Saturday, June 8, 2013

Awful Mood & Coffee - Tenderloin - San Francisco

Crossing the Tenderloin, the place where the refuse of the city's grit-tide converges, balloon strings, empty bags, rotten produce, spent prophylactics.  Like the Pacific gyre, the trash of the removed consumer collecting in this ignored enclave whose blight is unknown till crossed. Something horrible hits my nose. I look around to find and escape the source, but it is myself, having trod in something heinously foul. Dog, I wonder, or human. Being the Tenderloin, the origin could be either. I try scraping against a curb, but the filth will not be moved. I wad up a paper bag and try again, holding the paper at the bare tips of my fingers, alternately brushing and retching. Peanut curry is a hard thing to hold down at such labor. While I work the greasy shit free, three men enter an alley separately and do their part to refresh the stench of stale piss. I drop the fouled paper into the storm drain and walk on, shuffling across every bit of bare dirt and green I can find, which are in no abundance.

Nearly at Union Square, I stop in at David's for a $3 cup of coffee. The coffee is thick and black and has the taste of a fisherman's thermos. Brewed fresh each day at 5 and stewed thereafter. The taste of truck stops and marinas and lumber camps and every place else where folk who are not by nature early risers wake to make diesel engines turn. Even half milk it is the color of a dun cow. A spoon could nearly stand upright in it. Not at all to my latte taste, but worth the experience to know that even in one of the great cities of the world there is still wretched coffee to be found.

David's is the only Jewish deli I know of in the city, but I have not much explored the Richmond, where I understand there is a historically larger Jewish presence. Though in my travels to that neighborhood I think more of finding peroshki than knish and cardamom buns than honey cake. This particular deli I found more-or-less by chance. Some years back when I was staying at the nearby Adelaide hostel and wandered a general path towards Union Square and passed it. I'm glad to see it is still here. I had heard some rumors to the contrary.

It has one of those long serpentine counters with the high stools and an island of condiments. The waitresses do not call me 'hon' but 'sir,' and I am content with this variation, though it is much against the usual. There is still the ceramic cup and saucer, the formica counter, the mirrored panelling, the Rita Hayworth movie someone is watching in the kitchen and whose sound comes out over the dining room. The naugehyde seats and glass front to the street, the parade of faces going past, the hiss of bus brakes. It would be a good setting for modern film noire, but no one is filming. I'm the only one here so it's all background without a foreground.

A recent oversight is troubling me, of which no one is aware but myself. That is, no one is aware of the mistake, and few of the trouble. It has me questioning my suitability for my present position, and for work in general. It would be a terrible thing if I were no good at work. I should like to enjoy whatever I choose to do, and to be good at whatever I must do, whether or not I enjoy it. 

The insecurity surprises me. I am not the confident person I thought I was. Or rather, not the confident person I present in writing. That I should make a better man in paper than in flesh. What an awful thought that is. It is a good thing to find terrible coffee to match the mood. 

It's oddly cheering.

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