Our Town

I love this town. This ran through my mind as I emerged from Manny’s progressive coffeehouse (for want of better descriptive words) this very midmorning. These sentiments are normally hard to come by in San Francisco as it is today. The high-tech boom, which no longer feels like an economic spurt but a long-range condition, has a cold feel. Actually, this is putting it kindly. More of a soulless feel. And when you think of all the music, comedy and political upheaval that emanated from this extraordinarily picturesque city in the 1950s, not to mention the 1960s, well, it’s just not an emotionally cold place on its own. I acknowledge this has all changed with the Manhattanization of the city’s center, high-tech and high-rise being what they are. But, call me a romantic, there is a reason why Tony Bennett spent decades insisting that he had left his heart here.

And to get to the heart of the matter…is heart. And the latter is to be found in places like Manny’s…and even my dentist’s office in Noe Valley…and especially the homeless shelter where I volunteer.  All three experiences having occurred this very morning.

I have been seeing the same San Francisco dentist for 40 years. No, 45. Whatever. In any case, the same dentist has been seeing the same person’s neuromuscular decline for just as long. When I first started seeing Doctor Savio I literally walked, a.k.a., limped, from my apartment to her office. Now I can barely limp around her office, leaving my wheelchair outside. And my balance being as bad as it is, often it takes two people to keep me upright. But the two people are there, somehow, every time I go in for a dental checkup. And something about the whole experience is heartening. The neuromuscular beat goes on, let us say. And let us also say that there is a particular sort of continuity about the Doctor Savio experience. Not the least of which involves the fact that she is one of three, maybe four, members of her family who are dentists. And dentists in San Francisco. There isn’t even a whiff of entrepreneurial high-tech about this experience, by the way. It’s an old time San Francisco dentist’s office with me, an old time patient.

The dental experience took a bit too long, as did the 48 bus experience. The latter was extended by a city truck full of rubbish that decided to double park for an extended time right in the path of the bus. We just sat there, passengers fleeing for work. By the time I got to Manny’s I was already late for my volunteer gig at the homeless shelter. Never mind. I ordered breakfast anyway. On the way out, one of Manny’s counter staff noticed that I was struggling to get my feet back on the wheelchair footrests and bent down to help me. Thank you, I told him several times. Thank you for doing this, while I was thinking it’s very odd to have such help offered by a man whose hairy arms extended into an evening gown. And with his feet in high heels. What the hell. All this gender play is San Francisco at its best. Almost.

Because as I say, the best comes from the homeless shelter, where human beings are just trying to get through a day in a city where Craigslist regularly offers a night on someone’s couch for $100. If not more. Here people are trying. And yes they are often trying in the other way, too. Still, overall they balance things out. They have wound up here in this Episcopal church, sleeping on the floor, and none ever expected to be here. Which is true of me also. I pass out socks. I go home.

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