Saturday on the sidewalk

"Peter Zane of the New York Times" left another message on my voice-mail. That's how he announced himself, rather dramatically, like you'd say Lawrence of Arabia.

He still wants me to call him back and answer twenty questions, but instead I've decided to send him this issue when it's printed — free, since he's in it. Let him read what I think of him, before he decides what he thinks of me.

After that, if he wants a copy he can pay, like anyone else. Twenty bucks buys seven issues, Peter, but nothing's going to buy you an interview.

♦ ♦ ♦

LeeAnn and Stevi sort of undressed me today — a customer wants to buy the skirt I've been wearing, so they made me wear the green cape and insect head, instead of the skirt and blouse and wig.

I mentioned that we get noticeably more customers to come up the stairs when I'm wearing the skirt, but Stevi just looked at me with that "She's the boss" look. Sigh. I wrapped the cape over me, slipped the insect head over my skull, and handed out flyers all day, with reduced results.

♦ ♦ ♦

There's a young-ish woman who works at Geraldine's shop, the shop below the shop where I work. We've spoken once or twice while she's smoking a cigarette in front of Geraldine's, and it's taken a while — I try to give people the benefit of the doubt — but I've decided I don't like her.

She's never been rude, but her face and voice are always blank, and from her eyes I get the impression as she's inhaling, watching me hand out flyers, that she shares her boss's opinion of my essential worthlessness.

Tonight, though, this same woman looked different than ever before. She was dressed fancy — must've had a date — and I almost didn't recognize her. She was wearing make-up, better clothes, and for the first time ever, a smile. 

Let me 'splain: I don't care about clothes, and I never know what to think about make-up — if it's applied delicately maybe I don't even notice it, but when I notice make-up it just seems like an odd thing to do to your face. And nobody's required to smile, either. Cripes, I never smile without a good reason.

It's just that she's always been so unsmiley, I didn't even know she had teeth. When she smiles she's illuminated, and it makes her a fairly attractive woman.

The lesson here, I guess, is that I should smile more often myself.

Also, please note: Smile or no smile, attractive or not attractive, I still don't like that woman.

♦ ♦ ♦

A guy came up to me on the sidewalk — white guy, 30-ish, mustache — and said something about his motorcycle. Clearly I was supposed to know what he was talking about, but alas, I did not.

"You don't remember me, do you?" he asked when he saw my confusion.

"Sorry, no," I answered. "I see so many people here on the sidewalk every day, if we said something to each other I just don't remember."

"I can't believe you've forgotten me!" he said, but with a smile. I don't think I'd forgotten him, though. Pretty dang sure I'd never seen him before. 

I said, "Maybe you talked about your motorcycle with the shop's other flyer-boy?"

"No, it was you," he said.

I asked, "Were you wearing leather that day?" He was wearing leather today.

"Sure," he answered. "I always wear leather."

"So does everyone around here. It's the Castro. There are so many men in leather with a mustache, I couldn't keep 'em straight even if they were."

He smiled at my lame joke, then asked, "Will you remember me next time?"

"Well," I said, smiling but still baffled, "thousands of people walk by on the sidewalk every day. I only remember the ones who treat me shitty, and the ones who kiss me. Are you gonna treat me shitty?"

"Nope," he said, as we puckered up and smooched. He's the third man I've kissed in a month. Am I a shameless skank or what?

As he walked away, I psychoanalyzed myself. It's easy for me to flirt with men. They seem to find the cape attractive, or the demeanor I adopt while I'm flyer-boy. I'm not attracted to men, though, so it's just good clean fun.

Women are different. Shocking, I know, but one small smile from an attractive woman, or a big smile from an unattractive woman, and my blood starts pumping, my knees knock, my mouth goes dry, and my wit goes missing. If that man had been a woman, I couldn't have come up with a clever line with half an hour to rehearse. 

I can't have a relaxed conversation with any potentially available woman until I've known her for months, and of course, by the time I've known a woman that long — like Kallie — she's decided we're just friends.

♦ ♦ ♦

Which leads to my next bumbling thought.

Soon I'll be in Seattle, having lunch or maybe dinner with my zine crush, Sarah-Katherine, who publishes Pasty. From our letters and zines, though, we already know each other, so I'm hope-hope-hoping to skip the several months of silence.

