Terry's new job

On Mondays I come to San Francisco to work at Black Sheets, and remind myself that I used to live there. Berkeley is nice, but it's a suburb. San Francisco is loud, hectic, scummy, and beautiful.

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After work, I made my weekly trek to my maildrop, which is near the Tenderloin, the city's bleakest and roughest neighborhood. At a particularly bleak intersection, my former flatmate Terry was standing at the opposite corner.

I'm nearsighted, but even from across the street I recognized her defeated expression, the uncaring, unfeeling frown. She was wearing pink shorts and a shiny red vinyl top. High heels would've completed the uniform, but she was in tennis shoes.

Disbelieving, I reached into my backpack for my glasses, and put them on. To be sure. And it was her. And holy shit, sweet mother of Christ.

She was alone, simply standing and waiting, but there was no doubt she was open for business. Terry is not repulsive, possible even attractive, but always on her face is a look like she's chewing glass, and that was her expression today in the Tenderloin. It's exactly the same face as when she was in our kitchen, or on the couch with Pike.

From his phone call a month or so ago, I knew they were desperate for rent money, but I didn't know they were this desperate.

For a moment I froze, staring, but the very first thing I wouldn't want is a conversation with her, especially while she's working. She wouldn't want to see me either, so I hurried along.

Always I've sometimes wondered, what trauma or event made Terry the woman she is? Why does she stay with Pike, when they're always screaming at each other? There's no way to know short of asking, and I wasn't about to ask.

Does Pike know, I wondered? Was he down the street, watching, playing the pimp? I wouldn't have guessed him quite that low a low-life, but I wouldn't have guessed it of Terry either. Or maybe Pike was back at the apartment, high as a telephone pole and oblivious to everything.

That was his usual state, in the four months that the three of us shared that mierda apartment. I'm not sure I ever saw either Terry or Pike anything but high. A few times Terry complained that they had no coke, but they always had pot.

Should I give a damn about Terry, any more than any other woman in that profession? Probably I should. I knew that woman, saw her naked, saw her fucking Pike, because they were never much on modesty.

She and I never really talked, though. We only ignored each other and yelled at each other. She was always annoying, and I hated her when she lived in the next room. Any reason I should hate her less, after seeing her today?

It took a while to decide, but in the end, sorry but no. I can't give a damn about that woman on Jones Street in the Tenderloin. Life is cruel, and if you live every day stupidly, eventually you'll see the cruelest things life can offer.

Whatever Terry went through as a child, an adult, or just as the bitch in general she's been whenever I've seen her, where I saw her this afternoon was her choice. I don't hate her enough to wish her such a life, but don't care enough to wish her better, or do anything about it, as if there's anything I could do.

For all the sleepless nights she caused me when we shared that flat, I suppose I could simply say fuck her. That might sound like a recommendation, though, and I wouldn't wish her on my worst ex-friend. To hell with her, I'd say, but it looks like she's already there. 

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After picking up my mail, I read through some of it while lunching alone at the Sincere Café. That was five bucks I couldn't afford, plus tip, but I was hungry and the Sincere is almost an old friend to me. The meal was delish, of course. The Sincere never lets me down. Ken, the waiter, asked where I've been. It had been months since I'd had the Number 1, and it tasted like home.

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Every year, the Roxie dedicates a few weeks of their calendar to the classics and curios of film noir — old movies with dark imagery and dark characters driven by dark motivations. It's a different double feature every night, and some years I've gone to every show every night, but this year the budget is extra tight so it's only tonight and maybe Wednesday.

Bruce and I met in front of the theater. He's Bruce Townley, the Oblong man. We talked for a few minutes on the sidewalk, and decided we didn't hate each other, so we went inside and sat together, and talked until the lights dimmed.

Anyone who talks after the lights dim earns my wrath, and I'll walk away and sit somewhere else, but Bruce knew it was movie time and that's shut up time.

We talked again between the features, and talked more on the way out, and then he walked toward his bus and I walked toward the BART to Berkeley.

He's a nice enough fellow, and he's a movie buff so movies are mostly what we talked about, but he never quite seemed relaxed around me, which is understandable. I'm a big fat funny-looking man with bad teeth and worse breath. Probably he could smell me all through the double feature. 

I'm usually as nervous as he was, or more. Always I'm ill at ease first meeting anyone, like I was with Loki a few days ago, or Sarah-Katherine when we first met.

What's curious is that I was uncharacteristically comfortable with Bruce. Trying to psychoanalyze myself now, I think it's because I'd read his zine and had already decided I knew the man, but dang, I was witty, friendly, even outgoing. I kept the conversation going when it sputtered. That's not like me, not at all. I was so damned gregarious, I'm not sure I would've been able to relax if I'd just met me.

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As for the movies…

There's a recurring problem with the Roxie's sound system. The soundtrack occasionally disappears, especially in quiet scenes, and especially with 16mm prints. Instead of footprints down an alley, you hear nothing until the next gunshot or shattered window or scream, which brings the sound back. Usually it's only ambient noises that disappear, but sometimes it can be an entire conversation, if it's whispered.

Theater management knows about it. I've complained and heard others complain. It's an annoyance, but I'm not mad at them, cuz I know the Roxie is run on a B-movie budget. They don't rake in huge profits showing old movies, and often there are only a few dozen people in the theater, even for a 7:00 show. Fixing the sound might cost money they don't have.

So a few minutes of Murder is My Beat (1955) became a silent movie, but it was otherwise enjoyable. It's about a tough-talking by-the-book detective who, after years of devotion to "the law," decides to pursue justice instead. That's reprehensible, of course, but it's only a movie. The voiceover is droll, especially as he goes traipsing after a suspect through the snow (absolute silence), and the story gets goofy toward the end. It's an OK show, though, with swelling violins cuing the hero when it's time to fall in love.

Crime Wave (1953) stars Sterling Hayden as a typical prick cop — typical in real life, but rather rare for the movies. He's arrogant, obnoxious, an ordinary oinker who assumes all suspects are guilty, and (thought the movie doesn't go this far) you know he'd happily plant the evidence to prove it. Hayden sneeringly overplays the part, as a young Charles Bronson and his bad guy buddies force an ex-con to rob a bank. Beware of the wishy-washy ending, though.

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Two of the people who hang around at Black Sheets have mentioned that they're sex workers. I've chatted with hookers on the street, because you know, they're people and maybe I say hello. And once I did some "anything legal" housework for a woman who was doing phone sex in the next room.

Terry, though, is the first prostitute I've personally known. I am not a man of high moral character, so I don't know why it makes me sad, but damn if it doesn't.

From Pathetic Life #17
Monday, October 23, 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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