Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stepping Out in San Francisco- A Mouse Tale

“You two be careful,” warned Daisy with a wide grin as she dropped the two partiers off at the commuter train station. Earlier that afternoon, Daisy had instructed her husband to watch out for his Aunt who was neither a drinker nor a partier.
This was Auntie Beebe’s social debut, and nephew Michael was introducing her to San Francisco’s single’s scene. Beebe had booked a flight to the City of Fog, posted on her Facebook that she intended to enjoy a wild weekend in California, and packed her red, low cut sweater. She could hardly wait. Her friends rolled their eyes at her plan. Why was she leaving Seattle to go to a bar? Beneath her garden club exterior was a wild side that was beginning to bleed to the surface after years of marriage.
Now the big evening had arrived. The two friends sat side by side, the older aunt and younger nephew, laughing together about the possibilities of the night. The train swayed its way through the East Bay heading west to a city where anything goes. They would begin at the art gallery openings and end at the hippest hangouts. It had been nearly a year since Beebe’s divorce was finalized, and she was tired of staying in on Saturday nights. Michael had promised to troll Beebe out to the San Francisco men he guaranteed were waiting, the younger men he urged her to consider, all men. Beebe had just continued to laugh. It was fun to be dressed in red and seeing the town. She had no intention of leaving with a stranger, but she kept the fantasy continuing for the amusement of them both. The noise of the tunnel muffled their chatter. The time had come to step out from the suburbs and into the city lights.
“You just keep getting younger.”
Michael checked out her V-necked, red cashmere sweater and tight black satin pants. “I am going to call you “Button” after Benjamin Button.”
Beebe thought of the recent movie based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of a man who grew younger as he aged. She liked the comparison. She would be “Button.” Beebe had never had a nickname. She had been the one to name her friends. No one had ever named her.
“I like it. Just call me Button! Cute as a button…huh?”
They walked up Geary Street to the first high rise of galleries and waited to enter as the steady stream of art connoisseurs poured from the revolving door.
“This way Beebe,” and Michael pointed her to the table of free wine and six ounce plastic cups. The nickname was gone. It had only lasted thirty minutes.
Beebe had been braced to dislike the modernism of San Francisco’s art scene. It was the trend of contemporary art since World War II, and it made her sick that she had not continued in her field of art history. Secretly she wanted to have become a museum director. She could have turned the art world around. She was herself a painter. With control of museum purchasing budgets, she would have made sure that her talented artist friends would have benefited from her influence. Their representational paintings would have hung in the finest museums. Beebe downed her cheap white wine and took the second glass with her as they entered the first gallery.
“You are such a snob, Beebe,” teased Michael. “There’s realistic art in San Fran. It’s down by the wharf being bought up by the tourists.”
The artist in the first gallery was from Manhattan. Beebe smirked that even in San Francisco; an artist from New York brought with him perceived sophistication and commanded respect. Beebe sipped more wine as she peered at the two inch squirts of oil piled tightly together on the canvas. The surface effect was of dots, and she thought of pointillism. Beebe relaxed and looked for the artist. He was short, dressed in black, and talking with a blazer-clad, grey haired collector in the corner. The sterile wood room smelled of fresh oil. The wine heated her body, and she removed her black raincoat, revealing the bright splash of her red sweater.
“May I touch your paintings?” she joked.
“No, they are still wet and soft.” No kidding thought Beebe, You can hardly breathe in here.
“They have so much texture. You just want to feel them.”
The artist smiled and the collector moved on. The painter and would be museum director discussed his work and Manhattan, where Beebe had once had an apartment. She wanted her new artist friend to add figures to his canvases, Seurat style, but he was insistent on simplification. Business was good for him despite the economy, so they agreed to disagree. They hugged goodbye as Beebe moved on. She decided that the tall squirts of bright oil on canvas were rather interesting after all. Perhaps the warmth of the wine and the smell of the paint were softening her judgment, soft like wet oil.
The next gallery presented large watery landscapes.
