back toward the complex and up the huge flight of stairs between its various buildings. The addresses got farther from 200 and swiftly attributed to another street altogether.   I asked a passerby for help, but he didn't live there. I walked back to #65 in case it had become #200 in the last four minutes.  A girl with a yoga mat asked if she could help.  I repeated my mystery and we walked back up the block together as she peered hopefully at the same buildings I had recently peered hopefully at myself. She was sympathetic and wished me well. I approached a lady sitting with her laptop on her tiny porch.  She didn't know either, but suggested I go ask the attendant in the parking garage. I was very heartened to learn that there was an attendant in the parking garage. He would solve all my problems.  

I walked the half-block back to the garage and found the attendant.  "I'm sorry to bother you. I'm supposed to meet my friend at #200, but I can't find the address and I don't have his phone number. Do you have some kind of tenant list? Could we call him?"  "Hmmm," he said. "There may be a list, but I don't know where.  It's my first day. We could page my manager!  ...But he probably won't call for like an hour."   He suggests we ask a lady who was just getting out of her car.  "Excuse me?" he says. She glares at us. "Sorry," I say. I'm looking for #200."  "This is #155." she says, as if reciting her own address is the most unreasonably taxing thing she's been asked to do all day.

Since the attendant and I already knew that this was #155, we are not all that encouraged. He brightens, though, and suggests that he look up the address on a map.  We walk back out to the sidewalk and he points out that if this is #155, then #200 would have to be on the other side of the street.  While this is in keeping with the logic of all city streets, it is completely at odds with my unwavering certainty that my friend lives in these condos. Nevertheless, we both peer at the buildings across the street, none of which look like condos with accessible roofs.  What's more, the numbering of their addresses includes even more erratic leaps than from 155 to 65.

He inputs the address into his phone and we share what is both a Eureka moment and a total dismantling of everything I think I understand.  I am in the wrong block.  He points up the hill and diagonally across the street. "It should be that white building," he tells me.  I thank him profusely and make my way toward my new, un-condo-looking, garage-less destination.  There is a small side door at #200 directing delivery people around the corner to a completely different address on the intersecting street. I stare at this sign for a longish while, willing it to say something else.  Something like my friend's name or maybe building regulations regarding the roof terrace. 

I walk up and down the block a bit, just in case a condo suddenly materializes and then I give up.  I'm already a half an hour late and all I can think to do is go back to work and send an email admitting defeat. I get back in my car and on the seat  is the scrap of paper on which I had written the address which is, in fact, #201.  

And there, right on the corner where it is meant to be, across the block-dividing street from the new condo complex, is a respectable San Franciscan-looking building, all bay windows and contrasting trim, whose Italianate facade disguises the secret flatness of its roof.

I panicked anew looking at the bank of unmarked doorbells, until I saw one helpfully labeled with my friend's name. When he came down to open the garage for me I uncorked a babbling stream of apology, concern for my obviously rapidly diminishing sanity, and self loathing for not having had the tiny fleck of intelligence required to have asked for his phone number.  "Oh." he said when I finally paused to breathe, "I put my number in the last email I sent you."


He stood by his open garage while I went to get my car. But as I turned into the driveway, the parking space directly outside his front door opened up. According to the street sign, unlike the vexing 9pm cutoff on every other block in the neighborhood, this one required a residential permit only until 6pm. By this point profoundly skeptical about my ability to park in a garage and later find my way back out. I snagged it.

As we walk to the restaurant, my friend explains to me that when hikers or other outdoor adventurers do what I've been doing for the last two days, that is, deciding that their own certainty about direction trumps all evidence to the contrary, it's called bending the map.  Generally, of course, this happens on an unmarked trail, where every step in the wrong direction may be leading you closer to your untimely death.  But I like to think it takes someone special to do it at home in a well-mapped metropolis where each false conclusion radically increases the likelihood of two perfectly good theatre tickets going to waste.

Bending the map - I


A friend I haven't seen in years gets in touch and we arrange to meet downtown at the MoMa. I arrive flushed and breathless having underestimated the time it would take me to get home from work, leave my car there, get on a rush-hour BART train, and walk from the station to the museum. I am quite invested in my Experienced Local persona and this rookie mistake rankles. My friend is gracious and unflappable, while I am exactly the opposite: flapping gracelessly around like an ill tempered pigeon, making frantic unnecessary apologies while blaming everything except myself: the train, the traffic, the gazillion other people who have had the temerity to move here and get in my way.  Kindly, he proposes that we begin with a drink in the museum café. Over a glass of overpriced (but museum-underwriting) rosé I eventually regain enough composure to first converse normally and then appreciate art.

Some hours later, replete with Diane Arbus and tomato soup, we go for a walk. We westward ho ourselves homeward down Market Street, continuing farther than I expect through the unsavory bits, but without incident. When we reach the Van Ness station, we part ways; I descend to the subway and he continues home on foot.

I head down to the platform, disappointed to see that there is a 15-minute wait for my train and that there is an skittish-looking man walking around with a big stick (is it a mop handle without a mop?  Is it a shuffleboard stick without a game in sight?) with whom I'd rather not spend 15 minutes.

