The old man said to me
Said don’t always take life so seriously
Play the flute
And dance and sing your song
July 24 was the day selected for a very interesting project spearheaded by Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald. The premise being that people all over the world – anyone from anywhere – would take to the streets in a common 24-hour period and film… anything. Then, people submit the videos and Scott and MacDonald are going to use the footage they deem worthy in what they are calling an “experimental documentary film” that will debut at Sundance next year. I love shit like this. This may be because I am an inherently nosy person, but I am okay with that.
In addition, MacDonald had four questions that I guess he is using as his guiding questions for the project and so if you wished you could film a video that also answered/addressed them. The questions were:
- What do you love?
- What do you fear?
- What makes you laugh?
- What’s in your pockets and what’s the story there?
I really wish I were more adept at video because I would have loved to have done it. I thought about it a lot. But I did not do it. [On principle that sort of behavior really bothers me, because the more I think about it the more I realize: I could have done this.] If I would have done it I would have used the varied clips of footage from the day to create a montage that addressed the questions…. all of which I am contemplating about in response to another cool project/concept I am thinking about that asks us to consider: “Why do you do what you do?”
I spent the day in San Francisco and as I headed home I thought about all the people I had interacted with and how I would have endeavored to capture their presence on video. And I thought about those questions.
1) ‘Scuse me, is anyone sittin’ here?
She was dressed in a screaming yellow dress. It fit miraculously well and though the dress was probably inexpensive and made in China (what isn’t?) it seemed desperate to keep this woman contained, literally and figuratively; stretched to the max across her chest and backside, but still looking like she could walk into any place in the City and command attention. Leaning against the window looking out at San Quentin as we slowly crept by on the ferry heading towards the Embarcadero, she emphatically punctuated her last point with a shake of her long and intricate braids and an “Uh -huuuuhuh!” Sitting with my earphones in and aviators on, I feigned indifference, but really I was looking at her sculpted pink nails and wondering what/who had gotten her so fired up. Turning to me and seeing an empty seat opposite me, she distractedly asked, “‘Scuse me, is anyone sittin; here?” I shook my head, and said, “Nope, go ahead.”
Her conversation continued unabated and free of any self-consciousness. Someone needed to be told what he could and could not do in her momma’s house, and Someone had not given her any rent and so she should not feel bad about telling Someone he had to go because if Someone caused any problems, or God-forbid-some-damage, Someone was not gonna be able to pay for it. And who would pay for it? She had to think about that, especially because right now there’s a supervisor at the office who said she had not been seeing to some of the things she was supposed to see to. She burst out with a laugh, “Girl please! If they wanna be saying that they’s gonna have to demonstrate some sort of proof that I been using the internet while I s’posed to be working. You think I’m some fool? I just wanna be able to go to work and mind my patients and do my job, I ain’t in’trested in hanging ’round there!” She laughed again and shifted her huge should bag. What could she have in there? Nothing? Everything?
I looked up and she smiled at me; bright white teeth, red lipstick and a little wink that made me smile right back.
2) I can help you over here since they are clearly not listening…
I laughed out loud as the 20-something coffee girl at Peet’s motioned to me over, or rather through the (dis)array of tuned-out hipsters blocking my direct line of sight to the counter at the Embarcadero Pete’s.
She could have been one of them, only her look was less ironical and therefore clearly ironic for a hipster. She smiled and asked me what she could get me. “The middle size cappuccino… what is it called? Grande? Medium?”
“Middle sized is cool, we’re not Starbuck’s, it’s not really about the name.” Now, there’s irony, a coffee shop uninterested in the name. Cool. I wondered what her life was about. How did she end up working at Peet’s? Did she like it? Was she a student? I find that I am intrigued as I look at these people all around me these days… working. Getting by. Doing what they need to do. I’d serve coffee in the Embarcadero. Or would I? I counted out my change. “Sorry… I know I have the change… I know I am going to be one of those old ladies in every line – wait, I’ve got a penny- but, here, what did you say 34?”
“No worries, I take even longer because I look at the backs of each quarter before I hand it over.”
I looked up, had she seen me do this? “Oh my god, me too…” I laughed. “I am still irritated about the fact that there is a statehood quarter for Guam, what is that about?”
“I know, huh?” I looked back at the coffee girl. The last person I made my Guam complaint to thought Guam was a state. I told her this. With a wicked kind of grin that only a really cute girl just passing some time as a barista can claim, and handed me my medium-sized coffee.
