Monday, October 22, 2012

The corner of Ellis and Polk

While waiting at the light, I look to my left. A woman is staring at me. She could pass as someone who had a job, until she opened her mouth.

“Do you know where fucking Glide is at?”

It was one of those days, so I was on her level and didn’t miss a beat:

“I don’t know where fuckin Glide is at, but Glide is at Ellis and Taylor,” pointing downtown.

Looking me in the eye, like this whole Tenderloin mess was my fault, she blurted, “I hate this fuckin’ place.”

Preaching to the choir, I concurred, “Me too. Me fuckin’ too.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nooks and Crannies

Before entering the Santa Cruz Mountains to counsel kids in outdoorsy stuff, I went to the beauty parlor to get a perm. I was 14 and had no idea why I agreed to be a camp counselor. I wasn’t the type and my maturity level was that of the kids I’d be counseling. It would end badly. However, I felt I needed a perm to get the job done.

At the time, I was really into The Who, specifically Roger Daltry. His hairless chest and curly mop was one to emulate. To transform into him I needed to shave the tuff of hair that occupied the space between my pecks. I had just hit puberty and this furry landing strip was an unwelcome visitor. I borrowed my dad’s razor and eliminated the problem. Next was my hair. It was long and curly but not the right long and curly. With a photo of Roger Daltry from the Tommy, I handed it to my mom’s beautician and said, “Make me like this.” A year later I would hand a picture of Sting to the same beautician. After that, sheers would do the job.

Taking pity on me, the beautician passed me off to another person who put some emulsion on my hair and then placed me at the far end of a wall of hair dryers. To my left were 4 women that looked to be my grandmother’s age, reading magazines. I immediately rethought this perm business and wished I’d never heard of the Who. Bastards.

The beautician returned and lifted the dryer from my head. Gently peeling back the plastic cap that sequestered the perm emulsion, she picked at my new curly hair. She walked me over to a full length mirror and said, “What do you think?” They always say this. What I didn’t see was a 14 year- old Roger Daltry look-a-like. I looked more like Annie with developing acne. Before I left, the beautician said, “It will loosen up, don’t worry,” looking at my curly mop. Despite my best acting, she knew I was disappointed.

Bookended by towering redwoods, I marched into the middle of a freshly tarred mountain road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Left, right, left, right. The Who’s Slip Kid rang from my headphones: I’ve got my kitchen bag, my heavy boots, I’m running the rain, gonna run ‘til my feet are raw. The morning air was thick and the road was cast in long shadows. I was on my way to eat breakfast. It would be the first time I ate granola. It had the texture of tiny bricks and the tasted like bark with milk; however, I was a counselor, so I had to act like this breakfast was old hat and that I was in charge. I had no idea how to do this.

My perm settled and fell across my forehead, errant strands reaching my nose. I constantly swatted my bangs from my face like flies. As I addressed my group of tween campers, most only a few years younger than I, they noticed the irritation with my hair.

“You look like Robert Plant,” one camp counselor blurted. This long-haired tween was testing me. By the looks of him, I knew he had older siblings, who taught him the finer points of 70s rock: Robert Plant was cool; Peter Frampton was not. Not to be upstaged by a ten year old, I shot back, “You mean, Roger Daltrey.” This ended the conversation. Obviously, his siblings didn’t teach him about The Who.

“Nooks and Crannies,” said another camper.

“Nooks and Crannies? What does that mean?” I was incredulous and gave off a body stance that emitted: “What the hell is going on here?”

“Nooks and crannies,” the kid said again.

I mean, I got it: Nooks and crannies from Thomas’ English Muffins. And I understood they were correlating the nooks and crannies to my curly hair, but I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. This whole perm thing was backfiring.

Before I could curtail my camp moniker, every kid yelled: “Nooks and crannies.” So much for Roger Daltrey. At that moment, I became Nooks and Crannies. Greg was dead, at least in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

As predicted, it ended badly. In the middle of the redwoods at 3 am, while the campers slept, their bags packed next to them for an early departure, all the counselors snuck away from their cabins. Around a roaring campfire, we passed smuggled booze and smoked pot. It was the last night, so we felt entitled to a little fun. Before we could make false plans to see each other outside of the forest, the familiar strobe of flash lights appeared in the distance, ricocheting off trees. Some ran back to their cabins; other stayed put. Having some expertise at drinking in the woods and getting caught, I stayed put. I knew we were busted.