Living In a Tent In San Francisco
So tired. Breathe. There we go. Look outside. People walking. Try to stand. Can’t stand. Ceiling too short. Go outside? Can’t go outside. No where to go outside. Sit back. Try to think. Can’t think. Too tired. Drink. Can’t drink. No drink. Too tired. Close eyes. Try to dream. Can’t dream. Too tired. So sad. People walking. Try to sleep. Can’t sleep. Too loud. Walls thin. Sit up. Use bathroom. Can’t use bathroom. No bathroom. Look outside. Blues walking. Moving time. Same time. Try to stand. Can’t stand. Still tired. So tired. Breathe. There we go. Look outside. No one outside. Try to smile. Can’t smile. Try to stand. Can’t stand. Lie back. Breathe. Can’t breathe. Wait for help. No help. Try to remember. Can’t remember. Smile. Can’t smile.
Brok_n w_rds, brok_n sente_ces, brok_n thoughts, brok_n peop_e.
Men and women wh_ wis_ to skim through lif_;
wh_ want to show ever_ thing to ever_ one;
wh_ need fast_r devic_s so th_t th_y may fill
in their blan_ spac_s wit_ status upd_tes.
A land of people wh_ hav_ forgotten th_t lif_ is short and
not mea_t to be skim_ed ; th_t lif_ is not about h_w man_
sentenc_s y_u read or things th_t y_u post.
Life is about how many times you slow down,
how many breaths you feel, how many
words you not only read, but taste.
Two metallic quarters absorb the sunlight
refracting through a thin store window
on Solano Avenue where the Ohlone’s
used to live. In the quarter’s center their
electrons heat up, excited by the window’s
open curtain and the noisy vibrations
waving in from the outside.
Cardboard slots on a poster that
says, ‘Your Support Saves Lives,’
hold the quarters in the air, just
below other lines that say,
‘Fighting blood cancers,’ and
‘Joshua: Leukemia survivor,’ and
‘Someday is today.’
His picture is like my picture, like
your picture, like the other pictures
of a human before they grow
old. But he is fading now, the poster
has been in the sun too long, and he
was born fifteen years ago, fifteen
years of war, one trillion dollars
on war, four trillion quarters on
war, fifteen years of war and some
more war and some more war, too.
Two quarters heating up, stuck, sticking
to that plastic poster with two quarters
that I take, put them in my pocket,
Joshua, I am sorry, two quarters aren’t enough
even a dollar won’t do
So I throw them in the City’s trash,
watch them sit on top of a pile
of coffee cups and compostable dog poop bags.
And walk away.
My name is Ghin. I wrote this story. I lost the first three chapters (idiot!), but don’t worry: you don’t need to read them. They were just filled with all that contemporary literature stuff: sex, whips, snipers, God, sex, terror, spatulas, “love”, “light”, “sensitivity”, and so on. One of the chapters combined all of these modern-day miracle-sauces into one ginormous cocktail party starring the mayor of San Francisco and the mayor of Dallas glued together as a Siamese twin. Both mayors were drunk, sharing Stella beers, feeding them to each other as if they were feeding babies milk, and, behind them, stood God. He held a spatula, a corkscrew, and a Roman whip. It was love. I’m not sure how it ended, though. I wish I hadn’t lost that chapter. I’m guessing my mom found it and threw it away. She is always reorganizing my bedroom, sniffing around with her Swiffer, often while I’m sleeping. She wants me to write the next great American novel, like The Grapes of Wrath, or something, and I tell her that’s exactly what I’m working on, it’s just that there are more erotic toys mixed up in the Dust Bowl now.
I can’t complain too much about my mom. She did let me move back home after I quit my job. I was working as an environmental engineer for the State of California and I quit because they wanted me to help clean up the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. Some dumbass oil pipeline had exploded and now it was my team’s job to clean it up. The people on my team came up with all kinds of solutions, but they didn’t dare propose the simplest solution of them all: Don’t. Install. Pipelines. Under. The. Ocean. No pipeline means no oil spill. DUH. Everyone in the office knew this, but everyone in the office wouldn’t dare propose such an idea, because everyone in the office had families to support.
