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The Paris of the West


Dat H. Dang


Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2009 © Dat H. Dang

December struck once again and it was time to go. I was twenty-two and tired and only two things interested me at this point: Tessa & writing shorts. Tessa was my girl and she and I were going to San Francisco. I had gone many times before but this was the first in which I’d venture to San Fran with a girl of my own. I was in my fifth year of college--a disappointing system of southern California academia ravished by waves of State Budget cuts, bludgeoned by troublesome “furlough” days. After an awful finish, starving a mediocre academic performance at best, I found my senses dulled after I had submitted the final assignments of the semester, which I tell you were pesky and arduous assignments, barely meeting deadlines. The projects I had been working on my own time, mainly several unfinished shorts, required a lot of energy and time. The workload of two required courses--one being a survey of old British literature and the other a Bible studies class--kept my energies and my hours at dangerously low levels. Too low to produce a quality short. It pained Tessa to see me forlorn and so suggested we plan a vacation and go immediately after the semester. She didn’t like that I wasn’t writing and that I was too distracted by the academic obligation of handling busywork. “Just like how you were before going to Moabi,” she said. “You just need your focus back, baby. I’m sure you just need a little trip somewhere to get your mind off things. Let’s go to San Fran, Charlie. Let’s go to San Fran this winter.” After receiving the lowest grades ever in college I immediately packed and called the bank (where I was working at the time) to have the weekend of the 19th off so Tessa and I could disappear from Orange County for the weekend and come back in time to spend Christmas with our families. When that Saturday came my good friend Andrew Iori came to pick us up and drop us off at the airport. More on Andrew later. On the way to the airport he told us he was going to Houston to see his brother and his family and that he was staying till Christmas day. I hugged him and thanked him and then Tessa hugged him too. We both said goodbye to Andrew and as he drove away I could see him lipping, “woo!” and smiling jovially from the rearview. We looked for our terminal. It would be my first time flying on Virgin. We checked in and got to the entrance of the plane. Tessa went ahead and glanced back to see if I was looking at the Korean flight attendant who was pretty and thin and curvy. When Tessa did this, coincidentally, the flight attendant turned and smiled innocently and cutely. “Hi,” the flight attendant said. “Happy to have you aboard, sir.” The top two buttons on her shirt were unbuttoned, accentuating her ripe breasts. They were very nice; I tried not to look but Tessa knew I had and was okay with it. “I know you saw that but it’s all right,” Tessa said. “Even I couldn’t stop looking. I mean, I’m not bi or anything but she was kind of sexy, wasn’t she?” I nodded mildly and proceeded to find empty space for our carryons. This was typical Tessa. Tessa and I were a recent thing but she had known me for over half of the years of my life. Thus she understood my taste in women. She had witnessed them come and go and she knew better than to get jealous. Especially for something as senseless as admiring another beautiful woman. Tessa knew I found too many things beautiful. We sat down. The clean and purple lighting in the dim of the passageway eclipsed a vibe of classy lounge we both liked very much. Digital touch screens with access to television, movies, music, and even a map with GPS navigating our exact location were fixed into the backseat of every chair. As I sat erect sipping on ginger ale which Tessa also got I thought of how far airplanes have come from merely having just a phone to make calls from the air to having unrestricted access to every searchable resource in the world, all at the touch of your finger. From Brad Pitt to Mozart & Taylor Swift to the Taliban, information was just literally floating in the air for you to claim. The thought of this was strange and worried me a little so I turned it off and pulled out Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD and started reading profusely. I got through about ¾ of the book by the time when we landed. We took the BART to POWELL ST. where our hotel was. The fare was $8.10 and I didn’t have change so the 90¢ would eventually fall to waste since I’d lose it on the way to PARC 55 Hotel where we were staying. The air was frigid and merry and as we looked through Union Square we saw an ice rink that was filled with a sea of people who looked to be having a jolly time. In front of MACY*S