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When I Was 21 - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
When I Was 21
On the night of August 21st, 1989, I left between the first and second films of a UC Theater double-bill, went back to the apartment I was still sharing with my already-broken-up-with-me girlfriend, packed a sweater and other sundries into my burgundy Cordura backpack, walked down to the BART station and boarded a train for San Francisco. Once I had arrived across the bay, I transferred to the MUNI streetcar's N-Judah line and rode it all the way to its terminus near the Pacific Ocean. During the hour I spent on that journey, I started reading Roland Barthes's S/Z for the first time, an experience I obliquely referenced in a previous entry about him.

After I'd disembarked from the streetcar, I wandered out to Ocean Beach -- I'd never been out that far in the City -- and pondered the rundown windmills across the Great Highway. I then spent the rest of the night wandering northeast, stopping briefly at the Cliff House and then heading inland. After a while, my fog-shrouded trajectory brought me to what I now realize was the Palace of Fine Arts, where I found a bench inside the courtyard, right behind Rodin's "Thinker," and started writing in a brand-new notebook I'd brought along with me. Eventually, I grew both too tired and too paranoid to stay in what was clearly a special place and continued my wanderings.

I spent a long time in a neighborhood I now recognize was Seacliff, then walked the similarly wealthy streets abutting the Presidio. Dawn brought me to the Marina. I made it over to the concrete steps -- maybe they were constructed as a bandshell, come to think of it -- and sat down for another writing session. It didn't last long, but my words were less scattered by fear than they had been at the museum:
I'm sitting on the weird concrete steps – the ones that look like part of something military – below Ghiradelli. The sun is coming out. The cove is beautiful. It was before too but sunlight does something to me. It's such a cliché, but it does warm not only the body but the soul. I walked here from Golden Gate Park, where I got off MUNI, through the weird, rich neighborhoods with the too-large houses built by the robber barons and their successors.

The sun just went back in. Two transients on promenade below, one pushing shopping cart full of belongings. One night out in the San Francisco cold and damp makes you realize how easy it would be for someone planning only to temporarily hide from society to grow so numb as to let him or herself become permanently marginalized. There were so many joggers at the Marina. Clouds clearing over in the East Bay it seems.

I can feel a pimple on my cheek. It always happens when I sweat and don't shower. I very much want to implode, to converge my whole being onto a single point so dense it swallows itself and becomes invisible – like a black hole, I guess. Triathletes, I think, swimming in the cove. It must be freezing. My legs are tired. I have blisters on my feet and my throat is sore. I seem to be catching cold. Maybe there is something to the old wives' tale.

What of A and D? I'm going to call as soon as she's at that benefit, i.e. circa 2:00pm, and leave her an update message to let her know I'm okay and am not coming home tonight. I also want to see if she changed the message to leave me one. This is all so fucked. The thing about imploding: I think my sister said it at the fireworks display the Fourth of July before last. No more sun and it's getting colder and damper once again. I checked out the Youth Hostel -- $10 a night. I could stay there one night. It's cheaper than a motel. I'd like to go someplace warmer, but I don't think Concord or Walnut Creek would be too hospitable to someone who looks like me. When I was in the Marina Safeway, I was going to buy cheddar cheese and orange juice, but summoned enough will to buy only mineral water. I have to keep some sort of regimen that makes me feel better about myself or I really will go insane.

Who am I trying to impress? A, obviously, but also that potential "someone else" in the future. Like I'll ever find one! I bet A will just assume I'm in El Cerrito the whole week and won't worry about me one iota. She's so caught up in short-term ecstasy. Drop out of grad school. I can't believe that was her saying that stuff. Maybe she's changed so much in the wake of her new "indefinite" relationship that – we can no longer relate on any levels.

Why am I so concerned about preserving my image? Or is it not an image, but really me that's in such total despair? Do I call it my "image" to avoid frightening myself with the reality of my own depression? Is it not the depression itself and not the need to maintain my image that brought me here last night? I really can't tell. I do know that my hand is cramping and that most of my subsequent writing today will have to be for the paper and not this journal. Tune in for the next installment!
I got up from the steps and walked over to the Boudin Bakery near the cable-car terminus, where I debated whether to eat something or not. I opted to keep depriving myself and set off up Columbus for the walk to the Embarcadero BART station. I stopped at Tower and City Lights along the way, though I didn't have money to buy anything.