“These look like Japanese screens,” and Beebe took the fresh glass of wine from her nephew as she scanned the room for the artist. The gallery manager pointed to a young man from Japan. Beebe was stunned that such softness could be achieved by a male artist. As she oozed compliments, praising his sensitivity and connection to the art history of his country, the polite painter bowed with each comment. Beebe instinctively bowed in response. Together they bobbed back and forth for the entire conversation, until Beebe could bow no more and backed away. More wine was needed, and so it went from one gallery to another. Some artists were local while others were the out-of-area experts. They explained the hidden meaning in their pieces and the evolution of their work. They all enjoyed chatting with Beebe while Michael looked on, proud of his confident aunt. They were both happy with wine and ready to head down Market Street to their last destination, the crowded bar at Farmerbrown.
As they approached Mason Street and were beneath the covered construction walkway, Beebe and Michael were approached by a man with a baggy trench coat and a large backpack.
“I need some change for the train.” He craftily eyed the matches that Michael had discarded on the pavement. “Hey man. I have a lighter that I’ll sell you for five bucks.”
The matches had not lit, and Beebe thought that five dollars to support a homeless man sounded a bargain.
“Five dollars for a cigarette lighter. No way,” responded Michael with big city flair. Beebe reached into her wallet and handed the thin man with braided hair a bill. Then deal had been stuck.
“It’s ok Mickey. What’s five dollars? Now you have a lighter,” and Beebe laughed. The buzz had begun. The two revelers tripped their way down the sidewalk, past the sleek newest hotel in the ghetto, and through the dark crowded entrance of Farmerbrown.
Beebe loved the industrial feel of the hot new bar and restaurant that boasted down home southern cooking.
“You will love the fried chicken. It’s the best you can find, and it comes with macaroni and cheese. Its great comfort food,” raved Michael of the San Francisco cuisine.
Beebe thought of her mother cooking in the old black iron skillet, spooning Crisco into the well seasoned pan as the oil sizzled hot. Their dinners in North Carolina were always fried. She had grown up on fried okra, French fries, corn bread, and of course, fried chicken. It would be interesting to see how the west coast chef would manage a Southern meal.
As they entered, she was overwhelmed with the long dark bar, the distressed copper and corrugated metal that faced the support columns, and the black and white photographs of African children. Farmerbrown was appropriately west coast organic and strictly supported Afro-American farmers. It was the smell of fried food that blended with the jazz from the bar that drew patrons into the atmosphere of the evening. The tricolored posters of Barrack Obama that hung on the walls were a not so subtle political statement for the chic diners who came to the other side of Mason at Turk to enjoy a home cooked meal.
“Look. This is the evolution of the Obama branding.” Michael pointed to the poster under glass at the bar with tiny images beginning on the left with the president’s last name and ending simply on the right with the flag-like letter “O”. Michael was a graphic designer. “Brilliant,” was all he commented.
Beebe looked down at the poster on the bar, took a sip of her water, and felt the long room begin to spin in the music. The last thing she remembered was thinking that she was going to be sick and just needed to put her head down on the bar for a brief moment.
Michael grabbed her shoulders as she bowed her forehead to her glass of water just as the polite artist from Japan bowed to compliments. He raised her to a vertical position. Beebe’s body turned to liquid and melted through his arms to the floor. She lay in a pile with her mouth and eyes open, and unconscious. The panic of the nearby bar patrons kept pace with the rock music.
“Call 911,” the bartender ordered the waitress.
“No,” said Michael as he watched Beebe stir to consciousness when he called her name. “She’s just dehydrated. She’s coming around.” He helped his aunt back to a standing position.
“I’m OK,” said Beebe in a fog. The room continued to spin and the desire to place her head on the bar by her water glass had not diminished. The sound of blues whirled around her. A tall man in a pinstriped suit had come close to help, and the bartender stopped his work of mixing Mojitos to stare at her. He didn’t want her stumbling into an injury and a lawsuit. The stocky manager hovered near the corner of the bar, grateful that the lights were dim and her fainting scene had not been noticed by any of the guests seated for dinner.
“Lets get her some sweet potato fries and corn bread muffins.”
That’s when Beebe went down for the second time, again politely bowing to the water, and then grabbed by her nephew before falling backwards to the floor. When she hit the ground, her feet were splayed sideways as if broken, her rolled back eyes and open mouth like the crucified Christ, and her back arched and twisted. Michael would have thought his aunt dead, if he had not have passed out at a party in college and remembered the retelling of his own dive to the floor. The open eyes and mouth and the unnatural position of her body, gave him chills. Beebe looked like a character in a horror film. He called her name repeatedly as she moved on the floor.
