A San Francisco Dawn

The sky is just beginning to change as I pull into the parking lot of Twin Peaks. It was dawn in San Francisco. This is not something that I normally experience. I work nights and generally do not get up until around ten in the morning. I was wide awake at five in the morning and could not sleep any more. So I thought I would get up and see what the sunrise looked like. This would be a new experience for me. I normally put the city to bed; watch it close down for the night, get quieter and quieter. This would be different. I would see it come to life. It would be a real treat for me, but not something that I would want to do daily. I like to sleep late, like to stay up late.

There were only two cars in the parking lot when I got there. Both cars looked empty, but just as I passed one car, the brake lights came on. Thinking the occupants would want to continue with their privacy, I headed to the far end of the lot and parked.

The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was the large crow cutting through the early morning air, his call piercing the quiet. For most of the time I was there he kept circling the area. It seemed to be a very large crow, the largest I had ever seen, and as black as coal. He would swoop and soar, his distinctive call breaking the silence, the only other sound the wind. He seemed to be bothered by me standing there, watching. I got the impression he was upset I was intruding on his area. Several times as he flew by, by what seemed to be no more than ten or fifteen feet away, I got the feeling that he was checking me out, twisting his head to get a good look at me. After the fly-by, he would fly to the top branch of the closest tree, a tall and stately pine, and land on the slim branch and give his throaty call. Was he telling me he wanted me to leave, was he calling on others of his kind or what?

It was a cold and windy San Francisco morning. I was bundled up in gloves, stocking cap, sweatshirt and a thickly lined windbreaker and was still cold. In the crisp early morning air, I kept struggling to keep warm, to not get chilled. When the first lone jogger appeared, I was surprised to see that he was wearing only a T-shirt and running shorts. I got colder just watching him, even though I knew that as long as he kept moving, he was probably warmer than I was. It was not long before there were more runners, early morning risers, trying to get the daily exercise in before they headed to the office towers in the distance. What a treat it must be to jog this hill, the very center of The City, with some of the most spectacular views in The City. I watched them come in pairs, sometimes in groups of three or four. And many more single joggers.

They would glide easily up the twisting road to the top, flow effortlessly across the asphalt of the parking lot and then back down, some cutting through paths formed long ago by other joggers. I imagined them getting back home, the blood flowing, the adrenal coursing through their veins. Once home, there would be hot steamy showers, freshly brewed coffee and a hearty breakfast. These were not the people to grab a breakfast bar and head for work. These people would sit down and have a real old fashioned breakfast. They needed something to replenish the fuel they had consumed in the morning mist.

Suddenly I could hear the squeal of tires, the sliding of rubber on the road. The road to the top of Twin Peaks is a true mountain road, lots of twists and turns, switchbacks and a constant rise. And here was someone with a SUV, what the industry calls a sport utility vehicle. I call them UAV, Urban Assault Vehicle. The driver must have thought he had a sports car because he was trying to drive it like one. He would gun it on the short straight section of road, only to have to hit the brakes hard when he came to the tight curves, not even trying to stay in his own lane, crossing back and forth across the double yellow line. The vehicle never did appear in the parking lot and I did not hear the crash and crunch of metal as it went down the other side, so I assume they made it safely down the other side, avoiding the joggers and small wild life that were beginning to appear on the roads.

Finally after what seemed like hours of waiting in the cold wind, the sun began to peak over the horizon. Before it actually could be seen, the sky went through several different colors and hues. The clouds were all grey before the sun. There were light grey clouds, dark grey clouds and several shades between, probably depending on the percentage of moisture in the clouds. In the early morning dim light, they all seemed threatening, looking for the right spot to drop their load of moisture. The sky began to get brighter, the grey changing to pastel. As the light level increased, the color went from grey to deep purple, the purple changing to pink, never missing a shade or hue between the two colors. The pink would soon turn to a golden yellow. Finally the sun edged its way up over the clouds in the distance, the edges of the cloud directly in front of the sun turning to liquid fire, the cloud seemingly alive, the sunlight streaming through something that was just a few minutes ago threatening and grey, now a brilliant yellow, almost alive.