We live in the age of whetted confusion. My mom liked that statement. She said, “Now you’re onto something.” Then she said, “Come eat your dinner. You’re looking too skinny,” which I was: I was down to 135 pounds, having weighed 160 eight years ago during freshman year of college. I’d lost 15 pounds in the last month alone. You can see where my cheek bone connects to my jawbone, and my ribs protrude almost through my shirt. It’s true: I’m withering away, stuck in my room, surrounded by high-school middle-class memorabilia, like all these spray-painted gold baseball trophies that everyone gets, even if you were just average like me, and this Britney Spears poster from 1997, the year of “Baby one more time.” My childhood room makes me think about my old apartment in San Francisco, a small one bedroom with a yellow and blue breakfast nook (it was very beautiful, really), where I broke up with my girlfriend, Erica, just before I quit my job. When I told Erica that I needed to be alone in order to pull the world out of darkness, she smiled at me and got naked. I looked away. I couldn’t look anymore. It hurt, it hurts, I said, we must not, we cannot, I said, and I still feel sick because I loved her. She lay down on the bed. I heard the bed squeak. I didn’t look. She might have been wide open. I said: “Restrain yourself, Erica. I will be back.” She laughed, then she started to cry, saying something about how she’d lost me because she couldn’t even get me into bed when she was naked, her beautiful smile, her big eyes, her gentle, inviting, warm body. I glanced at her, unknowingly, and then I lost control, and I suddenly jumped on her and we made love very quickly and then I felt bad again. She was still asleep when I left the apartment. She heard the door close. I could hear her get out of bed, although she didn’t come outside the apartment. She stayed in our room. She knew I was waiting outside, but she didn’t come out, so I left.
The Man Who Built a Purple Pool (novel excerpt)
The next day Tom stood on cracked clay desert dirt, beyond which the landscape stretched out and disappeared underneath a sharp mountain range that cut the sky’s smoothness into sharp edges like jagged puzzle pieces. Jessie always liked puzzles. Her favorite was a 500 piece colorful Aladdin set because she loved the monkey, Abu. She knew all of the Aladdin songs and would annoy Tom with her constant singing of the songs and now Tom could hear the music. She’d play the songs over and over and only recently had she stopped playing the songs, ever since starting high school. But still she liked to put the puzzle together, and every year they’d put Abu together on Thanksgiving morning.
Tom missed her more each moment and wondered if the growing pain, the growing realization that she was gone, would ever subside. But the pain and realization were now settling in like a bowling ball on a soft mattress, sinking further down each moment, becoming a part of Tom’s normal thought so that everything he looked at began to morph into something associated with Jessie; into something Jessie was interested in.
He dragged his shoe across the desert ground and watched dust particles float up and disperse. Then he turned back toward downtown Vegas and looked at the Strip. He and Mr. Breckenridge needed help. They didn’t know how to build, so Tom had to find a way to hire Mark and Al to join the new school project. Mark knew everything about Las Vegas’s construction world – the people, the permits, the inspections, the fees – and Al would be there in the field day-to-day. Tom and Mr. Breckenridge needed help and Tom would offer Mark and Al a raise and a signing bonus and he hoped this was enough to convince them to join.
He rode three miles on Bus 28A from the new school site to the Strip and then walked up to the Hyatt and stopped outside the hotel’s gigantic diamond-shaped structure, where the hotel’s dark black windows glowed from the light that bounced off nearby hotels. Today the hotel seemed different and foreign and more permanent, and Tom thought about the last few days and realized that everything was different now, as if the last few days hadn’t really existed, as if they only existed to those outside of himself, even though Tom knew that today was real just like the rest.
He went into the parking garage, where Al stood holding a jackhammer. Al lifted the hammer as if it were a trophy, then smiled and said, “Ready for the big night tomorrow?”
“Huh?” Tom said.
“Yeah, Catherine. You know, my niece—come on now, cutie. You’re takin’ her out for a date.”
