By Greg Kim
I walked out of the Chatterbox, leaned on a parking meter and looked down at the sidewalk and thought: “Hey, that looks comfy.” I was drunk—really drunk—and making bad decisions. I stumbled back to the wall and laid down, content to stay there for the night. I had never slept on a sidewalk, but it was good rock-guy behavior—behavior that was talked about the next night by friends and acquaintances and could elevate your status in the scene. Being a fuck-up was something to brag about. It wasn’t really a choice for me; I was in no condition to get home. For the minute I was on the ground, I was content.
Sara was my new girlfriend. A bike messenger friend of a friend, she was tall, pale, and boyish, with red hair. She had a quirk where she would blink her eyes at the same time, in a dramatic fashion. It was disconcerting at first, but like a scar or crooked teeth, after a while you didn’t notice it.
Thirty seconds later Sara followed me out the door of the Chatterbox, in way better shape than I was. She found me, her new boyfriend, settling down for a night of rest on Valencia Street. She gently kicked me a few times and helped me to my feet, where we walked eight blocks east to catch the 9 San Bruno bus to her house. At this point in the game, she was happy to take care of me; possibly she even found it endearing.
I awoke and Sara and I were on an empty bus, my head leaning against her shoulder. I looked up and caught the bus driver’s eye in the rearview window. His face was stoic and disapproving. I was just one of many drunks that he had taken home that night. He wouldn’t be the first bus driver who disapproved of my behavior.
A few years later on St. Patty’s Day, I went over to my friends’ house to watch a boxing match on TV. I put $10 dollars in a jar that was placed on top the TV, to help defer the cost of the Pay-Per-View fee, and proceeded to watch the fight. I wasn’t a boxing fan, but it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, like going to the shooting range— something very un-San Francisco and therefore novel.
At 4 am, drunk and tired, I left and walked to 16th Street to catch the 22 Fillmore bus home. It was pouring rain and the two blocks to the bus stop left me drenched. I waited for about five minutes and then, knowing that the bus ran only once an hour at this time of night, walked toward home, following the path of the bus line.
At 16th and Julian, I paused, leaned against a lamppost and looked across the street at Pancho Villa, my favorite taqueria. On countless occasions, while getting my regular super veggie burrito, I had witnessed burritos being thrown away due to problems with the order. While standing there, this visual popped in my head. I was hungry—drunk hungry. And I wanted a burrito. Despite being long closed, I knew (for some odd reason) that their dumpster was in the alley next to Esta Noche, a Latino drag bar. And, in my mind, I knew the dumpster was full of super burritos wrapped in tinfoil. I just knew it.
The streets were empty except for junkies looking to score at 16th and Mission. Before entering the alley, my streets smarts kicked in. I stopped, peered in the shadows and moved forward. It was still raining and the only light was from the street lamp across 16th.
The dumpster was enclosed by a 10-foot chain-link fence. It was green with a black plastic lid and was not locked. I knew burritos were in there. I grabbed the fence and pulled myself up but my sneakers slipped on the wet chain. I tried again and again, my hunger driving this futile act. I eventually gave up and continued walking the bus line.
At Church and Market I made the decision to stop and wait for the bus, no matter how long it took. The rain had stopped and continuing on meant going through the Fillmore and Western Addition at 4 am on the biggest drinking holiday of the year—not a good idea. I sat on a bench on the edge of the Safeway parking lot and waited.
The bus eventually came and I took a seat behind the back door. Looking out the window, the streets were empty except for fellow drunks going into Safeway for frozen pizza and chips. The bus wasn’t moving. As we sat there, I fiddled with the zipper on my jacket, ran my fingers through my damp hair—anything to occupy time. I was thinking, “Dude, what the fuck? What are you waiting for?” It was a legitimate question. It was now 4:30 am and I seriously doubt somebody was running down the street trying to catch the bus. Finally, I couldn’t take any more. I reached up and rang the bell three quick times and cried, “Come on,” sustaining the word “on” for a few seconds. This type of behavior was unusual for me, as I was usually polite, especially to the workingman. I watched his reaction in the rearview mirror. Slowly, the back of head tilted, looking into the mirror. Our eyes met and he slowly shook his head side-to-side in disgust. We both went back to doing nothing.
