the city: a walk on mission street

15th and Mission

“Out of the car now, asshole!” A huge red-faced man is leaning through the window. A smaller man, pallid, blondish, is on his back in the front seat of the car, palms up. “You got any needles on you?” screams the red-faced man. There are uniformed cops at a short distance from the car, taking notes. There is another man up against the side of the car, being frisked by a second undercover cop. Everybody is white.

Except for the spectators, who stand silently a ways down the street. Their faces are masked, no obvious emotion. If they were thinking that the cops do not protect them from the people who really threaten them, if they were thinking that the cops are terrifying, more terrifying than the people they have arrested, there would be no way of telling. The spectators do not move closer or farther away. They wait and watch.

16th and Mission

A bleached blonde white woman in a trench coat and platform shoes paces the bus stop. A short black man with yellowish dreadlocks and a grimy jean jacket comes up to her. “How you doin’, sweetheart?” he says, slurring slightly. “Oh, hi,” she says. “Jerry just left me, you know? He just walked off and left me, that asshole. I was gettin’ on the bus, ‘cos we were gonna go back over to Haight Street, ‘cos we’re sellin’ gloves, you know, and I thought he was right behind me, but I looked around and he had just fucked off, just disappeared into thin air, the fucker… We were arguin’ about the money, you know?” she continues in her high, thin, distraught voice. The enormous heels of her shoes are scuffed and cracked, and she has tattered plastic bags stuffed into her black tote bag. Her eyes are darkly ringed, pretty. “I mean, I don’t have any money. I have no money. We’re here sellin’ gloves. And then we were gonna go over to Haight Street and I’m gettin’ on the bus and I look around and he’s just gone. He treats me like shit. I’m just so sick of it.” The man slips something into her hand. “Oh, thanks, Jimmy,” she says, as the bus pulls up. “Thank you, thank you,” she says, waving goodbye.

17th and Mission

“This is ours,” says the white lady at the Thriftown register, holding up a fake leather purse with the store’s price tag on it. She confronts a middle-aged Latina across the counter.

“You were together,” she says, gesturing at another Latina who has just gone through the line and is standing near the door, noncommittal. The third member of their group, only a teenager, looks into space with the vacancy of someone who knows that her only protection is to remove herself entirely from the situation.

“We was not. Why you check my bag?” the first Latina says, as the black security guard who has been hovering nearby takes her purse from her and begins going through it. He finds nothing, hands it back slowly.

“This is ours,” repeats the sales clerk. “You don’t have to come back to this store.”

“To me you say? Wha—Why you say this?”

“You don’t have to come back to this store.” The clerk’s pale face has reddened. It looks like a geyser underneath a frozen lake, like steam might come off her icy skin.

The Latina stays on after there is nothing left to say, speaking in increasingly incoherent English to the frozen woman at the counter. Finally she leaves with the other two women. “…pero no iba decirlo a esa pendeja—” she is saying to her companions as they merge into the dark crowds on the open street.