Little Me

“Loose Ends” reads the title of my brother’s morning email. My first assumption, that he is bored and casting about for something to do, proves false. He is right on top of it, his life. No, what he’s saying is that there are a few things that still need attention from his recent visit. That’s all. The loose ends, or being at loose ends, are entirely my own. Sunday morning. A trip to San Francisco imminent, and after an all-day Caltrain experience, the chances are I will be tired. So what now? What to do? What worthwhile thing to pursue? The usual thing being writing. But there’s a funny thing about that usual thing. Sometimes it simply doesn’t want to happen. It happens later. It happens not at all. So what now? That is the question.

While waiting for clarification on this point, I read some of the morning’s Internet commentary, eat half of last week’s breakfast burrito and regard the passage of time. Until the painter arrives. His name, for the record, is Augustin. And he has been assiduously sprucing up the exterior of my apartment(s) these several days. A quiet guy. He considers his work carefully. Which makes me cringe with embarrassment as the inevitable occurs. Bella, also a quiet guy, one might say, bursts into action. Barking and barking and barking. As though Attila the Hun was outside with a considerable force. But, no, there’s only one quiet guy with a paintbrush. And one screeching, yelping, shrill and incessant dog inside, to wit, Bella.

Of course, there is the other dog, Bixby, whose origins locked up in a house with 25 other dogs…is this a uniquely California psychopathology?…well, it has all left its mark. In a sort of chronic confusion. A marked timidity and high degree of caution regarding bonds. Which has been changing, and quite pleasantly. I have watched the evolution, and both identifying with Bixby and being enormously fond of him, maybe even advanced the process. I certainly do everything to encourage him. He has odd deficits, Bixby does. The normal style of dog peeing, the raising the leg against the fire hydrant gesture, eludes him utterly. Instead, he sort of half squats. No harm there. Just a bit odd. A bit sadder is his lack of a natural capacity for play. Throw a ball and Bixby just stares. He even has the same reaction to watching Bella retrieve a ball. What is going on here?

Being a bounding and cheery little mammal at heart, Bixby finds enjoyment where he can. When exuberant, he still throws his head back and prances like a band majorette. He can rush around to signify that he is happy to see me come home. But play? Precious little of that. Which was why on this particular morning it was so heartening to see him go after a rawhide chewy. In fact, to retrieve the thing from under the sofa. The fact that there were at least four equally attractive chewies in various corners of the living room carpet, this eluded him. Never mind. I sat quietly while Bixby had a go at chewing the chewy. He seemed to grow frustrated, then went after another. This is all commendable, for whether he is following plot or subplot, he is following something.

And what about me? Do I know how to play? Like Bixby, it takes me a while to get there…let us say. Next time I am at loose ends, I hope to be looser about it. An hour of enjoyable reading, aimless, goalless, would have gotten me to the same place. Which is no place. It’s Sunday morning, after all.

* * *

It’s Sunday afternoon by the time I reach San Francisco. It’s a long trip. Not an unknown experience, in fact, something of a railway tradition. The same would be true in Britain where works, as they say, seem to slow any Sunday trip. Not that it matters once I am delivered to the Embarcadero tram station. Then up and through the rich and empty streets of San Francisco’s Financial District. Jane and I have a theater date. Her church services concluded, we are meeting for a sandwich, a coffee and a matinee. Rolling up the wide and empty streets, all I can see is the forgotten. Homeless people in various states of roughhewn mobility. Some with aging packs. A shopping cart. Garbage bags. Some are panhandling. Most are just camped on the street. It is a sunny day, and they are facing in the warm direction. One man has built a private bed space in a rectangle of cyclone fence at one end of an office building. Keep out, the sign says.

The park on Jackson Street is ringed by very expensive condominiums and offices. In my mind, this is the place to meet for lunch. A couple of sandwiches from Safeway – what could be more salubrious? I roll my wheelchair up the S-shaped footpath from the street, get a look at the pleasant surroundings, the fountain, the green lawns. And even here, there are just a few too many impoverished-looking people hanging out. They are all men. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this. Everyone has a right to enjoy a Sunday in a public space. Thing is, I am a suburban guy, used to Menlo Park, and I don’t trust the surroundings. I roll outside to Jackson Street, wait for Jane, and when she arrives we have our lunch right there. She is tired, Sunday being a very intensive day. I am secretly despairing of what is happening to our country, our land, in our time. There is plenty to do, it seems. Plenty of work to keep everyone occupied well.

“Little Me,” the 1962 musical we have come to see in a sort of chamber-scale revival, proves most delightful. Still, on the way back to the series of trains that will take me home, it is the San Francisco people sleeping rough who stick in my mind. Three have arrayed themselves rather fancifully in a Henry Moore-style modern sculpture in a small square. They have draped arms and legs over the smooth copper casting. Temporarily, they are occupying rich space. Soon they will cede their ground. For now they are here. They don’t know what to make of this sculpture, or certainly what to do with it. The local residents don’t know what to make of them either…and what to do with them or for them. Or such is my fantasy. What is really going on here I may soon find out, returning to this city after an absence of more than 30 years.

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