Aurelia Lorca began writing as a violinist/lyricist in a punk rock cover band called Unfortunate Mustaches with the legendary Roxi Christmas,...read more but was promptly kicked out upon having laser electrolysis. She then worked part time as a secretary for the Evil Dark Overlord of The Zen Baby Federation, but was eventually let go because she just couldn't wield a staple gun that quickly. She now free lances for free for anyone who offers clown magic.
He insisted that I visit his room at The Dahlia – a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) at the very bottom of San Francisco’s Tenderloin, on Turk Street between Mason and Taylor. At first I said no. I did not want to see him there. For two and a half years he had a job, he had a room in an SRO at the top of the Tenderloin with clean bathrooms and a special garbage shoot for needles. He had a cat, he had a play station, he had me, but we broke up because he kept using. He spent a month in the hospital with endocarditis, an infection in his heart, got evicted from his apartment, lost his job, and cat, and became homeless. He refused to come over to my house because he paid for this room. His unemployment had kicked in. He was shocked to discover that he qualified for three years of unemployment. He was comfortable, complacent. I feared it was where he wanted to die.
I was still holding his hand as we entered one of the liquor stores next to the Dahlia. He had recently dyed his hair purple, again, to hide the grey, and was wearing his “We’re The Meatmen And You Suck” tshirt, and one black fingerless glove. The purple and black tips of his hair poked out from under his tattered pork-pie hat.
I wondered if he is wearing the glove to keep his hand from swelling up like it did when he was in the hospital.
“What’s up with the glove?”
“It makes me look tough,” he laughed.
“Like Billy Idol?”
“Hah. Hey, I used to like Billy Idol. What’s wrong with Billy Idol?”
“I’m surprised, I’d think you think he was a sell-out. Not really punk rock.”
“Are you joking? Billy Idol? You don’t know your punk history.”
I noticed that the bottles of mouthwash and beauty supplies were on the top shelves, like they were in every store. It was a phenomenon he had explained to me: Conditioner had more re-sale value than beer. When he boosted, he carried giant bags of deodorants that he’d sell to flea market vendors for dope.
He came to San Francisco to get off the streets, and stop boosting. But he could not be sober. Whether working in the kitchen of a four star restaurant, or boosting, whether on methadone or using, or both using and taking methadone, he said he was a punk and he would never give up beer.
“I am NOT going to be an NA or an AA punk,” he said. “And rehab would remind me too much of jail. No.”
As he fidgeted in the coolers I looked around the store. No vegetables, no fruits, just boxes of cereal, streusel cakes, and bags of cheetos. The entire store was processed sugar, with banners of cigarette advertisement dangling from the ceiling.
There was a crowd around the cash register. wo men with beautiful braids wearing neon green starter jackets put together their change for Mad-Dog, they asked him for a quarter. They knew him.
I was wearing an orange Giants hoodie and a black dress with white skulls. I had my hood up. I wondered if I looked strange to the guys with braids, but they didn’t acknowledge me. They did not make eye contact. They did not even seem to see me. I was not part of their world.
He bought a bottle of whiskey and a raspberry Snapple with a hot pink label.
“Liquor is quicker.”
He took my hand and laced my fingers into his as we made our way out of the crowd around the door. No-one seemed to mind.
Turk Street was crackling in blueness. There was another crowd outside the liquor store. A man wearing a white wife-beater t-shirt screamed at another man, and said, “what, what, what,” and reached into his pants.
Chris started to walk towards them, but I pulled him back.
“Let’s walk around them.”
“He has a gun. He’s about ready to pull out a gun.”
He guided me around the crowd into the street, and said carefully over his shoulder, “Everyone here is packing.”
“I’m not afraid of guns, or people with guns. I’m afraid of stray bullets.”
“They’re not going to do anything. The yuppie hotel on the corner has security outside at this time of day. It’s safe.”
“Everyone around here has a gun, or says they do. Even the old timers. That same guy tried to help me sell some pills for dope, but he didn’t do anything. When I sold the pills and scored on my own, I wouldn’t break him off, so he pulled out his gun on me. I told him what was he going to do, go to prison for the rest of his life over $50 worth of heroin?”
“How did you know he was bluffing?”
“On that day, I just didn’t give a shit if he shot me.”
The crowd swelled around two men who were fighting. There were so many people on the sidewalk I almost missed the white sign with red blocked lettering hanging over a small doorway, The Dahlia Hotel.
“Check out the plaque,” he said.
Next to the gate was a small but impressive bronze and black plaque: Dahlia Hotel, c. 1907. Formerly Hotel Taylor, Hotel Thames. This building is listed in the National Register Of Historic Place. ptown Tenderloin Historic District.
It began to rain as Chris buzzed open the gate. Sunlight peaked through the cornices and passed out hard cards of dingy yellows onto the terrazzo tiles of the entryway.
“Look at the floor,” he said over his shoulder. It reminds me of tiles from Pompeii. Whenever I pass through this entryway, I feel like I’m stepping out of a shit-hole and into in ancient Greece, but just for a moment.”
We went through another iron gate onto a dusty black and white checkerboard floor. Instead of down the rabbit hole we go up a wooden flight of stairs that were painted orange.
“At one time, this even used to be a sex hotel called ‘The Dollhouse’,” he said. “Then they had a raid and cleared out all the prostitutes.”
