The International Writers Magazine: On The Street Where I Used To Live
I have arthritis in my knees and hips, not surprising as I recently turned 80. The Northern California retirement community where I now live has a nature area and three or four times a week I walk the path around it, something my doctor says is good for the arthritis although the knees and hips hurt more afterward.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the time I lived in an apartment on Octavia Street in San Francisco. I’d moved there as soon as I became employed again, leaving the guest house where I’d been living as an economy measure. The apartment was small, a studio, the furniture was thrift store, the sofa became a bed at night. But it was on the top floor of a four-story brick building and the windows looked west over the surrounding buildings so that you could see the sunset and also part of the Bay Bridge coming over from Oakland.
I made a couple of other economy moves at Octavia Street. I started cooking my own meals, using the recipes given me by my old girl friend; at least she’d left me with that. I also sold my car. My new job was in the State building at the Civic Center and I could walk there from my apartment, going down Van Ness, so I didn’t really need a car, that is, not unless I wanted to go anywhere else. My old job was as market analyst in a small research firm that had suddenly gone bankrupt with suspicions that the owner had embezzled the money. My job with the Sate wasn’t too different except that I was called a government analyst and it paid only about half as much.
On weekdays I’d walk back from work, climb the stairs up to the fourth floor, watch the sunset, make myself some kind of meal, then later get out one of my old stat books and go through it while watching the cars, headlights like a line of diamonds, coming over the Bay Bridge. The State had an exam coming up and if I passed I could move up a level and make a little more money.
Weekends were a problem. After cleaning up my apartment, which didn’t take long, I had nothing much else to do and, without a car, couldn’t go anywhere much. I’d become friendly with a few people at my job of course but they were mostly married with their own lives and I had no desire to get a new girl friend. This was when I started walking and why, I suppose, when walking around the nature area now, I started thinking about Octavia Street.
In the afternoons I could walk downtown from Geary Street and look into the art galleries and book stores. I could also stroll through Macy’s and stop a while in Union Square, where I could look at the passers-by and imagine what their lives were like. I’d take my time and around five or six reached Chinatown where I’d have dinner at a restaurant recommended by my Chinese laundryman, lots of food and inexpensive. After eating, I would wander back, stopping in one or two other book stores. By the time I returned to Octavia Street it would be dark. I’d feed Mickey, the stray cat I’d somehow adopted, then I’d settle in my chair and look out the window and after a while go to bed. Sometimes I’d be tired out enough from my walking to go to sleep, sometimes not.
At other times I’d go out on a Saturday night after eating in my apartment and walk down to Market Street, stopping in the stores there and after much thought buying a few things, a new record player after my old one had died and a transistor radio, then something new. San Francisco is a relatively small place and it was inevitable that I run into someone from my old life. In the Emporium I met Dick Willingham, whom I’d known from the San Francisco Marketing Club. Dick was a market analyst at Standard Oil. “So you’re working for the State?”
“How is it?”
“Not bad. They haven’t gone bankrupt yet.”
“Ha, ha. Hey, we’ll have to do lunch.”
“Sure.” Both he and I knew this would never happen.
“Say, I saw Lorraine the other day.” (The ex I tried not to think about)
“Yes? How is she?”
“She’s doing fine, engaged to some fellow at BBDO, I think.”
When I returned to Octavia Street that night I was tired because I’d walked a lot, mostly aimlessly, but I didn’t get to sleep. I sat a long time, Mickey in my lap, looking out the window.
* * *
One night, after I’d been at Octavia Street for about two months, the middle-aged woman who lived across the way knocked on my door and asked if I could come over and light her gas stove; she was nervous about doing it herself. I did and then she’d ask me over for dinner every now and then. She was a librarian and looked like what you’d imagine a librarian should, thin with stern features and tight gray hair. I assumed that she was a spinster but found she was a widow; her husband had died in an accident. She had a sister somewhere in the Midwest and didn’t seem to have any friends. Eventually I invited her over for a meal at my place and she admired the view and said I wasn’t too bad a cook.
Shortly after this Wendy, who lived on the first floor and had seen Mickey when I let her out took the walk with me to my Chinese restaurant. Wendy was 23 and worked in an office downtown. She wasn’t a pretty girl but was pleasant and loved cats. She also told me she liked to walk. When we returned she came up to my apartment and Mickey sat on her lap while we looked out at the view.
The State exam was finally given, I passed but had to go to Sacramento, where most of the State agencies were headquartered to get a promotion. I bought a car, got married (no, not to Wendy) and eventually we bought a house, whose back yard Mickey liked. I don’t know if any of this would have happened if it wasn’t for those three or four months at Octavia Street..
© Martin Green May 2014
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