On my line, there are only ever one-car trains, which means you have to go all the way to the end of the platform to be able to board.  The good news is, this will put considerable distance between me and the stick man.  When I get to my usual spot, I am briefly disoriented because the bench where I had planned to spend my 15 minutes has vanished entirely.  It was one of those big concrete circles, which seems to be a popular design, though I don't know why since it's very likely that you'll end up on a part of the curve that keeps you from seeing either approaching train, which seems like exactly what you don't want in a a subway station bench, but no one asked me. In any case, it's gone now.  I assume it has been removed because homeless people were lying down on it. Certainly other benches have been redesigned with gaps or armrests to dissuade anyone from lying down, so it was probably only a matter of time before the circle bench came face-to-face with our homeless problem. Why anyone would want to lie down on a thing exactly as (un)comfortable as the bare floor, only far more public than any number of corners, is a mystery, but there it is.  Additionally, though the missing bench was an enormous slab of concrete balanced on another concrete post of considerable size, the empty floor I'm looking at, briefly slack-jawed with confusion, shows no marks of recent demolition, nor any particularly pristine new tile. No matter. Mystery solved by application of unassailable logic.

I walk back to the middle of the platform to some seats (with gaps between them. See?) where I can keep an eye on the guy with the stick in a large mirror, angled so train drivers can see if anyone is running for the train (and then either wait for them or hastily close the doors, depending on their mood).  At last the train arrives.  I notice that it doesn't pull as far into the station as it used to.  I decide that this is a new security measure, possibly only in place late at night, allowing people to stay closer to the middle of the station and, thus, the agent and the exit.  I smile at the driver and gratefully board the train.

The recorded announcement informs me that I am on an inbound J Church. I am headed outbound to home and shake my head at the sorry state of our public transportation, where the benches are gone, the maps are incomprehensible, and even the recorded information is unreliable.

We reach the next station. Civic Center.  The same station my friend and I had bypassed on foot about 25 minutes earlier. That is, the next station, inbound. I disembark and wait on the outbound platform for another 15 minutes (where there is a guy way creepier than the stick guy having an argument with a battered suitcase) until the very same train comes back around. I recognize the driver, but this time, I avoid making eye contact with him. When we pull into the Van Ness station--all the way to the end of the platform--we were positioned directly across from a big, round concrete bench. 

Whenever I use the Van Ness station, I enter it from the other side of the street, so it is not so shocking that I got turned around or even that with San Francisco transport's notably lousy signage and weirdly subjective inbound/outbound system, that I might not have realized it. However, the fact that no amount of evidence convinced me that I was wrong, or spurred that thought to even enter my mind suggests that I have a great deal more self confidence than I realized. I really ought to be putting it to better use.  


In the shower a few days ago, I discover a strange little patch of scratches on my chest near my right armpit. Since this is the year where everything seems to be going all to hell, I am simultaneously alarmed and resigned. Sure. Why not?  I've had a quarter-sized patch of invisible itch near my left ankle bone for over a year; my lips are basically flaking off and regenerating on a daily basis with the aid of a steroid ointment; I have a more intimate relationship with my gynecologist than with anyone else; why would I not have a patch of unidentifiable scratches on my chest?  Perhaps all my skin will be covered with scratches by August.

Despite my quasi certainty that it is another symptom of that most banal of maladies: "oh, you're just old now", I can't stop puzzling over it.  I keep sliding my hand into my shirt collars to assess the condition. Is it worse?  Is it better?  It is definitely scratches, not a rash, but I can't account for it.  There has been no passion. There has been no harrowing escape through brambles. God knows there have been no kittens, because I haven't encountered any and, in any case, I think kittens are terrifying and would avoid any I happened to meet [see: claws. see: teeth]. 

For days, I run exploratory fingers over scratches so fine that I cannot even see them. And I fret.

Then, yesterday, the proverbial lightbulb snapped on.. Sequins! Those sharp little suckers strike again.  A week ago, I rented a dress so sparkly that when I stepped into my western-facing kitchen looking for a misplaced lipstick, I was instantly transformed into a golden human mirrorball.  I stood in the doorway grinning and rotating my hips back and forth to send little showers of light across the cupboards.  Hours later, I danced for a long time as though only a very few people were watching.

I am not being attacked in my sleep nor dying of a rare skin condition. I am paying the price of glamour.  That is much more satisfactory.


Meanwhile, the fact that I have scratches only on the right definitely suggests something worrying about the way I dance, but I've decided it's best just not to think about it.


Would that I had something perfect to say. I could do with a glittering poem of remembrance, but I have nothing. I'm marking this moment because it must be marked.

Cash was cooler than I'll ever be. Even as a gangly high school freshman, Cash was the coolest one in the room.  Any room. I'd like to be more like her myself.

And I would have dearly liked to see what came next. 

Goodbye to you, beautiful. You will be missed so fiercely by so many.






Edited to add:
Ah. Here is something perfect from Evany who knew her longer and better than I.


Tonight I heard Neko Case, that fierce songbird, and can't stop marveling that the words and the voice could both spring from one person.  Such a surfeit of gifts. The line that made me laugh was:

I'm not even wearing underwear
It's not exotic
I just forgot

But the line that makes me wish I'd thought of it myself is always:  

It was so clear to me
That it was almost invisible


Home now, breathless from climb from the BART station, nearly four months removed from a summer of walking and no longer any match whatsoever for San Francisco's topography, my ears aching with a brand new chill, as if the weather had only just gotten hold of a calendar.  I go to the window to close the blinds and see, just outside, directly across from the house, a stout raccoon.  He jaywalks toward me like a portly gentleman, hurrying but with dignity. He turns left in the driveway and ambles out of sight.

I have never seen a raccoon in this neighborhood.
Some concerts leave everything feeling like a poem.