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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, February 4, 2013

Delmar Street

MCG on drums, "Sammie" center, "Amelie" right, w/Elka Zolot
Our band Bitch Fight playing in Berkeley after the big move.

         Our flat on Delmar Street was on a hill like many apartments in San Francisco, only our street was a side street and only a few blocks long. The flat was in a classic A-frame Victorian painted a bright baby blue with white trim detail that reminded me of icing on a wedding cake and it had three stories. The owner, a black man and his son, lived in the large bottom flat with the nice backyard. An uptight yuppy family, the Honeycutts, who always complained about how noisy we were, lived below us in the middle flat, and Sammie and I lived in the attic apartment which seemed to somehow be made for us – two petite women, just starting out in the world. It was only a one-bedroom apartment, but the owner who seemed to genuinely like us even though were obviously young and had no idea what we were doing, agreed to let us rent it together. Sammie took the front room as her bedroom because she liked that it had doors which opened on to a large balcony that was furnished with chairs a table and plants, and I got the bedroom with the door the closed behind me because I was the only one of us having sex and she didn't want to walk in on that.
         Each time I walked up to the building, I could barely believe I lived there. If the key that was in my pocket didn't open the shiny, ornate, varnished wood door every time, I wouldn't have believed it at all. The entry-way was all hard wood and there was a spiral stair-case that went up to our flat. The spiral stair-case and the attic apartment were both an addition to the original floor plan of the house but done with taste. We told everyone back in Tuolumne about the spiral stair-case just not about how we had gotten my big green trunk stuck at the middle turn while moving in and not about how on our way up one very drunk night I tipped over while attempting to fit my key into the keyhole, fell on top of Sammie who was waiting behind me, sending us both tumbling backward down the stair-case worried we were going to piss off the Honeycutts again for making so much noise.
         It was the kitchen and the balcony of the apartment that had impressed us. The kitchen was only about six squares of linoleum in size, but it had everything we needed and a gas range, which I preferred over an electric range because I heated my tortillas on the open flame. And the kitchen was clean; there were no ants, or moldy places around the sink edges, or broken drawers that didn't open right. And the roof of the kitchen was flat unlike the slanted roof of the rest of the building. We found that we could safely climb from the balcony onto the kitchen roof and see out amongst the rooftops and treetops of the houses in our Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. From the balcony we could see into our landlord's yard below and into other yards of the houses on both sides of us, bright colors, textures, and the smell of jasmine. All I could see from our yard in Tuolumne were a couple of houses, a trailer, and a lot of trees and dirt. Everything was so tidy on Delmar Street, so put-together, so purposeful. 
         One night not long after we moved into the apartment Sammie, Amelie, and I decided to drop acid. Amelie was visiting, one of her visits before moving down for good, and Sammie had gotten some acid from someone she had become friends with on Haight Street. I was scared to try it, but Sammie said I'd be fine if I only took a half a hit. Amelie took the other half since she hadn't taken acid before either. I had done mushrooms once in Tuolumne about a week after graduating, and I wasn't planning on trying those again either, but Sammie admitted that I probably just took too much for my size and that a half a hit of acid was a lot more controlled. We didn't bother measuring out how much of the mushrooms we took because we figured they were from nature. Sammie simply gave me some caps and stems and said, “Here eat this; chew it good before you swallow it.”
         We took the acid in the apartment, but Sammie said that it would be better if we didn't sit around and wait for it to come on. “Let's explore the city. It'll be fun.” So after putting the acid on our tongues, we put on our coats and went out into the fog. We walked down Delmar Street toward Haight Street thinking we should be around people, but after a while, it seemed like there were too many cars, and buses, people, and loud noises. We decided that we didn't want to run into anyone we knew even though we didn't know that many people, so we walked toward the park. Sammie, who had a lot of experience with psychedelic drugs said it might be better if we tripped in nature, so we walked toward the park. We went toward Kezar Stadium and wound up somewhere near 19th street. The sun had gone all the way down, and all the lights coming on around us were bright and bleeding into one another – talk about Lucy in the sky with diamonds. We decided to get on the bus; it wasn't nature, but we thought we'd just get off once it got to the park as it was heading in that direction.
         After we were on the bus for just a couple of blocks, a young guy with blond hair got on carrying a hard black case with a handle. He was about fifteen or sixteen. Having been in marching band all through elementary school and high school, and in need of a normal conversation, I thought I'd ask the guy what he had inside.
         “What do you have in there,” I called to the guy with the case. We were sitting on the row of seats at the back of the bus. He was standing by the back door holding the door pole with one hand, carrying the case in the other.
