Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen
Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen
“Oh, come on, John. I kind of feel sorry for him. He has his troubles. I admit that he is a bit weird but…”
Dawn took up where John left off.
“Marlee, Hon, he’s a real head case. Half the stores on Haight won’t let him through the door.”
Marlee saw their sincerity, along with the dash of fear in Dawn’s eyes. Looking back across the Haight Street she could see Dennis waving his arms, arguing with the tattooed clerk. A small cloud of doubt drifted into Marlee’s mind.
The clerk was getting tired of the same nonsensical routine. Her growing flush of anger was giving her tattoo snake an unreal ruddiness.
“Man, every time you come in here it’s the same crap. I’ll tell you one more time and if you don’t like it you can take your freaky business elsewhere. The price for the ‘tat’ is $65 – a one inch skull. There is no freaking ‘frequent flier’ discount. And one more thing…”
“What’s that, Sideshow?”
“Why do you always get the same tattoo every time, you Creep?”
“None of your business. Do you want it to be your business? I can arrange that for you, you little junkie.”
“Do you want the damned tattoo or not, Cretin?”
“Yes, I want the tattoo. Why else would I ever come in here, Skank?”
“To flirt with the help, maybe?” She smiled and flicked out her pierced tongue. “Paper or plastic, Twitch?”
“Plastic today.” He handed over a Visa card and she swiped it into the register. “Let’s get to work, Tiger.”
They disappeared behind the counter, out of sight from Marlee’s view in the People’s Cafe.
“Well, Dawn, I’m not moving and he hasn’t given me any trouble I can’t handle. I’ve seen his kind before – creepy, but all talk..
“OK, Darlin’. It’s your funeral.”
Once a year, in early June, Haight Street transforms itself from a busy tourist street into an even busier street with the annual Street Fair. It becomes a street hell-bent on partying.
The Haight Street Fair takes over the entire neighborhood from Masonic to Stanyan streets and thousands of people, locals and visitors, fill that space to overflowing. Live music, food booths, artists and merchants of all sorts keep the crowds entertained, fed and well supplied with candles, macramé and tie-dye everything.
For many people, however, the real attractions at the Haight Street Fair are the booths set up by various wingnut organizations, the many “Coalitions” and “Alliances.”
San Francisco is big on causes, whether they make sense or not, and the Haight Street Fair is their annual Woodstock.
Marlee had been seeing the posters advertising the Fair for weeks. Everyone was talking about it. There were rumors that some “big names” were going to be performing. That rumor floated every year. Most of the time it was just wishful thinking, but it happened often enough to keep the hopes alive..
The morning of the Fair, Marlee slept late. Everything started at 11 AM and she’d had a busy week tending to her finances, scouring the city for a rehearsal space and inquiring about the possibility of teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
She took her time getting up, luxuriating in the private pleasure that only a good stretch can bring. She felt like a cat. There was no hurrying this morning.
The sun was bright and the air was still crisp. By 9:30 Marlee was sitting by the bay window catching the morning sun on her face. She sipped at a cup of English Breakfast Tea. It warmed her as much as the sun and cleared away the last wisps of sleep
Today was going to be hot with a cooling breeze coming in off the Pacific. Sunglasses and a light sweater would both be in order. It was a good day for the Street Fair.
Marlee leaned back in her new antique-looking Bentwood style rocker and let the sunlight wash over her. She had found the rocking chair at a sidewalk sale and for ten dollars it was hers. She closed her eyes and quietly listened to the sounds of the street.
Haight Street was blocked to through traffic today with all the buses rerouted up to Waller Street. Many sounds, usually hidden by the diesel roar, were audible.
Early arrivals to the Fair could be heard walking by, chatting and laughing. A dog barked across the street in the park and a baby was crying up the block. The severe call of ravens cut through the air as the large birds preyed upon pigeons and field mice, The Haight provided plenty of both.
This Sunday morning was the most peaceful that Marlee had seen since her arrival in San Francisco two months earlier.
Pouring herself a second cup of tea, Marlee used the time to reflect on from where she had come and where she was now.
