IT WAS SAN FRANCISCO, Indian summer, the October sky blue and enormous. It was mid-afternoon in the Mission district. I had been unemployed for the better part of a year and my benefits were running out. I took a job collecting signatures on a petition trying to get an initiative on the local ballot, an initiative I didn't know or care much about. It was a desperate and largely futile gesture. I stood on Valencia St. for about an hour and was largely ignored, I imagine people in general sensing my apathy and disdain. In an hour's time I managed a handful of signatures, far short of my quota for the day. I fished around in my pockets and found I had enough coin for a beer, and decided to take a break. I visited a liquor store and bought a tallboy Coors then sat down on a bench at the 16th and Mission BART station and joined the rest of the broken.
And there we were: the lost and confused, the fuckups and the misfits, the runaways and the throwaways. The drug addled prostitutes with their hard sad faces and their raggedy pimps, all empty eyed and swaggering. The homeless, the destitute and the simply insane. All washed up here on this corner like castaways the ocean had grown tired of. Almost everyone had something to sell and all of it was worthless: battered VHS tapes, old batteries, musty porno mags, broken stereo speakers, miles of wire, piles of miscellaneous scrap, spoiled food, bad drugs, Jesus, Obama t-shirts and bruised and broken bodies. Anyone in the market for random garbage would surely find a treasure trove of it here. Meanwhile, the sane and the beautiful hurried up and down the stairs to and from the underground trains.
Three men with grand mustaches played mariachi music and a small, withered woman sold tamales and ice cream from a little wheeled cart. A prostitute in a short red dress stood with her foot on the head of another girl who was face down on the sidewalk. The girl on the sidewalk was crying. The woman with her foot upon the girl's head said, "I told you not to fuck with Marvin, bitch."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," sobbed the girl on the sidewalk.
"I told you not to fuck with Marvin."
A crowd circled about them, barely interested. I watched from my bench, part of me feeling as if I should do something. But it was easier and more safe to just sit and watch, so I did that.
Eventually satisfied that her message had been successfully delivered, the prostitute removed her foot from the girl's face and sauntered away with her pimp. The girl made no immediate motion to rise but continued to lie on the sidewalk and cry. The crowd that had gathered shuffled back to their previous stations.
And then a woman was sitting on the bench beside me. I have no idea where she came from. At first glance she seemed to be around forty years old, though she was probably a fair bit younger. She gave off the immediate vibe of there being something wrong with her. Most likely an addiction of some kind. I guessed crack, mainly because it was common around the neighborhood. But I had no idea, really. I could only afford to drink. The woman wore dirty blue jeans with holes in the knees, a faded Van Halen t-shirt and a heavy leather biker jacket. Her hair was cropped short and dyed a dirty blonde. Having nothing else to do, I convinced myself she was moderately attractive.
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