Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen
In The Haight it is only the early morning hours that belong to the Locals. After 10 AM it is the Tourists who fuel life on the street.
Throughout the day, tour buses pull up and disgorge the packaged groups that move like vacuum cleaners up and down from Central Street to Stanyan, sucking up T-shirts, jewelry and pizza slices, seeing all of the people as a tableau. The tourists stay until the clock dictates a mass migration to Chinatown, North Beach, or Fisherman’s Wharf, where it all begins again.
After the sun goes down the whole vibration of the street changes. The young music-seeking crowd hikes, bikes or drives up the hill and gathers at the clubs and bars. They come also to see and be seen, all the while actively pretending not to care about either.
The Locals and the ambulatory drug slaves also appear after dark. The Locals come out for a nice dinner and to toss back a few drinks. The druggies come out because they think it’s safer. They’re wrong.
It is also in the chilly evening that the costume party begins. After sundown, the hair gel and steel-studded wardrobes make an entrance. On a Saturday night on Haight there will be legions of “Blade Runner” fashion extras on the move. You might also meet several reincarnations of “Marilyn” and even a “Travis Bickel” or two.
In San Francisco the under 30 population is divided, roughly, into two groups. There are those who sashay through the city screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” while the other half struts around snarling, “What are you looking at?”
The folks over 30 tend to just go on with their lives, occasionally snickering to themselves. They already understood that, “If you dress up like a monkey, please don’t pretend to be surprised when people throw peanuts at you.”
Clothes are very important on Haight Street. Going all the way back to the blood and guts days of the late 1960s how you dressed determined who you were, your philosophy and how you were expected to behave. The Haight has always followed along with an “Us vs. Them” school of fashion.
Still today the younger visitors to the area feel obligated to dress up in a way designed, they think, to piss off the Old Man and reduce Momma to tears. Of course, at the end of their evening of being “Us” they will safely return to the fashionable bosom of an Old Navy focused “Them.”
There is, and always has been, a sliver of the Society that is actively outside the widespread embrace of both “Us” and “Them.”
Weaving in and out between the bulk of the population are the true Outlaws. In The Haight these people are the drug suppliers and their customers. It is a very short and brutish food chain. One feeds upon the other without mercy, on a strict cash and carry basis.
The dealers tend to costume themselves like the club crowd. The users rapidly get to the point where their wardrobe selection gives way to the more basic choices of life or death. With rare exceptions, they choose death, by their own hand or by the actions of someone else.
Set in the middle of the hectic bustle of Haight Street, leafy shadows played upon the dark green exterior of Martin Macks Irish Bar and Restaurant. It seemed out of place. It was not there to attract the young hipster crowd or the tourist throngs. It welcomed whoever grabbed the sturdy brass door pulls and ventured into the dimly lit space beyond. One’s social group was never a matter of concern at Martin Macks.
The long bar was always crowded. Some were there for a taste of their favorite brew. Others, intent upon the several European soccer matches being played out on the large televisions placed high on the walls around the pub.
There is a special bar menu that allows a hungry patron to sit on a barstool and select a variety of fried and crunchy items, barbequed spare ribs or a traditional Irish breakfast of Irish bacon, two types of sausage, eggs, tomatoes and Irish soda Bread.
The breakfast is served until 3:30 in the afternoon in deference to late risers and the survivors of last night.
Luco, along with a fair number of people who work on the street, often dropped into Martin Macks for a quick lunch or a midafternoon pick-me-up.
At the far end of the bar, through a small latticework arch is the dining area. It holds a half dozen semicircular wooden booths and a handful of intimate tables.
The clever chef working in the open kitchen always offers an eclectic menu of Irish, English and American favorites. At night, when the bar is crowded to overflowing, diners in the back can escape the noise and enjoy quiet conversation and some of the best food in San Francisco.
Martin Macks was a popular place for dinner dates. They had good food, generous drinks and waitresses who let couples linger over coffee.
Luco was not used to shaving twice in one day. The skin on his neck was complaining loudly. In the six years he had worked at the People’s Cafe he had gone out with very few women. Some were co-workers, most were customers. All of them felt that he was “the stuff that dreams are made of.” They were right, at least for a night or two. Most of them were looking for “Mr. Right,” but he was only interested in being their “Mr. Right Now.” Their fantasies dried faster than the sheets.
