The International Writers Magazine: Life Story Archives
Dinner at Fisherman's Wharf
I thought of the Buena Vista. The Berkeley gang would meet at a downtown bar on Friday night and usually someone knew of a party going on. The next morning, Sunday, we’d meet at the BV...
That afternoon in Golden Gate Park
On a golden San Francisco day
We walked hand in hand
In the Japanese Tea Garden
Before sipping tea
From delicate cups.
Than we sat on a bench
By the DeYoung Museum
And made up stories
About people passing by.
Later we lie on the grass
And embraced each other.
We’ll have more days like this,
Won’t we? you asked.
Just then the San Francisco fog
Fell on us from the trees.
Chilled, we folded our blanket
And hastily left.
I never did answer your question
Because I knew that what we had
Was as delicate as those teacups
And as breakable.
I once wrote this poem: a memory of my days as a single young man in San Francisco. The girl was not my wife Sally.
“So you both came to San Francisco and met there?”
The speaker was our daughter-in-law Maria. The four of us were at dinner in a Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant in San Francisco: our son Jack, his wife Maria, my wife Sally and myself. As Sally and I no longer drove on freeways, Jack and Maria had driven us down from our retirement community outside of Sacramento for the weekend.
“Yes,” Sally said. “I’d been working in New York but Dad had left New York and come out to California. I was in Vancouver by then and came down to San Francisco. I was following him.” This is what Sally always said.
“How did you meet?”
“It was at the Laurel Lodge,” I said. “I was there with some friends and Sally was there with some friends. Somehow we got together and I got her number and called her the next day.”
The Laurel Lodge. It was a popular bar on California Street way back then. Players on the 49ers used to come there after games. They had popcorn on the tables and sometimes little frankfurters. The “some friends” were the gang I ran around with when I first came to San Francisco. I’d met one of them, Ray Foster, while I was in the Army and had kept in touch with him. I thought of them as the Berkeley gang because most had gone to Cal. On our last visit to the city, about ten years ago, Sally and I had driven along California Street, looking for the Laurel Lodge. It was no longer there.
“Where did you go on your first date?” asked Maria. She was a nice girl but she had a habit of subjecting people to an inquisition. I thought we’d gone over all of this before, but maybe not. I tended to back off when Maria started her barrage of questions.
“Your Dad took me to Tommy’s Joynt,” said Sally. “It’s a hofbrau. You stood on line to get your food. I think we both had roast beef sandwiches.”
Tommy’s Joynt (that’s how it’s spelt) is a San Francisco institution, still there on Van Ness, known for its roast beef and for beers from all over the world. I remembered that we’d been at a table with a bunch of Irish guys, who’d bought us drinks and acted as if Sally and I were already a couple. They said we’d have to come to Ireland on our honeymoon.
A waitress came over to take our orders. The restaurant was a new one to me, as were most of the other restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf. Maria, who visited a friend in San Francisco every few weekends and so knew much more about the city than we did now, had selected it. She’d made reservations and we had a window table which gave us a view of the Bay.
“How long were you in San Francisco before you two met?” asked Maria.
“I’d just gotten there,” said Sally. “I was living in a guest house. Dad had been there for two years, I think. He had an apartment near the guest house.”
“Did you have many girl friends before?” Maria asked me.
More inquisition. “No,” I answered. “I was very shy.” The part about being shy was true.
“Why did you move to Sacramento?” asked Maria. She was on a roll.
“I was working for the State,” I said, “and we moved so that I could get a promotion. We also wanted to buy a house and we couldn’t afford one in San Francisco.”
“Do you miss San Francisco?”
“Yes,” said Sally. “We had a lot of good times here.”
“But it’s completely changed,” I said.
Earlier that day we’d walked along Fisherman’s Wharf to the Buena Vista, where we’d planned to have Irish coffees. The Buena Vista, like Tommy’s Joint, was an old San Francisco tradition. Supposedly, Irish coffee had been invented there. I had a lot of memories of the BV, some good and some bad. When we’d gone into it that afternoon it was crowded with tourists and we couldn’t find anyplace to sit or even stand so we had to leave. I’d been annoyed. I thought of the Buena Vista as my place and now tourists had taken it over.
The restaurant was an expensive one, unlike the old seafood restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf we used to go to, which were now gone. I thought the food was mediocre. But the view was nice and our waiter affected a French accent. After our dinner, Jack and Maria decided to go someplace for a drink. Sally and I went back to our motel. I was tired from the walking we’d done and my bad hip was hurting. We watched some television, read a little, then went to bed. “How many girl friends did you have before?” Sally asked.
“One or two.”
As was our habit, we kissed. Sally turned over. I lay on my back. I thought of the Buena Vista. The Berkeley gang would meet at a downtown bar on Friday night and usually someone knew of a party going on. The next morning, Sunday, we’d meet at the BV, which was not then crowded with tourists, and where the bartender and waitresses knew us. We’d rehash what had happened the night before and decide what to do that day. Often, when it was foggy in San Francisco, we’d go over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sam’s in Tiburon, where we’d have Samburgers and beer and look at the view of the city.
I’d written a story in which the protagonist, a young man new to San Francisco, starts an affair with the wife of a friend. He takes her home from a party (the husband is conveniently out of town) and she asks him in; things go on from there but then he goes back to his place. At the end of the story she calls him the next morning and tells him she’s at the BV with the gang and asks if he’s coming. He hesitates, then says he is, then wonders where they’ll go from there. I hadn’t had an affair with a friend’s wife but I’d done a few stupid things while I was a single young man in San Francisco those first years.
Parties. I thought of that period as “Party Time” and that’s what I’d called my story. I hadn’t always worked for the State. I’d worked for a downtown ad agency then and it had gone under. My life changed. The party time was over. I met Sally. Would things have been different if the ad agency had survived? I didn’t know. The Berkeley gang. I wondered what had happened to them. I knew Ray Foster had passed away. The others, after all these years, old, like me, if they were still around. I thought of that girl in Golden Gate park, the one before Sally. Where was she now? I heard a fog horn from out on the Bay. Maybe it had a soothing effect; in a few moments I was asleep.
© Martin Green March 2016
My Bad Granddad
It was only later that I thought of my father’s father as my Bad Granddad. When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx all I knew is that he owned a little house in Brighton Beach and that we used to go there to escape the summer heat.
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