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Monday, August 22, 2011

Date Night

Bananarama had nothing on my cruel summer. I’d been working the last three weekends in a row, and between the ruca traveling, we hadn’t had a weekend off together in almost six weeks. My harmonized routine life of writing, down-time, and spending time with my honey had been exchanged for over-time and a backache.
 Needless to say I was looking forward to some quality time with the ruca. We were excited that we were finally going to have a Wednesday night together for a romantic date. It was the happy place in my mind I went to all weekend at work, sloshing drinks to tourists, and concentrating very hard on not losing my mind when the 100th person of the day asked me how much it costs to ride the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf. I was physically behind the bar; it was my body, in person, making dozens of Bloody Marys, upselling appetizers and bottled water, and ordering burgers for tourists who always eat burgers back home but have “never had a burger in San Fran.” (Wow.) It was me, all me, on auto-mode at work and smiling through my funk. But my mind was miles away, on the other side of the dining experience I was giving, and seriously pondering if vampires and humans have more flexibility in their schedules than the ruca and me.
Wednesday night came.
I dressed in my new jeans and pink peep-toe heels, with my signatory bob of curls looking as spastic and fabulous as ever. We opted for Blue Plate, one of our favorite restaurants in the city, that we gained across-the-street-access to when we moved into our Bernal neighborhood. The food there is unique and delicious, the outside patio is warm under heat lamps in a garden, and it’s just one of those special gems that makes San Francisco such an awesome foodie town. Plus, we’d be able to drink a whole bottle of wine and stumble home without worrying about driving—score.
            There was a wait when we got there, but not seemingly long. Most of the tables in the front room are situated close together and we noticed a couple by the window that was almost finished with their meal. I requested that booth. (Yes, even in the industry I am one of those people who will request and wait for the best spot in the house. Shit, if I’m paying for a $70 dinner, I wanna at least have the privacy to talk dirty.) One of the double doors stayed open for passing traffic, so we squeezed into the corner of the closed door. We were trying to take up as little space as possible, and conveniently, in each other’s arms.
            Standing in the tiny nook we’d established for ourselves, the chaos of our everyday lives seemed to slowly melt away. I temporarily forgot that my streak of writing had dried up like an empty martini glass, or that our house was filled with heaps of laundry that was indistinguishably clean or dirty, or that I hadn’t worked out in weeks, leading to a slight paunch on my pansa filled with junk food. None of that seemed to matter, in each other’s arms, glassy eyes sparkling as if we’d already had a toast. I wanted to kiss the ruca all over; to smell her hair and rub my cheek into hers the way lions play. But PDA embarrasses her, and even I no longer feel the need to stick my tongue down her throat to prove to people she’s mine. So I said all these unspoken actions in my eyes: that I loved her; that I missed her; that work would always be work, but that we would always come back to each other, the same way we’ve been doing for the last 6 years.
            We talked about what we would do when we’d have the luxury of more time together: “Let’s paint the living room.” “Wake up early and take a walk on Land’s End.” “You know I’ve never been to Angel Island?”           
I sighed, spying on the table behind us. They’d finished paying the tab long ago and were just sitting there, staring at the table without any conversation or even eye contact. It was an older lady and a younger man who might’ve been her son. I didn’t want to be rude but I couldn’t help but sneak a peek at the lady. She caught my attention because she looked so unhappy. Being behind the bar dealing with so many people a night, I’ve learned to be very intuitive about people. I can instantaneously pick up another person’s excitement, their nervousness, their dominance and insecurities. I’ve even felt a couple stone-cold people that were sinister enough to send chills up my spine. This lady wasn’t just in a bad mood. She carried a chronically miserable vibe, maybe even to the point of being mentally ill. I almost didn’t want to sit in that same booth, should she leave any residual angst lingering behind.
            More time passed, close to 20 minutes. The ruca and I were getting hungry but we smiled patiently at each other, assured that the suspense of waiting was only building up the anticipation of the awesome dinner we were about to have. The sad lady in the booth slowly rose to her feet. Behind us in the other booth by the window, a mother and her two kids were signing the check as well. I felt like we were next in line to ride the roller coaster, except better because I already knew which bottle of wine we wanted.