         He looked over at the three of us, his brow furrowed.
         “Is it a trumpet,” I continued. By this point Sammie was giggling, and Amelie was jabbing me in the ribs with her elbow.
         The bus was slowing to a stop, and the guy began to step toward the door.
         “No, it's not a trumpet,” he said, about to get off the bus, “It's bagpipes.”
         We exploded with laughter.
 Bagpipes. We hadn't expected bagpipes at all. We were doubled over and making a scene
I could still see the young man carrying bagpipes watching us, brow furrowed even more. Then the bus jerked to a complete stop, sending the three of us soaring forward and scrambling for the seat handles to keep from sliding all the way off the slick plastic seats.
I heard the woosh of the doors opening and I looked up in time to see the blond guy's face, frown lines even deeper than before.
         “What are you girls high or something?” he said, shaking his head as he stepped off the bus.
         “He can tell,” Sammie said, trying to keep a straight face.
         “Do you really think he can tell?” A flash of worry passed over Amelie’s face, then a smile, and more laughter.
“He can tell  – I think everyone can tell.” I clutched my stomach in pain from laughing so hard.
         After realizing that maybe the bus wasn't the best place to hang out while tripping on acid or that it wasn't going where we thought it might go, and admitting that we were lost, we thought we better try to make our way back toward Haight Street. We boarded another bus going the opposite direction and attempted to take the same route we had on foot on the way down. I didn't tell Amelie and Sammie that I was worried that we'd never find our way back to the apartment that we might somehow be lost forever because I didn't want it to be true. Instead, I tried real hard to look sober and not giggle when Amelie asked for directions to Haight and Stanyon because we knew we could find our way back to Delmar street from there even by the back streets.
         Back in the apartment Sammie wanted us to listen to music because she knew we would love to hear how cool music sounded while tripping, how we’d hear things in it that we had never heard before, and we let her play whatever she wanted as long as she promised not to play Pink Floyd. I lay on the shag carpet in her room with my head near the small table that was in her room but is where we ate our meals when it was too cold to sit on the balcony. Sammie was lying back on her bed staring at the Indian looking tapestry she had tacked to the slanted ceiling above, and Amelie was sitting on the floor.  I liked the way the metal table leg felt on my cheek. I knew my cheeks were flushed, but I was too afraid to look in the mirror to see that for myself. I also knew I was a bit in over my head, moving so far from home and dropping acid, almost getting lost in a city that I didn't know well at all. I had to be more careful, not try to do everything at once.
         After listening to music for a while and finally having an appetite, I cooked some quesadillas, one for each of us. Sammie had warned us that doing normal everyday things while tripping were the most weird and she was right. After cooking and eating, I washed up the dishes because I hated leaving them in the sink like we had always done at home in Tuolumne. Lathering the spatula with the soapy sponge was strange, like I was doing it for the first time. I scrubbed the spatula and watched closely, lowering my face down toward the sink, to watch bubbles form and pop and form and pop and be pushed away by the motion of my hand scrubbing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
         “Let's go to the roof,” Sammie said, popping her head into the kitchen as I finished rinsing the dishes. “Amelie and I want to sit on the roof.”
         “Okay,” I said, turning off the faucet and drying my hands.
         Getting on the roof while coming down off LSD didn't seem like a very smart thing to do, but Sammie was intent on doing it.
         “It's cold up there. Bring a blanket,” she said, pulling one of the blankets off her bed.
         I went to my room somewhat robotically and pulled a blanket from my bed too, and followed her and Amelie to the balcony. The three of us climbed on the roof, not standing for long because all our legs felt a bit like jello. We sat down, curled up in our blankets, and looked up at the sky. Lights from Haight Street reflected on wisps of floating low-hanging fog. Below us we could see lights from houses and street lamps and the shadowy shapes of treetops. We could hear the faint sounds of people walking and talking on the street below and the sounds of sirens in the distance, a sound that I still hadn't gotten used to hearing so many times a day. I let my head fall back and rest on a corner of the blanket that was curled up behind me; my body and feet were tucked under the rest. I looked up again at the fog floating past and I thought about how in Tuolumne all you saw in the night sky were stars, hundreds and thousands of stars. I knew the stars were still there in the sky above me, only I couldn't see them. For a second, everything felt a bit too close.
         I had to remind myself again that the stars were still there.
         We must have dozed off because I woke feeling startled and a bit shaken that I had been sleeping on a rooftop. There were fewer lights and sounds from before, and it was much colder. I shivered and pulled the blanket back around myself tighter and fell back asleep. An hour or so later, I woke to the soft light of the sun rising all round us. Amelie was asleep on her side. Sammie was snoring lightly.
         I sat up carefully and rubbed my eyes. The sounds of the city murmured, muted and sleepy. My vision now clear, the soft light just so, I leaned out over the edge of the rooftop and drew in all that I could see.