The jet stream may have been carrying all these clouds over the bay area, but there was a thick fog that hung over the tip of Mt Tam. That fog was hiding the mountain top when I got here and it was still there when I left. The clouds had passed over the area, the jet stream forcing them quickly from the northwest to the southeast. But all the time the fog just clung to the peak, never revealing the mountain hidden behind this white veil. I always thought that fog was just a cloud that touched the earth, but this was different. The clouds were all grey and the fog on the mountain was white. Thick, fluffy and white. Not pure white, not hospital white, more like a dirty eggshell white.

For off into the distance of the East Bay hills I could see the string of headlights of autos emerging from the Caldecott tunnel, snaking their way down the hills, the road turning first to the right, then the left, in long gentle arcs. These were the early morning commuters, heading for the towns of the East Bay, The City and toward Silicon Valley. The lights formed a continuous line down the hill and across the Bay Bridge. I wondered what it would be like to have to drive that each and every morning, to put up with the continuous traffic. I looked at the lights, then down at the city streets, practically deserted, with only a few cars as yet moving about. Soon the streets of the Financial District streets would be crowded, the cars jockeying for position, the blare of horns and shouts filling the morning air.

Of all the buildings downtown there seem to be two that are stretching for the sky, both trying to be the tallest, one trying to outdo the other. From where I stood, they both were the same height, neither one winning. One was the huge monolith of the Bank of America building and the other was the tapering tower of the TransAmerica Pyramid. Both buildings of controversy, both hated when they were first built, one of them now a symbol of the skyline of The City. The Bank of America building was one of the first buildings that did not use white or light colors for the outer sheeting. The marble was dark and made the building look overpowering, humbling.

Even the sculpture at the base was dark, very dark. Black marble to be exact. It was a shapeless, formless thing that looked like a rock, and had gotten the unflattering title, not official title, of “The Bankers’ Heart.” The TransAmerica Pyramid was constructed right after the city put a limit on the height of a building. That limit was based on the ratio of the total number of square feet in the building to the size of the lot. TransAmerica got away with the height of this building when they tapered the building into the Pyramid shape. They could conform to the building codes and still have a building that would actually be taller than the Bank of America building. Because it was built on lower ground, from my vantage point, they looked to be the same height.

Off to the left of the financial distract I could barely make out the beautiful Coit Tower. It seemed to be peaking from behind one of the high-rise apartment buildings, looking almost like a child that was playing hide and seek. The tower is at the top of Telegraph hill, built to commemorate the efforts of the fire fighters of The City. The money to build it was from the estate of Lily Hitchcock Coit. Her life was saved by fire fighters when she was just a child. From that day on, she hung out with firemen, drank and smoked with them, even riding or chasing the fire engines to fires. This was at a time when women were not allowed to be fire fighters, were looked down at and scorned if they smoke or drank in public. Just another example of the type of independent thinkers this city has always attracted.

As the daylight increased, the dull grey-green colors of the city were changing. The winter rains encouraged the growth of everything and The City was a healthy green. This began to show through the early morning hours, the fresh morning moisture laden air bathing the dust and dirt from the trees and plants, the vibrant green showing through.

The view from the parking lot of Twin Peaks is almost 360o. If it were not for the other peak of Twin Peaks, it would be. Looking west is the Sunset district of the city, stretching for about three or four miles to the edge of the continent, the Pacific Ocean lapping on the beach. To the northwest is the Golden Gate Bridge, the dull orange towers looking like an Art Deco erector set, connecting two pieces of land reaching toward each other. That narrow inlet is busy with boats and ships all year long. This was the bridge that could not be built, the very symbol of The City.

Just before the sun actually come over the horizon, with the sky beginning to brighten, a news helicopter from one of the local TV stations darted across the sky. It look so tiny and helpless, the sound almost like one of the remote controlled model planes. I looked around to see if there was someone there controlling this toy, this mechanical insect buzzing through the morning sky.