This year’s Fair was shaping up to be a real pip. By 7 AM the work crews had arrived to erect the music stages at both ends of Haight Street.
With the sun promising a hot day ahead everyone knew that beer consumption would be spectacular and that could be both good and bad.
The Haight Street Fair was unique among the nonstop celebrations of summer in San Francisco, with different neighborhoods holding a Fair almost every weekend. On Haight Street it is more than just food and crafts. It is continuous entertainment and merriment for its own sake. It is an excuse to dust off the outrageous and trot out the creatively absurd.
Along side of the booths selling tie-die T-shirts and Foods of the World on a Stick will be merchants offering hookahs and “past life consultations.” By the time visitors cover the five blocks of the Fair they will be given the opportunity to be tattooed, face-painted, have a spinal alignment, convert to six religions, have just about anything pierced, or scarred, join several political parties, save the whales, the redwoods, the Pacific shoreline, sea otters, butterflies and money on their long distance phone bill.
There are always philosophy merchants selling ideas. Rhetoric will charge the air, as any number of spontaneous orators will vie for attention and donations.
From his apartment near the western end of Haight Street, Luco could smell the aromas from the food concessions. Blue-gray clouds of smoke rose into the sky and carried the pungent scent of exotic spices throughout the neighborhood.
Luco was usually involved in the presentation of the Fair, but this year his heart just wasn’t in it. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was like the Fates were determined to keep him a spectator.
He had been volunteered to head a security team, but a corporate sponsor had jumped in and paid a sizable sum to have their employees do the job.
Luco then offered to help the Fair Manager with his bookkeeping, but that fell through when the Manager offered an “internship” to a 21-year-old redhead from San Francisco State who was perfectly comfortable with double entries.
Still wanting to be a part of this annual community event, Luco offered to work at one of the food concession stands. The Union objected. This year he was going to have to be content with just being one of the moving mob of Fairgoers.
Luco left his apartment without much enthusiasm. Staring at block after block of humanity stretching out in front of him, he felt like a tourist in his own hometown.
He felt alienated, but it didn’t take long for the infectious beat and sizzling guitar work of Carlos Santana to infect his soul. This year the rumors were right and an ear-to-ear grin soon replaced Luco’s lonesome frown.
The crowd around the stage was massive and so Luco moved away stopping at every booth on the block to look at the merchandise and to greet old friends.
“Luco, what booth you working?”
“Just a tourist this year, Tony. Give me a sausage and peppers.”
Walking along the street and eating a delicious handful of fiery sausage helped Luco to arrive at a new perspective on the Fair. It was actually fun! He was enjoying himself. He was seeing friends, enjoying the music and taking in the colorful characters along the way.
Every year a number of people costume themselves and cavort up and down the street. They know that they are there to amuse the locals and act as a photo opportunity for the tourists. It really doesn’t matter to them.
No one could ever really explain the Man in the Chicken Suit or the woman dressed in fishnet everything, but everyone agreed that the fellow who staggered around wrapped in aluminum foil looked like a baked potato on the lam. Why they went out in public so attired nobody knew, but, also, nobody ever complained.
Every year there was something new at the Fair. This year it was the triple sized stall operated by Bronte’s Books. Tables filled with used books were drawing a lot of foot traffic. While some people leafed through the oversized picture books of birds and airplanes, most browsers were busy scanning through the novels and poetry.
Luco ran his fingertips over the worn covers and faded spines. Old books were like elderly family members to him. They may not be as pretty as they once were, but they still had so much to teach.
He rarely bought new books. He felt more comfortable with the yellowed pages and frayed covers, the titles almost indistinct. “Curtained Treasures” he called them once in a poem.
Bronte’s Books was a pleasant surprise and Luco spent nearly twenty minutes enjoying the look, feel and smell of the used books. He picked up one slim volume and paid the clerk the two-dollar asking price. They could have haggled, but on such a beautiful day, neither of them felt like playing the game for pennies.
Music from stereos blaring from apartment windows competed with the live performers.