            All of a sudden, before exiting, the lady stopped right in front of us. Her odious eyes were dark as ditches, and the rage spewing off her body was nearly as visible as steam above a boiling pot of caldo. I could feel her daunting energy of wrath reaching out to slap me in the face. She waved a bent and bony finger at both of us, her fury nearly unfathomable as she screamed, “GET A ROOM!”
            I laughed, instinctively, a nervous laughter, as I waited for hers to come; for my instincts to be wrong altogether, for her face to crack open with a smile while she covered it with something else like, “Just kidding, you guys are so cute,” or something.
            She darted out the door quickly, a slight hobble to her aged step.
            The ruca and I looked at each other. We were stunned speechless, an unusual reaction from the ever-witty ruca, and charismatic me, who can usually charm my way out of anything. We were frozen though, paralyzed, a sinking feeling flooding our chests. Get a room—really? Was she insane? We weren’t even making out—we hadn’t even kissed!
            “She wasn’t joking, was she?” I gasped.
            “No,” the ruca said, a meager croak. The lady was getting into her car, parked right out front. The young guy wasn’t even with her. He was following her out front, steps behind, a sheepish smile to his face.
If I were still a young, ghetto and feisty kid, I might’ve run after her and shanked her tires. Or stuck out my heel to trip her down the stairway, watching her brittle bones snap like twigs. Or at least gone off on her and called her a miserable old hag who was too ugly inside and out to ever be loved. But shock had stunned me still. She’d taken away my voice, my only defense. Besides, what good would it have done to have shouted every name in the book at her? She had already spit her misery out at us. The damage was done.
“That…hurt,” the ruca uttered, the emotion of it dashing in her eyes.
“I know,” I said. “I feel the same way.”
We were disgusted. Humiliated. Swarms of questions racked our minds: Would she have said that if we weren’t gay? Was she mentally ill? Who the hell does she think she is—yelling at strangers over an innocent affection?!
            The host, who’d we’d been kindly chit-chatting with bounced back to her small corner of a stand, tapping buttons on the computer.
“Um, excuse me?” I cleared my throat suddenly. “Are…are we being offensive, standing here in each other’s arms?”
“Of course not, why?”
We told her what happened. She seemed genuinely confused, almost as if she didn’t believe us. “But this is San Francisco,” she said.
Exactly. This is our home. Our sanctuary. Any kind of love bashing—gay or straight—isn’t supposed to happen. Not here, not in one of the most progressive and radical cities in the world.
We felt low, deflated. Our spirits had plummeted down too far to bring them back to that euphoria we’d shared earlier, but lord did we try. The host, who was super sweet and apologetic, thankfully sat us in the booth where the mother and kids had been. Our server, who found out what had happened, was extremely gracious also, even bringing out an appetizer on the house: a plate of padron peppers with goat cheese and tiny sliced almonds, toasted to a crunch. They were incredible. The ruca and I smiled tenderly at each other, hands clasped tightly together as we put on our strong faces. It was our date night, after all, the night we’d waited so long for. No one should’ve been able to take that from us.
Our glasses of wine were filled and re-filled until the bottle was empty. Dinner was hearty and unique as ever. I had the fried chicken with creamed corn, and a jalapeno buttermilk sauce that I could’ve taken a bath in. The ruca opted for a veggie dish: a turnover stuffed with leeks and a bright zest of cherries atop a bed of red quiona. We enjoyed our meals and each other’s company the best we could, keeping a steady flow of conversation so as not to think about that pink elephant that had stricken us. We really did try to have the best date night ever. But the truth is, when someone casts that much hatred at you, sometimes not even the best meal can un-break your heart.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Wise Drunk

I wasn’t wearing a mini skirt or heels. I wasn’t busting out a handful of cleavage, nor was I wearing some tight white bootie pants, but still, the group of guys hanging out on the corner all began to hoot and holler as soon as I walked by. I was running late, shoes untied, in my work uniform for God sakes, and still, I could feel their eyes on my ass checking out my bootie, while the alpha of the four called out, “Damn girl, you lookin’ good today! Wassup with you, you got a boyfriend? How ‘bout just a minute to talk? Hey, where you going, Ma, why you so mad—come back!”
