Fiction Adventure Historical Fiction

Am I Here?

H.E. Ross

My city is seven miles by seven miles, maybe a little more or less on either side but essentially is a round-edged square. San Francisco is the kind of place you come to or leave. All of my life’s memories of that beautiful place are captured in rum and ice movements with only one big and important memory-box showing me sitting still and that was the day I started sailing.

I sat on a rock beneath a small port entry light at the Marina Green and saw for the first time slanted sails driving spear blade hulls through foam above the grey green bay waters. I was hooked on something I lived with but never saw. I was grateful to the forces of my surroundings for the first time since I was a kid and touched a buffalo hoof in the middle of the Golden Gate Park. 

San Francisco blended my heartbeats in jazz and congas and parks and laughing schools and hurt knuckles pounding my colour into black and white kids’ faces. I grew up moving to the Haight-Ashbury and matured looking back at the ‘Mo District and appreciating the smells of my parks. There was dew on grass. There were bent eucalyptus twigs, tree ferns, ponds, small creeks, ridge-lines and dells. My first kiss and sex. The French witch with no underpants. My dog, Rover, shaking mud to a fine white fur.

The plane landed and I bumped to attention. I had to remember my overhead luggage and overcoat. I had to go through immigration. I had to get a ticket for the bus into the City. I had to take a piss and wash my face and brush my teeth. I had to get something to eat so I could sober up.

I woke up as the bus moved over the hill and sat up to see my favourite site… my City emerging from the soft crest of this hill. The city hall luminous and the seven hills undulating in mid-day light. Pastel boxes of whitenesses rolling up and down and spreading to the lower bay. 

‘Image Is Everything’ said the rectangular billboard where there were no billboards before. Two tennis shoes stuck in my face. I blinked strongly and the billboard was blotting out the city hall, disrupting the pastels and contours. Where was I?

At the bus station people seemed to be moving faster than my memory recalled. I was only gone four days but I had to look at the street signs to reassure myself that this was San Francisco. I had returned to the City many times from slow paced places and went right into gear, but something had changed… The last thing I concluded is what we all fear concluding: I had changed. Now, that is scary. I tried to tell myself that it was the booze and fighting and surprise family things. A lot had happened and I was not coping well, is all.

I walked the wrong way to catch my bus, but decided to take a walk to the marina as an award to fate. I went into a liquor store and bought a half-pint of the word rum on a bottle and continued my walk. I mounted the hill above the tunnel and looked out at Chinatown. I stopped and sat on the cement rail above the tunnel and sipped from the bottle. It burned my throat and made me take a slug this time. I wanted to get drunk, I thought out loud. I was in my City and I wanted to be a San Franciscan. I wanted to get good and drunk.

The breeze caught me up on that rail and I remembered my Lizard King sitting at her berth and wanted to be there right now. Capping the bottle I put it in my overcoat pocket and put the overcoat on, shouldered my bag and skipped down the steps into Chinatown.

Chinatown makes me who I am every time I smell and walk its streets and alleys. My youth was spent courting those pretty little ladies who found me exotic, I was smiling now. Looking around at laundry hanging in droops from secret windows on blocks of buildings that I always guessed contained half of China’s population I breathed like I was back in town. I took another pull while walking and spilled a bit on my overcoat but did not care. I was at home.

I was sweating now since I was not being touched by a breath of air passing from one familiar street to an alley shortcut to a street. I pulled off the overcoat and hung it through my bag strap, careful for the bottle’s easy access. Into North Beach and sunlight. I thought I should celebrate something. I was home? Na, I always celebrated that one. I was representing a nation, delivering its heritage? Yes… yes, that would do. 

I stopped passage and turned at Washington Square, looking at the statue of Benjamin Franklin at its centre and crossed the street to enter Grant Avenue and some good bars.

Years before it was the Anxious Asp. A cigar smoking lesbian midget ran the place. I was sixteen looking like I was twenty-five. I met two good friends there. One is dead now and one is a house-husband. Both were bad muthas, then. What was I now? The Asp is gone. A blood I had met in Mexico had bought it and moved it to the Haight during those latter stages of the hippy landings but it had failed. I did not like that guy anyway.

Mike’s Pool Hall was gone also. It went when topless came in… almost to the day. Mike’s was wonderful and introduced me to the hierarchy of San Francisco’s underworld. Genovese to Sicilian to Bloods, all funded by Chinese. The heroin, pot and coke were routed through the toilet at Mike’s and deals were made at the pool tables for more than samples. Mike’s smelled like a German Beer Hall and had crushed peanut shells soaking up anything on the one foot up levels of its two floors. 

Now, I was at Specks in his own tiny alley. Across from Vesuvio’s and City Lights Bookstore. The bouquet was memory. I poured the last of my rum into the last contents of my beer mug and ate my traditional cheese from the big slicer on the bar. The bartender saw me but knew me since I was a kid. I was home.

May 20, 2023 11:25

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Mary Bendickson
15:56 May 28, 2023

Welcome home 🏡 Never been there but now I know San Francisco.


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Tommy Goround
15:30 May 28, 2023

How was the traffic?


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