In the dark, I become aware of a rocking figure. Back and forth. Back and forth. Over and over. Just two rows ahead and three seats to the right. Once I've seen it, I can't stop seeing it. I begin tracking plot, subtitles and, out of the corner of my eye, motion. It is one too many things. I hold my hand up to block my peripheral vision, but I hear the heavy breathing of someone crying hard without sobbing. It is a quiet but undeniable storm. I wonder that no one else seems to notice. In the dark, it appears to be a man leaning forward to avoid the awkward obstacle of the armrest and holding a woman in his arms, tight, tighter, rocking her while she weeps.

The movie is tragic, of course. They are all tragic. Nevertheless, it is surely too melodramatic and too old fashioned to occasion unbridled grief. What are the chances that anyone in the audience has shot a rival in a burst of rage and then, brokenhearted, dragged a massive armoire to block the door from a hail of gunfire from the gendarmerie in the couloir?  And still she gasps for breath as though this story were all too painfully familiar and still he rocks her, though it seems not to comfort her at all. i wonder why he does not bundle her up the aisle, out the door, and home.

The screen brightens and I suddenly realize that there is no couple at all, but just a man alone. I recognize him from every film festival I have ever attended in this town. He is as unchanging as he is distinctive. Plus, at every screening he arrives before me and sits in the seat I would choose myself, so I had noticed him when I'd arrived. Now, in that very seat, he is hunched over, with his arms tightly wrapped around his own shoulders, rocking while sobbing or possibly just gasping for air. I know I should go and see that he's all right, but I think of inching down my row in the dark, stepping on toes, spilling popcorn, blocking the view of the subtitles at the climactic moment, only to intrude on a stranger's private grief, or illness, or insanity, and I stay where I am.

When the hero has taken his own life just moments before the police breach his room via the roof, FIN rolls across the screen and the house lights come up. The man, in his signature cyclist garb complete with ever-present 70's-style terrycloth headband, rises from his seat, checks that his jacket is placed visibly to save his seat, grabs his backpack and heads to the lobby just as he does between every double feature. Just as though nothing had happened in the dark at all.

Half full

This writing every day thing would be easier if it didn't coincide with the French Noir festival such that I keep getting home only minutes before the deadline.

So, at 11:45pm, eager to go to bed (despite mattress problems that still continue apace), in the spirit of something's better than nothing....

If standing in the dark waiting and waiting for a bus that may or may not come feels like some sort of metaphor for life, then arriving at the theatre exactly on time for the movie you were sure you'd miss must be one too.

First Aid

Having found my tights slightly too aptly named today,  I turn demurely to the salad page of the extensive menu, ignoring the noodles (beloved noodles) entirely.  I select the green papaya with grilled shrimp and my soft-spoken waitress inquires "medium spicy is okay?"  I smile, "Yes. That will be fine."

Note to self:  Medium spicy in a Thai restaurant is never fine. Who do you think you are, exactly?

I consume three bites of fire salad before I am compelled to order a side of plain rice for purely medicinal purposes. It is (thankfully swiftly) delivered in a small, deep pot containing a quantity clearly intended for more than one person.  I leave one spoonful behind to indicate self control to anyone who may be observing, though I hope no one is, since, gluttony aside, my streaming eyes and dripping nose are probably not picturesque.

I finish, leave and, tongue throbbing, walk directly to the ice cream store. I am fully aware that ice cream will only compound the tights-tightening sins of the pot of rice, but my tongue is in need of urgent care. The ice cream, like the rice, shall be administered in the spirit of first aid.

Alas, urgency is not the theme of the ice cream store where a line of ten people is waiting to be served by a lackadaisical teenager, the lone employee. Next door, what was for decades a thriving corner store has been transformed into some sort of corner artisanal market, all wide-open space and locally sourced muffins. There is ice cream artfully displayed in a freestanding freezer case.  None of it costs less than ten dollars.  As I cross the street to a decidedly unpromising liquor store, a man coming up 16th Street on roller skates weaves through two directions of oncoming traffic on Valencia, undeterred by the darkness, the newly red light, or his total lack of protective gear. I have to look away.

