Banker’s Hill is the skull on the hill, shaken and pounded by arrival and departure. Bones of sturdy Victorians, peeled, abraided, and painted down into preserved sites of heritage, rise stiffly into historical markers among clipped grass plots. Increasingly, these stubborn denizens, bleeding their traditional blue, salmon, or gold and taupe-green best, are joined by children’s blocks of glass and stucco, swiftly boxing neighbor into neighbor. The hundred-unit building across the street, only a few years old, is silent. The community vegetable and flower plots, none the busier, wait quietly for caring hands.

Most working residents of the hill are absent and present like ghosts; through thick airport glass their objects speak for them: an empty treadmill, a sleek computer monitor, the gleam of a cherry, lawyerly desktop, the cocked arm of the green dentist’s light covered with clear tape. Busy ghosts, who tiptoe gingerly across scratched blonde floorboards, past the inconvenient sculpture of radiators.

I’m a ghost shuffling outside my elderly rented condo onto the juniper-lined pavement. Juniper can mock the stateliness of cypress when groomed; these are amateurly shaped by the successive hands of management services into smokelike wisps, and marked steadily by the rationed urine of condo-bound dogs.

Two cinderblock liquor stores are planted across from the Hob Nob, which in Victorian English means ‘numbed senior palate.’ Homeless cruise for styrofoamed meal scraps, or “spange” for a five dollar pint at the Bi-Rite. Lawrence, who broke his leg and sits in a wheelchair, has been waiting for six months for a ride to Yuma. For now, he positions between the two convenience stores, and sucks down a couple of pints of Stoli a day. He sleeps perched on a low narrow ledge on the building next to mine, and unabashedly brushes walls with eggshells, hot sauce, greasy taco paper, excrement. One day, a neighbor who had had enough, called the ambulance. Its red pulse drew me to the window in time to see Lawrence’s arm raise and middle finger shoot skyward, as they slid his cot into the back and slammed the door.

Across the street one frequently sees a tall man who stoops importantly around the neighborhood with his mother and her dog. He or anyone may have called the cops on Lawrence, who is nevertheless back the very next day, grousing and sans cast, flicking eggshell fragments at the sidewalk. This neighbor may or may not live in the house that in real estate ads seems to represent our area; his orange Lamborghini does at least part-time. He and a younger companion ease it from the garage and whip around toward Grape and the freeway north, blonde highlights snapping.

Everything else, the juniper, the birdsong, the scrappy pines, politely suggest a stroll to the park. A left leads onto Fifth, and the end of Fifth is my destination, the place I still know as just Mercy.

Mercy has its own little garden; a bluer than sea water feature of stepped concrete lined with plots, each with a semi-tended rose and plaque to commemorate departed associates. IV carts skip-drag at each break of sidewalk square and plaque; a hard worker from... janitorial…skip…nutrition services…skip…radiology…skip…administration…skip…clergy…skip. Always a few fierce-eyed men sit in wheelchairs out of the sun, wearing the familiar, cotton string gowns. They don’t seem to care what body parts are exposed or what color liquor suspends from their IV poles, or in heavy plastic bags not quite hidden at their sides. This is the Christ-complex they’ll go back to their rooms to enact after a cigarette: the panting exhibitionism of the suffering, the jittery, itchy thrill of the please, help me delirium that sets in after so many injections of morphine or Dilaudid.

Mercy comes in to tap a tiny, capable vein no one else can ever find. She is the quiet queen of this realm, as her name suggests. Nurses are more solicitous in the transfusion room; they stay and chat with outpatients as they cannot with inpatients. Outpatients are more humanly alert, and make one more accountable. Unfortunately for all of us, lovely Mercy is about to retire.

Inpatient, I track the circular upper halls, under the green fluorescents, weaving past nurses and wheelchairs and stainless steel foodcarts. Outpatient, I pace the garden, having gotten used to the harder stares; people are confused by a person in clean, pressed civilian clothing, walking upright, yet pushing a machine connected to her body. It doesn’t jive with the natural light, the sound of birds and water, the busy street. Once disconnected, you can slip back outside, and no one sees you at all. Like my online university students, who think I am a silently running machine in a school building somewhere, spitting out automated email answers.

