This would be a Friday night some weeks back, the most recent Friday the 13th, technically not a full moon but close enough for rock and roll. I was walking along C Street, downtown, past the Fish Joint, closed now for hours; it was around 11 p.m. I was unable to sleep — tossing, turning, thinking of Sartre and my own lingering alienation (decades now) in my converted hotel room, which is a kind of real-life imitation of some artful movie-set flop house, lacking only a bare lightbulb suspended from the middle of the room, maybe a revolver on the cigarette-stained night stand with a half-full bottle of cheap bourbon, and a stuttering neon sign just outside the third-floor window: O-T-E-L.
I gave up trying to recall my once-memorized chapters of Sartre’s Troubled Sleep, threw on my raincoat, turned my collar to a wind that was not there, thrust my fists deep into the pockets, and followed my nose and the tomcat perfume of jacaranda along the trolley tracks. Stepping into a pub on Sixth, I stood in the doorway and scoped out the bar sprouting snap-brimmed hats hunched over shots and beers. A hostess leered wantonly at me (an uncanny resemblance to my mother) and extended a menu, asking, “How many are you, sir?”
“One,” I told her, saying nothing of the legion of warring demons within me. In my trench-coat pocket, my fingers had closed around the empty prescription bottle for my antidepressants. It had been over a week now without them, which might explain why the O’Doul’s she poured me looked like the excrescence of the post-industrial and electronic culture that suffocated me daily.
Leaving the faux beer unfinished, I quickly fled the establishment, stifling my existential nausea. On the street again, I wondered if downtown had gotten worse in the 30 years I’ve been here — or is it me? Are these unfortunates, these psycho-socially dysfunctional souls hanging onto the edge of the planet with suction cups, just another version of themselves, avatars of the same stained and damned souls that populated these city blocks three decades ago? My nausea gave way to a light-headedness that threatened to overcome me on these Gaslamp streets.
I lifted the back of my right hand to my forehead, staving off, I hoped, yet another fainting spell. With my other hand, I signaled a passing taxi. Returning to my cell of a room, anemic with hopelessness, I clutched the thin blanket about me, lodged my thumb against my inner cheek and fled for three days into unkind dreams.
The following Tuesday brought relentless rain beneath a still somehow fullish moon visible occasionally between clouds. But I set out, recorder in hand, in search of hope and an answer to the question, How do I keep from losing weekends like that? The answer was a small voice yet with a majestic power suggesting God. Maybe not the God, but a god. “Ask someone normal,” the voice said.
Jackie Fundak, 44, is having lunch in Little Italy with her girlfriend Paula Kwast, 48. Both are from San Diego. Last weekend Jackie put the Fun back in Fundak by attending a horse show in Bonita. “If your daughter rides horses, you go to horse shows,” she said. Fundak has no plans for the upcoming weekend as of yet but describes her ideal weekend as “a weekend in Bermuda. Did that four years ago and it was fun!”
Jackie F’s companion nods. “A weekend at the beach is her thing, all right. This weekend I’m helping to move my office, but ideally I’d be spending that time by the side of the pool, not running the kids around.”
“Scuba-diving in Monterey,” Sharif Ahmed, 28, tells me. “That’s what I did last weekend.” No plans as yet for next weekend. “Last year I saw my first shark, that was in the Bahamas. About eight feet, not too big. That would be my weekend all the time, if possible. Scuba-diving.”
Bill Wells, 56, is a security guard with Elite Security. “Last weekend was great. I worked. Ideally, I’d be working every weekend; that’s what I’m after, full-time work. I was passed over for that because of discrimination.” Wells feels he was discriminated against as a Caucasian in favor of other ethnic groups. “But last weekend I worked the North Park Festival of Arts. I enjoyed that, just watching the people and meeting artists and musicians.” Wells is a former long-distance trucker but does not miss it. “There’s nothing fun about pulling into Detroit, dead of winter, two in the morning.”
Cheryl Massey is 25 years old, waiting for an Amtrak at the Santa Fe station. “Disneyland!” is all she says. “Yep, Disneyland.”