stood an epic tree that had been handsomely decorated. “Look at that tree, honey,” I said. “It’s HUGE!” Tessa smiled and said that the tree we saw in LA was the biggest in the States. She looked over to Saks Fifth and immediately was disappointed. “They usually do stuff for the holidays like put up lights. I don’t know why they didn’t this year.” “It’s December, honey,” I said. “They probably don’t want to go into the New Year paying December’s electric bill.” Shortly thereafter we arrived at PARC 55. “Your name please?” the concierge girl inquired. “Wolfe. Charlie Wolfe,” I told her. The concierge girl informed me that my original room was no longer available due to the holiday season but that another one was. “Mr. Wolfe, the room I have for you has two full-sized beds,” the concierge girl said. “Is this okay?” Tessa and I both shrugged and I said yes. It would’ve been too inconvenient otherwise. “Mr. Wolfe, your original room will be available tomorrow morning. You can change rooms at no extra cost if you like. Just call the front desk tomorrow and we’ll gladly arrange it for you.” The concierge girl smiled and gave us two keycards. “Your room number is 420 and is located on the 4th floor. Enjoy your stay, Mr. Wolfe.” I was happy with her service but Tessa really didn’t see why we needed two beds. “It’s all right, babe, we’ll just pretend it’s the 50s... I’ll push the beds together and that will be the end of it. We’ll be like Lucy & Ricky, only behind closed doors. HA! What a funny room number indeed... hehehe.” Once we got to the 4th floor it was hard for me to remember we were at a hotel in San Francisco and not a casino in Vegas. The deprecating odor of cigarette smoke blanketed the air and since Tessa and I weren’t smokers--of tobacco that is--the air would be rather troublesome to breathe. Accessing our room brought immediate but temporary relief. By now we were starved and decided to venture within a mile radius for a good hotdog. We came across a hotdog stand called Stanley’s Steamers located on the corner of Post & Stockton St. My initial objective was to locate, obtain, and possess a chili cheese dog w/ extra onions. This place had no such thing. Wasting away with hunger and without much thought I ordered the very first item on the list, which was what the stand was called itself, the Stanley Steamer; Tessa had been looking at the menu while I was in chilidog distress and sagaciously chose the Firedog. When our dogs were handed to us I took a bite of mine and then took a bite of Tessa’s and knew instantaneously that I had made the wrong choice. The Stanley Steamer was known to locals as ‘a clean dog’--the leanest and most ‘healthful’ choice on the menu. Although it wasn’t very bad, I was in no mood for what this did to the taste. It was flavor censorship. Tessa’s Firedog on the other hand was an artery-clogging Cajun-infused 100% all-beef orgasm. “That ought to teach you not to be too hasty,” Tessa said. “I didn’t understand why you’d choose so fast. I figure if you were THAT adamant about it you might’ve known something I didn’t so HA!” Tessa was right in every way possible and I just shrugged and we walked along Union Square eating our hotdogs embracing the holiday air. By 8pm we were beat. After finishing our hotdogs Tessa was satisfied; I wasn’t. We went about observing the shops and people. I told Tessa I wanted a slice of pizza so we stopped by a quick fixin’ pizzeria on the way back to PARC 55. I took a pepperoni & mushroom slice to go for $4 when on the way back something queer happened. An African bum who displayed very masculine features wearing feminine and flamboyant rock & roll fashion (mainly a raggedy black leather jacket and tattered jeans) asked for a bite of my pizza. All that sounded from my mouth was a “mMm” since I had already been voraciously gorging on my pepperoni & mushroom pizza slice. I felt this deed incredibly rude--even for a bum--and told the bum I was sorry and offered him a slice for his own gastronomic perversions. To our surprise the African bum refused. He told me it wasn’t necessary and that I had a kind heart and to not waste its energies on anyone but my family and the pretty lady next to me. I told him “you bet” and as we walked away I saw the bum mark on a clipboard he had kept under his bucket seat. I would later learn that he was an actor conducting research and was taking notes of the various reactions he received on his encounters with other bums and tourists. Back at the hotel Tessa grew tired and decided to take a hot shower. Doing so steamed the windows and when it did I wrote “SEX” in big letters for everyone outside to see. I took a hot one right after her and by 10pm we were too beat to venture anywhere else. We decided to call it a night and watch TV and spoon. When I finally got the TV to work (I was using the wrong remote for nearly twenty minutes) and flipped through the channels I was amused noticing the breaking news headline at the bottom of the screen. Apparently earlier that day there had been a fortune cookie factory in Oakland thought to be closed for over a year that was busted by the DEA and local officials in a secret covert operation that had taken months to plan. Reporters were saying the factory was used as an epic pot warehouse estimated to contain a thousand marijuana plants worth half a million dollars at street value. “Look honey,” I said. “There’s been some kind of bizarre mishap at cookie factory.” I continued on. “Funny that’s the first thing to appear when we turn on the TV. