two neighbourhood walks


I am lost. Claire gazes up at me trustingly, sucking her thumb. I can’t find Greeter Dan, so I call Jeremy at work. He hacks into my goop mail and discovers that I am on the wrong corner of 24th and Mission, and five minutes early, not ten minutes late as I’d feared. I cross the road and find Dan immediately.

A native-born San Franciscan, Dan runs Time for Walkies every few weeks, taking a bunch of like-minded freaks on surprise jaunts through various parts of town. This is my first time out, and by sheer good fortune our path winds its way through my absolute favourite part of the city, the north-western slope of Bernal Hill, above Mission Street, opposite Sutro Tower, where pretty Victorians and Edwardians are drenched in late afternoon sunlight and the smell of roses and jasmine.

“I read a story about a guy named Shotwell,” says one of my fellow walkers, Steven. “I don’t think it’s the one the street’s named after, though. He came to a bad end. Shot.”

“Did they do a good job?” I ask.

“Actually he did a Dan Quayle. He picked up the gun the wrong way round, and shot himself. Goes to show, if you want something done well, you have to do it yourself. It took him an hour and a half to die. Can you imagine dying knowing that your name is Shotwell and you’ve shot yourself?”

“It was only a flesh wound,” I claim. “He died of embarrassment.”

Claire gets hungry. We take a milk break at the top of a slippery slide that runs beside a staircase. Everyone else slides gleefully down and runs laughing and breathless back up for another ride. It’s like when we were kids and used to play together after school, only it’s more fun.

There are hundreds of people and dogs on Bernal Hill. The sun sinks behind us and we watch closely for the moon to emerge from the photochemical haze over Fremont. When it appears, people yip like coyotes, just as they do at sunset and sunrise on the playa. The moon is the colour of smog or old blood, a spot of deep darkness staining its heart. You can see the penumbra move across its obscured face. We watch for a while.

“Hey, there’s the moon!” yell some freaks further down the hill.

Everyone laughs.

“Okay,” they yell, chagrined, “so we’re slow.”

The sun’s light begins its return to the moon like a diamond on a red ring. We walk down to Mark’s apartment on Lundys Lane for Earl Grey tea and Indian pizza. Biddy offers to drive me and Claire back to the Moonbase. We arrive moments after Jeremy gets home from work.


Shannon calls and wakes me from a nap. The sun is flooding in the window. Claire is asleep on my lap with Jenkins’ Churchill draped across her. We organize ourselves and walk to Kara’s pretty apartment, a block and a half away, where I find Kara with Ruby and Jackson, Shannon and Cian, Travis and Latrice. We sit in the lovely south-facing kitchen and eat pears and pine nuts and gossip about babies and mothers-in-law and house music and fiction and golf.

When Ruby gets tired and needs a break, Shannon, Cian, Travis and I retire to the St Francis for sandwiches and soup, then I head up 24th Street to a party at Steven’s wonderful library of a flat on Capp Street. Claire and I are the first ones there. We chat with Steven about citizenship and democracy and Canada and South Africa until everyone else turns up.

The Mission is a wonderful place to have a child. Young men I would once have written off as gang members catch my eye and grin at the baby. Older women stop me in the street to play with Claire, who beams gummily. The guy in the burrito wagon coos at her. She coos back.

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