A pretty good day before dust

On this lovely Sunday morning, I thought I’d check out the new Pier 32 Market, which promises to give San Francisco something it lacks but needs — a year-round public market.

Walking to the bus stop, I passed up my 4,639th opportunity to take that Scientology personality test. “I have no personality,” I explained to the zombie, and he was off to hustle the next suckers.

Waiting at Market & Stockton, I watched a young slacker climb the scaffolding in front of Merrill’s, to lie down for an afternoon slumber on the lumber one story above the sidewalk. Then an inbound bus took me to the beginning of Market Street, and I walked the sunny Embarcadero to Pier 32.

On the way, a Mexican tourist family flagged me down to take their picture. Guess they hadn’t heard from yesterday’s Lithuanians how frightening I can be. They wanted the Bay Bridge in the background, but mostly what they’ll get is the big “No Parking” sign they were standing in front of.

Sorry to say, the Pier 32 Market isn’t much. They have lots of hucksters selling cheap art and wood carvings and health crystals and tie-dyed shirts, and plenty of junk food stands, but no fresh fruits or vegetables.

I’m from Seattle, where the Pike Place Public Market is a famous and fabulous collection of fruits and vegetables and fish and whatnot, so my standards are perhaps too high, but Pier 32 is a rummage sale. In twenty minutes I'd seen it all, and was ready to leave without buying anything or wanting to. The location has potential, so perhaps I’ll wander back in a couple-four months, but for now it’s a yawn on the waterfront.

They did have a decent band rocking the asphalt, but there was no sign announcing who they were. Should I have knocked on a drum to ask, while they were playing?

After that sunny disappointment, I walked the tracks down the Embarcadero, to what will be the end of a new streetcar line that's under construction, at 3rd & King.

I lunched at Happy Donuts, a good cafe I’d stop at again. My egg salad sandwich was nicely spiced, stood about five inches tall, and came with fruit salad and chips on the side, all for just $5. Maybe that’s expensive where you are, but in Frisco it’s a good price.

On an impulse I took a 30 Stockton to Fisherman’s Wharf, to say hi to the seals and buy a few new extra-huge t-shirts at the Blue Victorian Fatboy Shirt Company.

The ride back was textbook Muni, with approximately 120 people sweating on top of each other in a bus that seats 50. “How do we get out?” some sweet young thang asked when we got to Union Square.

She was asking her mother, but I answered: “Like this,” and parted the multitudes with my standard line in such situations, “Fat guy coming through.”

Then I loitered in the square for a while, shaking my flab at the marimba player. Union Square is the nicest thing about the neighborhood where I live. That, and my one-block-walk commute to work.

Walking down Ellis Street toward home sweet hovel, the big Les Joulins Bistro banner across the sidewalk always dangles low enough to bump my head, so I make a point of whacking at it with my fist. Today, though, the banner fluttered down to the ground when I whacked it — a pleasant surprise. I’ll whack it twice as hard next time, or maybe scissor out some head room. I believe I have the right to walk on the sidewalk without ducking under their big ugly banner, or having it mess my crew-cut. 

I packed a few peanut butter sandwiches for one more bus trip and back, to see a double feature at the 4-Star Theater out in the avenues. Little Buddha is by Bernardo Bertolucci, and it’s a child’s eye introduction to Buddhism. That's perfect for me, as I know next to nothing about the subject, so I became the child and was utterly absorbed.

Going in, I’d have thought that Keaunu Reeves as Buddha might rival John Wayne as Genghis Khan for silliness, but Reeves is believable as an innocent seeker of wisdom. It’s a joyous and thoughtful movie, with a surprising sense of humor along the way. I especially liked the closing shot, after the credits. (You do stay through the credits, right?)

I remain unconverted, though. There's no arguing with the moral of the story, that all is dust, but it's a long leap from that to the Buddhist belief that the dust of us will be reincarnated after death, instead of simply blowing away. As with Christians and their cute myths, reincarnation is a nice idea with no evidence behind it — a fairy tale. I’m a seeker of wisdom too, but in fifty years you and I and everyone reading this will be dust.

The movie’s set-piece object lesson on this actually made my point, not theirs. To illustrate reincarnation for a disbeliever, one of the monks smashes a cup of tea. “The cup is the body,” he says, as he cleans up the mess, “and the tea is the soul. This cup is no more, but the tea is everywhere — on the floor, on the table, in this towel (he wrings it out) and it is still tea.”

That's very zen indeed, but what will the tea be in a week? Dust.

Like Water for Chocolate was the second feature, and it’s an interesting but slight soap opera / comedy about true love, with a wicked mother who forbids her daughter to marry. The lead actress is gorgeous, which happens a lot in the movies. Marco Leonardi is her love interest, which startled me — he was Italian when I last saw him, in Cinema Paradiso, but he’s defected and now he’s Mexican, speaking fluent Spanish. Being bilingual must be a great advantage if you’re an actor looking for roles.

Now I'm back in my tiny room in this skuzzy hotel, and it’s been a delightful day. No conversations, no hassles, and no place to be except where I wanted to be. Toss in enough sunshine during daylight that it's still warm late in the evening, and there’s just no such thing as a nicer day than today. 

And all my bus rides were on the same transfer. The fine print says bus transfers expire after two hours, but most drivers don’t even glance at it so mine lasted twelve. Is this a great town or what?

From Pathetic Life #4
Sunday, September 4, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.



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  1. I've only seen San Francisco once, rushed through on vacation. You've captured living there, I think and it feels beautiful.

    1. Same here. We visited there on July 4th, 2019. Spent the day doing touristy type stuff, but I really loved it. I was amazed at how cold it was though, considering it was July 4th. I really wanted to watch the fireworks that night at Pier 39, but it was too cold for the family to stand out there. Looking forward to going back one day.

    2. Dave — Yup, having an ocean within walking distance means it rarely gets uncomfortably warm in SF.

      A teacher told us that in a boring science lecture, but I didn't believe it until I'd shivered in San Francisco's summers.

    3. Shannon — Thanks. The cost of living made it impossible to stay, but I have file cabinets full of happy memories from San Francisco.

    4. Captain HampocketsJune 24, 2021 at 3:12 PM

      There are a LOT of things I miss about SF. Possibly #1 is the weather. Not perfect, but I never had to worry about snow and ice, and ALMOST never had to feel extreme heat. Often cold and windy, but acceptable.

    5. Captain — Yup, me too. It was mighty nice not owning a snow shovel or a heavy jacket.

  2. Never say yes to the Scientologists, they'll snatch your brain away.

  3. I once took their test, just to see the inner workings of the scam. Not sure whether I've ever written about it...


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