Long after finishing school, I still see him on buses, and at my cafes and library hangouts with a cartload of yellowed papers. I thought he was a ghost, too, since we ghosts rarely acknowledge one another’s existence. But one morning, descending back to the garden I see Mr. Knight tinkling the lobby piano ivories. It is uncanny to hear jazz and show standards in the nine a.m. brightness and largeness of this hall, without the sour bar smell; it is stranger yet to hear The Girl from Ipanema preceed the assortment of characters to-and-fro-ing with the continual swoosh of the dark glass doors.

A notebook with some kind of shorthand lies open, and he peers at it now and then. We have spoken about literature here and there, a disjointed conversation across clearly different reading trajectories. But I am feeling better this morning, some of the torpor shaken off. The $100 per milliliter mouse protein has begun to course through my forearm, down the red alleyways of my body. Wearing bright lipstick, I wield my IV pole like a karaoke mic, in the best David Lynch style. I’ve just dropped down for a cocktail and a song, and Mr. Knight will graciously oblige, as the carved Christ spreads his wooden robes over all tripping and striding across the green carpet, and my voice catches on the breeze brought in each time the doors slide open:

Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking, and when she passes I smile—but she doesn’t see... she just doesn’t see…she never sees me…no, she just doesn’t see

More like this:

Comments

SDaniels March 8, 2009 @ 11:29 p.m.

Some of you I think I know; others I'm not so sure. I am starting on a new therapy of self-injections at home, so have more time and space to observe beyond this arbitrary route between my little box on Banker's Hill and the hospital. This neighborhood, like any environment, changes daily, so I am encouraged to write further. Thank you to Lawrence, who now inhabits Mission Hills, to Mr. Knight, who will no doubt continue his excellent volunteer work, providing music for everyone who passes through those sliding hospital doors, and thank you and love to all for your comments. Suzanne

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SDaniels May 11, 2009 @ 2:20 a.m.

Hey Mike, thanks for reading! I am working on the "well" bit, which has admittedly been slow coming, but you have to work with what you have. I hope to post something non-related to illness in the coming weeks--life is rich, and I am steeped in it, too! :)

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mike1 May 10, 2009 @ 9 a.m.

Hi Suzanne,

I'm a little late to your blog. As mentioned on another blog, I've enjoyed your posts. I'm not sure what your illness is but I hope you are well. I've sat a couple of times in the oasis outside the hospital myself (not as a patient, just walking by.) Looking forward to more posts.
Mike

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vschff Feb. 27, 2009 @ 2:49 p.m.

Fabulous story now I want to read the rest of the book !!!!!

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readerreaderreader Feb. 27, 2009 @ 2:56 p.m.

Best writing in this series. Or in the Reader, ever. Thank you.

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IVANKATRUMP Feb. 27, 2009 @ 4:49 p.m.

What an amazing story!! You're a darn good writer, perhaps write a book? Thank you, I was entertained.

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eastmiss March 1, 2009 @ 2:42 p.m.

Vivid, evocative and mesmerizing. Neighborhood denizens are given their moments in the sun, as it were. Personal, without being self-aggrandizing.

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Desertflower March 2, 2009 @ 10:06 a.m.

S.Daniels takes us journeying through our neighborhood with style, humor and love. Brilliant!

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hyacinth March 2, 2009 @ 5:24 p.m.

An affectionate, sensitive look at life in the neighborhood, first-hand, through the eyes of a very talented writer. I'd like to read more - perhaps a book?

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Kittybedard March 2, 2009 @ 7:16 p.m.

torpor shaken off Not shaken stirred!!! Fabulous and on point. So much in life is mistaken for momentous, and yet, there is this documentation of slices of life outside our usual.
Well done!!

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rchi March 3, 2009 @ 3:36 p.m.