People are so lazy. There are numerous trash cans here and yet they throw their cups and litter off the edge, into the brush. Since this place is visited mostly by tourist, I wonder if they would treat their own home towns this way. I could never understand how someone could carry something in filled with food, yet when they have eaten, when it is lighter and takes up less room, and they do not want to carry it out, they just toss it. And I was not more than thirty feet from a trash can.

It was a very cold night, and windy as well. I was bundled up warmly but I was still cold. The sun had not arrived yet to warm the place, to have its’ rays bath upon you and feel its warmth. The wind was strong and biting, stinging the eyes and the ears, the tips of the fingers.

Night rain had cleared the atmosphere, yielding a crystal clear sky. The rain had not been strong. It was just enough to cleanse the air, to have this crystal clear morning.
As the sun rose above all the clouds, I could feel the warmth from the rays. The joggers were gone, the streets were beginning to fill with cars heading off to the places they needed to go.

The crow had just done another fly-by, closer than all the others. As he flew by, it seemed he did not want somebody like me disturbing his (or her) existence. Besides, I had seen the sunrise. As I turned to walk back to the car, this lone crow gave out a call that drew several other crows. It seems they had won. They buzzed and circled the area, joyous in their victory of driving me from their realm.

Family

Webster defines family as:

1: Persons of common ancestry 2: Group living together 3: parents and children 4: group of related individuals

At the age of seven, I defined family as:

 1:The Walton’s 2: The Brady Bunch 3: The Jefferson’s 4: Good Times

However, my family did not look or act like TV families. We did not grow up on a mountainous range but on a concrete, brick and brownstone block in Park Slope, Brooklyn before it was super chic to live here. Had no idea the suburbs existed with family rooms and dens and a “deluxe apartment in the sky” that came with a Doorman did not thrive in the “ghetto”.  Eventually, I came to understand the difference between “the ghetto” and “the projects”. None. Like peanut butter cups with chocolate or M&M’s with the candy coating- one does not exist without the other.  

Family defined by me as an adult is a group of fragmented, mentally ill, alcoholics (some) and sexually frustrated (most) peoples strewn together not by choice but as Webster further defines- forced to co-exist with some civility and respect. Describes my family nicely although respect is optional and civility must be enforced at times. I will  include the word ‘dysfunctional’ which,  translates to, “Severely messed up”and/or “Non-repairable”. Mí familía would not rate on the top ten lists, composed by a good psychologist, as the family most damaged and/or fragmented. We are the product of our roots, which started as seedlings and shaped by environments and genetic components. What we longed to become, we did not.  

My family serves as a marker, a validation of non-existence within the group, for my position as the youngest placed me in the “seen and not heard” category. Number four is ‘the loneliest number’.

Cliches

This piece was the final writing assignment from a multi-week writing class. It was to be between 1,500 and 2,000 words and was to include as many clichés as we could. We could choose any subject we wanted. I chose the writing class itself and in particular, the final assignment.

This class is to be our fifteen minutes of fame but that sounds too much like a cliché. I am still working on eliminating often used and unnecessary phrases, the excess baggage, from my words. This cutting of worthless modifiers must be done carefully. If it is not, Hamlet’s famous soliloquy would end up being “Or Not”. During the past few weeks, I’ve listened intently, taped all the lectures, took notes, wrote to writing partners and read in front of class. Now, here at the last week, at the drop of a hat, with no prior warning, we are suppose to shine, to show what we have learned. This is the final essay, when we can drop a bombshell, or roll out the big guns. In the last but not least session of this class, we are supposed to inject a breath of fresh air into our words.

            We all stuck it out, no one bit the dust. During these weeks I learned that every part of your life is grist for the mill, fodder for the cannons. Everyone got personal, told secrets of themselves, but no one rocked the boat. We stayed at the helm to the end, all of us going down to the wire.

            No one came to class drunk as a skunk or high as a kite. All our words were interesting because no one slept like a log during a reading. We were all adults, therefore, no need to treat each other with kid gloves. Nothing was revealed in our writing that turned the world upside down and no one told anybody to go jump in the lake. Through our words, our work, we got to know each other like an open book, backwards and forwards, almost like the back of our own hands.

