Brunch time on Valencia
It is brunch time on Valencia when we leave Neighborhood Thrift to embark on the journey back to our new apartment. Brunch time on Valencia means throngs of people in sunglasses rove from coffee shop to coffee shop, empty mimosa glasses glitter on the patio tables, and a taco truck idles lazily on the street, a steady supply of customers feeding it. Our arms are fresh. The table is solid wood and rests on a dirty old dolly. The chairs are too wide for an armpit but too narrow for a fist. The day is hot, hotter than usual, even for a San Francisco winter, perhaps because of the drought. This is an important detail: we assuredly would not be sweating so profusely if this city’s winter were cold, as is more typical throughout most of the rest of world.
The walk signal is red, which affords us a good twelve feet of empty sidewalk across which to test our strength and balance. I imagine we must look like babies taking their first steps, though not in quite the same endearing baby fashion as we did twenty years ago. Our waddles are probably more evocative of penguins, or old men with back problems.
Within a few feet of exiting the thrift shop’s doorway, I hit a fire hydrant with my left chair, and Ryan jabs himself in the neck with the edge of the table. However, we soon calibrate our movements, wipe our brows, lift anchor and furniture, and begin navigating the treacherous route home.
There is a recent video bouncing around the internet of a woman who films the catcalls and stares she receives as she walks around New York. As we are about to cross the street to make for Tokyo House sushi on the other side, I suddenly feel that I can relate to her situation in a shallow kind of way. Not one person we pass neglects the opportunity to stare at us unabashedly, with looks tinged with pity, annoyance and interest. It is unnerving. Even the drivers waiting at the intersection stare boredly. After an eternity, we reach the opposite corner.
“Hey,” Ryan says, breathing heavily, “I think that girl just looked at you.” I swing around, and sure enough, I see a group of four girls across the street looking in our direction. Next to them in front of the old bookstore stands a white-haired man in his 60s rapping into a microphone about his old fat cat and his girlfriend’s socks, and he is staring at us too as he steps back and forth in front of his small speaker. There is also a woman a little farther down the street sitting by a bank’s doorway in a pile of newspapers and blankets, and she is staring up at us. And there is a table full of brunchers peering at us over their mugs and breakfast burritos. Everybody is staring.
“I don’t know,” I say, and swing back around, narrowly missing a chihuahua’s head with my right chair. The owner inhales sharply and mutters something about an asshole, presumably me, under her breath, as the little yellow brown rat yelps and pants. It is the most annoying noise I have ever heard. I readjust my sliding grip on the chair as the woman and her dog pass us huffily. “But,” I tell Ryan, “I think that old man is looking at you.”
Every ten feet the dolly hits a crack in the pavement and the table lurches a few centimeters to the right. Every twenty feet I put down my chairs and help Ryan reposition the table on the dolly, making sure to keep the protective table-scratch-prevention towel tucked away from the wheels, because jammed wheels could ultimately lead to a table-related tragedy. We press onward, slogging towards 14th street in the heavy heat. Ryan’s forehead has a glassy sheen to it and his forearms are visibly shaking. My shirt is drenched in sweat and the first traces of asthma are beginning to pinch my lungs. We are halfway down the block to 16th now, and 14th street is beginning to seem like a distant dream.
This is the point at which we slow down and come to a stop, and at which our journey encounters an unforeseen twist. A cluster of people mumble in the alleyway next to us, perched on stepladders and painting details on a mural. To our left a Mission dog vendor stands at the curb, slowly turning the sausages over on his griddle one by one. A group of hipsters with beads in their beards and coffees in their hands slide around us. The small span of sidewalk is seething with people.
“Grilled sausage?” Says the hot dog vendor. “Hot. Three dollars.”
“No thanks,” I say. “How about we switch?” I say.
“Fresh,” says the vendor, picking one up with his tongs.
“Yeah sounds good,” says Ryan. “No, not the hot dog,” he says to the vendor, who, crestfallen, places the hot dog, which he had extended hopefully to Ryan, back on the grill with a sizzle.
I lower my chairs to the pavement, contorting my arms and torso in order to set them down correctly on their legs. I stretch out and crack my elbows, then jump over to the table and sidle in at the dolly’s handles to take Ryan’s place. As I settle in behind my new charge I see chihuahua lady half a block away, coming back in our direction with a Lulu Lemon bag under her arm.
It’s the woman on the stepladder. She’s looking right at us, holding the dripping paintbrush up in midair as though she means to harpoon us with it.