The neighborhood looks different now... Thanks for the slice of your life. Randy

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lallaw April 15, 2009 @ 7:33 p.m.

After reading what and how your wrote/write, I am only further confused by gopher-bashing recognition. Please write on..., and most of all be well. Lisa a/k/a "lallaw"

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SDaniels April 16, 2009 @ 1 p.m.

Thanks Lisa. I wrote back on the "Diva" thread, too. I am not taking losing a contest as evidence I should stop writing--in fact, I'm grateful to this contest for serving as impetus and incentive to start again, after years of apathy and thinking I wasn't really meant to write anything but criticism (I've also dropped that, too). Anyway, this blogging business can be soul-healing as well as great fun. I look forward to seeing you in the threads! -Suzanne

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magicsfive April 16, 2009 @ 1:33 p.m.

thank you for such a touching read...i think you and lallaw should write on a regular basis. xoxo

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SDaniels April 17, 2009 @ 12:11 p.m.

Thanks, magicsfive! I enjoy your posts, too, and I'm sure we'll meet again soon. It's a whole new world blogging, and sure beats the humorless, carefully circumscribed communications demanded of online teaching. See you in the threads!

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Josh Board April 23, 2009 @ 12:29 a.m.

Why the hell didn't I get to judge? If so, this is in Top 3! What a great read.

I can't decide which three words I liked better:

"numbed senior palate" or "blonde highlights snapping".

Great stuff.

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SDaniels April 23, 2009 @ 11:34 p.m.

Hey, I wish you had been on the panel, Josh! I need a new laptop. Thanks for reading :)

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SDaniels June 16, 2009 @ 11:58 p.m.

Update! I spoke to Lawrence on the bus yesterday, and he is still waiting for that ride to Yuma. His leg is much better. He confirms that he has two degrees, one in psychology, and one in science. He claims that since he's been retired, he's had not much fun in life. His face is streaked with grit and weather, and about the color of his hair, but his eyes are still very blue.

I asked him if he feels differently about people since he's been homeless. Unfortunately, it was hard to discern his reply over the rumble of the bus engine. Something about being kind to them. However, I did catch most of the part about being shot in the face in 'Nam, and understanding the experiences of vets. Lawrence appears to be a rough-worn 40-something, which makes being shot in 'Nam seem fairly unlikely.

In parting, he expressed his wish to have some fun, and to get over to Mission Hills. I reminded him to exit at University Ave., where the #10 would convey him thus.

Exeunt.

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David Dodd June 17, 2009 @ 12:13 a.m.

You're an amazing lady. Absolutely amazing. I go back and read your stuff and it's incredible. I agree with others, there's a book in all of it.

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SDaniels June 17, 2009 @ 10 a.m.

Thank you for making ME smile, gentlemen :)

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SDaniels Sept. 11, 2009 @ 3:27 p.m.

Update: Lawrence was hanging out at the downtown Concourse today. I waved and called his name, and for a moment, it seemed that he was trying to determine whether or not his name just emanated from a voice in his head. I turned the corner, and he looked up with those always-startling, yet vague marble-blue eyes: "Are you here to help me?" We appraised each other's leg injuries (I’m still in my CAM walker, after breaking a foot). He is still out of a cast, but his ankle is now swollen to the size of a football, and it appears to be disappearing into his calf. A shiny new cane rests against the bench, in severe contrast to Lawrence’s dirty coat of street. “The doctor says “Your ankle is just falling, cracking apart.” In illustration, his finger sliced imaginary lines across his foot, then he looked at the thick dirt moons of his fingernails for a moment. “I try to listen to what the doctor says, when he says…” I offered that it looked like he might need some physical therapy.

It’s all about endurance,” he said with meaning, savoring this word. “I know, from twenty years ago, when I was shot. Special forces.” I reminded him that he told me last we spoke that he had been shot in the face. “No. Not in the face, in the head!” He jabbed a thumb up near his temple. “I was shot twenty-eight times, all over.” He now indicated his legs, his trunk. “This was over twenty years ago, before you, before you were there, before things happen.”