♦ ♦ ♦

After work I bused home, and walked the last few blocks toward this trash-strewn slum street, where the only thing that seemed out of the ordinary was the quiet. No loud arguments, no boomboxes blaring, no screaming domestic squabbles. This neighborhood is never that quiet, though. 

A car was double-parked in the middle of our one-lane one-way street, blocking traffic if there'd been any traffic, but there wasn't, and the double-parking isn't unusual either. The car was a Crown Victoria, though — an unmarked police cruiser. 

Across the street in the twilight, two white cops were searching three teenage boys, two Hispanic and one black, I think. At that, the hairs on my arms were tingling. This was the first time I've seen any police in this neighborhood, so I pulled myself out of my thoughts and paid close attention. It is a good idea to watch your enemy.

Do I need to explain that last line? I don't break many laws, but I don't go out of my way to follow laws either, and I read the paper and I've seen some things, and I do not trust the police.

The boys were up against the wall of a tenement, legs apart, hands up. One cop had his gun drawn, while the other did a thorough pat-down of all three. Then the cop with the gun watched the kids, while his partner searched the sidewalk with a flashlight, looking for contraband, I presume. Or looking for a place to drop some.

I don't know those kids, but probably I've cussed at them under my breath. Here in the hood, not a day goes by when I don't hate some kid, for his loud music, tough-guy posturing, smoking outside my window, whatever. Tonight, though, my gut said we were on the same side.

On stoops and from windows, open stairwells and doorways, people were standing, watching. Two of the watchers had video cameras in their hands, filming the scene as it unfolded, and I thought, Aha, that's why the cops aren't beating these kids about the head.

Watching the police is distasteful, though, and I wanted to get safely inside my apartment, so I walked straight ahead and didn't see what happened next. There was a noise, ptth, followed by a loud ripple of laughter, and the cops weren't laughing. They were eyeing the neighborhood, scanning every visible face, but in the dark and distance most weren't visible, what with the streetlight being burned out for weeks now.

The noise sounded again, ptth, and this time I saw what it was — a raw egg had splattered on the cop car's hood. That was the second egg. The first egg was oozing down the windshield.

"Fuckin' pigs!" came a shout from nowhere, and then everything was quiet beyond describing. An utter absence of sound.

The two cops glanced at each other, and a low-rider came down the street but stopped and honked — the cops' car was blocking its way.

The cop with the gun still had the kids against the wall, so the cop with the flashlight walked toward the honking Hispanics. When they saw it was a cop, the driver slipped it into reverse and backed away slowly. No screeching.

I was looking at the other oinker, the one who had the kids in his sights, so I saw what happened next very plainly — a flying tomato hit him on the shoulder. It was beautiful, and I may have laughed, but it wasn't rotten so it didn't make much of a mess. The red simply bounced off him, onto the sidewalk, into the street. Then a voice from somewhere shouted, "Fuckin' pigs! Go hassle someone else!"

Damn right, I thought to myself on the sidewalk, diagonally down the street from the tomato targets. Get the hell out of here! I think I thought it, but I might've said it. Might've yelled it. 

Another egg splattered on the sidewalk, a few steps from one of the policemen. A different voice from a doorway shouted something in Spanish so I can't repeat it, but the tone wasn't 'Welcome to our street'.

The cop with his gun drawn said something to the kids, probably a threat, and motioned for his partner to get into the car. A small plastic bag of trash hit the trunk, leaving a trail of coffee grounds and griz on the roof.

The boys slowly lowered their hands from the wall as the cops drove away, to the crowd's cheers and raspberries and vulgarities, and I'm starting to feel at home in this neighborhood.

From Pathetic Life #11
Saturday, April 29, 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.


  1. So I was I SF while you were, and as often as I was in the Castro, I hate to admit I have absolutely no memory of ever seeing you.

    Curious, I went back to my own journals from April 29, 1995 and I was busy fawning over a gentlemen whom I am now completely unable to conjure a face. Another instance when I find myself wishing we had ubiquitous cell phone cameras forty years ago like we do today. I wouldn't have such a hard time remembering all those folks who came and went from my life.


  2. I am flattered that you would check your records. Was the guy in front of a second-hand shop on Market Street?

    Nah, and you'd never remember me if you saw me. You're gorgeous, man — I've seen the pictures. Me, I'm an ordinary looking fat white guy. Without the cape I'm nothing.

    1. >Without the cape I'm nothing.

      Brother, you're awesome with or without the cape.

    2. Feeling sorta capeless these days, so thanks.


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