I reach the store and squeeze though to the back swiveling my head hopefully as I go, but find nothing colder than refrigerated beer.  Dejected, I give up and turn to leave. And there, right in front of the cash register, there is a freezer after all. Oh frabjous day! A shabby but smiling alcoholic, waiting for his derelict-looking companion to pay for their sack of clinking bottles, waves me toward the cashier with a courtly bow. I peer into the freezer and see my very heart's desire: an old-fashioned, completely artificial ice cream sandwich.  A dollar fifty later, I am easing it, rather untraditionally, into the cozy pocket of my down jacket, the better to smuggle it into the movie theatre.

I am in my seat and unwrapping it before it even has time to melt.

Are you looking?

A young woman is standing at the bottom of a staircase with her foot on the bottom step.  She is looking up and smiling at something that is blocked from my view by the neighboring house. There is a slightly indulgent quality to her smile that makes me think she is looking at someone very young or very old.

I pass the obstructing wall and see that she is looking at a cat.  Or, more specifically, she is looking at a woman who is a few years older than herself who has a fat cat on a leash. I smile at the women as I pass because I am looking right at them and it is the neighborly thing to do.  The younger woman continues to smirk at the cat and the older woman smiles back at me raising her eyebrows in a manner I interpret to mean, "Hey look!  I have a cat on a leash!  Zany, right?"

For me cats on leashes are in the same general category as birds on shoulders or snakes draped around necks. This kind of pet as prop behavior says much more about the owner than the animal. And, frankly, what it says isn't particularly flattering. (You, with the dog in the baby bjorn. Yeah. You too.)

I keep my smile neutral, offering neither affirmation nor denial of the zaniness of a cat on a leash.  I try, in fact, to exclude the cat from my gaze altogether. What cat?  What leash?  Pleasant evening, is it not?  That is the neighborly thing to do.



My country, 'tis of thee

Recently, I've been corresponding with someone I've never met. We're planning to be friends as soon as we get the time. Lately, we've been busy. For practice, for now, we're being imaginary friends. We're doing a pretty good job so far. 

This weekend, I gave myself citizenship homework.  Voting in San Francisco is a major undertaking. We may be--dare I say it?--a bit overzealous about democracy.  Counting both state and local measures, my fellow San Franciscans and I are asked to weigh in on 42 propositions.  Forty-two.  Everything from plastic bags to parole.  From soda to seniors.  Among these is a proposal to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, to which I say, "Sure. See how they like it."

In the midst of my ballot research, I sent a small plaintive email to my future friend (also a San Franciscan), to which he replied with sympathy and shared trepidation about making the wrong decision about some critical issue.  He himself has already voted.  He said,  "I'm 99.9% sure that you walk to your local polling place in person and cast your vote."

By this, he may well have meant "you are so hopelessly out of date, surely you do this in the least efficient possible way."  Maybe.  But for whatever reason, when I read it, I was as chuffed as could be.  In part, I was just pleased that he was right. My imaginary friend totally gets me. It made me think about this choice though. It would be easier to vote absentee, surely, but I know I'd miss the "we're all in this together" comradery of showing up at my polling station.  I like the "these are the people in your neighborhood" aspect. I like the connection--to my neighbors and to my nation. I like the public display of earnest scouting-badge-style good citizenship. I like the knowing, patient smiles as we all wait our turn to be counted.  I like the sticker.

Even as I have almost nothing good to say about this election cycle, and even though I think 42 propositions is too many propositions, I am still grateful to get to vote. 

That said, this year, more than ever before, I'm eager for the whole thing to just be OH-VER, so I may vote early.  I'll miss the garage polling station a block from my house--they got new lights before the primary and everything. But voting at San Francisco City Hall may be even more exciting than a sticker.  Just look at it.

Interior, San Francisco City Hall

Interior, San Francisco City Hall


Democracy.  Let's do this.


Update:  11/3/16

I voted early in glamorous city hall AND I got a sticker.  A really good day for America.


Me:  Oh! Stickers!
Election worker lady:  You gotta have the sticker.
Me:  Yes!  I've never voted early before. I wasn't sure you'd have the stickers.
EWL:  This is the Department of Elections!  I would hope we'd have the stickers!

Good point, Election worker lady, good point.  If not you, who?