“Well, take care of yourself, sir.” I made a mental note to slip him a few dollars the next time I could.

You take care walking,” he said.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 5, 2009 @ 8:47 p.m.

Hey SD-where do you live in Bankers Hill? I lived on Front Street and Kalima.

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Joe Poutous Nov. 6, 2009 @ 6:28 a.m.

"blonde highlights snapping" i love it...

Too bad about Mercy retiring.

  • Joe
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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 7:07 a.m.

What are you two doing on this long dead thread? :)

Yes, Puppy, we're pretty close. Sounds like you are down the hill a bit, though. We're over by the "Hob Nob" on First and Juniper. There's a new cafe across the street, "Cafe Mundo," open till noon, with excellent coffee. Ride your bike up sometime and we'll catch a cup.

Yeah, it was too bad about Mercy retiring. She was the best "stick" in the West--no vein too delicate for her talented eye and fingers ;)

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Joe Poutous Nov. 6, 2009 @ 7:26 a.m.

I remember when I was a kid... 9 years old. Hepatitis and Jaundice. Christmastime.

The hospital room that I was in at Grossmont was painted yellow, the bed clothes were yellow, there was a little yellow bear sticker on the mirror above the sink. Everything yellow, including skinny little me.

They tested my blood every day - raising a huge red welt on one arm.

One morning the male nurse that was my "sticker" came in my room for the daily letting. I had locked my hand behind my neck as hard as I could while holding the unmolested arm out for him to use.

He threatened to have a fat nurse come in the room and sit one me...

We struggled for a bit and I gave in.

I still dislike the color yellow. - Joe

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CuddleFish Nov. 6, 2009 @ 10:40 a.m.

Just an amazing writer you are, kiddo xxxxxxxxxxxxx

She does it all, folks, she writes, she sings, she teaches, and she supports others' efforts. Not to mention she's kind of purty. If you ever decide to get into girls, let me know! ;)

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Duhbya Nov. 6, 2009 @ 11:53 a.m.

"Hey SD-where do you live in Bankers Hill? I lived on Front Street and Kalima.

By SurfPuppy619 8:47 p.m., Nov 5, 2009"

SP - barking up the wrong tree again!

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 7:48 a.m.

Ahhh. Bet yellow makes you feel sick, then! I feel the same way about sickly Pepto-Dismal pink. Remember them trying to get that s*** down your gullet?

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 12:12 p.m.

re: #28: If I need a PR person, I now know who to call! ;)

re: #29: Let's be clear--that was just coffee we were talkin.'

[blush]

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Duhbya Nov. 6, 2009 @ 12:39 p.m.

re: #30: Is that blush all-encompassing? (28 & 29?; and/or; neither?)

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 12:49 p.m.

Both, Duhbya, both. Sometimes compliments are as hard to take as criticism, dontcha think? :)

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Duhbya Nov. 6, 2009 @ 1:06 p.m.

Not sure. Have yet to experience one (of the two mentioned) Such a coy boy!

Wish I had more time to spend here....I agree with many others, your renderings are captivating. Or shall I say the one threaded here since today marks my first read of any of your missives.

Blush away!

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 1:49 p.m.

Oh, not to forget Duhbya, whose rapier wit will sharpen those "big 'effin swords!" :)

By SDaniels 4:21 p.m., Sep 27, 2009 > Report it

Aw, shucks, also, SD. My 12 hour workday precludes me from providing much input beyond my "slash and dash" style. Pesky customers looking for instant answers, you see. (god love 'em) Working from mi casa does allow for a bit more leeway, however. I'm in! Thanks for the endorsement.

By Duhbya 11:05 a.m., Sep 28, 2009 > Report it

Your turn, Duhbya! :)

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Duhbya Nov. 6, 2009 @ 2:30 p.m.

Well, if you were a dude, we could be the Blush Brothers. To bend the gender back your way, we could alternately be billed as the Scarlet Sisters. Your powers of recall are impressive. Or perhaps it's your your cataloguing abilities. Anyway, ya nailed me on that one. Ta ta for now!

