CHESTER GUITIERREZ, SAN FRANCISCO, THE MISSION
Yea yea yea I met her on two occasions. Why let me think, the first time must have been in the early nineties. Yea that’s right ‘cause, now I remember, because it was the same day that Curt Cobain had done shot himself in the old brain case up’ere in his attic. I remember it clear ‘cause all the young street rats were all kinds of teary-eyed and snot-nosed over the death, you know but more than that the suicide, of that young man. Because you know the suicide of icons can’t but leave a kind of fascination on the part of their fans, specially such a depressing kind of star as that. In ay event, I could hardly stand the lot of ‘em, these kids dirty and hungry and drug-addled as they may all o’ been weren’t really homeless folks, more they were kids who were going through some stage or other, you know it wasn’t that they couldn’t cut it in the “real”, fingers hook quote marks in the fog, couldn’t hold down a job, no they were all, they are, all trying to find themselves or they got mommy or daddy issues had taken the drugs back home from the parties one too many times maxed out credit cards that kind of shit. But hell that’s besides the fact that I had a couple friends among them, still do to this day. Shit, I got friends just about everywhere there’s a park bench or overpass the occasional open hand.
Pardon me for taking a while to get to the place that you want me to but you got to understand a little history to make sense of it because real street folk, men and women who just plain don’t want that life, went through a hell of a time back in the Eighties. You had three things that really tore up what it was to live on the streets and the communities that came together across the country every night before pit fires or barrel fires or around the steam that rises here and there along the sidewalks. You had Reagan hardcore drugs and AIDS pretty much hittin’ us all of the once and none knew much what to do. First you had Reagan cutting funding for all the institutionalized crazies who didn’t have family or anyone else to support them, basically opened the floodgates and threw onto the streets the people least capable of fending for themselves. And then the heroin the crack the meth come raining down upon the all of us so hard I had friends who died I had friends who got themselves shot dead for nothing starved to death panhandling for another hit folks who literally could not speak the English Fucking Language no more. and then, with all these folks, obviously people sucking and fucking for a hit here half of whom think the goddamn moon were made of cheese, and then AIDS hits and a few years in people are sharing needles and screeching at passersby screaming cause some one gave them a sandwich and you can’t spend no sandwich to get yourself a rock or two. Anyways the old days were gone forever, there weren’t no more git togethers like there had been nobody singing about candy mountains or cops with wooden legs or even hippy anthems about peace and love LSD.
So that night I was working on a pint of vodka from my jacket all nostalgiac and whipped-up and I was particular sore about the sullen little droops and frankly didn’t want totalk much to anyone I knew until I ran into Febby. Now Febby is older than I am but she is one of Reagan’s cases and that woman, now you gotta picture her this waxy monster of a woman done up in sweatpants a flat ugly face with hardly no lips tiny, unnervingly tiny, little ears but these beautiful black eyes and this long dark luxurious black hair looked like she could have been native but she was so big and shiny it was hard to see. Anyway she had this nutty habit of just standing in front of buildings like she were cast in cement. Anyways I’d have the habit of pulling her back and setting her down with a cigarette. Well anyways I found her one evening, the one I’ve done mentioned already, standing and staring at some half-open shutters where a girl was moving around straitening a bunch of chairs. Well Goddamnit Febby pull it together. I gave her the old wave the hand in front of the eyes but she weren’t lookin’ at anything in front of her much less my hands so I pulled her back from both shoulders and she kind of slumps into my arms and I lower her down to the corner and take a seat. I put two cigarettes in my mouth and pass her one for which she gives me a great big childish grin like half a meringue pie. She likes to purse and pout her lips real quick like while she smokes, I take pulls from the vodka and chase it with long drags. I try to talk to her but it’s always the same. I talk, she says some bat shit crazy things and then I just end up talking to her without givin’ her much heed for speakin’ herself. I whiled away a good hour like that with Febby ‘cassionaly giving her another lit cigarette we split a cheese sandwich I had in my pack and I finished my vodka and got to talking about my boy, who was ‘bout five years old living somewhere in Massachusets, last I heard he was patching up body armor in Iraq. Sweet woman, Febby, but a damn idiot nonetheless. In any event by the time I was ready to get going she was snoring and drooling a little on her shoulder. I gave Febby a pat on the head and damnit but if I didn’t get drunk all at once lurching up and nearly stumbled back down onto the sidewalk. I grabbed for the nearest thing I could, what happened to be a door handle and next thing you know I was stumbling into that room, where suddenly the blinds had been raised and that room of chairs where that pretty girl had been doing her arranging was now full of a mess of people looking straight on at a woman standing at a microphone not six feet away. I managed to catch myself from falling by grabbing a hold o’ that woman standing in front of the microphone. Surprised the hell out of me but she caught me by the arm, stronger than I’d of expected, and kept my steady and I caught her eyes and saw the great big scar running across her face like she’d been sleeping on a drawn wire and couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on in that dome of hers, or her face, behind those auburn eyes, you’d probably say Impassive. Well she let go and I traipsed past her, waived my hands in the air and announced to the frightened crowd I was A-Okay before falling into a terrible coughing fit. Then I heard her voice ringin’ loud and clear over me ‘and I have cut them all off
One by one, at pace with my own powers of regeneration and recuperation…” so moved to the rear and next to a counter of books and teacups and stayed quiet as a mouse listening to her read her poetry starring out like she was looking through the walls or past the whole stinking city. Though it wouldn’t have surprised me if they had, nobody came to grab me by the arm and give me the old Get The Fuck Outa Here whisper, though I coulda whooped any of ‘em anyways. I just stood there a bit drunk a bit enchanted I don’t know why happy as a clam and then everyone got to clapping at which point I made for the exit, pocketing a copy of her book as I left. That was the first time I ran into her, no kidding.