Back on the 9 San Bruno going to Sara’s house, she rang the bell, indicating we needed to get off at the next stop. She rented a small house in Visitation Valley, which I thought was weird. I knew no one who lived in Vis Val and no one who lived in a house.
She unlocked the front door and I went straight to her room and fell asleep. It was late and I knew that I couldn’t stay at her house when she went to work. Sara was a bike messenger and had to be at work by 9 am. I went to bed dreading how I would feel in a few short hours.
At some point in the night, I woke to us having sex. She was on top, but it wasn’t Sara, it was my friend Janet, who had at least 100 pounds on skinny Sara. I couldn’t figure out why I was having sex with Janet and how Janet got into Sara’s house. I mumbled, “Janet, what are you doing here?” Almost immediately, Janet jumped off me and revealed herself as Sara—a very pissed Sara. I was either dreaming, in a blackout or just plum crazy. Like in a romantic comedy, she pushed me off the bed onto the floor. I hit the ground hard, adjusted and quickly fell asleep. The floor was carpeted.
The next morning was what you’d expect. I was hung-over, almost to the vomit stage, and there was the little problem of last night’s sex incident. Sara spewed, “Get up, let’s go,” throwing my jacket at me. We silently walked back to the 9 San Bruno bus stop.
The bus was crowded, but we got a seat. At 23rd street, in front of SF General, I said, “I‘m getting off here, I gotta throw up.” With no sympathy for me, she barked back, “We’ve gotta talk.” I quickly exited through the backdoor and vomited in between the vertical metal pickets of the fence, while the morning commuters on the bus watched. It was over with Sara, but all I could think about was my shitty Carlos acoustic guitar that I left at her house. It was good as gone; I knew I would never go back and get it.
That night we had loose plans to see the Sea Hags at the Nightbreak in the Haight. We talked that day and agreed to meet in the panhandle, a sliver of green space that leads into Golden Gate Park, to talk about our relationship issues before the show.
Sara was waiting for me when I got there. I was just starting to feel better from the previous night’s indulgence. The repulsive beer thoughts from the morning were gone and I was considering a pint or two of Red Hook at the show.
Instead of sitting on a bench, we chose to stand in the middle of a grassy patch near Oak Street. Like future girlfriends to come, she insinuated that I had a drinking problem and that it wasn’t working out. In an attempt to garner sympathy and pity, most of my responses were consistent with your typical rock-guy, bad self-image problem behavior: “Yeah, I know, I suck. I hate myself.” It never worked and usually made things worse.
While emphatically making a point, I gestured with my right hand, like I was throwing a Frisbee. An ill-fitting ring flew off my hand and landed about 15 yards in the grass behind Sara’s left shoulder. I made a quick note of where the ring landed and committed it to memory.
She didn’t notice the flying jewelry. There was plenty of gaudy jewelry still left on me: shitty DIY nose and ear piercings, shoelaces and other found stuff around my neck and wrists and as many thrift store rings as my fingers could handle. (It wasn't until I watched Tim Robbins’ repulsive ponytailed character in High Fidelity that I was finally convinced to get rid of the garish accessories.)
This wasn’t any ring, though, it was the piece de resistance of rings: large, orange and black, with a mosaic marijuana leaf on the face. It was a constant source of conversation. I didn’t smoke pot—never really did. It was kitsch…it was ironic…it was funny?
After the ring flew off, I couldn’t concentrate—nor did I want to—on our “talk.” I didn’t want to be rude and say, “I need to look for my marijuana leaf ring. Hold that thought.” She already despised me; I didn’t want to make it worse, so I quickly wrapped it up: “You’re right, let’s be friends.”
We walked up to Cole Street together, under the pretense of starting our friendship immediately at the Sea Hags show. At Haight Street I stopped and feigned sadness: “I’m too depressed, I’m gonna go home.” I don’t think she really cared. She went right, toward the club, and I went left, looking over my shoulder back at her. I waited until she crossed the street and then I ran back to get my ring. I didn’t want it to be another casualty of this relationship.
That was the last time I saw Sara and my guitar, but I found the ring.