“They probably worked at Starbucks.”
3) One block over, #14, right up Mission. Great ride.
I consider taking a taxi because I still feel a little bit of the default panic associated with domestic public transport. I know only the #2 from the Embarcadero which heads towards Lower Pac Heights via Sutter. This is not where I need to go, but I have just spent $3.34 on specialty coffee, so a taxi seems particularly indulgent. I see the #2. I walk over to the open door and a lanky Asian guy with electric orange Oakley blades is attending to a clipboard in the driver’s seat. I wonder where he is from. He looks Chinese for sure, but northern though behind those glasses, he could be Japanese or Taiwanese. I wonder what makes someone want to be a Muni driver, it seems sort of like thankless work. But it is work, I suppose.
“Um, excuse me… ?”
“Yeah, can I help you?” He is Chinese.
“Yeah, is there an easy way to get to the Mission from here by bus?”
“Yeah. One block over, #14, right up Mission. Great ride.”
“Really? Cool. Thanks!”
I headed over to the stop for the #14. I mean who’s not up for a great ride?
4) Robert! Robert! Robert! Cuantos años tiene Murray?
At Yerba Buena a group of about 20 4th and 5th graders get on the #14. They are loosely and mostly effectively corralled by two adults towards the back of the bus where I am sitting amongst the most colorful (in every way) passengers. I am swimming in Spanish and that makes me happy. I realize that I look totally out-of-place sipping cappuccino in my black skirt and sandals and taupe silk shirt – not just for the color palette either. This makes me smile because it is fun to be surprising and also because after all this time – I like taking the bus. I have no desire to be fighting the traffic, the crowds and the lights out there, only to not be able to park my car.
One of the students has appointed himself the boss of Those Willing To Be Bossed. He has a perfectly coiffed fauxhawk and a great smile. Gonna be trouble in about 8 years. Robert the Teacher takes the seat by me. I do not know where they have been, but they are smiling and laughing and loud and bilingual. The two girls across from me are determining which boys and which girls from the Latino pop band depicted on their backpacks go with each. There is definite debate over which ones are hermanos and which can be novios. This is serious business. Alex of the Fauxhawk is still directing the others to various seats and gives his up to one of the quieter, but very pretty girls in the group.
As the conversations fly from topic to topic I learn that Teacher Robert has a dog, Murray, y Murray tiene siete años, pero, actualmente Murray tiene cuarenta nueve años porque cuando por los perros, un año es igual a siete y entonces Murray tiene cuarenta nueve…
“Wow! Murray is older than all of us!”
“Murray is the oldest one here!”
Teacher Robert scrolls through some photos on his iPhone to find a funny picture of Murray-who-is-49. On finding it no less than twelve hands reach for the device.
“A ver!” “No, mi! A ver, Robert, por favor!” “Ha ha mira! Mira Murray”
When Alex gets the iPhone he deftly begins to slide his finger on the screen looking at the other photos. Robert tries to abort this mission immediately, “Alex! Hey, Alex, come on. Alex. Stop. Alex!” Robert eventually wrestles the iPhone from the overly capable hands.
“Robert, why do you have a naked lady on there?” I told you Alex was gonna be trouble. It is clear that the coming explanation is as much for me as the others who are basically doing a variety of other bus activities that have little to do with random icky pictures.
“It’s a painting. I did a painting.” Alex looks at Robert with forced interest for a moment as Robert tells him he will show him a painting he did of Murray. Alex has moved on.
“You don’t even speak Spanish,” he accuses the young girl to whom he had given his seat.
“Yes I do too.”
“Say something in Spanish.”
“Yes. If you can speak Spanish say one word.”
“I just did… no.” She shakes her head in a way that would have been accompanied by an outstretched tongue not many years ago. Alex is annoyed because he knows she is right, but debates whether or not to keep going. Teacher Robert’s phone rings… “Bueno? Sí, en el bus… No, al parque… Sí, quince minutos? Más o menos… Sí sí, ‘sta bién.”
“Robert! Robert! Robert!”
“Was that your house?”
“No, that was my mom’s house.”
As the bus stops at 16th Street I get up and Robert moves his bag onto his lap so I can get by. Best bus ride I’ve had in ages. I am so glad I am a teacher. I hope I will get to put that sentence in to practice again soon. I step off the bus into the bright sun of the Mission. Nowhere I’d rather be.
