Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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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.

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