Beebe was in heaven, unaware of the commotion she was causing in a place where concerns were to be washed away by a salt rimmed cocktail and not by hospital personnel. She was comfortable and warm, lying in the soft bed of her mind. She did not want to get out of the warmth, not even when she heard her nephew’s voice calling her name.
“Hi Mickey. Where am I?”
“On the floor.”
Beebe was amazed that the floor could be so soft. She would just stay there and enjoy her comfort. She could have remained on her floor bed, if Michael had not been pulling her back into a vertical line.
Beebe heard the words of the waitress in black. “The police and ambulance are on the way.”
No, thought Beebe. No police. Paranoia engulfed her. “I’m fine,” she uttered, her voice now horse. She made a conscious effort to keep her words clear and unslurred. “I am just dehydrated. I haven’t had any water today. I haven’t eaten anything. I had some wine. I need to eat something.” Was this enough? They seemed to believe her, and it was true. Partially. She needed to sit down.
Michael directed her outside, and the manager brought a dining chair into the parking lot. The fresh air was cool and began to clear her head. Beebe munched on the plate full of fries and small corn muffins while she drank two glasses of water. She saw the flashing red lights pass the parking lot and stop at the corner of the street.
“I am not going with them,” and she turned with determination to her nephew.
Before she realized their arrival, two young paramedics in dark blue uniforms and light blue latex gloves were squatting by her side and quietly evaluating her appearance. Beebe explained again her lack of water and food as well as an ample supply of wine. She placed her plate of bread and fries on the pavement of the parking lot without weaving.
“Come with us. We need to take your vital signs,” coaxed the younger brunette EMT.
“Who is going to pay for this? I didn’t call the ambulance.” Beebe was trying to sound in control, as she was escorted through the bar to the front door of the restaurant. The waitress ran to bring Michael his aunt’s open purse. She was thrilled to see the cause of the night’s excitement whisked away and out to the street.
“We won’t write down your address. We only need your name.”
Beebe blurted that she was not about to reveal her real name.
“We only need a name. Whatever name you give us is fine.” This was not the first, nor the last time during the evening that the two paramedics would be checking the vital signs of secret partiers.
Beebe would not step into the ambulance. “Ok then, Mickey Mouse.”
“Mickey Mouse is a boy’s name. How about Minnie?” suggested the EMT.
Beebe loved the suggestion. “Ok, Minnie Mouse,” and she stepped up the high ambulance step with the assistance of her new pal in deception. She was handed an electronic notebook and boldly wrote the name, Minnie Mouse, in large loopy letters. She had been renamed.
Minnie batted her long eyelashes at her new medical friends. “My nephew promised that I would have a big night and meet some cute men. Look, I have two young medics by my side.”
Michael retrieved his I Phone from his jacket pocket and snapped photos of Minnie Mouse and the blue gloved EMT with his arm around her. More photos followed with Minnie’s leg exposed, held by blue gloves while electrodes were place into position. The mouse patient passed all the tests and was released back for dinner. She hugged her rescuers as she stepped down from the ambulance and invited the pair to join them for fried chicken. Unfortunately for Minnie, there were more stops to be made by the ambulance crew that night and her invitation was reluctantly declined. Her buzz had lessened, the world was no longer spinning, and the table at Farmerbrown almost ready to be occupied. Minnie was stunned that even an ambulance visit could not get a patron seated faster at the big city hot spot. As they walked through the restaurant to their corner table, the diners whispered and pointed at Minnie. Yes, she was the one that had hit the floor, but the now famous mouse did not care. She smiled and walked to her table like a celebrity.
“You know Mickey, Daisy would have killed you, if you had gone back home tonight and told her that I had died at a bar!”
“Yeah, but what a great pick up line…Please pick me up off the floor!”
Mickey and Minnie laughed throughout dinner, retelling the night’s exploits, each time with the details larger and more graphic, just like the fish tale that it was. Minnie Mouse had stepped out on the town with Mickey by her side. A larger than life adventure with a rescue by handsome young men was delivered as promised. Daisy, who had received the I Phone photos, was at the train station early to hear the final version of the evening’s happenings. For Minnie, there would never be another night quite like her San Francisco adventure with Mickey. For this, she would be forever grateful.

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