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Into the city, and back again

If you missed the last few issues, or haven't been paying attention to this one, you might not have noticed that despite the zine's San Francisco address, it takes place in Berkeley. That's a sleepy college town, across the Bay Bridge from SF.

Once weekly, though, I ride a train back to the big city, to pick up my mail and then work a shift at Black Sheets, a small but lovable smut mag.

Every time I'm back in Frisco, climbing up from a subway station, I'm greeted by the scent of urine. You smell it all over in the city, and it's probably as much a part of most tourists' memories as the cable cars and the wharf.

This morning I walked around old pissy San Francisco for a while, breathing it in, and missing it even as I was there. I miss the scum of the slum, half-price hookers with open lesions, bag ladies arguing with the air, drunks slobbering in their sleep on the rare park bench that hasn't been cruelly bum-proofed with rods or spikes, and yeah, I miss the city's smell of pee.

Judge me if you must, but the urine still smells like home. Not like Berkeley, with its odd upscale odor of not-pee.

♦ ♦ ♦

At a corner, a crusty crackhead was earning drug money by selling stolen bus transfers. He wanted half a buck, but I talked the price down to 30¢ for a hot Muni round trip, then illegally rode the #22 bus to the Fillmore. There were no seats, so I stood and surfed and squished a stanchion all the way, just like old times.

The bus held a hundred other idiots, all of us lurching along through traffic, one by one fighting our way to the door to step off. I hated all of them, and that's something else I miss about the city — the invitation to think snarling, hateful thoughts about every stranger on every bus, every corner, everywhere. The unconscious lifting of my shoulders, curling of my lip, toughening of my attitude as I walk the streets of San Francisco.

Without that defensive aura, that need to always be alert, and the sweet smell of strangers' urine, Berkeley seems so civilized by comparison. Maybe too civilized for me.

♦ ♦ ♦

A few months back, SF's cartoonishly villainous mayor Frank Jordan had a front-page photo op as the first politician to step into the city's sparkling new public john at Market & Powell. Then he locked the door behind him, and one can only wonder what Jordan did in there, because he's certainly still full of shit.

Incredibly, Jordan wanted voters to be happy that the new toilet, an ugly green free-standing and self-cleaning eyesore, cost the city nothing. The deal is that the city is supposed to get a hundred ugly self-cleaning public crappers, which will probably malfunction and be out of order most of the time, in exchange for letting some French company build a thousand or so even uglier kiosks (read, billboards) along the sidewalks.

That's a shitty trade, if you ask me. 

And meanwhile, two blocks from that first of the doomed green crappers, giant city-owned restrooms remain padlocked 24/7 under Union Square. Those johns are fully functional but they've been closed for years, because the city would rather spend millions of dollars prosecuting homeless people for peeing on the sidewalk, than pay the wages of a washroom attendant and unlock those toilets, to let people pee when they need to pee.

♦ ♦ ♦

BARTing back home, I'd usually prefer a seat to myself. That's my first choice, but if somebody's gotta sit next to me, my second choice would be a pretty woman. This afternoon I got my second choice, as a very attractive woman placed her very attractive rump on the same train bench as my bum. 

I didn't say anything to her, just buried my face in a newspaper. It's a courtesy. She spoke to me, though, and I'm kinda repulsive, so pretty women don't usually do that.

"You're the fishman, right?" she asked.

Criminy, I don't want to be a celebrity, and if I ever am famous, I don't want it to be for selling fish. I raised my head out of my newspaper, and when her eyes met mine my grouchiness softened and something else hardened. This was a very pretty woman. She had skin the shade of coffee with cream, and she smiled and waited too long for an answer.

"It's my calling, " I finally said. Not great, but also not the dumbest line I've ever come up with.

She smiled and said, "I bought a 666 fish from you."

"Ah, the Anti-Christ. You have good taste — that's our most radical fish. Where did you put it?"

"On my mom's back bumper," she said, "right next to her Jesus fish. She hasn't noticed it yet."

With that most of my nervousness faded. I liked this lady, and before the train came up from underwater we were making conversation. Nothing deep or memorable, no phone numbers were exchanged, and I worried about my permanently bad breath, but we small-talked until the train pulled into Berkeley. Then I stood up to step off the train, and said, "Bye."

"Bye-bye," she said, and then "My name's Andrea?" she added, saying it as a question.

Of course, I was supposed to introduce myself. The bell had sounded, though, and the train's doors were about to close, I was walking away, and too dull-witted to even remember my name. Instead I said, "Bye, Andrea," and stepped from the train to the platform. The doors whooshed shut behind me, and the train pulled away.

"My name's Doug," I said to the taillights, fading down the tunnel.


From Pathetic Life #15
Monday, August 21, 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.

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