Paranoia runs deep

It's Carnival, emphasis on the last syllable, so Mission Street was closed for the parade. I don't know what Carnival celebrates, except pretty women not wearing much, and I'm all for that, but I needed to get down the stairs and into the BART station to ride to my job in Berkeley.

Getting down those stairs was difficult, because hundreds and hundreds of faux Brazilians were coming up the stairs, filling the entire stairwell.

Call me Miss Manners, but that's rude — sidewalks and stairways are public thoroughfares, where walkers should keep to the right, same as drivers on a two-way street. The up-walkers were everywhere, though, leaving no space for a down-walker like me.

It's an annoyance I've written about before, and I am not going to turn myself sideways or otherwise yield, not even going to say "Excuse me," when you're coming at me on my side of the sidewalk, or in this case, the stairs.

No sir, and no ma'am, I will go down on the right side of the stairwell, as far to the right as possible, but if you're coming up in my downspace, we will bump, and hard.

Near the top of the stairs and directly in my way was a frail, almost teetering old man with a cane, and in a stunning show of courtesy and consideration, I stood aside and said, "I'll let you pass, old timer." We smiled at each other. Such a sweet moment.

When he'd hobbled past, I grasped the handrail to my right and began the long descent at a normal clip, clipping two middle-aged ladies, a youngish man, and a teenage boy on my way down. None of them toppled, darn it. 

Others saw me coming and wisely scooted to their right, where they should've been all along. I bumped another man, hard, and he said something, and I wanted to turn 'round and clip him again, but I only smiled and continued down.

♦ ♦ ♦  

On Telegraph, a he-and-she couple stopped to look at the fish display, the man smiling, the woman not. As is my way, I said hello but nothing more.

The man kept smiling, the woman kept not, and after a bit she said to her boyfriend or lover or husband, "These are, um, kind of offensive." And at that, the man's smile vaporized, he took her hand, and they walked away together. 

A typical moment in a typical romance — one person yielding everything, even a sense of humor, to the other. I'm happier alone.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Two men walked past my table, engrossed in conversation and not noticing the fish. One of them said to the other, "They don't pray right, they don't dress right, they don't live right…" and then they were gone and I didn't hear the rest of the sentence. 

What "they" was he talking about, that does everything wrong? Does it even matter? Any narrow-minded person could say much the same sentence. Insert your own judgmentalism, depending on who you want to hate.

I don't think there's any way to pray right, dress right, or live right, if you're letting someone else define what's right.

♦ ♦ ♦  

I sat in the sun at the fish-table, saying "Fish!" once or twice every minute. It's my job. I don't take the job too seriously, though, so I was also reading a newspaper.

When I looked up from the paper, a redhead was stooped over, messing with the drawstring of her backpack. The backpack was on the sidewalk, so she was stooped way over. I couldn't see her face, but there was a post card view of the Northern Territories, and I am not gentleman enough to avert my eyes.

Fishmaking and cries of "Fish!" ceased, as did the passage of time, as I studied an acre of cleavage with no hint of a bra. There may have been the edge of a nipple, or perhaps it was only shadow. I'm not certain.

When she finally stood up, though, and I got a gander at her face, she was too young for the ogling I'd just committed. 15, maybe.

So, should I withdraw the enjoyment, and be ashamed and embarrassed instead?

Nah, I'm innocent, officer. I didn't know she was just a kid… but I would've watched anyway. I wouldn't pursue a girl that young, wouldn't waste time talking with her, but looking? Hell, I'll look at whatever looks lookable, and when un-bra'd hooters in a too-loose tank top aren't worth a look, I'll be either blind or dead.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Am I paranoid? Have I seen too many shadowy film noir movies? Yes on both counts, but today I noticed a tall, skinny man in a blue baseball cap, loitering on Telegraph Ave. He seemed somehow wrong for the Avenue, and he simply stood there, for a long time before walking away. Later, I noticed him a second time.

The day went on, and eventually I packed the fish and locked them away at Jay's house, walked to the BART station, and — the same man rode back to San Francisco with me, at the opposite end of the traincar.

When I got off at 16th Street, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that he'd gotten off, too, which gave me a serious case of the creeps.

I took the escalator up, and so did he, about thirty seconds later. I crossed Mission Street, then crossed 16th, and waited behind the doorway at Walgreens. He crossed 16th Street, and stood at the light to cross Mission, toward me.

Enough already. I went down the other set of stairs, the other entrance to the same BART station, figuring that if the man in the blue cap came down after me, he must be FBI or SFPD or something worse — maybe a reader of Pathetic Life.

At the bottom of the stairs and around a corner, I waited, sweating, telling myself this was all in my imagination… and peeking around the corner, watching, worried that I'd see that man coming down the stairs and toward me.

He didn't come down the stairs, and after ten minutes cowering, I climbed the steps to street level and looked around, but didn't see him. 

Several times, people who've read Pathetic Life have approached me on Telegraph Ave, and I hate it and hate them for it. Like Muni running late or the Christians complaining about the fish, it happens more often than I write about it, but it hasn't happened since Jim Cranston Day. Still, I'm wary. 

Look, three million people live in the Bay Area, and a few hundred thousand are always visiting. One guy loitering near my table on Telegraph means nothing, but the same guy riding in the same BART car from Berkeley to San Francisco with me, and getting off at the same station where I get off, and then crossing the same streets — I can't calculate the odds, but it's damned unlikely to be coincidence.

For safety's sake, I went into the station again, and rode BART to Richmond and back, getting off at 24th Street instead of 16th. Even then and there, I scanned the street scene for a few minutes to convince myself I hadn't been followed, before starting the longer walk home.

What to make of all this I do not know, but if that man had been smart enough to take his bright blue baseball cap off, I might not have noticed him at all. Which scares me a little worse.

♦ ♦ ♦  

On a cheerier note, aw shit and fuck and damn it all to hell, I just knocked over a whole bowl of beans on my bed.

It's the hotel's bed and it came with sheets, but they're tattered and wouldn't stay on, and got stuffed into the closet on my first night. I sleep on the mattress, unadorned.

I've wiped up what bean juice could be wiped, but the mattress remains sticky, and if roaches like pinto beans, I won't be sleeping alone tonight.

From Pathetic Life #24
Sunday, May 26, 1996

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. Bah, is this the beginning of the story of the end?

    1. The end had already begun, but this was a *big* part of it, yeah. It all came back re-typing it.


The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.