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You missed a corner.

BARTed back into the city this morning, expecting to go flyering in the Castro and Mission, but a little old lady changed my plans. I was stapling one of my "I'll do anything" flyers to the bulletin board in only my third laundromat of the morning, when she came up, looking over my shoulder, and said she'd hire me then and there, to carry her hot laundry home.

It was only a couple of blocks to her house, so I wasn't even going to charge her, but when we got there she wanted me to vacuum her living room, and later I wiped the dining room table, wash some griz off the walls, swept and mopped and did everything else to make her home into something from House Beautiful.

Now, I don't mind doing housework, not at all, not if someone's paying me. Beats changing prices at Macy's. I prefer some advance warning, though, to build up a head of dread before all the hard work. Scrubbing dried milk and coffee off some stranger's linoleum isn't my favorite last-minute surprise.

But hey, I need the money. Always need the money, so I did the work. Here's what I don't need, though:

All the time I was working, granny was watching me work. She sat, and watched, and talked, and talked and talked. Her name is Gertrude, and she's one of those old people I hope to never become, who talk so much it's agony to be in the same room.

It was like she hadn't had a conversation with anyone in ages, so I got all of her pent-up output. Maybe all her friends are dead — she did seem very old.

I usually don't have much to say to anyone, but even if I'd been feeling bizarrely chatty I couldn't have inserted anything more than a "Yup" or two between her busy ramblings. Her children never call, she said. One's a banker, divorced; one's a hairstylist, gay; and one's dead, which seems like a good excuse not to call.

She told me about her grandchildren, showed off her knitting and knickknacks, poured us each a glass on lemonade, explained why the news on channel 7 is better than the news on channel 4, and complained about her arthritis, her doctor, that darn Bill Clinton, and the price of her prescriptions.

Every time I finished a chore she found another, and I probably could've worked several more hours, but I wanted to escape before she brought out the inevitable photo album, so I said, "I gotta go."

She paid me, tipped extravagantly, and as I was strapping my pack to my back she said, "Can you come back next Wednesday? There are so many things to do around here, and I'll make more lemonade." 

I weighed the bigness of her tip against the dullness of her talking, and said OK, so next week I'm going back to Granny Gertrude, for more work, more stories, more complaining, and more general Gertrudosity. 

Last thing as I was going out the door, she called me back into the hallway to grouse that I'd missed a corner when I'd vacuumed. And OK, I'd missed a corner. I apologized, and plugged in the vacuum cleaner and attacked that corner, because my work comes with a guarantee, I guess.

And while I vacuumed (on my own time) she told a few more stories, including one from when she was in high school, which must've been around 1880.

♦ ♦ ♦

After listening to an old lady's mind-numbing monologue for hours, I needed a good horror story to kick-start my heard and return me to consciousness. Well, a very nice reader of this zine recently sent a stack of Red Vic movie passes — Thank you, Todd! — so I stopped in for Susperia (1977) and popcorn.

It's a delightful mess of inventive camerawork, garish sets, macabre music with a beat, bloody murder and the threat of bloody murder, bad dubbing, and lots of pretty actresses, most of whom can't act, or if they can it got swallowed in the dubbing.

The story is something about a big-eyed girl from New York who's enrolled in a German dance academy. She knows something is off from the moment her plane touches down — there's bad weather and spooky music, she doesn't speak the language, the cab driver is rude, and, oh yeah, all the teachers at the academy are witches.

I'm typing like a smartass now, but it seriously scared the juicy bejeebers out of me. Usually what I want to do at the movies is forget I'm at the movies, just sit back and be absorbed into a good story well told, but Susperia had the opposite effect — for the last twenty minutes or so, to ward off a coronary in my chair, I was silently telling myself, This is only a movie, This is only a movie. Yeah, it's only a movie, but it's a very frightening movie indeed.

As always at the Red Vic, the popcorn was perfect, the film was perfectly focused and framed, and the sound was loud enough to shake constipation loose without being too loud. Someone from Berkeley's UC Theater should make a field trip across the bay to see how a theater should be run.

I would like to file a small complaint, though. For at least a year, every time I've seen a movie at the Red Vic, its been preceded by a preview for Latcho Drom, a documentary that seems to play at the Red Vic monthly — so it's always "coming soon." It's something about folk-singing Gypsies, and maybe it's a fabulous film, but by now I have the preview memorized. Every close-up of every folk singer with a look of sincere indigestion on her face just reminds me of a line from an old folk song, "If I had a hammer, there's be no folk singers."

To the good people running the Red Victorian: Show Latcho Drom as often as you like, cuz God you must love that film, but please please please stop showing the preview.

♦ ♦ ♦

After busing back downtown, I stepped into the BART station, and again like the day before yesterday, some schmuck stood in the gateway blocking the entrance while fumbling with his ticket. Again I wanted to say what a fool he was, but instead, being a better man than the day before yesterday, I  waited behind him silently… for about ten seconds, but jeez. 

Just as I was taking a deep breath and selecting the obscenities I'd shower him with, a voice barked out behind me in fluent Brooklynese, "Hey, whut duh fuck is yuh fuckin probluhm?"

And I remembered that soon, if the funds and logistics work out, I'll be in Brooklyn with Sarah-Katherine, hearing that charming accent every day.

♦ ♦ ♦

Speaking of language barriers, on the subway platform I helped some lady who spoke not a word of English get where she was going. 

At night, two of BART's four routes don't run, and you might have to transfer to get where you're going. If you don't speak English and don't know your way, you're screwed, because all the signs and maps are only in English

From that lady's worried and frustrated expression, she'd been waiting and waiting for a train that wouldn't come until tomorrow, so I motioned her over toward the map on the wall. She pointed to where she wanted to go, and I pointed to the train she'd need to take, and to the station where she'd need to transfer. Did it all without words, too.

There are many thousands of people in San Francisco who speak only Mandarin, only Spanish, only Japanese, only Korean, only Russian, etc. I'm the opposite of that racist "English only" rule the Republicans cry out for. Every sign in San Francisco ought to be at least octalungual.

From Pathetic Life #17
Wednesday, October 18, 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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