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s like they’re apprehending the local Jesuses for selling faith... in the form of a blunt.” Tessa was unimpressed. She was a Catholic and this offended her. “Blasphemous pig,” she said. “I think you sleep on that bed tonight. Yes, that one over there.” I turned over and told her I was sorry and it was all right. We spooned and made love till about 2 in the morning when she grew tired and fell asleep before me. That night I would toss and turn and not realize the influx of cigarette smoke that was circulating through the vents, into our room. I eventually fell asleep but by morning the air in the room had grown musty and stale with tobacco and we woke up congested and fraught with unease. My insides were thick with mucous and finally the idea of changing to another room seemed wise. While I showered, Tessa had phoned the concierge for the request. Our new room was now on the 7th floor of room 751. It was a non-smoking room with a rather captivating view with one king-sized bed this time. It wasn’t until noon when we strolled about to have breakfast at Honey Honey Café & Creperie down Post St. between Mason & Taylor. Tessa ordered a Miami Heat crepe, a chicken-and-cheddar-and-avocado-and-scallion crepe, topped with a spicy salsa that devilishly possessed Tessa’s tongue. As I sipped on some water my crabcake sandwich came, accompanied by scrumptious rosemary potatoes but a second-rate Caesar salad. “They didn’t give you any kind of sauce for your sandwich?” Tessa asked me. “That sucks!” And it did suck. Not even a measly ounce of tartar or the zest of cocktail sauce. Hell, not even some lemons for squeeze. The sandwich tasted bland but it was all right. Though we were full as hell I insisted to go shopping for I was in dire need of new pantalones. I only had one good pair of denim jeans and was ecstatic to find two new pairs at 50% off at H&M. One was for $10 and the other I bought for work was $20. “Woo!” Tessa was indifferent--she couldn’t find anything worth her fancy there. We then strolled over to GAP and then URBAN OUTFITTERS where she found a cute jacket. That was when the great musicman Dirk Olivetti phoned me and told me he was in San Fran and had heard from people back home that I was here too. Him and Rachelle Underwood, his redhaired muse, were venturing the Golden Gate Bridge. Rachelle was very lovely and also wrote. She always wanted to read my stories even though they weren’t any good. I told Dirk to phone me for a possible rendezvous when he and Rachelle were finished, but by the time he did, which was around 7:30 or 8, I was too damned drunk with wine to want to do anything but make sweet sweet love with Tessa. After buying a faulty umbrella to battle the downpour of the holiday rain over Fisherman’s Wharf, we dined at Sabella & La Torre, which I had been to before, for a quick fixin’ of Manhattan chowder and calamari, which was delicious as always. Afterwards we ventured to Ghiradelli Square to take some narcissistic photos of ourselves in the photo-friendly atmosphere of another Christmas tree and holiday madness. Tessa asked a wandering Indian boy, who was probably no older than 5 or 6, to take our photo in front of a phenomenal Christmas tree that was next to Kara’s Cupcakes which did not have my favorite of Red Velvet. Tessa wasn’t interested in any of the flavors. I told the cupcake girl we’d come back but we never did. On the way out I yelled, “RED VELVET!” and I think the cupcake girl got the hint. We strolled around a bit more and after walking around the beach which wasn’t really a beach we took a cab back to PARC 55 and discovered a Thai restaurant imbedded at the other end of the lobby. Initially I hadn’t realized I had been here before with Andrew and his family but Tessa and I were hungry and here Siam Thai stood indefinitely inviting us to rape it with our starving palettes. Tessa was iffy about her Tom Yum soup but would change her mind the next day when she got it again with coconut milk. I couldn’t pronounce the name of the dish I ordered but it was basically a barbecue beef salad that was very flavorful and zesty and delicious but