This weekend, I’m leaving Long Beach and driving out of Southern California for the first time in months. Honestly, the farthest I’ve been north of Los Angeles County was Woodland Hills. Oh yeah, I went to Ventura once to visit a buddy. So on Friday, I’m excited about driving north through California to San Francisco to read at Lip Service West. Joe Clifford hosts the reading series, and he said there was a slot. It’s a great event, and if you’re in San Francisco, then you should find out if it’s going on. So I jumped at the opportunity. I read once at Lip Service in Miami, and I showed up as Sex Moses — a character I invented that was based on some of the guys I came to know in South Beach.
This won’t be my first time in San Francisco, however. In November of 2008, Heron and I flew to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. When I look back on that experience, I’m not sure why the hell we even did it — because I know our graduate school incomes couldn’t afford it — but I’m glad we did it anyway. Since I can remember, San Francisco has existed in my imagination as a place where the Renaissance is always happening; art is always being made; and Jack Kerouac’s ghost still wanders the streets.
I remember stopping at City Lights bookstores for the first time that trip. I remember seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember getting lost in the woods with Heron on our bikes.
Then I remember something strange, and I’m not sure why it’s coming back to me now. I was wandering around Nob Hill by myself. It was cold, and it was raining. I was staring at some of the Chagall prints in the windows of closed art galleries. They were so beautiful — memories of a Russian small town. And I was lost in the surrealism mixed with the sounds of the street behind me — trollies grinding, buses chugging, working man shoes clopping on sidewalks.
I turned around and a woman was staring at me. She was older, and she was holding a bag in her hand. In the bag, I could see an outline of an ukulele.
I smiled, not sure what else to do. She smiled back.
“It’s cold out,” she said. The woman was older. Maybe around 55-years old.
“Probably around 40 degrees,” I said.
I looked back at the paintings in the window display, and I could see her image still there, in the glass, staring at me. My breath was a cloud factory.
“Can I stay with you?” she asked, looking down at her bag. “I can keep you warm.”
The rain was still coming down, and I went back to staring at the paintings. I could see her walk away in the glass and then disappear into the crowd, and I wished that people could walk in and out of paintings, out of art and water colors, the way we walk in and out of each other’s lives.