            After our first class, the reading sequence was set. We would not have to pick a number when we read, instead relying on where we sat the first night. Occasionally one of us would read something that would be shot full of holes by the others. Each of us in turn listened to the comments, none of us squealing like a stuck pig. Reading your own work in front of a class could cause butterflies in your stomach and occasionally you could detect nervousness in the readers’ voice.

            Because of the different stories read in class, stories that told it all, many with no holds barred, there was never a dull moment. This openness in our work gave us permission to write freely, almost a feeling of anything goes. Reading our work gave each of us a chance to soar like an eagle, to ride like the wind. Occasionally we were rolling in the aisle because someone read a piece that was as funny as hell.

            No one got mad as a wet hen. Many of the pieces were read tongue in cheek, and with some revising will stand the test of time. During a reading we were all quiet as a mouse, which I know is a tough row to hoe when someone is trying to make a silk purse from a sows’ ear. There may have been slim pickings in some of the material but none of us threw in the towel.

            Because of differing styles of writing there was often a fine line between right and wrong in our words. There were common themes, universal subjects in most of the work. Some read pieces with subjects and ideas that many would not touch with a ten foot pole. When preparing and revising our essays, we would sometimes get in a rut. When that happened, looking for your own errors was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

            Hopefully we have learned from this experience and our work, our words, will sell like hot cakes after this class. Maybe what we write will strike a responsive chord. Maybe there will be readers that like our prose and that will encourage us to become more varied and not always sing the blues.

            None of us are as dumb as doornails. Taking this class, doing the work required for the past few weeks, proves that we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to improve, to be sly as a fox. This dedication proves we will stand behind the eight ball no matter what the odds. Many of us will work so hard that it will seem like we are burning the candle at both ends. We will send pieces out we are not sure should be sent out, feeling like we are jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But we will improve, the more we write the easier it becomes, eventually the ideas for essays becoming as numerous as flies.

            We will not walk softly in this endeavor. We will not be meek as lambs but strong as an ox at this chosen path. From a sitting position either at our desk or at our computer, we will treat each idea like a hot potato. Some of these ideas will be easy and our words will hit the nail on the head. Other essays will not evolve so easily, but because we do not want to play second fiddle, you can bet your bottom dollar we will keep our nose to the grindstone. After all, with this class, the die is cast

            If we will just continue our straight and narrow path down this primrose lane, we will find there are many avenues to explore. Eventually, maybe sooner than expected, each of us will hit pay dirt. When this time comes it will be like a shot in the arm. This could result in our doing a land office business because we have written a run-a-way best seller. Everyone in this class should do it now before the chickens come home to roost. I know I will leap the hurdle and prove that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

            There is time for all of us to write since none of us are as old as methuselah. Some in the class just started writing and others have been writing since they were knee high to a grasshopper. When we write, if we do not harp on a theme, then we should not hit a sour note. We must be careful for it could be our road to ruin.

            During the past few weeks, with weekly essays and ideas for writing partners, I tried to get started early, to finish my essay as soon as possible because the early bird gets the worm. I have to admit some of my essays were fired off in anger. Some of my writings were so bad I wonder why no one smelled a rat. The change in tone was often the fly in the ointment for some of my essays.

            I take these classes because I want to leave no stone unturned, will leave nothing left undone in my quest to become a better writer. The reason I took this class was to turn over a new leaf since I am no longer willing to straddle the fence and watch the grass grow.

            I sometimes think I should never be doing this, self doubt creeps in and I feel this is like beating a dead horse. I should stop, that perhaps it would be better to let sleeping dogs lie. I write constantly but fear that I am making much ado about nothing. I worry that my words will become like a white elephant, something readers will shun like the plague. Perhaps I should just bite the bullet, beat a retreat and accept the fact that my work will be as welcome as ants at a picnic. Sometimes I feel that what I am doing is like putting a square peg in a round hole. I know that sounds like sour grapes.

