This post is late because I ate so much that I could not even contemplate looking at photographs of the meal. Here is one amidst the carnage of our Seven Courses of Beef (Bò 7 Món). If you wish to experience this Vietnamese delight for yourself, Anh Hong on Geary is the place to go in San Francisco. Generous friends treated me to dinner as a bon voyage gift and it was an unforgettable experience.
Say what you will about how San Francisco has changed. Tell me that I can’t go home again. I’m an adult (theoretically) and I can take it.
As long as I get to reminisce about the glory days of the San Francisco Flickr User Group (a/k/a SFlickr) I’ll be fine.
Participating in SFlickr was such an important aspect of my life in San Francisco, and I’m glad that tonight I got to see some of the great people I met through the monthly meetups. Maybe someday SFlickr will rise again. Or it won’t. Either way, I’m a lucky duck. Er, swan.
Writing from: a quiet home in Marin. Listening to: Zen chasing kernels around a stainless-steel bowl.
This was one of the best days of my life, and of course I took zero photos of any of the great things that happened. I flail at executing this project at times, I really do.
But I persist.
So today’s photo is of a sign that amused me, and was also notable because it advertises a San Franciscan company with a location in Portland. I know that some locals don’t appreciate the recent influx of Californians, but so far I’ve only received warmth and generosity from Portlanders. And I am grateful.
N.B. I’m a few days behind with the project, so these descriptions will be brief.
Almost two decades ago, I wandered around San Francisco in awe, occasionally pinching myself in case it was all a dream.
It was, sometimes, but mostly it was real.
Before we left for Scotland, I had grown so tired of living in this reality. A large part of that was feeling continually disappointed by San Francisco’s infrastructure, and trapped into relying upon it.
Today when I saw San Francisco I felt like I was seeing an ex for the first time after we had gotten over each other, after our feelings had transitioned into warm regard, from a distance. I could see all the beauty without my own needs wrapped up in it. I also had two very different conversations with two long-time friends who each have their own relationships with San Francisco. None of it is as simple as I once thought it must be.
Around dusk, I took the same bus across the bridge that I used to take home from work sixteen years ago. Nearly everything about my life has changed since then, but I was on the same bus, and as the bus exited the freeway, that same anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach returned. Just for a moment, and then it was gone again. Nearly everything has changed. I love that about my life. And now I love visiting San Francisco too.
Writing from: a grateful room in Marin. Listening to: FunkyPlaid and Zen drifting off to sleep.
Today I visited the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. I enjoyed a warm welcome from former coworkers and it was wonderful to be back in their company. But after an hour, the tenor of the reunion changed: I became desperately sad, missing it all so much, then overcome with the knowledge that the library and all the lives it contains exist separately from my memories of working there. The two are not the same. It’s easy to pretend they are from a distance.
After descending the magnificent central staircase so that I could snap today’s photo, I crossed the street and ducked into the Civic Center transit station. Two women on the Muni platform were singing “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”:
I don’t like you, but I love you
Seems that I’m always thinkin’ of you
Though you treat me badly, I love you madly
You’ve really got a hold on me
“It’s getting real” is a phrase I unabashedly love. I love it because it’s fun to say and because it indicates a transition from unreality. This unreality is exactly what I have been experiencing in the beautiful enclave of Marin County, reinforced by the fact that I am dependent on others to get in and out of it.
It got real tonight when I took the bus over the bridge, then another bus, and ended up at 19th and Judah, waiting for the N. I snapped a pic on the wheelchair ramp and paused to admire the view. A passerby cheerfully reminded me that I was not in the right place to board the N.
True to form, three inbound Ns came in quick succession while I had to wait over twenty minutes for one outbound. When it arrived, it was packed, but I boarded anyway.
Nothing was different. Everything was different. My belly felt warm, like it was full of hot cocoa.
I took the N to my usual stop and walked to our former home. It was too dark to see if it had been painted a different color. The living-room was bathed in television glow, and different plants were crowded into the meager patch of dirt near the front sidewalk.
Without thinking, I walked to where I would meet my former coworkers for dinner. (The body remembers where it once was situated in physical space.) I sat down at a table set for twelve. (A week ago, I was laughing over lamps in an empty flat.) I am alone in a restaurant full of people. (Text messages ping inside my handbag.)
How has it been four years already? How has it only been four years?
Writing from: Zen’s room in this beautiful enclave. Listening to: laptop fans singing to each other.
I rarely take the F-Market because it is so slow and the double-seats have no butt dividers. The former is more important than the latter, of course, but the latter is really important if you have ever had a stranger smelling of grain alcohol be all gropey with the side of his leg. Not that that has ever happened to me before. (All the time, on the F-Market.)
I took the F-Market yesterday because going underground on a day like that was a crime, the kind of crime that unicorns would ticket you for while crying tears of Nutella. It was an astoundingly beautiful San Francisco day. I should have walked. But I took the F-Market instead.
The redeeming quality about the F-Market is that it is usually populated with cheerful tourists. I like to eavesdrop and pretend that I speak their languages. I don’t. But I can fumble my way through German, so that is how I overheard the mother explaining to her little boy not to pull on the cord because that would ring the bell to signal that a stop was requested.
The little tow-headed boy of maybe five looked extremely disappointed in that Teutonic way, which is to say that his right shoulder may have slumped three millimeters. And my crabby old heart melted. Right before my stop, I touched his mother lightly on the elbow and asked her if he would like to ring the bell on my behalf. Lest you think I am some kind of awesome, I did this in English. (I am pretty sure I would still be on that train if I had to come up with “on my behalf” in German.)
She smiled and instructed her son to pull the cord, which he did gleefully, as indicated by one part of one tooth showing when he smiled. I gave him a bright “Dankeschön” as I left. And hell yeah, F-Market, I forgive you. I forgive you anything at all.
Halsted M. Bernard is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Map Literary, and Bewildering Stories, and she has performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, both as a Story Shop participant and with the literary writing and spoken-word performance group Writers' Bloc. For more about Halsted's publications and performances, please see her "Fiction" page.