Luco continued down Haight Street. He had a long way to go and the temperature was rising.
House parties were spilling out onto the street. People were crowding onto fire escapes and perching on windowsills. If it got any hotter, alcohol consumption would skyrocket and before the day ended someone would fall to his or her death. It happened all too often.
Marlee took her time getting ready for her excursion up the street. The tea and the sunlight on the rocker seduced her into lingering.
Being 5’10” with long, taut, muscular legs almost like a dancer’s, Marlee wore slacks well. For casual outings she preferred Lee denims. The dark blue looked good, contrasting as it did against the six button lemon yellow cotton shirt she’d pulled from the closet. That shade of yellow made her long hair look almost white.
The thought of growing old and gray never bothered her. She knew that she would always have good hair. Her mother, back in Cleveland, had white hair that gleamed like a glacier. It still drew appreciative looks from both women and men.
It was almost noon when Marlee slipped her key into the door lock and heard its reassuring click. She went quickly down the steps onto Haight Street. The early morning breeze had softened. Things were going to get hot.
A steady and growing flow of people was heading up Haight toward the Street Fair. The one block between her apartment at Central Street and the start of the Fair at Masonic was packed with all ages and descriptions of humanity. If a social scientist wanted a good definition of “diversity,” today on Haight Street was it.
The Masonic Avenue stage was hosting a Salsa band called “Baila! Baila!” and dozens of people were following their admonition and dancing up a whirlwind in front of the bandstand.
Marlee joined the crowd watching and cheering on the dancers. The joyful rhythm soon had her swaying to the music. She closed her eyes and moved her arms in synch with the beat. Marlee was already a big fan of the Haight Street Fair.
As soon as one song ended, “Baila! Baila!” blasted off into another frantically danceable tune. The crowd whooped its approval, Marlee included. Her eyes were shining like emeralds in the midday sun.
She couldn’t stand still. The music had her and she started to dance by herself. It took just moments until she was joined by a tall, shirtless young man. His skin was as black as the keys on a piano and his body sparkled with sweat. The sun reflected off his shaved head like a flashing coronet. He smiled at Marlee and took her hand and pulled her out into the middle of the street. She joined him, caught up in the unadulterated pleasure of dancing to celebrate the music and life.
The sight of these two contrasting beauties lost in the movement and the music had the onlookers applauding – except one. A pair of dark eyes looked at her with disapproval edging toward anger. He was leaning against the pillar outside of the small grocery next to the tattoo parlor.
Marlee and her unknown partner spun and twirled together as if they had danced this way forever. He expertly led her through intricate moves. His signals gave Marlee all she needed to anticipate his next move and to follow him in a seamless, sensuous harmony. Their hips swayed and rolled, coming together momentarily then flying apart to rejoice in the rhythm. Her hair flew around in counterpoint to her body as she matched the sudden stops and reverses of her sinuous partner.
The music built to a crescendo and he pulled Marlee close as they spun around locked in each other’s arms. At the instant that the music screeched to a halt he slipped one hand down her back and prodded Marlee backward in a very erotic pose. The sudden silence found her looking up into his brown eyes, his lips a bare half inch from hers.
The crowd went wild, cheering and applauding. Even the band looked down and smiled in appreciation.
Her mysterious partner lifted Marlee back upright and in a very courtly gesture kissed her hand.
Marlee’s head was spinning. She looked at him and all she could say was, “Wow!”
She was not heard through the noise, but her smiling co-celebrant nodded and mouthed, “Thank you for the dance, my Dear.”
The dark and angered eyes moved away down the crowded sidewalk, crossing Masonic away from the Fair.
For Marlee this was one of those perfect moments that come out of the right time, the right place and the right people to become a memory held forever.
The music started up again and they made eye contact. He gave her an inviting look, but Marlee was out of breath and demurred. He nodded and melted away into the kaleidoscope of dancers.
Marlee had not gone twenty feet into the Fair and was already enchanted. She bought herself an iced tea and found a mailbox to lean against. She needed a few minutes to come back to Earth.