was ultimately lacking in SALAD. I never thought I’d complain about a dish that didn’t have enough lettuce but I thought it was absurd to label the dish as a salad and only give three to four pieces of greens to accommodate the monstrosity of beef and red onion that had been baptized in spices and lime juice. “I’m tired,” Tessa said. “Let’s go back up to the room and die for a little bit.” I snickered and said, “then maybe after we can fool around a bit? Hehehe.” She shrugged. “I’m too full to make love.” Right before we stuffed ourselves senseless, we had stumbled all the way from a wine bar on Polk St. between Clay & Washington called AMELIE where we tasted 3 kinds of reds and 1 kind of white and talked of life and joy and love and shared an $8 crème brulee while it rained carelessly outside. “I suppose we should call for a cab,” I said, “what do you think?” Tessa didn’t care this time and said, “The hotel isn’t too far off. I don’t mind walking... it’s beautiful tonight, even in this rain.” And so we paid the bill and trekked along Polk St. in inebriated ecstasy gazing up and down at the moon and stars noticing no one but ourselves. Of course there were other trekkers but it felt like we had the street to ourselves. It felt wholly and I felt at ease for the first time in months. We came across a theatre and I surreptitiously kissed her under the towering marquee which shone lucidly. We walked for about a mile and a half in this downpour and the first thought that struck my chilled brain when we got back to the hotel was to take a damned hot shower and have music blast from my phone to defrost the strain and joy caused by the ill-bred weather. Nowadays phones were getting smaller and smarter, capable of producing volumes fortissimo. I had left the door unlocked and as soon as I lathered my hair in PARC 55 shampoo Tessa snuck in from behind and we made love in the shower and it was the first time I had ever done this. Drunk and sensual. Beautiful and obscene. We were both stricken with the kind of sexual madness that had been encouraged by too much exposure--the soul freezing December downpour... the revitalizing showerhead cascade crashing hot against our nakedness. We yearned for pleasure; we learned something more. A couple of minutes later we changed scenery and were now committing the very same erotic deeds, only now in the luxury of a king-sized bed. The denouement of all that sexual madness ceased us as mere spoons, gently concluding the second evening of three. When morning emerged Tessa and I were so starved from the previous night’s bedtime workout. This led us to a restaurant called BRENDA’s deep in the wretchedness of the TENDERLOIN. Polk St. again. Between Turk & EDDY ST. which I will talk about now. When I had visited good ol’ SF for the third time last year, there was a street I recognized to keep away from, having to take this street to get to our hotel which was also in the TENDERLOIN. This passing was that of EDDY ST., a playground of despair for the POOR, the STRANGE, and the CRAZIES (which simply is a mix of both)--This road seemed to have been obscured from my mind as Tessa and I pondered of which road to take to get to BRENDA’s... One being EDDY ST. and the other I don’t remember and of course you know we took EDDY ST. and witnessed the street wandering eccentrics who were out stumbling and staggering on the sidewalks at noonthirty on another day of the December downpour. My uncle once told me ‘spontaneity does wonders for the surprise.’ And surprised I was that day at the spontaneity of discovering a street-wandering chicken, orange with grief, carelessly shitting to and fro all along the sidewalk. Tessa wasn’t interested in the chicken as I was. She kept straight ahead but I kept veering back, watching it like a loon. A goddamned chicken among many crazies sharing the same street called home. It was strange. It was all they had and I guess it was better than nothing. A bum was screaming at a driver who was parked by the curb. He was really angry for some reason--he howled and shrieked at the car window and Tessa & I felt terribly for the driver. We thought the driver did something drastic to offend the bum. But it just so happens that when we walked by the angry bum I took a quick glance and found him yelling and screaming at no one but his own reflection. This was what being in the slums did to you. It made you look at yourself through the reflection of a car window and ask, “How the hell did I get here in the first place?” It was clear he was upset at the image and this explanation seemed to make most sense. We finally got to BRENDA’s and I could smell the spices of the gumbo from outside. It was a simple place, small and snazzy with a large mirror running along an entire wall with stools and counters for those who liked to watch themselves eat. Our waitress was