Nineteen Ninety Something (An Ode To Prelapsarian San Francisco)

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When Hunt’s was still around for 25 a day, and we had 17 reasons for a 16th Street hangover on a Sunday morning. After Blake turned all of us young punks into lovers, the ruins and shattered neon of dead Mission movie houses leaving us nostalgic with the romance of a once thriving miracle-mile world gone to skeletal remains, roaming the once-bustling now-desolate streets for burritos and pizza, hiding in dark bars of former cocktail-hour splendor while the moon shredded through faded guano-stained awnings with sharp daggers of bright. Skateboards in tow, sometimes a quick detour to catch a ride on the back of a bus, left home for worse things and harder lives: something worth living for, something in the grinding shudder of the music blaring from the most gutted and weary parts of us. The urine-reek and shit-splattered sidewalks of another Tenderloin sunrise. Laughs at the 21 Club while the cops are at Bob’s on Polk, and then breakfast with May and Tommy at Lafayette on Hyde. Back to 275 Turk to recuperate and smoke on the fire escape, drink Clamato Bloody Marys, listen to records and chuck rocks at the windows of abandoned buildings across the street. Sleep until whenever. The block’s filled with lunatics, some on roller skates waving a hockey stick at others who dare approach; most harmless enough, screaming stuff like, “San Francisco! You will burn, motherfucker!” and then calmly giving directions to lost and scared tourists. J Church’s November on the roof, the whole world spread out like dominoes and recently defunct robots swirled with tattered strips of cloud and drips of heavy wet, socks soaked. When 1892 was the address on Market for a drunken disaster every weekend: punks throwing skinheads down the stairs; people living above water heaters, in hallway closets, crawl spaces, behind sheet curtains dividing rooms. The good life we were too dumb to know we’d already found. Something meaningful in the piss-yellow Civic Center fountain; the bleach-washed concrete stinking to low purgatory; or something coughed up on the abandoned steps of The Hibernia Bank. Slammed dice on the bar at the Lipo Lounge. Racing cops down Market on thrashed and scrapped-together bikes, weaving in and out of traffic, running reds, spitting on windshields of badly parked cars, narrowly avoiding getting doored, bombing hills all the way to Chinatown. Repairing to some lonely Dim Sum spot in a dirty alley; or a place on Alphabet Row with a crusty burnt-out neon sign reading Z&Y Café. The President eats next door when he’s passing through (so do The Stones), where the waiters hustle about in green suits and the dust-begrimed ceiling fans slowly twirl their crooked blades. Poultry Row just down the street, the chicken-slop reek riding high on the wind, people dressed like tourists and a vagrant pissing in a treewell at Portsmouth while we hide in dingy vegetarian restaurants with bad lighting and worse floors. Waitresses who smoke at the counter and drop more than makes it to the table. Thick tepid tea served in crusty pots with stained and chipped little cups. Nursing colds with hot & sour soup while the dumbwaiter rattles to the 3rd floor at Sam Wo. Nobody’s telling your secrets anymore, or remembering your old address. Some phone numbers just seem to always stay lost. That high-pitch squealing marimba screech of the BART train, wind whipped through the station with each arrival, shitty drab gray carpet rubbed raw and piley, that certain stench of stale beer and B.O. and bile and rubbing alcohol. The receiver-less payphones graffitied to a slow, rotting death. A crinkle of static blurbs from the speakers overhead, some dismebodied voice speaking of delays and elevators out of service and blood on the tracks. Miles between trains on a Sunday, headed east to Gilman, punk girls and hand stamps and the cacophonous euphoria of music to keep us alive. A place for drinking off the world. And soon to hurtle back under the bay to sit in torn red vinyl booths at old Valencia Street Mexican restaurants with pitchers of booze as lonely mariachi bands come and go on rainy afternoons. Or back to Hunt’s at 4 a.m. to buy back your heart or a pack of new socks to go along with the hottest-off-the-press doughnuts on the planet. The underground’s riling steam through the sewer grates, and all the bike messengers are spitting in the picnic-table dirt at Zeitgeist. The moon’s the color of Penelope Houston’s eyes. The vinyl’s spread all over the living room floor. The sun’s almost set on 6th Street. Tu Lan’s greasy smile’s hanging it up; but Grady’s and The Charleston are on the make, or Jack’s on 7th, crow-stepped gables losing shadows and gaining retired SRO dwellers like some flophouse sitting room. No more suicide watches left to patrol. And away’s just Jay’s or Chico’s on a Tuesday night. Staying in’s for the boring and successful, and all the alarms clocks can go straight to hell. Pet a pigeon for a buck and keep your distance from bridge-and-tunnel yuppies. We’re all lunatics here. The hour’s younger than it’ll ever be again. Let’s find some anarchist girls and climb up to the top of the Old Mint, smoke away the evening and watch the streetlights dye the sky like matches torching the blue-black hair of this whole town, talk about things we’re all too young and dumb to know just enough, make out under made-up constellations. Dancing’s free and the drinks are on the fireworks factory. The amps are all thrashed and ravaged with the gritty feedback of our past, and you’re missing a few strings in your head. Call in sick today. Sleep off the afternoon. Being a grownup’s for suckers. Besides, like all the bums howl at sunup between rifts in the skyscraper ranges, “San Francisco, you will burn, motherfucker!” no matter what we end up doing with these fly-by-year lives we get to lead here.

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