Tom couldn’t remember what Catherine looked like. He nodded his head and said, “Oh, yeah, cool,” and then stepped into the elevator.
“She’s coming to pick me up today after work. You talk to her then,” Al said, “Remember, I’m trusting that you’re a nice guy, just like I thought. Don’t let me down. Catherine, she’ll let me know if you’re nice.
The Deaf Bridge (Short Story)
On a Tuesday evening in San Francisco, after meeting with a team of high-tech angel investors, Nick Livermore shifted his BMW 335i into third and told Amanda to hold on. Tonight was Jeff Ellison’s TurDunkIn dinner party and they had to pick up Ryan ASAP. But Nick was tired right now. He’d already worked twenty-eight hours this week and he didn’t want to work anymore. He just wanted to go home and plan his trip next month to Big Sky, Montana.
“Can you text Ryan?” Nick said and merged left. “Ask him to wait outside.”
“Sure,” Amanda said.
“Where’s your phone?”
“Next to yours.” Nick smiled. “Don’t you remember?”
“Oh yeah,” Amanda said, smiling back.
“You should remember better,” Nick said. He noticed that tonight, Amanda’s hair was puffier than usual. Maybe it was the dim light from the setting sun behind her sharp profile or maybe she just needed a new hair stylist. Nick had been dating her for eight months and he figured that she was the one. She was fit and clean and, yeah—she would be the one.
He turned onto the Embarcadero, where ahead in the clear distance was the Pacific Ocean, the Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge, all melted together like a permanent castle. Each of the bridge’s towers seemed thicker, stronger, than anything else around, and Nick suddenly wondered why no one was doing anything special with the Bridge. What if he found a way to do rent it out? Maybe for a concert or something like that. He’d be set for life. What if he strung glow-sticks down each tower and held a giant rave where all of the college kids paid a few hundred bucks to come in? He could easily make a seven-figure profit on an event like that and he’d be able to quit working for Baine for good.
“How much do you think it would cost to rent out the Bridge?” Nick asked as put his hand on Amanda’s thigh.
“Rent out? Like for a party?”
“Really? Seems kind of crazy to me.”
“No way. I bet we could make a ton of money.”
“It’s cold up there, isn’t it?”
“I’m going to do it. I just got to get Mayor Lee on my side like Twitter did and then it would be a done deal. That’s how we could become Noe Valley rich.”
And just like that, Nick had a new dream. Not only would he be the first guy to ever rent out the Golden Gate Bridge, but he’d be the first to throw a rave on the sucker. No one had done such a thing, not even Zuckerberg. Nick knew this and this was what life was about: doing the impossible, doing something no one had done before; having dreams like this, like when he dreamt of working for a Top 5 venture capitalist when he was in high school in Chicago.
He stared at the bridge, at the tourist-filled cars that were clogging its lanes and taking pictures of the sexy beast, and then looked back at the road and turned off the Embarcadero and onto Filbert, where Ryan lived five blocks ahead.
But between Nick and Ryan—between being on time to dinner or not—was a bicyclist, who rode directly in the middle of Nick’s lane. The cyclist moved forward in a perfectly straight line that did not meander in any direction, which meant that there were no opportunities to pass. This was not okay because the middle of the road was the car lane and not the bike lane. Didn’t the guy understand basic traffic rules?
Nick honked his horn, but the cyclist did not move. Instead he continued to pedal on his bike that had a cheap plastic rack and a faded yoga mat. Nick honked twice more and said, “Come on, man.”
Amanda looked up from her phone. “Seriously, so ridiculous. Like what if there was an emergency?”
Still the cyclist didn’t move over.
“Fucking guy,” Nick said and stretched to look up Filbert and at the oncoming traffic.
“Maybe just go around him,” Amanda suggested.
“I’m on it,” Nick replied. “Watch this.”