“Google Twitter Facebook?” she says.
“No,” says Ryan, as he squirms past me to grab the chairs. I grunt as I roll the dolly forward slightly to lower the table to just above my pecs, so that I can better pinch my shoulders around it. “Just moving in? Feeling excited? Buying nice tables and chairs to put in your nice apartments?” The woman is wearing a black t-shirt and dark jeans and has a little butterfly tattoo on her left forearm.
At first I am so surprised that all I can manage is a “Yeah, just moving in.” Then, after thinking a bit, I add, “I’m loving it so far,” in an effort to display how much I love it, and thus endeavor to connect with her over this shared San Franciscophilia. I try to get a solid grip on the dolly, but its handle is also slightly too wide for my fist, and of course my armpits are completely out of the question.
“How cute. He’s loving it,” she says, and suddenly I notice that the mural she is painting is of a waiter putting some dishes out on a table. The words along the top of the drawing say WHITER AND WHITER TABLE CLOTHS. I suddenly wish I wasn’t wearing this shirt from last year’s San Francisco half marathon, because as she continues to stare at us I’m starting to feel more and more bougie, although the table is second or third-hand from a thrift shop and not very bougie at all. Our place is also not very obviously bougie, because we pretty much live under a freeway and opposite a dog park and next to a skateboard park. I guess our cactus could be considered bougie, but it livens the place up, and besides, we are in a pretty bad drought. But she doesn’t know all this, and “it is people like you that are killing this city’s vibe” is what she is thinking, I am sure.
I kick the table over a few millimeters to the right because it is drifting again, and wipe my left hand on my shorts to dry it. Through a drop of sweat, now I see the smaller text under the drawing and it says EVICTIONS EVERY DAY. “Fancy table, your dad pay for it?” said a short, fat man who I hadn’t seen standing next to her.
“Actually,” said Ryan, “We bought these old things at a thrift shop. Great deal!” I can tell he is trying to defuse the situation, and am glad he is thinking on his feet. My feet are glued to the ground by the weight of the table and I am not thinking on them very well at all. I am panting like a blow dryer, and my hands keep slipping on the dolly’s slick stained metal.
“Oh! A thrift shop!” Says the woman, and she flicks some white paint onto the table surface. I can’t do anything about this except wince as I watch the paint splatter across the table, on account of the table not being very conducive to quick evasive maneuvers. Some of the paint gets on my arm too. “Poor kids, can’t afford Bed Bath and Beyond.”
“Come on, let’s go,” says Ryan. “Yeah, let’s go,” says butterfly tattoo woman as she flicks her wrist and Jackson Pollocks another round of paint onto our table.
Ryan starts up and I slowly get the dolly rolling again with my hands gripping the handle as tightly as they can. I hear a yapping sound from somewhere behind my left calf and intuit that the chihuahua must be close at hand. The hot dog vendor is inhaling one of his sausages with big smacking and chewing sounds. “Get out of our city!” yells the short fat man from right behind me, and his hand hits my shoulder forcefully.
What happens next is that my right shoulder kind of droops a little under the impact of the fat man shoulder-slapping me, and my sweaty right hand slides right off the dolly handle. This means that there is no counterweight to the sidewalk’s slight incline, and the dolly starts veering to the left. I let out a yell and Ryan turns around just in time to see the table begin its slow yet inexorable tilt groundwards. I release the dolly entirely in the hopes of springing my hands onto the table itself, but it is too late and my sweaty hands cannot find any handhold, and Ryan is now jumping back to try to catch the table from the other side too.
The sound of chewing stops, the chihuahua barks shrilly, and I watch in horror as the table crashes through the hot dog vendor’s stand and breaks into three pieces over the edge of the curb and the chihuahua is definitely under one of the slabs of the table and is no longer yapping, and the hot dog vendor is standing next to the ruins of his stand with his mouth open and some half-chewed hot dog visible in it. As the Lulu Lemon woman screams “Oh my god!” and drops her bag to get down on her knees to reach under our thrift shop table for her chihuahua, which is probably a lot smaller than it was before, I look back up the street, past the fat man and past the butterfly tattoo woman, past the homeless woman in her doorway and past the mimosas glittering on the table tops, and past the group of brunchers staring at us through their sunglasses over their breakfast burritos, and in the distance I can see the fog is slowly starting to roll down into the Mission from Twin Peaks.
A sausage slowly rolls to a stop beside my foot. “Shit,” says Ryan.
- This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual people, places or events are purely coincidental.