I'm sitting outside Caffe Trieste in North Beach this morning enjoying the balmy March weather. I quit drinking coffee for a week, but today I couldn't resist a latte here at Trieste and it is smooth and delicious. Currently, I'm trying to decide whether to go it alone as a full-time freelance writer or find a regular job like everybody else. Do I really have a choice, I ask myself? I have bills to pay and my bank account is dwindling fast. Are other people in this tight position? They must be, somewhere out there.
Here in the Bay Area we have plenty of homeless people, but everybody who can seems to put up a royal front, like they have no cares in the world. Maybe it's the climate. Reminds me of that line in the Grateful Dead song, "Going where the climate suits my clothes." I put on cargo shorts this morning because the temp is supposed to climb well into the 80s. The barista who pulled my latte told me and another guy at the bar, "I'm tired of hearing people tell me how nice the weather is today." Now that's San Francisco--tell it like it is and don't tout the obvious. This afternoon I'll be heading over to California College of the Arts to attend a writing seminar with ZZ Packer, a rising literary star who published the book "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere."
"A man's first loyalty is to his job," some old-timer is eschewing to his cronies at the table behind me now.
"When I first came to San Francisco, the girls could get a job right away, but the guys couldn't get a job at all," he also says.
"Same shit now, man," one of his younger cohorts seconds emphatically.
My latte glass is empty now except for a tiny bit of sweet brown foam in the bottom. I keep trying to drain every bit of wetness out of it. I could drink three more easily, but that would put me way over the edge.
"Emmylou Harris started out as a poet, but then she gave it up to write songs and perform them," another guy is saying, the same guy who earlier mentioned that he was friends with Kris Kristofferson back in the day (that's not his real name though, he confides). He is listing people who started out as poets, but went on to be famous at other things. These are the snippets you hear here. Now they are talking about Maya Angelou and what a genius she is at reciting her poetry in front of an audience.
"Adolph Hitler and Martin Luther King were the two greatest speakers of all-time," the first man is declaring now.
"Hitler wrote poetry," the young guy pipes up, to which Kris Kristofferson's old pal says, "That may be so, but I bet it wasn't any good."
"I read some of it on a website recently. It was pretty normal stuff," the young guy says of Hitler's poetry. "It was like bad Baudelaire."
Other topics covered include, of course, Michael Jackson (currently on trial), Charles Manson (just because), James Brown's ups and downs, how good some musicians in the penitentiary are, and back to the name of Michael Jackson's ranch, Neverland, and a discussion of why that was too much on top of the monkey, the glove, and everything else.
The sky above us is like a pure blue screen, with sunlight beaming off the light yellow church steeples across the street--so bright you can't look at them for more than a second or two without being blinded.
"I was in a mental hospital," a guy says from behind me, literally out of the blue. There's a short lull in the conversation.
"Welcome back," someone offers, right on cue.
Thirteen young women file by in a row like ducklings, clearly tourists complete with maps and cameras, and all I can think is, it's another perfect California day.