He looked ahead once more, then quickly merged into the oncoming traffic lane. As he sped up, a white sedan pulled out of a driveway. He jerked his wheel right, but clipped the front end of the sedan, shooting his BMW into a 360 that turned into a 440 that turned into a 520 that stopped rotating headlight-first into an oncoming truck, and they collided immediately, releasing hard airbags into Nick’s face and neck and chest, hitting all three like a runaway refrigerator, whipping his head back into the stiff leather headrest, then back forward into his lifted arm. Everything collided like striking fire sticks, seeming to mold together into one numbness, one emptiness, one cracked bone.
The spinning stopped and they came to rest and now running blood leaked from under Nick’s eye, onto his compressed chest. He felt his heavy breath, then opened his good eye and looked out the driver side window at jagged pieces of broken glass. He couldn’t feel either of his arms, and he wasn’t sure if either were still attached. Blood continued to leak from his forehead, now entering the corner of his mouth and he spit what tasted like bitter metal and slowly closed his eyes and pretended that this was all a bad dream. Noises—from all directions and growing louder—made it impossible to fall asleep, to make this just go way like he wanted.
He opened his eyes again and looked beyond his broken window at a nearby grey house. He saw the bicyclist standing on the home’s front door. The cyclist was making frantic gestures with his hands to a man at the door. The cyclist did not speak, did not open his mouth, but rather continued to make signals to the man. The man began to nod his head, then pulled out a cellphone and started to dial. The cyclist continued to move his hands in a formulated way that seemed to be revealing a story, one gesture at a time, one deaf letter at a time. The man and the cyclist were now nodding to each other as if they were finally in agreement, and the man continued to talk into his phone. Then the man hung up, and the cyclist mouthed “thank you” in an awkward, forced way.
Help was on the way. Help would be here soon. Nick needed help right now because the numbness in his arm and chest had turned into a painful squeezing as if his bones were being clamped together slowly by something that wouldn’t stop. Amanda groaned gently next to him, which meant she was alive, although her condition must have been worse because the passenger side airbag had not released. A group of people behind Nick’s car argued whether or not they should wait for the paramedics or try and pull the people out of the BMW themselves.
Nick tried to open his month but the pain was too great. He looked at the cyclist, who was sitting on the curb now. Nick wanted to say something. He wanted to say “fuck you” and “thank you” at the same time. He wanted to kiss the guy and then throw him on the ground and beat the shit out of him for causing this nightmare. He wanted to say something, but all he could do was taste more blood. He swallowed and then swallowed again and more blood again. He closed his eyes and things began to fade away. He wished he were back home in Chicago playing ice hockey with his best friend, Lee. Remember that? He did. East Side City Championships, twelve years ago, third period, three minutes left, down one goal, Lee the best player on the team, pushing the puck down the right wing, Nick crashing down the middle for a tap in. Lee! I’m open! Send it over Lee! I’m open. Lee! Ice stretched across a blank rink and suddenly Nick was alone out there, pushing his skates on the coldness toward an open net with the puck, shooting, scoring, celebrating, his mom cheering, his dad there, too, his dad before he’d left for California and two new girlfriends, his mom before her brain tumor that was getting bigger now, before he forgot to call his mom last week and then forgot again tonight, there she was: cheering.
He felt his breath again. Amanda placed her hand on his shoulder. She rubbed him and started to say something, but none of it made sense. He tried to ask if she was okay but he couldn’t. He looked outside again. The sirens were gentle now. He tasted more blood and thought about nothing. He let go of his steering wheel and relaxed his grip and eased into his seat and on a Tuesday evening in San Francisco, Nick Livermore passed away.
no one speaks english
thank the gods
a homeless man, head down
did not buy a drink
or a bagel
he sits in the sun at a table
they don’t kick him out
still more languages come
a guitar is playing
a man is playing the guitar
he is in the other corner
no sunlight, only music
he is about sixty-five
close to my dad’s age
the homeless man wears Nike shoes
they are tied
he is talking now
God is a shout in the street
the homeless man is talking to himself,
to the window too.
it’s his reflection
it is more than his reflection
it is our reflection
I think I love San Francisco again
gentried but not ossified
the best and the worst
Atlas Coffee, Mission District, San Francisco, August 4th, 2018