I was seething, and still annoyed when I got to work. We were nearing the end of happy hour when one of my regulars, Louise, came in. Louise must’ve been a hot ticket back in her day. I’m sure her scraggled tangles of grey were once long blonde locks, and that her cracked and wrinkled skin, like a parched and dried up desert, was once rosy and smooth. She’s been “75” for the last four years, but judging by her extensive knowledge of the Roaring 20s, I think she’s probably closer to 90.
            The other bartenders can’t stand her. She’s louder than a cheerleader with a megaphone, her caked-on makeup is always melting off her face, and the woman doesn’t laugh—she cackles. I kind of like her though. She’s funny. Who cares that she’s a little tacky and that her outlandish wardrobe is kitschy, to say the least? She’s got great stories about traveling the world: like living in Paris with a young hot stripper; meeting her third husband drunk in a hot-air balloon above Rio; and getting asked by Hugh Heffner to model for him before the magazine mogul was a mega pimp. Most of her stories are probably exactly what they sound like—full of shit—but what kind of writer would I be to not appreciate some decent fiction?
            Louise was already lit when she came in, staggering in from the bar next-door, where the bartenders have told me that the third martini they make for her is nothing more than chilled water—stirred, not shaken—with a splash of gin.
“HEY SERENA!” she shouted. She once heard my bar-back calling me ‘Sarita,’ my Latino name with the primos, and misheard. I probably should’ve corrected her a long time ago, but for some reason I don’t mind. (There’s this prick who comes in sometimes who doesn’t believe I “look” like a Sarah, and only calls me Juanita. Now that’s annoying.)
            “Hey there, Louise. Manhattan or martini today?”
            “Manhattan, please! The cheap bottom of the barrel happy-hour crap with a dash of Bitters, just the way I like it.”
I began preparing her cocktail as the entire bar turned to stare at the newcomer who was about ten decibels louder than everyone else. Louise either didn’t notice the weight of so many appalled eyeballs on her, or didn’t seem to care. I’d like to say that she’s so loud because she’s losing her hearing, but being liquored up 24-7 probably doesn’t help her case.
 I dropped a cherry in the manhattan, placing it in front of her. “Thanks, Serena! You’re alright, kid!” she cackled. “How’s life?!”
“Fine,” I sighed, making margaritas for the cocktailer’s drink ticket.
            “Aw, shucks, you don’t gotta lie to me. Hell, I don’t care if you’re in a bad mood or not—you’re human, right? Besides, no one expects bartenders to be as cheerful as you usually are anyway. Least when you are, it’s a bonus cuz you’re so damn cute!” She took a big slurp off the top of the glass, her hands shaking uncontrollably as she set it down. Her purple eyeliner had smudged down into the dark bags under her eyes, and her ruffled neon green blouse had an obvious mustard stain right down the middle. The woman was as loopy and sane as the Mad Hatter, and still, I leaned in suddenly, needing an ear for my girl-talk. “Louise, do you think it’s disrespectful when guys try to pick up women on the street? I mean, did you ever have that problem or…do you…still?” (The latter I added mostly to be nice.)
            “Do I look that lucky? Jesus, I wish they still did! I haven’t gotten cruised since they landed that guy on the moon!”
             “But didn’t you find it offensive? It’s so sexist of men to think they can say whatever they want to women, don’t you think?”
Bah. All those fellas who are dumb enough to hoot and holler at a hot babe on the street usually know she’s outta their league anyway—that’s why they do it. They’re mad that they’re too slimy to get the looker broads they want, and even if they do got themselves a keeper at home, they’re too big of idiots to realize it. See, back in my day it was more of a man’s world. Men were the bread-winners. They ruled their wives, they were head of the families, Jesus, they ruled the friggin’ country! Times have changed. Us women are more independent, dammit. We have our own careers, our own lives, and Lord almighty, we are not ashamed of our sexuality—ha! Just look at that Kim Kardashy babe—man, what a fox!” she croaked. “Meanwhile, those few men who are insecure enough to feel the need to control us know that they’re losing that power they once had over us. You better believe they’re freaking out! They’re just trying to assert their presence, you know, remind us that it’s still their world—so they think.”