real nice and Tessa ordered crawfish beignets, which is like a kind of doughnut fried to deliciousness and topped with spice instead of sugar. Three of those came out first. The powder was a mix of chili powder & cayenne and was red as crimson. We both took a bite. It was a little salty but fortunately we had this southern style watermelon iced tea with chunks of the fruit to wash it down. After that all our orders came at once. Chicken & crawfish gumbo. Crawfish & Andouille sausage potpie. In fifteen minutes our hunger was history. “What should we do now?” I asked, stuffed to a glorious pulp. Tessa pondered for a bit. “Wanna go to the Beat Museum?” she asked. This surprised me. Tessa knew nothing of Kerouac or Ginsberg or Burroughs but the fact that I was reading ON THE ROAD which I would finish later that day. As soon as I knew we were in a cab on our way to North Beach where evidence of the December downpour was nowhere in sight. It was beautifully sunny and the air was still cold and clean. The admission was $10 but since we were students the young man in charge of the museum, who looked a little like Ryan Gosling, charged $8 for the both of us. He asked if we lived around here. I told him I lived in Long Beach and that Tessa lived in LA. “My parents live in Anaheim,” the young man said. “Do you guys know where that is? Tessa and I both nodded our heads and the young man went on. “I hear it’s nice down there. Haven’t seen my parents for a while.” He stared for a moment out the window. “Say, you guys enjoy the museum and lemme know what you think.” I could tell he wanted to tell us a story. His story. Of how he came to run the museum to make ends meet; there was too much intrigue in my face for a story like that and he understood this. Through the turnstile awaited a room with pictures of Kerouac & Ginsberg along with various others, two typewriters (one of which Kerouac had used) and a stairway that led to more pictures and typewriters upstairs. And books. One of the Beats, Lucien Carr, made an impression on Tessa--if you don’t know the deal with Lucien Carr you should really go look him up. He was a good-looking kid with a tragic and controversial past and Tessa found him the most interesting of the bunch. She did not understand Bill Burroughs. I told her “Naked LUNCH,” and she said “what?” and just shrugged and proceeded on into the exhibit where she discovered some bizarre photos of Ginsberg & his lover Orlovsky, both in the nude. I did not know how to explain this to Tessa; I simply told her that they were lovers. She shrugged again and now we were just about finished with the entire museum. We went back downstairs and into a small room with a 32” TV and 3 pairs of theatre seats scattered about in the darkness, with a Kerouac DVD in showcasing him reciting excerpts from ON THE ROAD over Steve Allen’s tantalizing piano jazz fingers. Steve Allen was definitely a talented all-in-wonder. Tessa watched about 3 minutes of this and got up to check out the bookstore of the museum while I stayed back with an old man and old woman watching this DVD. In a few minutes the DVD was over and just as I was leaving the fauxtheatre I see Tessa and the young Ryan Gosling lookalike share a few laughs about who knows what. I snuck behind a bookcase that was all stacked with Hunter S. Thompson books thinking Tessa had found the lookalike whose nametag read “Adam” good-looking & charming. Surely Adam was both of these; I would later learn that Tessa didn’t think so and was just having a nice conversation about a Kerouac book she had purchased from Adam. She would give me this book on Christmas day. “What did you think of the museum?” Adam said to me, smiling boyishly. I wanted to tell Adam I thought there ought to be more stuff but what kind of stuff did I expect to see at a Beat museum other than books and pictures and vintage typewriters anyway? Neal Cassady’s worn & unwashed underwear? An empty bottle of whiskey Kerouac had drank from? I told Adam I thought the museum awesome and he wished us a good day and Tessa told him to visit his parents more. He confused us by saying his parents no longer lived in Anaheim but by now we were walking across the street to CITY LIGHTS Bookstore where I wanted to purchase a copy of HOWL. I ended up not getting the book--our stay at CITY LIGHTS was cut short due to our nagging bladders, which were initially to be pardoned at the Beat museum’s restroom, which did not exist. We searched frantically and found one at a doughnut shop but the lady didn’t let us use it unless we bought something. I forked out four quarters for bottle of Arrowhead and afterwards we felt a hell of a lot better. Our original plan was to venture Haight & Ashbury; we became beat and ended up back at the hotel where we both took naps in preparation for the grand event later in the evening that I