Indigenous people, that is to say people considerably wiser than myself, know when things are out of joint. In particular, they know that one thing is rarely off. The totality of things, the Gestalt, the zeitgeist, whatever big picture speaks to you, that is the thing that is off.
I saw it yesterday during my tutoring session with Paulino. He has the wavering attention span of a nine-year-old. So I’m not surprised to see him tune in and out of a checkers game. But this was different. He really could not focus. And although Paulino’s version of checker rules is very fluid, this was unusually so. That and getting up and down and wandering around the study room.
We got through a checkers game. I had meant to introduce the topic of reading but ultimately gave up. No, it was time to go, to head for my monthly transit advisory committee meeting. And there it was, right on time, the #35 bus. I held up my hand in rather solemn fashion to signal my wish to board. The driver waved back and kept right on going without stopping.
What the fuck?
By now I had a complication, the usual neuromuscular urinary one. Being unfamiliar with the school, it took a while to find the men’s, a.k.a. boys’, toilet. That completed, I hurtled out to the bus stop just in time to see another bus sail by. Nothing to do but head down the hill, this being the usual course correction anywhere in San Francisco. I boarded the redoubtable #24 bus, which involves a rather short trip up a rather long mountain and, sad to say, down the other side.
To get to the necessary tram, I had to get in a San Francisco Municipal Railway elevator, always a dodgy proposition. I waited there with the doors closed for almost a minute before the lift finally descended. Needless to say, the tram ride was not without additional complications. The tram took up residence at Montgomery Station, waiting for some inexplicable minutes before continuing on.
Back to the crux of this cascade of events. Don’t wave at a Muni bus driver. Don’t even raise your hand. I think the only way to signal that one intends to board a bus is to drive into the street and look serious.
Whatever is in the air was also in the homeless shelter where I volunteer of a Wednesday. The place was packed. Hard to say why. It is cold, for San Francisco. But no colder than it has been for some time, and it wasn’t even raining. As I arrived, the paramedics were wheeling off someone toward an ambulance. Chest pain and passing out. Actually, sleeping rough in San Francisco would give my chest a lot of pain. Not to mention my heart.
Inside, there was much jumpiness. A day shelter, the place was full of moaning. The 40 or 50 reclining on mats trying to get a rest were sleeping with bad dreams. Some shouted in their nightmares. One stood up, his trousers falling off…only to have his nudity obscured by a staff member who rushed forward to tie shirt around his waist. Another man stood up, drugged and wavering as though to pass out. A woman member of the staff grabbed him. She got him back down on a mat. The man looked up at me dazed.
“I can tell you are looking at me,” he said.
I smiled and tried to seem benign. Noncommittal. Somehow by 1 PM, a lot of life had gone by. I did a bit of shopping then noticed a text from Jane who had taken our cat to the vet. The very sweet little cat who sleeps on my head at night, literally…surprising me with my own capacity for enjoyment of hours of low-grade vibration, vis-à-vis purring. That little cat, Jane had learned, has advanced cancer…and on the spot Jane had to make the sad and humane decision to let her go.
Then on the way home Jane got a call about another crisis…. And here I end the day’s tale. To be continued.