“I don’t care if they have a security complex. Those cat-calls are so annoying.”
“Honey, one day, when the cat-calls stop, and no one on the street stops to stare at you anymore, and your chest is sagging down to your belly-button, and your ass looks like a marshmallow right before it burns for S’mores, then you’ll wish you were young and beautiful again. Then you’ll be old as dirt like me and sitting on the other side of the bar, telling some young hot ticket that a buncha scumbags thinking you’re cute should be the least of your worries.”
Louise was slurring terribly and a small string of drool was yo-yo-ing up and down her bottom lip, but I did have to admit one thing: Louise was truly and genuinely right. Reading between the lines of men who cat-call, these men are simply saying that they don’t know how to express their admiration of a beautiful woman, and that they fear they’re losing their inability to be needed by us. (Hel-lo? Perfect example right here.) Maybe the day that all the hooting and hollering does stop, I might be wishing that it never had—that I could be still be that young full-of-life vixen, annoyed by perverse men’s attractions towards me.
I looked at Louise. Who knew a century old drunk still had some words of wisdom left in her?
“Here, you want me to get even with those stupid boys for you—will it make you feel better? Watch this.” She twisted around, finding a young couple at a cocktail table behind her, drinking the margaritas I’d made and chowing down on ahi tuna. “Hey, you!” Louise called out to them. “Yeah you, you young hottie! Boy, are you a looker. Is that your girlfriend or your sister?”
            The guy swallowed a piece of his sashimi whole, looking stricken. You’d think someone was asking him a job interview question. “She’s my…uh, fiancée.”
            “Jesus Christ, that figures. Hey, you ever wanna try your luck with an older woman, you just let me know. I ain’t rich yet, but my psychic says I’m gonna win Bingo any day now! Hey, you—sweetheart! You’re a lucky gal, you know that? Boy, what a fox you got. Cheers to you kids!” The entire bar tipped their drinks down their wide-open mouths. I shook my head, trying not to laugh. This was just a typical hour with Louise.
            She turned back around, finished proving her point. “You think he likes me?” she winked.
            “Not as much as his fiancée does, I’m sure.”
The girlfriend was raising her empty glass, hooking eyes with the cocktailer. “Another round please.”
            “Serena, before happy-hour ends, I’ll take another one of these cheap and delicious bottom of the barrel happy-hour manhattans with a dash of Bitters. Christ, do you know how to make a cocktail. Swear to god those gebrones next door are just blowing smoke up my ass with those drinks they call martinis.”
            “Sure. But your glass is still…” I stopped myself, just as Louise knocked back the rest of her cocktail, finishing off the cherry as her final touch. I was already stirring the next manhattan for her when she dropped the cherry stem she’d tied in a knot back into the empty glass.
            “Thanks, Serena! You’re alright, kid!”
            I thought about what Louise said all night through work, and even afterwards, walking down Powell Street back towards BART. My patience was tested as I approached a pack of guys, smoking menthols and smacking away on corn-nuts, while people-watching the flocks of inebriated tourists zig-zagging down the street. The one holding a bag of Pampers whistled back the rest of them did the bootie check. I walked on, carrying my head high. Louise’s loopy grin was still cemented in my mind, and so was that poor harassed fiancée who had looked so completely terrified.
I know I still live in a man’s world, but I wouldn’t change my own power of being a woman for anything. If this is the luck of the draw that a beautiful young woman has to deal with, so be it. After all, in a world full of knockdowns, it's resilience that truly makes up that bewitching magic of a woman.

© Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Ordinary Wednesday

The eggs in front of me are scrambled. The bacon is crispy, just the way I like it. A sift of steam trails above my coffee mug, and a medley of fresh fruit sits deliciously pretty in a quaint bowl, like a perfect still life waiting to be captured on canvas. I should be eating; should be feeding myself as I prepare for a busy lunch shift in the bar today. But all I can do is stab at my melon with a fork, and crumple my bacon into tiny pieces—unable to expel this morning’s image out of mind.
