Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I lost two loves in San Francisco, one of them a great love.

Whenever I drive by where the Armadillo used to be, on Fillmore and Waller, I remember him with the pool stick over his shoulder, us walking hand-in-hand by the projects, he so new and then so old here. The pit bulls tied to signposts never snapped at us. He beat Tony at pool and then started gardening with him for clients in Pacific Heights. One day he brought home a rubber plant from Mrs. MacGowan's house, and nothing could kill it.

Missy, our cockatiel, took grains of rice from his pursed lips. He'd let Missy out of her cage and for a long time she'd just sit on the top of it, dazed by her freedom. Then she'd swoop to his wide shoulder, where she'd feel secure.

The ground was always shaking.

There were four Olympics in four different cities and once when I watched them I nearly vomited from being so in love, and wrapped in his hair and arms and smell. I met him at the airport when he first came, and I wore a yellow shirt with a pattern of white and pink blossoms, and he rushed to hold me and neither one of us could say a word.

He looked different. He smelled like coconut.

Sometimes when the light turned green on Market Street, he'd make his face look like an old man mask and throw his limbs askew and run across the street, laughing and laughing. He taught me names of native California plants and how to hold birds, so tightly and so loosely.

His first job was in a flower shop.

On his first day, a streetwalker conned him into giving her a dozen roses he was to deliver to someone else.

"They're for me!" she laughed, and he was new here and handed her the flowers because he believed her.

He bought fake gold on Market Street, out of newcomer's greed and stupidity and openness. He learned how to walk like a native. He could hide his tropical sway, which was often misinterpreted. We had a garage sale once when we lived on Fair Oaks and he changed into a red wool dress of mine, because he wanted to and it looked beautiful. And he kept selling our batik jackets very politely in his red wool dress, and not one customer even mentioned it, it being San Francisco.

We were part of a little Balinese community which had its own banjar where little white and black and brown kids learned the legong dance, and one could go to garden parties where Americans wearing sarongs sat cross-legged playing the tinkling notes of gamelan, and all the men from Bali held the babies, and we ate suckling pig on paper plates.

I felt at home.


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