By this time I was getting very tired, but I didn't want to go back to the apartment, where I presumed my ex and her new partner had been consummating their new romance, an activity that my continuing status as "roommate" had made difficult, since he didn't really have a fixed address. Once I got to the station, then, I took the N-Judah again, this time stopping in the Upper Haight, where I walked around for a bit before heading over to Golden Gate Park. I was sure I could find some place to sleep there. And I did, huddled in the shade of some large shrubs. But it was bright and loud, so I only managed to doze for a few minutes. Besides, I had to use the bathroom. I walked back to Haight and Stanyan, thinking that I could take advantage of the facilities at the McDonald's. Since San Francisco was already fixated on the problem with homelessness, though, the bathrooms were locked. I was too afraid to ask to be let in, since I was pretty rough looking by this point. So I waited by the door for someone to come out. It was a good lesson in feeling excluded from the "normal" world.

From there I walked down Haight, taking in the bitter aftertaste of the 1960s that I had once found sweet, and took the MUNI back downtown, where I finally called my ex. Predictably, she was annoyed at me for being so melodramatic and said so. But she also urged me to come back home, which I reluctantly agreed to do, even though I had made a vow never to sleep in her apartment again. I was moving out at the end of the month and figured I could wait it out. I was either weaker or more sensible than I'd hoped, though, and passed the remainder of my time at 1890 Arch Street, sleeping with her on her futon and even hanging out with her and her new partner, whom I'd always found a delightful person to be around. And then I moved out, forced to join an anarchist household in a tough part of North Oakland, where I felt judged for being too young, too naïve, and too politically tame. As it turned out, though, I ended up with positive memories of that place on 57th St. too, though, principally because I spent my first intimate moments with my next partner there. That, however, is a story I've already told in detail, here and here, and one which I'm not likely to retell for a long while.

Mode: Mein Messer mißt und vermißt mich.
Muse: You Belong to Me - Neko Case - (Live: 13-10-00 at the Hideout)

6 comments or Leave a comment
art_thirst From: art_thirst Date: July 23rd, 2005 08:58 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Maybe I should recall a bit more of why SF was so important for me... you got me thinking about it. My memories of SF are still pretty clear in my mind. I should go back for a visit soon.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 23rd, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes. It's a city that lends itself readily to mental mapping. I really like what you're doing with Miami Art Exchange BTW. I'm keeping every digit crossed that it gives you what you need to stay happy and healthy in that area. You deserve it.
From: marcegoodman Date: July 24th, 2005 08:04 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have especially enjoyed this entry and all of its linked siblings. It conjured the San Francisco I knew and loved quite beautifully and inspired my own little list of points of convergence.

1) Lost in Translation by way of S/Z reminded me that Barthes wrote his own Japan book, "Empire of Signs".
2) I just read an interview with Michael Hardt in which he speaks very fondly of Charles Altieri who responded to the first chapter of what was to be Hardt's dissertation by saying, "It's all wrong, it's completely all wrong, but it's very smart and that will be fine."
3) I once found a copy of a Yuji Oniki CD in the bargain bins at Rasputin's and traded it away too soon to have given it a fair listen.
4) Loveless+Tremolo+Glider continue to evoke my early nineties experience of SF so powerfully that I recently deluded myself into believing that this might be worth novelizing in some way.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 24th, 2005 08:30 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Now you are a thorough and very good reader! I love the Altieri story. The Oniki really grows on you. And MBV: sublime.

Let's get together soon.
From: marcegoodman Date: July 25th, 2005 02:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thank you for your kind words. Yes, we really should get together soon.

Here's the URL for the Hardt interview:


cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 25th, 2005 05:20 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks! I'm going to Richard Buckner at Plush this Wednesday. He's a favorite of mine.
6 comments or Leave a comment