Terror and peace on the streets of North Beach
I’m the worst kind of shy person there is. After one group class or two, my shyness melts away and I start feeling like I belong. Look at me commenting on other people’s stories, helping myself to wine, playing with the cat as if this was my place, as if the teacher was my sister. One could never tell, by seeing me now, that just a couple of months ago I was so nervous I nearly soiled my pants. I’d be taking writing classes for the first time in my life, along with a bunch of people I’d never met, and the thought alone was killing me. Now, I’m so comfortable it’s almost disrespectful.
I’m the worst kind of scared person, too. I was half an hour early to class last night and there seemed to be no one in the place to let me in. I knocked on the door, bam bam bam, Is anyone there?, but had no such luck. I looked to the side and noticed a weird man standing across the street from the art gallery where I was to meet with the other students. The way he stared at me gave me chills -as if he hadn’t eaten lunch in a long time. Now, that was in North Beach. Dangerous, scary, dreadful North Beach (to me, anyway). It was just this strange man and I, facing an empty street in North Beach (did I mention it’s scary?), so I knew immediately that he was going to rape me. To avoid a tragedy, I ran to the bar on the corner.
You see, I don’t go to bars much because it’s in my blood to be scared of everything, bars toping the list, but that place in particular, it validated all of my fears. Broken chairs, dim light, a strong smell of vinegar that permeated my hair and my clothes the minute I walked in. The people inside looked hammered. The only meth addict I’ve ever seen is that crazy Christian on Orange Is The New Black, so I’m no expert, but I’m sure the lady sitting by herself at the counter was one. She smiled at me and I felt the blood leave my body. Her teeth were black, what was left of them; her wrinkly skin a shade of yellow I’d never encountered, her long gray hair went all the way down to her hips. A man sang beautifully in the back, but no one was paying attention. The bartender seemed like the least crazy person around, so I sat down in front of him.
“Can I get you anything, pretty face?” he asked.
I thought of saying, “Please, sir, can I PLEASE just hide in here for a while because the art gallery where I’m taking classes is not open yet and the world is a horrible place and there is a man outside who wants to rape me and I never leave the house because I’m afraid this will happen and when I do, look at what happens!”, but instead I ordered a Corona.
He put the beer in front of me, on top a napkin, and gave me two slices of lime.
“3,75” he said. I handed him a 10 dollar bill.
“Keep the change.” I told him. He screamed to the musician in the back.
“Hey, Bill. Play my favorite song next, for my new favorite girl.”
Bill started playing “I want you”, by Bob Dylan. I drank a big gulp of beer.
Meth head turned to me and smiled.
“Aren’t you a lucky girl? It’s been years since he asked for that song. You should come out here more often.”
I took another gulp of the Corona. The whole time, I wanted to make sure no one there would murder me, but after a third of my beer was gone, that seemed unlikely. I guess Bob Dylan has a soothing effect on me. I smiled right back at her.
“You know what? Maybe I will.”
“Attagirl!” The bartender touched my beer with his glass.
Someone passed me a drawing of a couple having sex, doggystyle, the man with a smile on his face and a brown round tube on his hand. On the lower right corner, a tag line read “Peanut butter. Works for everything.” I blushed and giggled timidly and handed it to the bartender. He nodded at meth head.
“She did it. She used to be an artist.”
“Wow,” I said. “It’s… interesting.”
He put the drawing in front of her.
“Look at her now. Shame.”
“You’d still do me!” She screamed.
He winked at me.
“Damn right I would.”
The three of us laughed. We were ‘the three of us’ now. I was humming the song, already feeling comfortable. I drank the rest of the beer. “I’m the worst kind of scared person there is,” I wanted to tell my new friends, but didn’t. I stood up and walked to class.
* Imagem: Aleksandra Waliszewska.