was looking plenty forward to. SWAN OYSTER DEPOT. This place made me think of Andrew Iori. It was a place he had always wanted to dine at but couldn’t because his opportunities to go were often thwarted by miniscule inconveniences. Andrew loved whatever foods the ocean threw at him. He wrote sometimes and had given me a manuscript of a short he had finished just before he left to Houston entitled THE BRIEF HISTORY OF LEONARDO & HIS SITTER (AS TOLD BY A CRITIC FOR THE SAKE OF THE PATRON). I could tell he worked hard on this one. It reminded me of THE LAST LOVE OF THE DRAMATIST; only better. It was a shame Andrew would have no participation at this seafood mecca but when Tessa woke I made sure she brought her appetite and camera for evidence. Tonight was the third and final evening of our getaway and tomorrow I would resume writing and Tessa would have a handful of errands to run to prepare for Christmas, which was looming in 3 days. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon when we arrived by cab to SWAN OYSTER DEPOT where we were immediately hindered by an awkward door that seemed stuck (for probably quite some time). I made the mistake of going against the sign which said to PULL even though the door had already been pushed in. I heard a man’s voice behind the counter shriek, “the door says pull!” He seemed annoyed and probably felt that way guessing I was the 100th customer that day of doing so but I didn’t care because the door had probably been stuck for years and it was their fault for not fixing the damned thing and charging customers like Tessa and I an arm & a leg for a crab salad that was only a little better than ordinary. I was rattled at first but then the oysters came and cooled me and I was satisfied until I discovered they did not accept credit cards. The man who told us this had also been the same man who told me to PULL not push. Tessa did not think him serious but he was stonefaced and I knew he was serious--I had witnessed the Japanese couple to our right pay their $116 tab with tens and twenties and fives and found it odd they paid this way for so steep a bill. Fortunately (or unfortunately) our bill was $46, which was a lot considering I was down to $60 and these 3 Jacksons were all I had left. It took me the entire night to figure if it had been worth it. We went about Nob Hill among various other streets, taking in the crisp cold air, wintery with delight, musing over what material goods we needed to get for our loved ones. Christmas shopping had become a national chore and it pained me to think of the expectation it created for little ones who were given mountains of gifts till they reach about the age of 20 where they would be lucky to get just one gift. What kind of message were we sending our kids? I had heard a rumor a few months back that Obama was working on a Christmas Reform bill and of course this was just a rumor but I found it funnily ambitious & wishful balderdash anyway. Leave the man alone. He already had enough on his plate trying to set America straight. I told Tessa this and she just shrugged and insisted we go into WESTFIELD to get her sunglasses adjusted. People were shopping hysterically and the air was feverish and risky to breathe but it was a quick process. By now it was 9 or 10 and we were closing in on our final hours of the night and suddenly everything felt better knowing we’d be home first thing in the morning, away from the madness and bliss of San Francisco. We dined one last time that night at the same SIAM THAI restaurant except we took it to our room. This time it was a hell of a lot better; we ordered THAI barbeque pork rice dish to share along with Tom Yum soup w/ coconut milk. We both slept soundly and in the morning we went for a quick cup of coffee and ham & cheese croissant. Before heading to the BART station we said goodbye to PARC 55 and returned the keycards to the concierge girl who was about to deal with some very irate German foreigners. Outside no downpour but sun and cold and wind and more sun for departure. It was confirmed. San Francisco was no longer a Revolutionary’s escape. It had already been long done. If youths were going to San Francisco for this they would be wasting their time. This was a different kind of San Francisco. Some people called it the Paris of the West. If its significance wasn’t as meaningful as it had been fifty years ago, at least it was strange enough for worthy of remembrance. I had been flushed; I was ready to write again. We finally arrived to SFO via the BART and it was time for take off. For home. It was good, but it was time to go back. Glancing out the window I knew people were waiting for us there. People were always willing to wait if you had a good story for them. And this time around, I knew just the story to tell.

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