Try and enjoy the here and now
The future will take care of itself somehow
The grass is never greener over there
Time will wear away the stone
5) Oh, girl, 40 is amazing. I mean, who needs the angst of those earlier decades – puhleeeeze!
Early to the hair place I am directed to a perfectly funky little backyard with a chaise where I wait for Huy. Huy is fabulous, forty, flaming and perfectly over the top. He is also Vietnamese. How funny that Asian stylists in Asia cannot do Western hair, but here it is practically de rigueur. I have not met Huy before, But we’ve spoken on the phone at length; as you know I struggle with change in general and to change hairdressers? I could barely bring myself to accept the fact that gorgeous, gallant, straight and superb Rudy would no longer be running his overpriced fingers through my hair. *Sigh* Honestly, to see a new hairdresser feels like infidelity – and I would know.
But Huy is awesome. He tells me all I need to complete the picture as I lounge on the chaise is a cocktail. I tell him that would be acceptable, but he is on to the next task at hand, my hair color and getting me out of the sun – “Only so much of that, now.”
He assesses my hair and agrees that Rudy was in fact as good as I had said and mentions that he would like to get a look at him too. This is going to be fun. Foils in and set time and shampoo and on to the blow dry in what seems like no time as we talk Asia, dry shampoos, men, salon preferences, yoga, travel and his penchant for Taylor Lautner which he has accepted now that the boy is over 18.
“Younger men, eh?”
“Oh, girl please. No way. But I felt dirty when I heard he was only 16 or 17 back in those other movies. No, I turned 40 last year and I am so onto new adventures that do not include children.”
“You don’t want to have kids?”
He puts the blow dryer down. “What? I am talking about dating them! Oh, girl, 40 is amazing. I mean, who needs the angst of those earlier decades – puhleeeeze!”
6) You know, you got some pretty legs.
16th and Valencia, 5 p.m., Friday. People are coming and going from places I can hardly imagine, not exactly beyond my ken, but certainly unfamiliar. I have a feeling similar to the one that comes over me sometimes when I am in places like Beijing or Bangkok and I marvel at All.These.People. All these people just out there. Doing things. What they need to do. Getting by. Making things works. Millions of them. All.These.People. The sensation of observing a place that is home to 12 million human beings or 20 million is amazing. The Mission is alive in that same way; not so crowded, but so alive.
And in the middle of it I need a cab.
There are no cabs.
I wait in the sun and wonder if I should call, or walk or, stay put. I think about the ease with which one hails a cab in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai. Not so here. I wait a little more.
“You know, you got some pretty legs.”
I turn to see an older man, standing to my right. He seems to be waiting too. I smile and say thank you.
“See, this city need some more of that, not enough smiles ’round here anymore.” The light changes and people move and cars move and I am kind of glad that I can contribute at least that much and I wave as I carry on optimistically for a cab.
All in a day… so many people doing so many things in so many places and so many states of mind. What do they love? Fear? What makes them laugh? What’s in their pockets?
I think about the other people I would see in this 24 hours:
- The amazingly awesome Green Cab driver who turned me onto LCD Soundsystem’s new album.
- Twenty guys watching Eclipse together at the Metreon on a Friday night.
- A Cantonese driver who would comp my ride as he explained his wife’s terrible taste in movies.
- An Irishman who had just returned to the City who had more steel in his legs than bone.
- Hundreds of people registering for the San Francisco Marathon
- A Fresno survivor who did make me look like the girl in the M.A.C. poster.
- A lovely southern black guy laughing at Jill and I battle it out on Ms. PacMan while we waited for the return of her not one, not two, but three pairs of shoes from last weekend
- My Chinese mani-pedi artist who said, “You are really going to have to start wearing shoes…”
- The Middle Eastern owner of the mini-market on Folsom and Hallam who was unsure about staying open on Marathon Sunday or not, but he just hoped it would be sunny.
- The guy at the bus stop on 7th and Folsom who fully endorsed my anti-car stance, “Of course, I’d take a car if someone offered,” he clarified.
How would they answer these questions? Five years in Asia has given me so much practice making up scenarios for the interactions I have witnessed without the benefit of language. And now here, with the opportunity to have asked I did not; I still made up the backstories to go along with the brief interactions.
Either way, it would have made for great cinema.
The old man said to me
Said you can’t change the world single handedly
Raise a glass enjoy the scenery
Pretend the water is champagne
And fill my glass again and again
While the wolves are gathering round your door