While they were wanting more, Luco was unable to give it to them. Fleeting pleasure was all he could offer or accept. The depth of his ability to commit could be measured in their throaty prayers to a temporary heaven.
Most of the women could live with that. Some could not and so there were mornings when the corner tables at the cafe were taken by women whose eyes followed Luco from across the room and in whose hearts they nursed a barren hope.
This night, however, it was Luco who was feeling the gnawing of lost love. There was, as well, a fresh anticipation. He was nervous about a simple dinner date.
He wondered out loud why tonight felt different. What was it that was making him feel on edge? Was it the word “date” that set off the warning flares?
“I haven’t felt like this in years. For crying out loud, why am I sweating like this?” He took a towel and wiped his forehead and hands again.
What was it about this woman? Attractive? That she was, pretty even, very pretty in her own way. But there had been prettier.
Sexy? She was that, in a relaxed way. It was like she knew that she had the goods, but didn’t feel the need to hang it out like an ad. She had the indefinable “It” that sent out the message. The man in her bed would be in no hurry to roll over and go to sleep.
Smart? No doubt. Spend five minutes with her and you knew that she was educated and as sharp as they come.
Marlee had all of these things, he recognized, but there was also something else that set her apart. A something that was making him sweat.
When he was with her he felt a resonance, a faint emotional echo. There was something about her that played a responsive string in him. Time with her had an almost musical quality.
A quick glance at his wristwatch told him that it was time to stop daydreaming and get moving.
He used the straight razor to deftly finish shaving the hilly contours of his face and cut the few whiskers that always hid out in the cleft on his chin. A few quick strokes and he wiped the last few bits of foam from his face. With a sour look he bit the bullet and splashed on a few drops of Lagerfeld lemon scented aftershave lotion. “Something this expensive shouldn’t hurt so much,” he thought, as every nerve on his face swore revenge.
He riffed through his small closet and decided that basic black was always good. He chose a black ribbed mock turtleneck sweater and black slacks. It would be comfortable and, while complimenting his complexion and eyes, it would not compete with whatever Marlee would be wearing. He knew that the man is really just background for the woman. He trimmed a wayward eyebrow hair.
Less than a mile away Marlee was standing in front of her closet weighing the pros and cons of each item. The silk from Nordstrom was too dressy, the black suit was too “widow.” She decided that the double-breasted blazer made her look like a prison guard at Disneyland. It was hopeless she concluded.
“What does he really mean by “casual” anyway?” “Casual” in Cleveland was apparently different from “casual” in California. If she was to judge by what she had seen walking down Haight Street, “casual” might mean a tie-dye halter top and chrome plated tool belt.
She sat down on her bed and stared at the closet. “I have nothing to wear.”
After 10 minutes of mental mixing and matching she selected a turquoise knit top, a matching linen jacket and white slacks. “This is my idea of ‘casual’ for a dinner date. Let’s hope for the best.”
There was that word again: date. It was a date, no matter what else she called it. She was looking forward to it, but underneath there was a faint shadow of guilt.
It had been almost exactly two years since she became a widow and more than six since she had been on any kind of date. She still saw herself, emotionally, as a married woman and there was a nagging voice saying that she was cheating on her husband. It was her own voice she knew, and that she was wrong. It was time, coldly put, to get over it.
Intellectually as well, she knew that it was time. Her family had told her so. Her friends had also told her the same thing. Hadn’t she uprooted herself and moved across the continent to begin again? She also believed that her dream of the mirror on the beach was Phillip’s way of telling her to throw off her widow’s weeds and get on with her life.
“This is stupid. I’m young, talented, not hard on the eyes, and a very nice and very handsome man has asked me out to dinner. Screw the guilt.”
She opened the closet door again, took the black suit off the hanger, brushed a bit of lint from the lapel, walked into the kitchen and stuffed it into the trash container under the sink. There would be no more funerals.
”Now, let’s just see what ‘casual’ means to this man.”