George Town

‘Expression is the need of my soul,’ said Archy, Don Marquis’ famous cockroach. Such a simple, essential sentiment, and why can’t I remember this myself? I wonder if women have an easier, more instinctive response to this need. In any case, I am experiencing the post-non-expression fallout of one particular day, yesterday. Which had superficially nothing very particular about it. Except for a private sense of letting things go, easing up on myself, advice from the Psychologist I Happen to Bump into on Mondays. Tempered with the observation that terrifying early experiences will continue to ripple through my life, nothing wrong with this, so don’t worry. Always plenty to worry about, that is. Life. And damned if by the end of the day, yesterday, it wasn’t all feeling better. Less anxious, certainly. Which being something of a novelty, constitutes news. Private, personal, inner news. The sort of thing I could have easily told Jane over dinner. But I kept this inside me. Because I’m used to keeping things inside me. And with all this new, undigested good feeling…well, it needed an outlet. Enough to keep me awake until midnight, then prematurely bolting alert at 5 AM. Whatever. Such is my new attitude. Some nights one sleeps, some one doesn’t, and the beat goes on. Principally the heartbeat, for which one should be grateful.
Oh, what a beautiful morning. Yes, doubtless globally warmed, polluted and harboring the seeds of its own destruction. And what is one to do but scoot Peet’s-ward? Our changing world being very much in evidence all the way. Beginning with the transformation of a $1.2 million Menlo Park bungalow and garage into four $1.2 million townhouses. Jane has been giving the emerging homes the fisheye. True, they are most unattractive in color, their spatial relationship to each other unclear and uninviting. But they are a work in progress, so I waive judgment. More important, I wave greetings at the forklift operator, the flag waver in the hardhat, all the Hispanic workforce building housing for these most deserving of the high-tech affluent. The latter doubtless queuing up to buy these four houselets. This is somehow the engine of capitalism, this sort of thing, and it’s not bad if the engine is pulling a train. This is the other thing, what’s coupled to the current boomlet in this small area of San Francisco and points south, at least a temporary island of prosperity in the drowning sea of the American New Depression.
These days George does not even nod at me as I make my way into Peet’s. For the longest time he actually opened the door, such was his self-appointed task. Something about this has always irked me. Particularly the notion that I must tip, a.k.a., reimburse George for his unwanted services. I didn’t hire him, and that is that. Except that it isn’t. George has conflated several layers of issues and complicated the market for his services in a most unnecessary way. First, there is the matter of helping the disabled person. A tricky one for all concerned. So this amounts to a quibble, and George could benefit from my upcoming weekend seminars on this topic. For the moment, it would be better if he did not leap to his feet quite so automatically to yank open the door to Peet’s at my every approach. Better – ask me if I want help. This at least creates the illusion of my personal independence. A very valuable fantasy, and one for which I would tip George handsomely. As it is, the whole thing has a wheelchair = door opening formula to it that rings unpleasant bells signaling dependency. A quibble, but when delivering a self-created service of marginal utility, nuance is everything.
I like George’s sign. This morning it leads with the observation that he is not homeless – but needs money. I more than like this. It is utterly frank, not to mention disarmingly honest, and he doesn’t even pretend to be seeking work. He opens the door, rain or shine, particularly shine, and that is enough, it seems. Works for me, it really does. After all, George’s plight is a national one. His solution utterly entrepreneurial. His future…no doubt closely aligned with the nation’s. Actually, at some point, I must give George $10, maybe $20. Begrudgingly, I must acknowledge his door opening. This man has opened doors for me, I would say at his testimonial dinner. A fact is a fact. Better, there is that time when I left my Panama hat sitting on a table at Peet’s. George, seated outside by the button for the corner traffic light, the one he pushes even though I have been known to push buttons myself quite handily, by the way…anyway, he spotted what I had left behind. Who knows if I would have ever remembered that hat or gotten it back from Peet’s lost property department? Talk about alertness, not to mention seeing through several layers. The problem with giving George a few bucks is that I am afraid he will open the door even more frequently for me. He will see me, leap to his aging feet and utterly embarrass me, again and again. All of which could be placed most effectively under control with a quick meeting. Wherein we define boundaries and set goals and enumerate job duties. Such as, don’t open the door unless I give you the high sign. Something like that. I will consider this, I really will.
For the time being, I am in the door and note that Armando, renowned barista, is not behind the counter but at one of the tables. I speed by him, quickly saying hello.  In truth, I am slightly embarrassed to see him there.  This is because I am slightly embarrassed to see him working here at all.  He is clearly a professional, a middle-aged guy who has done other things and somehow stuck in Peet’s.  Yes, like much of America.  More to the point, like a surprising amount of my own life.  
Having taken more than 10 years from my shooting in 1968 until my start of full time employment in 1979.  But I have poor boundaries around these matters.  Who knows?  This may be a perfectly good place to work, Armando happy enough at it.  And here he is, apparently even on his day off, coffeeing up at Peet’s.  Ours is not to worry.  I place my order, come back and we chat about soccer.  In his working guise, he is almost too helpful, our Armando, too solicitous.  And I acknowledge this as a running thread, not to mention a fraying one.  For it is ludicrous, my insistence that people must get it exactly right, helping me just enough, when I want it, desisting when I don’t.  Yes, there is more ground to cover here.  But for now, we have a pleasant enough chat about soccer.  My whole purpose being to deliver the message that I respect him, now that the sport of his native Venezuela is global, and America is not the world, and I’ll catch him soon behind the counter.  Caffeinated, I speed home.

And, yes, the $1.2 million townhouses or townhomes or mansionettes or whatever they are called, despite the price, have some important things going for them.  Energy efficiency, of which these are exemplars by California standards.  Green is good.  Four houses in the space previously occupied by one is good.  Being within a walk of the Caltrain station is good.  And my upstairs tenant is looking very good.  Not only has he redone the floors, painted the walls various decorator hues, I just heard him invite my reclusive, 80-year-old landlord Tom for dinner.  That’s right.  A self described hermit, looking ever so slightly like Howard Hughes in his more eccentric phase, Tom said thank you and turned him down.  I was glad that I did not turn him down, however occupancywise.  We were transacting more than rent, I sensed.  And I’m glad I have some sense.  Sleep may be elusive, but I have this…whatever this is.  I expect to find out soon.

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