I’ve been watching the couple at the other table for almost an hour now and neither has said as much as one word to the other. They just sit there drinking their coffee. I can’t tell. Can’t tell if they are so much in love and know each other so well that they don’t need to converse anymore; or if they hate each other’s guts; or, and I’d place my bet on this one – That they no longer have anything to say to each other and they’re just each other’s habits now. Worse yet is that they probably don’t know that the world is going to end in three years.
I started getting out of the cab when he turned around and handed me some papers on Jesus that for some reason he thought I’d actually be interested in. The cabbie tells me that according to his calculations the end of the world is coming in 2013. “What month?” I ask. “I dunno, maybe September.” “Maybe?” I asked, “Why hedge your bets now?” “Hey what the fuck is a few months either way,” he replied. “Right now I still gotta go to work tomorrow, and the day after that.” I wondered, given this new information, if that was necessarily true. I gave him a three-dollar tip and asked “So what do you think this will be worth in 2013?” He looked away and drove off, unsatisfied with either my tip or my question or both. Hell if I care – I’ve got better things to worry about in the three years I’ve got left.
So with my newfound perspective I go inside and hit the computer. No, I mean literally. I punched the damn thing and almost broke my hand. It kept asking me if I wanted to reboot, and I clicked no, and it kept asking me, so I clicked yes, then no, then yes, but it kept doing the same thing so I finally ended it with a “Reboot this, asshole!” Boy, I showed that baby, didn’t I? Now who’s boss? Mr. I-don’t-have-a-computer-anymore-cuz-like-a-fucking-idiot-I-punched-mine-to-smithereens, that’s who’s boss. I panic. What am I going to do without a computer? But then I thought well with the end of the world coming and all maybe it didn’t matter so much. I went for a drive instead.
I parked at Fisherman’s Wharf and took in the sea air and the music leaking out from Lou’s Blues Club with no one around me. Just how I like it. That’s how I want it to be in “I-dunno-maybe-September,” 2013.
When I was a kid I had no friends to speak of – They left me alone because they couldn’t figure me out. But here’s the thing: The same kids who kicked my ass in gym class would come up to me later when their friends weren’t around and tell me their problems. Don’t ask me why – It’s not like I ever reached out to them or welcomed them in any way. But for some reason I was a magnet for people with problems, people wanting advice, or just an ear. So I listened: Guys with girl problems, girls with guy problems. The fact that I couldn’t get a date to save my life didn’t seem to matter.
Nowadays I’m pretty good at putting the kebosh on that when I’m not working. I mean, hey, do you enjoy working on your time off? I try to avoid even telling people what I do. Inevitably someone will start telling me their problems, not as a friend, which I wouldn’t mind, but as a self-entitled consumer looking for free services. More frequently, and I just love this, are the ones who nervously ask some variation of “So are you analyzing me now?” Ok, you got me. You, in just a few seconds, have enraptured me to the point where I can barely hold back from delving into your psyche and fathoming your deepest motives, because I love working on my free time and because you are so special, unique and fascinating. Look folks, the truth is that I am naturally pretty basic in my social relationships. I stay present and interact and I don’t try to figure anybody out. I can’t even figure my own self out, so don’t worry, ok?
I got out of the car, walked toward some hip-hop coming from a corner bar and listened for awhile, watching the pretty people come and go. I love watching drunk girls walk around in high heels. They look funny. You can’t be drunk, wear 6” spikes and look sexy, but you sure can look funny.
I drove out to Chrissy Field where I just sat looking at the sky listening to Puccini’s La Rondine, my first opera. Celestial. My eyes closed, thoughts drifting:
I had taken the subway to Queens and got there early, so I thought I would kill some time at the library. She came over and asked if I would help her find a book. I don’t even remember the category or type of book she was looking for, but I remember her long sandy-brown hair partly covering her left eye and her off-white sweater with a long piece of dust on the left shoulder. She wore a small silver cross around her neck and a Mickey Mouse watch – 10:23.
I frantically drudged up from my cognitive recesses what little I knew about the Dewey Decimal system and found the book for her. She was wearing sandals – tan sandals, and faded jeans down to mid-ankle. Her smile revealed braces on her top row of teeth. Not the bottom.
She thanked me profusely. I wanted to ask for her phone number, or if she wanted to have a Coke with me or something. But I didn’t.
The entire interaction took less than fifteen minutes. I think of it often. It happened over thirty years ago.
La Rondine is an unusual opera in that nobody dies. At least until 2013, I imagine. After the second act I shifted into gear and went home. I found this 70’s movie on TV about mutant freaks who take over the world and the cops who kill them. Is that how it’s gonna be?
It’s not that I don’t like interacting with people. I just prefer it on my own terms. Sometimes I’m asked to fax a report to the courthouse. Instead I have my morning espresso and walk to City Hall. San Francisco’s a small town so I usually run into one or two people that I know along the way. I pick up a newspaper (from the store, not the dispenser) and stop for breakfast: Eggs, bacon, but always fruit instead of potatoes. As I get closer to Civic Center I enjoy watching all the hustle and bustle: The self-appointed parking guides, the makeshift food trucks, the politicians, the lawyers – Especially those lady lawyers in their suits with their glasses on and their hair up. One time I ….Uhm, never mind. Then I go into the courthouse, hand in my report and chat for a few minutes with people I’ve known for years – face to face. We talk about our lives, families and travels. On the way out I stop and get a hot dog at that little stand in Civic Center Plaza and look at whatever protesters happen to be out that day.
That’s why I don’t own a fax machine or a cellphone.
So, having rendered myself cyberless, the next morning I took my coffee to the window instead of the computer desk and watched the boats sailing in and out of the bay. I thought about the day ahead, the work that was due last week, the people I didn’t want to have to deal with, the phone calls I didn’t want to return, having to shell out a lot of money for a new computer and how badly my hand hurt from punching out the old one.
But hey, what the hell, it’s not the end of the world or anything, right?
Dr. Bill, 2010