Earlier this morning, the ruca and I were driving to work down 3rd Street. It’s a route that brings you from the industrial streets of Bay View to the monumental ballpark, then into downtown where clusters of shiny polished skyscrapers pop up dramatically, like rifles raised at the sky. Stopping at a red light, I was suddenly stunned by a growing crowd gathered in the street, a pale panic glazed across their eyes. Behind them, a car had flipped over, was literally upside down, with a white puff of airbag enveloping someone inside the vehicle. A lady, or rather a Good Samaritan, was trying frantically to find a way to pull the person out, even though the top of the car had nearly crushed flat into the pavement. It looked as if the driver was going too fast down the busy one-way, lost control, and flipped over. There was no way even the most determined strength of manpower could get someone out of that rubble. If the person were still alive, they would have to await their fate at the Jaws of Life.
People had come out of the neighboring buildings, stopping to point, waiting for the deafening wail of sirens to drone out the monotone slur of the city. Even as the light turned green and the hesitant pack of cars inched forward unsurely, at a notably slower speed, the sinking feeling seemed to remain. How could we go about our day now, knowing someone’s body was literally crushed beneath tons of metal with daggered shards of glass stabbing into them?

It was an ordinary Wednesday morning, like any other Wednesday. I usually work an afternoon lunch shift this day and drive in with the ruca, glad that we later will enjoy a weeknight off. Leo is always a pest in the morning, impatiently waiting his feeding time, and those last few minutes of scrambling out the door have been known to get frantic. Leaving the house today was a smooth transition. We sang along to 80s pop on Pandora, left at the perfect time window, and glided smoothly in and out of rush-hour traffic without hitting any potholes or cussing anyone out for cutting us off. No major mishaps today. It was just another Wednesday morning, a handful of many, and yet on this particular start of the day, someone’s entire existence was radically altered: their life was either lost completely, its soul evaporating into that unknown place where souls trail off to (if at all), or that person will survive only to endure in a decrepit shell of a body. Either way, their life will never quite be the same, both emotionally and physically. (And here I thought the most unusual part of my morning was that leaving the house on time seemed so effortless!)
 It felt almost selfish of me to be so full of life in a healthy body, able to feel the coolness of the morning drizzle slowly melt away, able to walk effortlessly through the bustle of the kitchen and into the dining room where I have prepared my untouched meal in peace. How lucky I am. How fortunate I am that the world is at my fingertips. I almost feel guilty for such fortune, but why? I was not the one driving like a maniac. I was not the one driving recklessly and spun my car out of control. Still, it could happen to anyone, even me. I could feel the compassion for this shattered life bleeding inside me, the gush of grief flowing through my veins.
Finally, I listen to the other voice in my head, telling the other ravaging thoughts in my head to shut up for just a moment so it can say what it wants to in peace. I bow my head somberly, above my breakfast plate. Let my mind rest and go dark like a blanket of sleep covering my busy brain until all that is left is my core; a crescendo of sympathies and hopes, its stringing lullaby reserved only for my mind to recall, and the electric waves that manifest the magic of the universe.
            When I open my eyes, I have drifted back, stirring gently as if waking up. I could’ve been meditating high above cliffs overlooking the ocean, or lying lazily in a hammock surrounded in fields of poppies. Instead, I am sitting in the back booths, on table 95 to be exact, staring at my plate of breakfast and creamed coffee with a dusted wisp of canela.
I am lucky to be whole. To feel the radiance of my soul beating like a thousand bongo drums inside me. When it is my time to go, I hope others will realize that their simple and complex breaths of life are truly precious, and to live fully—exultantly—in a world that we are lucky enough to pass through in merely a blink of time.
            I let myself nourish my body, guilt free, and eat…finally. I do not even care that my coffee has nearly turned cold, and my soggy eggs have began to ooze. To me, it is a perfect breakfast on a lovely Wednesday morning.

 © Sarah C. Jimenez 2011, All Rights Reserved