Owning the city

I awoke from a very strange dream, and rushed to type it all before it could fade from my memory. Hurry, hurry!

All the most boring people in the world were sipping cocktails at a party, celebrating some boring new ‘zine’ being published by the department store. Jennifer and Judy and Babs from work were there, and Cam from downstairs here at the rez hotel, and Mr Patel (the building super), Mayor Frank Jordan, a couple of local street preachers, and a few other people so boring I’ve never mentioned them in this diary. They were all dressed in fancy tuxedos and evening gowns, dilettante poseurs to the max, talking about how great each other’s zines are, and how great the store’s zine is. MTV and Entertainment Tonight were covering it live, calling it The event of the year.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to heave. Nothing could be worse than this gawdawful party, and then it was worse. There was a giant screen, a feed of the TV coverage, and I was on the screen… and I wasn’t a guest. I was the waiter, carrying a silver tray of fancy sausage hors d’oeuvres, and offering some to Babs and Mayor Jordan.

♦ ♦ ♦

Ate a big plate of beans for breakfast, with two ‘grilled cheese’ sandwiches on the side (not really grilled, just toasted and microwaved). I only mention the meal because, while it wasn’t planned, it did figure into the day’s events.

♦ ♦ ♦

The cable cars were half-empty, there were almost no cars on the streets, and the neighborhood looked nearly deserted. What’s with all this peace and quiet, I wondered, with no-one to jostle on the sidewalk.

Turns out a football playoff game was underway at Candlestick, and most of the metropolitan area’s idiots and assholes were either at the stadium or watching on channel whatever. 

I hope the 49ers defeat those Dallas Cowpersons, not that I actually give a damn about sweaty athletes being paid to crunch each other’s bones, but if the 49ers win, they’ll go on to the Super Bowl — which would mean another super Sunday like today, walking wide-open sidewalks and whistling a happy tune, with the city almost all to myself. 

The Crooner was on duty, but with barely any audience, so I joined him for an enthusiastic duet of “Maria,” from West Side Story. Then we harmonized on the chorus of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” I tipped him three dollars for ruining his songs, and strolled off singing “Hey, Mr Tambourine Man” in falsetto, though I don’t know half the lyrics.

Have you seen The Omega Man? Charlton Heston? It’s a post-apocalypse movie, and it opens with Heston driving a sports car at ridiculous speeds down complete deserted urban streets. That was me today, only on the sidewalk and without the sports car. Wheeeee — I’m the last man on earth!

Well, not quite the last. There were employees at Books Inc, a store I don’t like, because they once refused to special order a book for me. Sure, I looked like a bum that day, but I look like a bum most days. I had my wallet and cash out, ready to pay, when the doofus behind the counter simply said no. So screw that place. This morning’s breakfast of beans and cheese had made me marvelously flatulent, so I strolled the store’s aisles farting loudly near the customers.

Another of my favorite capitalist experiences is 'not quite shopping' at Walgreens. Unlike Books Inc, the neighborhood Walgreens has never treated me especially crappy, because they treat all customers especially crappy. At this location, anyway, there are never enough registers open, and there’s always merchandise stacked up, blocking the floor where customers would stand and queue and wait and wait for the employee who doesn’t give a damn anyway.

Walgreens sucks, so especially if I’m in a hurry, I shop at Merrill’s instead. Their prices are better, their employees are better, and I swear, even if I buy exactly the same stuff, it’s better from Merrill’s. Picture me posing with a smile on their billboards.

When I’m not in a hurry, though — like today, just having a good time — it’s fun to pretend I’m shopping at Walgreens. I walked in under the big W, took a basket and filled it with everything I needed and some things I didn’t, and moved a gallon of ice cream from the freezer to behind the raisin bread on the shelf. Then I took my basket of groceries to the inevitable logjam of customers waiting for the one person working checkout, and left my groceries there. Let loose a ten-second rippler, and went across Market Street to Merrill’s. 

In front of that store, there were four guys and four girls, none of them 18, all of them heavily pierced, happy as hippies, and three feet off the ground if you know what I mean and I think you do. Well, I am big and fat and funny-looking, and a couple of them gave me a look of revulsion. I didn't want to disappoint them, so I held out my hand like a beggar, and said the only sentence of French I know, “Comment allez-vous?” 

Why French? Why not?

But then two of them said something back to me in French, which astounded and defeated me. You win, kids. Having no retort I only laughed, but my demonic laugh on the street can be effective. Belching is also effective, but I’ve never learned to belch on cue. Soda is required and I’d had none, so the kids only got the laugh. Everyone comes to San Francisco to see the sights, and I try to make sure nobody’s disappointed. Yes, I was a little high myself — can you tell?

Then I came home and started typing about this beautiful day, and now horns are honking from every direction out my window. The local millionaires in shoulder pads must’ve won, San Francisco is celebrating, and by golly, I’m celebrating, too. If I’m lucky enough to still be alive two weeks from today, the 49ers will be in the Super Bowl. I won’t be watching. Far better than that, I’ll be enjoying another day of just about owning an empty city.

From Pathetic Life #8
Sunday, January 15, 1995

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.

Addendum, 2021: A moment of silence, in memoriam for Merrill's.

Merrill's was a small chain of drug stores with several locations across Northern California, founded in the late 1800s, and still a going concern when I lived there in the 1990s. Merrill's was always better than Walgreens and Rite-Aid and CVS, but was driven out of business after the giant chains came to town. 

Apparently, the last Merrill's closed in 2004, leaving the city a little less than it was.

Pathetic Life 

← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. Tell me if I'm wrong, Doug. Even on days when you're happy like this the stories are mostly sad. You're a good writer certainly, but I think you are a sad soul who got deal a bad hand by life somewhere along the way. You deserve happiness more often than you seem to get it. I am glad you're there and writing. Thank you.

    1. You are not particularly wrong. Everything is sad and it all ends with death and destruction, but with that small caveat I'm having a good time. How about you?


🚨🚨 If you have problems posting a comment, please click here for help. 🚨🚨