Tuesday, June 10, 2008
How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part I
I am the world's greatest non-believer.
I'll tell you it was your fault. I'll reason it was mine. Somebody is responsible for everything.
I walked into a bar. That's generally how it starts.
I order the one joke drink that they offer. Every 'tender has one. At Bender's, it's the Arnold Palm-job, that's lemonade splashed with vodka. I remove the $5 red-orange sweatshirt that I bought precisely 20 minutes ago at Walgreen's because the San Francisco Chill was out of my league. It's the ugliest, cheapest, softest pullover I've ever owned. I place a freshly-purchased book on top of it. The title asks, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?
Here it comes. This is every night of my life that I will be at a bar alone, tucked in the back, and the Mayor of Dicks in the room will make his introduction. "You're waiting for someone."
I can't argue there. "Jus' hangin' out." It appears that my eloquence has gone the way of my ability to withstand brisk temperatures. It's not the best back-and-forth I can muster. I am raw and overwhelmed, unnerved by a city that has not allowed me to look away. In minutes we have moved on to the next pub, a move that smart and safe women make with strange fellows and then end up on the news after their bodies turn up in the forest and the neighbor cries on camera about how smart and safe the woman was. I'm a travel writer, though, so I reckon I am already bound for hell.
Again, I say, I do not believe in anything.
So I arrive at Homestead, a block away, with Vacation Guy and his friend. I count the seconds it will take for the bartender to demand ID, for the two of them to proposition a three-way with me, followed by the disposal of my body over the Golden Gate Bridge. We drink a most delicious Anchor Steam. Shit is local. I lose sensation in my fingers and drop my book. I do not immediately pick it up. VGuy tells me to finish my beer. They lead me to their chariot, which is, of course, a sportscar painted the color of Scarlett Johansson's lips.
The Front Porch is our next destination, just off the Mission District in an area that Vacation Guy and Friend have dubbed "the Transmission". We plow through two bottles of Duvel at a slick, rounded booth, and I unearth their beloved terminus ad quems of the City by the Bay. They ask how I found Bender's.
"My entire life revolves around finding the Bender's of the world," I admit, or something like that.
VGuy ends up living around the corner from my hotel in Lower Haight, so we part from Friend and her restaurateur boyfriend and venture back. We tuck the vehicle in the parking garage where it is likely that the sex crime will occur. At the very least I will have to fend off bad kisses. I feel stupid, but alive and magnificent. If I had the option of sky-diving at this moment, I would have dropped twice.
When I unfold into bed, by myself, fully sound, minutes later, I say my full name out loud. My middle name is Fucking.
I amble out of tourist-dick-famous City Lights Bookstore onto Jack Kerouac Street with a post card of an earthquake in hand. Scott is on the phone, inventing dinner plans. I am a shaky kid, a trying-to-be-lady who is all swagger into my Blackberry, referencing my vagina at least three times. Hours later, in the hotel lobby, I shield myself in a dress that is my favorite of primary colors. You've already seen me in it.
Dinner is the Indian Oven, where I face Vacation Guy with the open kitchen right behind him. Flames shoot up as vindaloos and mattars are born. There is a string of bar after this, which we chase like errant pussy. I pocket compliments from gays on the dress. Later, it becomes a puddle on the floor. I promise not to write about him, and I won't. This is all San Francisco.
There is not sex. There is tea, but I don't get to finish it. A brief moment spent on the fire escape that would have been cut out of the movie, but shows up in the blog version. Candles are lit, words slip out, and you don't get to see or hear any of it.
I feel more the fool for telling you about breakfast. But I must tell you about breakfast. Vacation Guy slips me a cappuccino (His Chance to Murder Me, No. 47) and then issues me the most thorough shower of my life (No. 48). I check out of my hotel while he heads to the market for breakfast supplies. As I'm slipping on my white short shorts (the ones that never stain, no matter how many chances and chocolate I take in them), there is a second I could walk away on. Minutes later, I am watching him hand-whip fresh cream in front of me. He is mumbling something about stiff peaks. He expertly lays out an omelet aux fine herbes, a warmed sourdough baguette, apple confit and strawberry jam, Point Reyes blue cheese, the cloud of cream with blackberries, orange juice, and a bottle of champagne. We sit by the bay window and my heart drops into my stomach. Or my stomach into my heart. They were both flat and small before.
As you may have guessed, we take Vacation Guy's yellow convertible for a zip through Marin County. We stop at an Irish inn called the Pelican for beer and grass-sitting. That's right, I'm about to get green stains on my white ass. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and cold pints are my only concerns.
We wind back. I could die No. 71-89 drive by, and the back of my Hint Jeans, size 1, made in Mexico, is as pure as the day I bought them with my Travel Writer Paycheck.
Next is a dinner party where I learn of the Zombie Flash Mob and make new friends who carry around their homemade hot sauce and brew their own wheat beer. Veggie kabobs and spanish rice almost subdue the heat in my mouth. A trip to Ghirardelli Square for an espresso sundae finally does it. If my vacation has not become campy and cliche enough for you, I must confess: we took a walk on the moonlit beach and then drifted back to Chez Vacation Guy for a full-body massage.
At no point do I try to stab myself with the sharpest, freshly-fried tortilla chip in all of the Mission. I never believe anything.
We take the morning slow. We get yelled at for kissing/idling at SFO. We both know that reality always strikes on a Sunday afternoon.
I don't look back. Security confiscates my 8-ounce Banana Boat. There is engine trouble with my plane and an official actually utters the following confidence-inspiring words over the speaker, "We have no idea what is going on."
The flight is delayed for 7 hours. I can accept my free lunch voucher and read magazines until I'm fried with Cosmo cover sauce. Or VGuy can come back and we can eat Mexican food in San Bruno with kiwi margaritas, stroll up a secluded trail and have the wind ferociously slap our faces, and he can get a final chance to viciously remove me from this earth.
In the car, I show him my trademark wound. It is a piece of graphite pencil that is buried in my left hand, in the web next to my thumb. It was an accident in grade 5.
He raises his own left hand, reveals the very same scar. "Third grade."
We try the airport again. His iPhone, loaded with pictures that he snapped of me while I was attempting to comb my hair, overheats and breaks as I am hurtling towards the East Coast on a red-eye.
98 degrees is an unfortunate former boy band, and an even less desirable situation to come home to at 6 AM. I peel off the red-orange sweatshirt and jerk back my Paris shower curtain to dive into the spray. I will not fully cool off until I suck down an iced coffee from Spruce Street Espresso. You think I'm up to my old ways.
The barista is from San Francisco. He wants to know which coffeeshops I visited. Another fine chap pops in. "He used to run Ritual Roasters in San Francisco," the barista informs, "Did you check out Ritual?"
I did. I am liquid to the point of dripping into a cup, topped with half-and-half and whip-spooned in two fluid circles. I make some half-ass conversation with a requisite swollen smile, and then zoom up 11th Street before someone can take a shot.
Philadelphia makes a fine hell.