            Eventually the swing of the pendulum will prove that all dogs have their day if they just toe the line and refuse to be fenced in. I feel I have passed the test of time. If I have any talent I will not look a gift horse in the mouth, but instead I will fire a barrage of work, and in so doing make hay while the sun shines. I am going to get into writing hook line and sinker, and launch a campaign while I am able. My chances of becoming a best selling author may be as long as a country mile but my desire is growing like a weed. I want to write at ninety miles per hour because I am not willing to let sleeping dogs lie if you see what I mean. Before I am over the hill and have bought the ranch, I want to see a book of mine sell like hot cakes when it is hot off the press. Now that I am out of the closet, I want to hit the road, find myself in the middle of nowhere. I have to work at this because staying home and feathering my nest will produce nothing but a sea of red ink.

            With that in mind I am going to toss my hat into the ring, cut a wide path with a full head of steam and prove that I am not ready to be put out to pasture, that you truly can teach an old dog new tricks. With all my friends dropping like flies, and before I am dead as a doornail, its an open and closed case that I should be writing about these people, that doing so will not bite the hand that feeds you but will present a horse of a different color to many that are blind as a bat. Some of the things I will write about may make your skin crawl, but at least the reader will get the picture. You got a problem with that?

            To do nothing would be like walking the plank, so I have to man the pumps, commit these lives to history because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so to speak. It will be easier for me to pass through the eye of a needle than to write about my friends because I have always believed that silence is golden. Through my words I will paint a broad canvas of their lives, proving that birds of a feather do flock together, that after years of living with each other, these couples were like two peas in a pod. Many of my friends’ lives were E-ticket rides, often moving around the country with no advance warning because a rolling stone gathers no moss. Others were cute as a button and had friends in high places proving that politics makes strange bedfellows. This work may fire a shot over the bow for some and become a fly in the ointment of others, but before the-you-know-what hits the fan, my words will flow like greased lightening, giving my friends memory a new coat of paint. I can create this work here where I live now because a man’s home is his castle, or from any old port in a storm. Since what I say goes, and before I run out of steam, I will start this project. It will be printed only, no video, no film at eleven. Some still living do not want their stories told, and have threatened me by saying “over my dead body,” but there is no stopping me now, its full steam ahead.

Father’s Day June 18, 2000-excerpt

Today I called the “semen donor” in Jamaica. The one usually referred to as, my “mother’s husband”, “that man”, “what’s his name again?” Yes, Mr. Noel Emanuel Walsh and the terms of endearment used to acknowledge an emotional void absentee father. Mom loved to irritate me by occasionally responding to those terms of endearment with, “You mean your father? “, overly emphasizing “father”.

In contradiction to my usually controlled, reserved way of getting things done, the placing of the call in itself was a spontaneous, spur of the moment decision. With the ringing of the phone line and the connection established, mi Alma (my soul) pulsated through bouts of hurt, happiness, pain and joy fused and twisted like a Twizzle licorice stick.

William, my eleven-year old half-brother, answered the phone with his Jamaican accented voice. Although my half-brother had yet to meet me, I have known him for years through bits of gossip on the semen donor. I knew what school he was attending, how he lived on the land, his features and his mother’s menopausal pregnancy by way of my cousin Joyce. Mom and Joyce would hold quiet conversations about Noel E. that included William and the hush tones fueled my curiosity through the years. Did he look like us, how was his personality? We’d have to meet eventually although I figured, the meeting would occur after my father’s death.

When my brother answered the phone, I asked to speak with Mr. Walsh and after politely asking me to hold he placed the phone down and called him. I heard his slippers shuffling towards the phone. “Hello” he answered in a voice strained with age. “I’m your youngest daughter, Elena. Do you remember who I am?” “Of course I know who you are”, he replied and the guard rail around mi Alma cracked and the residue of past wounds were comforted by recognition from a long absent father made everything okay. We spoke for an hour and made plans to meet during my travel to Jamaica within the coming week. I was an emotional mess at the end of the call and questioned what had the most effect: the shock of reaching out to Dad on Father’s Day or he remembering who I was.

“He remembers me,” I cried to mom.
“Why shouldn’t he?” she said.
“We’ve set plans to meet when I arrive in Jamaica”.
“You made plans to meet?” mom questioned.
“I’m going to see my Dad”, I cried.

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