Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued
Luco put his head down on the book, kissed it and closed his eyes. Outside his window he missed the flashes of pointed movement across the street. The growl of a turning diesel-powered bus covered the gargled scream of a 20-year-old addict from Apple Valley, New York.
The sound of Steve Perry’s soaring voice from the clock radio shook Marlee from a warm and dream-filled sleep.
“When the lights go down in the City, and the sun shines on the Bay. I want to be there in my City.”
It was a love song to San Francisco and after only a short time in the City, Marlee understood the infatuation.
San Francisco is a small city, only 49 square miles. As a result, the people living there strive to cram everything into and get everything out of the limited space. Any piece of vacant land will turn, overnight, into a garden or neighborhood farm. Rows of vegetables and flowers appear as if by magic.
The Victorian houses that line so many shady streets look like the work of finger painters run riot. Playful color combinations make the homes leap out to meet your eyes halfway. Yellow with magenta trim. Azure blue and fire engine red. Primary colors and subtle hues that come from a tropical plant’s dreams appear around every corner.
In this shirt pocket size city everything and everyone seems to be competing for attention. The peaks rise to outdo each other to get more sunlight. Hillsides, filled with narrow houses built on slivers of land, have steps instead of sidewalks. Streets twist and turn, inviting analogies that are doomed to fall short.
San Francisco is a city where, every May, 100,000 people dress up as buildings, bridges and sea serpents and run through the streets. They race from the busy shore of San Francisco Bay across the outlandish terrain to the Pacific Ocean at the western edge of the continent.
Hundreds of people race in the nude, braving the cold winds and the critical scrutiny of half a million eyes. They run knowing that in San Francisco their exhibitionism will be viewed with mild amusement rather than reproach.
The only thing about San Francisco that avoids excess is the climate. When the weather is warm and bright with skies too blue to imagine, the residents rush outside to take it in as fast as possible. They know that after 3 or 4 days of sunshine “The Fog” will come roaring in like a runaway train and cover everything with a speeding wall of salty white. It was this fog that greeted Marlee as she peeked outside her bedroom window.
When the clock radio roused her with Journey’s theme song for “The City”, Marlee sat on the edge of the bed, getting her bearings, preparing to start another day. She felt a misplaced chill. The floor was cold. The air had a familiar iciness, but for Cleveland in late autumn, not San Francisco in the spring.
Stumbling over to the window she poked two fingers through the white slats expecting to see the flowerbeds in Buena Vista Park. Instead of salvia and Golden California Poppies her eyes were met by solid gray. She pulled up the blind and wiped her hand across the glass. The fog was in and the world had disappeared.
The sun was struggling to make its presence known by the time Marlee had pulled herself together and headed up Haight Street. The fog was low over the tops of the buildings. The spires of the church up on the hill were invisible. So was the hill. Marlee felt like she was living inside a glass ball wrapped in a gray silk curtain. The horizon was a five minute walk away. It all made her a little depressed. Not quite a case of the blues, but just a bit out of balance.
Inside the People’s Cafe, however, the mood was almost like Christmas morning. Everyone was laughing and smiling, even the usually crabby customers. The bearded writer was grinning like a fool. He was normally quite morose this early in the day. Marlee wondered if today was some kind of local holiday.
“Marlee,” called Luco when he saw her standing there looking confused. “Good morning to you.”
The waitress called “Spider,” with her red dreadlocks, and young “Zephyr,” with a short, pink Pixie haircut and pierced eyebrows and even Armando the busboy, as if on cue, all called out, “Marlee!” The cook ran out from the kitchen waving his metal grill brush. “Marlee,” he yelled, turned around and hurried back to his duties.
Now totally lost, Marlee looked behind herself to see if another Marlee had walked in after her. It was confusing, but the boisterous greetings lifted her spirits and put a smile on her face.
Luco’s warm eyes welcomed Marlee as she walked up to the counter. “Are all you people psychics?” she said. “Did you know I was feeling kind of down? But all of you shouting my name sure took care of that.”
“Marlee, you may be new to Haight Street, but you’ve quickly become a member of our family.” His smile was genuine.
“Thank you, Luco, all of you. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome.”
“We don’t let just anybody into our family, right John?”
The writer in the corner held up his bagel in salute. “Luco tells you true, Marlee. It took two years for them to even acknowledge my existence.”
“Spider” peeked over the glass pastry case. “Eat your bagel, John or I’ll withdraw my invitation to the party.”
“You need me there, Spider. Without me it’s just a party, but with me there it’s a celebration of life, a bacchanal.” Again, as if someone was giving cues, the entire crew shouted out, “Eat your bagel, John.”
The pink Pixie cut came up behind Luco, her hands on his hips. She weighed no more than ninety-five pounds. Looking around his tanned and muscular arm, Zephyr said, “Marlee, Spider is tossing a party and you have to come, as my guest.”
“Me? Why thank you.”
“I figured I better ask you because it looked like Ricky Ricardo here was too shy.” Zephyr slapped Luco on the rear and walked back into the kitchen to pick up an order.
Marlee looked at Luco and she could have sworn that he was blushing, just a little. Teasing him would have been fun, but she decided to let it pass. She was still too much a newcomer to get into that.
Luco was blushing. He didn’t like being teased in front of anyone, most of all a customer, and a pretty one at that.
“The party is this Saturday night at Spider’s place over on Fulton, near the Park.”
“Luco,” Marlee leaned close, “I’ve been meaning to ask you – “’Spider’? ‘Zephyr’? What’s with the crazy names?”
Luco leaned closer to Marlee. “Spider: her name is really Martha, but she prefers Spider. It has to do with the tattoo on her….” Marlee held up her hand, cutting him off.
“Spare me, Luco. I’m still too green for all the details of life in San Francisco.” It was her turn to blush.
“Fair enough, Marlee. We don’t want to scare you away. And Zephyr? That’s her real name. Her folks were a couple of old hippies. Go figure.
“Anyway, my dear, Spider’s bashes are the best. Not too weird, I promise. You’ll come to the party?”
“I’d love to, Luco. It’ll be good for me to get out and kick up my heels a bit.”
“That it will, Marlee. Be here at the cafe at midnight.”
Marlee wasn’t used to parties that started at midnight. Classical musicians aren’t known as party animals. Even in college, most of their parties were over by midnight. Tonight at Spider’s would be different and “different” was one reason Marlee was in San Francisco.