I gave my I.D. to the front desk clerk who sat in a small booth behind a window of shatter proof glass. Chris me up more painted orange wooden stairs that creaked and had an eerie pirate like feel to them.
“They never fix this place up unless they have to. I don’t trust the elevator. I think they’ve left it the same for most of these one hundred years. The doorways are all original. Though some of the rooms have boarded up old doorways built into the wall. They must have split up apartments into tiny rooms for more people.”
People floated out into the halls and stared at us. One woman was a zombie with a sideways gait. She asked him for a cigarette. Another woman wearing pink track suit and holding a small dog, said, “I’m home now if you need to come by.”
The woman had a toughness to her that told me she was his hook-up, but I did not want to think about him still using – the old questions of who he was getting it from, how much he was spending, how much of a debt he owed, if this time it would kill him. I focused instead on the colors around me, the orange stairs, the faux bamboo patterns in the rug in the hallways.
“Here’s my room,” he said, and pulled out a key from his keychain.
His room was small, with just a television, a sink, and a floor that was also a checkerboard but of tan and grey squares. The walls were white and peeling and covered with graffiti.
“It’s like a squat in here,” he said. “But it’s clean. No bugs.”
Next to the door someone had written “Ladies Night” in a green marker. On another wall “LA Death Squad” was written in red. And above the bed “Blah Blah Blah Fucking Blah” was in black.
He stretched out on the bed. The bed was a double with a thin blanket, no pillow.
“Check out the view out my window,” he said.
I pulled out my phone and took a photo of him on the bed, with the “blah blah blah fucking blah” written over his head. I texted my friend Misti the photo. Misti always said he loved me, she would understand why I was there, what I was feeling. I didn’t know what I was feeling, except terror, and despair. He was dying. isti texted back that her boyfriend didn’t like my sending a photo of a man lying on a bed. I started to text an apology, but Chris stopped me.
“Fuck that,” he said. “What the hell are you apologizing for? It’s her boyfriend’s problem not yours.”
I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know what to do. Outside the window was the grey roof of another building littered with multi-colored piles of garbage. A stuffed animal wearing a santa hat was askew from the garbage, face down, next to an empty bottle of whiskey. The rain outside the window pattered on the tar paper of the roof, and created small puddles of silver next to the trash.
“Everyone throws out so much shit, it piles up. ice view right?”
I was still standing in the middle of the room. There was nowhere to sit other than his bed.
“This is my world. My shit-hole. $50 a night for this place. The bathroom has blood on the floor and used needles in the toilet paper holders, but the rooms are clean.”
“This is my world,” he said. "Sit down, the bed is clean. No bugs.”
I could not answer. I stood in the middle of the room trying to understand what it was within me that made me ache for the wind that swirled around him. His head was turned away from me, he was staring out the window at the rain, and he was crying. Since the growth in his heart, he cried more often.
I thought about how a carnation almost looked like a dahlia. I looked out the window at the garbage on the roof, and tried to see what he was looking at, but he was not looking out the window, he was looking at me and scowling, framed under “Blah, Blah, Blah Fucking Blah.”
The rain was a ticking and pattering on the tar-paper of the roof outside his window.
I took out my iphone again and google searched “dahlias”.
“What the hell are you doing?”
He shook his head and stared back out the window at the rain.
“The dahlia is the national flower of Mexico,” I said. I put my iphone back into my purse on the floor.
“The Aztecs once used the dahlia for food. 17th century Spaniards tried to bring the dahlia back to Madrid, but it was a failure as a food crop, and the flower could only be used as ornamentation. Some believe the redness of the star’s of the devil’s dahlia is even more beautiful than the redness of poppies.”
“Nerd,” he said.
He was looking at me again and stopped scowling. “You always have to look things up.”
He shook his head and smirked.
“I get what you’re trying to say, dahlias, poppies. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“The dahlia sort of even looks like a carnation.”
He stretched out his left leg. I could see the swelling had gone down.
“I love you. I’m glad you came here, even though its a shit-hole it is my shit-hole. This is my world. This is where I feel safe. Everyone here also goes to my clinic. We’re all trying to stay clean.”
“Every time you use you could die. You’re killing yourself.”
“I’m a nihilist. You’re too much of an optimist. That’s our problem.”
“I’m not an optimist. I’m an absurdist. Yes, logically the only answer is suicide. But dammit, the absurd thing is that we have to think of ourselves as happy, and seek out clown magic.”
I had always told him that he wasn’t a nihilist, that if he were truly a nihilist he’d be dead. The argument no longer seemed appropriate.
He scowled again, lowered his head, and then lifted it up, smiling softly and showing his dimples.
“Have you ever thought that maybe I am happy? I have vegetation in my heart. t could get me at any time. I don’t want to go to a doctor. I want to do this my way. Please sit down. The bed doesn’t have bugs.”
We were at a stalemate. Was he more of an absurdist than he or I thought? Did I just not understand the bolder he was rolling? If the drugs were legal, would they have given him the same infection?
I was still standing in the middle of the room. The rain continued to tick and patter. I saw my reflection in the glass and wondered if he was looking at me but he reached back his hand and shut the curtains over the window, while faintly smiling and smiling faintly.
When we first fell in love, he repeatedly warned me it wasn’t going to work, that we came from different worlds, but my world was saving him.
“Don’t expect any white picket fences,” he said.
"Clown magic,” I insisted. “Clown magic.”
“You don’t understand,” he said.
I was very drunk when he finally kissed me. “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you,” he said over and over again.