|The Bay at five o'clock.|
A violet stretch of water, along which ferry boats go by with a fringe of white foam at their bows, beneath a pink sky in which on one side there rises the Ferry Building and its iconic clock, on the other the beauty of the Bay Bridge, split in two by Treasure Island and silhouetted in a shadowy blue of fantastic fairy-tale buildings.
Never has San Francisco, in the shrill screech of the Cable Cars this evening, in the tangle of the sparking overhead trolley wires, in the busy bustle of the people, in the brutal jostlings of the Muni commuters, struck me so forcibly as the capital of a land of madness, inhabited by lunatics.
And never had the San Francisco of my youth nor the San Francisco of my maturity seemed as poverty-stricken as the San Francisco of this evening: never have so many women's pleading eyes asked me for a meal, never have so many men's weary voices begged for a buck.
The juxtaposition of those with position next to those whose supine position is an imposition on the delicate sensibilities of the well-heeled toward those down at the heel, as the too-high heeled clickety clack past those they look down upon, blithely unaware as they teeter along on their shoe-stilts that they look more like well-paid strumpets than the high-class dames they fancy themselves to be, shrieks as loud and jangles the nerves as much as a trolley scraping its iron wheel against the rail that keeps it from following the straight-line trajectory its forward momentum would otherwise compel it to follow.
Consequently all day today, hope and despair succeeded each other in my brain, volatizing like medicinal drops in a glass of water.
The fact of the matter is that tonight I am sick of the City. It turns your life upside down, it distracts you from your work, and it upsets you to no useful purpose. No wonder the 21'st Century, following hard on a century of Creepy stories we told ourselves, has given way to imaginings of mysticism and, once desire for material goods has been sated, anti-materialism and the decrying of the cold cruel world. And it may indeed be cold at times, but it is never cruel, which requires intent. It is, at most, indifferent. The only source of cruelty on this beautiful spinning sphere racing in circles through eternal night is mankind, which, although, unlike the world, is endowed with the capacity to be cruel, and is anything but kind, only parading as such when convenient for the purpose of ostentation in order to gain some perceived advantage therefrom.
So from Twin Peaks heights of pleasure we fall back into Hayes Valley depths of boredom. We are badly organized and easily tired. One week of effort leaves us dissolute for three months, so we end up spiritually sick and physically weary, dead to desire and filled with a vague, ineffable, infinite sadness. Our minds and bodies have morning-after sickness of an indescribable greyness, everything filtered through a heavy fog that chills everything beneath its icy blanket and leaves life seeming as flat as fizzled beer. After a little ardor and enthusiasm, an immense satiety comes over and overcomes us. Nothing but ashes left to us of the fruit we have squeezed. We despair of ever feeling desire again, suffering from a moral indigestion brought on by debauchery. Everything stinks in our hearts and we are cured for a longtime to come of any inclination to lead an active life. Sated and surfeited with things physical, we come away from work as if we were whore-mongers so besotted from debauchery, we only see those massage parlors after overamped sleepless nights as if they were so many museums of anatomical specimens.
That night it seemed that my fellow San Franciscans carried around with them the bitterness that goes with virginity and indolence, along with the added impression that they could be cured by neither pregnancy nor work. Strolling through the Civic Center Plaza, the opera goers were starting to throng, easily identifiable by their standard gowns, their mobil attitudes; an imperial aura placing a gulf around them, their love of Art worn on their sleeves, a cotton chevron, a crystal shell necklace. They get more excited by works of art than actual artists do, because their excitement, not being for them the result of hard introspection, bursts outward, overheats their conversation as they go red in the face defending their favorite opus. They think that they are accomplishing something by shouting 'Bravo!', at the tops of their lungs and jumping to their feet applauding a performance.
But shouting accolades does nothing to clarify the nature of their experience, and they remain unaware of it. Yet untapped, it overflows even into their calmest conversations, makes them make grand gestures, and grimace and toss their heads as they expound on their love of art. These weak-willed, sterile art-lovers are almost touching, resembling as they do those early wrong Wright machines which could barely get off the ground but which so well reflected, not the secret of flight, which had yet to be discerned, but the ardent desire to fly. And indeed, since they are incapable of edification from the truly nourishing elements in art, they are in constant need of artistic pleasures, regurgitating bulimics who are never satisfied. So they go to concert after concert, gallery after gallery, applauding the same works, believing that by being there they are fulfilling a duty, an obligation, in the way that other people feel a duty to attend board meetings or funerals.
And with them they bring money. Lots of it. Piles and piles of well-laundered cash. All around our besotted town its reek is everywhere, its footprint stomping out any remnant of originality, mysticism, or the creativity that has made it a haven for the hapless. The misbegotten, the homeless that line its wide sidewalks muffled in filthy blankets and surrounded by empty syringes, snarkily remarked on for spoiling the City that threw them out of their humble abodes as they razed SRO's to make room for the hideous condos now lining once-quaint and homey streets, the grace of the City despoiled, its grandeur bartered away to build monstrosities to house the influx of their Superiors who demand cultural amenities to while away their empty hours upon hours with satiation the easier to forget their self-inflicted emaciation.
One more victim of an homogenizing globalization that churns anything remotely individual into a pasteurized pulp of conformity dotted with the same brands, the same architecture, the same mediocrity of spirit. Yet San Francisco still whores itself as a tourist destination, even while simultaneously destroying everything that made it such in the first place. So many displaced have left this place with no sense of place. The Golden Gate Bride and Coit Tower glitter on postcards from the edge of the continent but are all that remain of a once-bustling business hub that now manufactures nothing but monstrous highrises teetering as unsurely on their sand-filled foundations as prostitiutes on 5-inch heels; a sanctuary city that stands firm in its well-publicized resolve to abet the refugees from other land while tossing its own unfortunates into the gutter. The rest of us scrabbling to hang on are just prisoners in disguise.