THE IDEA WAS TO LOOK FOR A JOB, and I did, for a little while. I put on my good jacket, stuffed some resumes in my bag and hit a couple of the bookstores in the city, the few that were still around. I didn't know how to do anything other than work in a bookstore, and I barely knew how to do that. No one was hiring, of course, and no one gave me any reason to hope that they would be anytime soon.
I quickly grew tired of it and paused at a taqueria on Polk Street. I bought a beer and sat at one of the plastic sidewalk tables and watched the people walk up and down. I pulled my notebook from my pocket and jotted down some phrases and halfheartedly worked at a few poems. After a second beer I decided to move on. I was walking on Bush Street and realized I was heading in the direction of Ellen's place. I looked at my watch and wondered if she'd be home. I bought a cheap bottle of red wine at a corner store and walked across the street to her building.
I wasn't sure of Ellen's apartment number. I looked at the directory but didn't see her name. Most of the names were missing or outdated. I tried 307 and a man's voice told me to fuck off. I tried 309 next and eventually heard Ellen's voice asking, what? I told her it was me and she buzzed me in. I was scared of the elevator in the old building and walked up the three flights of stairs to Ellen's apartment. Her door was slightly ajar, the sounds of an old Johnny Cash record drifting out into the hallway. I knocked on the door and then pushed it open enough to get inside.
Ellen was in the middle of her studio apartment working on a large painting. The canvas was on the floor and she was crouched above it. Her apartment was small and messy, strewn with art supplies, clothes, empty bottles, filled ashtrays, records, and cassette tapes. The ragged mattress that she slept on took up about a third of the room. Ellen spread some yellow paint on the canvas and looked over at me.
"Hey," she said.
"Am I bugging you?"
"Naw. What are you doing?"
"Looking for a job."
"Ah. Have a seat."
I sat down on a wobbly red chair in the corner and opened my wine with the little corkscrew on my keychain. "Do you have a glass?" I asked.
"Wine's for poets and pussies," Ellen said.
"I am both of those," I said.
"Right." Ellen went to the little kitchen area and opened some cabinets. She came out with a glass for me and a pint of Bushmills for herself. I poured myself a glass of the wine and she went back to her painting. Ellen was a painter as well as a poet. A lot of poets I knew liked to say they were painters, but Ellen actually had talent and sold her stuff from time to time.
"You working tonight?" I asked.
Ellen worked three nights a week at the Lusty Lady, a North Beach nudie club, one of the better ones. "Did you hear about David Schiller?"
"No, what?" David Schiller was also a poet. He'd been part of the North Beach scene for years and ran a weekly open mic reading at a cafe on Pacific St. when he wasn't in jail or just simply lost somewhere.
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