Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Unwaged Afternoon in Dolores Park

We've been having a bit of an Indian Summer (Michael's Little Summer, Gypsy Summer, or tiger in autumn, depending on who you talk to) in San Francisco.  Interspersed with drizzle and fog, of course, but SF will be SF.  My sister and I took a walk the other night in the Marina, and this will only make sense to Thacher alums, but it was nine-thirty to ten weather.*  That certain smell of cooling asphalt, a slight warm breeze, and everyone wandering around in the dark.  To use her phrase, a mindset and not a period of time. That's how it feels these days in the Bay.  I returned to Dolores Park last Tuesday.  What follows is what I jotted down in between turning pages of Huck Finn.

There never seems to be an empty moment in Dolores Park.  Hordes of Mission burghers, maybe bartenders, or artists, or street performers taking a break now the tourist season is over, or those of us in the 9.1%.  Grass is ubiquitous and banal (legal or otherwise).  Vendors call out clearly to hawk their wares: hash brownies, pot rice crispies treats, weed lollipops, mushrooms, even acid (really?).  People light up and work their way through handcrafted microbrewed six packs purchased at a premium.  Dogs wander off-leash and sniff around strangers, sometimes leaving behind shit that doesn't get picked up by distracted owners.  In the Marina earlier in the morning, two women all but chased down a runner when her German shepherd pooped on the beach.  Not so here.  Apart from the group of thrift-store junkies with well-designed tattoos, and eccentric hats, and fixed gear bicycles, there are remnants of a counterculture that did not know where to go but here when their revolution went the way of everything else and became a marketing tool.  If you like Communism, antique clocks, or Ann Coulter, they got a t-shirt for that. 

A mysterious fire breaks out somewhere beyond Mission High School, big black plumes drifting eastward.  It takes ten minutes to hear the sirens.  Fifteen later, the news choppers show up and hover like black flies over the scene.  No one barely looks, a few shouts of, "Fire! Fire!" are in jest, disconnected from the reality over on Haight and Fillmore, where windows bent and then burst out, thirty-one lost their homes.  A woman nonchalantly removes her jeans and sits cross-legged in the sun in her purple underwear, all the while talking on her phone.  A man tripping on something or other raves about the reggae culture and wheels around the guy freestyling over a portable speaker.  Deadlocked and confused, he reaches out with a laid-back desperation for someone to understand his epiphany.  Afropop blasts from a corner.  A drunk old man swigs from a wine bottle and sneezes, almost compulsively, for five minutes.  The sound of clicking lighters, flint on metal.  The sound of clicking iPhones.  The sound of clicking bicycle gears.

Frisbees and acrobats spin across the lawn.  Girls tell quiet little details of their ordinary lives and discuss fake IDs while lighting up a pipe.  Young men on OKCupid dates teach young women how to use fancy camera features, preening their blogging credentials.  Old Chinese women wander through the groups with big rice bags, collecting glass for deposit money.  A Latino man advertises his ice cream cart with jangling bells, another man with a cooler and newsboy cap sells cold beer.  Informal economies spring up anywhere there are people.  Cyclists rip by, too close to the sedentary.  Platinum blondes in a stars-and-stripes caps, colored feather tattoo peeking out from tank tops, chugging Newcastles.  Two sweet-looking lesbians with punk haircuts and tricked-out bikes talk behind their hands, write in journals, and smoke rollies.  Young men, shirts unbuttoned and beards perfectly unkempt, split watermelon beers between them and ignore their strategically-placed academic work.  A man in a red beard sips a 40 and plays guitar badly and enthusiastically, and you have to love him for it.  An older black man in a cycling cap smokes a blunt, foot resting on his handlebars, holding a banana to eat later.  Indian Summer, all in their own ways.  The smoke dies down, and no one seems to pay it any mind. 

*Nine-thirty to ten, or 9:30pm-10:00pm.  Perhaps the only true free period of time on the weekdays at boarding school, it was the slot between study hall and check-in (AKA you're in the dorm for the night OR ELSE) when you could play pool at the SUB (RIP, Student Union Building), eat vending machine candy, hang with your buddies, or MO with your SO.  Mostly good, clean fun, though subject to increasing restrictions since my graduation year.  Poor kids.  I mean, that was the only time I could justify talking to upper-class students (i.e. sophomores, juniors, and seniors) when I was a wee freshman.  Almost half of your time is spent walking across the campus, anyway.  Can't get in too much trouble.

Video courtesy of Ms. Catherine Robinson.  

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