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 4:18 p.m.

A strange--more capricious than capacious--memory I'm cursed with (or blessed, on some occasions) ;)

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Duhbya Nov. 6, 2009 @ 5:04 p.m.

Just keep it honed. You might need it later on. Mine is in need of an overhaul, but at least it's still tickin'. My wife and daughter might have contradictory opinions, the sponges.

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SDaniels Nov. 6, 2009 @ 5:56 p.m.

Re: 'honing'--you got that right. I have to start writing a dissertation--soon--should I get a three-year extension on it. My bookshelves are a worriedly constant thing of wonder--'oh, forgot I had that!' ;(

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NotQuiteADiva Dec. 19, 2009 @ 8:26 p.m.

Wow! SD, I just found your blog...

I'm still on my knees - Crohn's?

:/

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MsGrant Dec. 20, 2009 @ 8:50 a.m.

I am shocked that this was not a winner. I still get chills reading it.

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Duhbya Dec. 21, 2009 @ 10:02 a.m.

SD - I was noodling around during the weekend and found a couple of your posts that I had not seen before. I'm not nearly as organized as you are and find myself lagging recently.

From: SDaniels 5:09 p.m., Sep 29, 2009

"Ah, at least three of us work from la casa, then Duhbya; hence the ability to indulge one's frequent bouts of Tourette's :) I think your input on any creative project would be very valuable--you are the s***, and your helpless little (IT clients, I assume) whingers best know it!"

--Not IT folks, per se, but a savvy crowd of technicians.

From: SDaniels 12:24 a.m., Nov 27, 2009

"I have a complete Neil Young collection......"

--Aha, the connection revealed! Walk on, sissy bro! ;>)

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nan shartel Dec. 26, 2009 @ 11:04 a.m.

u got a complete Neil Young collection???

come sit by me Missy

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SDaniels Jan. 15, 2010 @ 1:40 a.m.

Walk on, doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo...

Pays to check back on me blogs! ;)

Yes, Duhbya and nan, we should start a Neil Young appreciation club. And thanky all for de compliments.

Yeah, NQaD, Crohn's in my bones. I try to limit the complaints, and have thusly managed to keep all my friends ;)

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NotQuiteADiva Jan. 15, 2010 @ 8:59 p.m.

Hi, SD

I recognized your symptoms from a couple friends who also suffer from that lovely disease. Not fun at all, yet it’s the adversities in life that make for a great writer, yes? The list is long and illustrious as I think you know. The writings of those who exist within the darkness are beyond compare (why I love TGIF so much). Your Mercy writings are particularly poignant in this regard. You have a curse and a gift blended together into something powerful, do not be afraid to use it...

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SDaniels Jan. 16, 2010 @ 12:05 a.m.

Wow, thanks NQaD! That compliment vies with anything eloquent you've bestowed on the Brizz, and I know we are both grateful for them. ;)

I do wish that the Brizz and others I've known under the spell of demon drink would realize that they really do have a choice still in the matter, and that drinking-related problems can sometimes be reversed. It saddens me to see so many alcoholics give up on their bodies, when I would give anything to have that choice to stop the pain! Addiction's tough, but it can be beat back--I've seen it happen, too.

Speaking of blogs, have you considered starting one here? Mine are few and far, but it does feel good to do it. My next will deal with the perplexing mystery of the MIL/DIL relationship, or lack thereof. :)

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MsGrant Jan. 16, 2010 @ 11:35 a.m.

Oh, I can't wait for that one!! Mothers in law are great fodder. My own asked me what size my pants were the other day. I'll be looking forward to your blog....

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NotQuiteADiva Jan. 19, 2010 @ 7:56 p.m.

Not starting my own blog any time soon. Don't have an urge to be torn apart by worthless cretins... The most I do is sometimes post a few things to my facebook page. Anyone regular on SD's blog is a pretty much a friend o' mine! ;)

Let me know...

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