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Published on Jan 27, 2012
From the Mission and 16th Street BART Station, the train shoots along to the bum-encrusted Civic Center corridor and through downtown. Those first-time airport tourist patrons get a little nervous as they pass through a darker, less vacationey neighborhood. Illegal aliens, many from Guatemala and Honduras, stand in front of the Sinclair Paints on what was once Army Street (now Cesar Chavez) waiting for a day labor job. Some of them go to the restaurant supply store in Bayview. Their qualifications are always the same: "cheap" and "hardworking."
Skinny and homely in an attractive way--she hadn't quite grown into her face and her lips looked bee stung and she had a little pockets of baby fat that would dissolve within a few years. In her early twenties, Alexis fit with the neighborhood's apparitions slumping up and down the sidewalks. The place is mostly full of boney cheeks and sores, old clothes, smells of beer and bleach, flimflam everything, TALKING LOUD, fat whores, failed pimps, petty theft, grand larceny, cars vrrrooming, and requests for cigarettes. And hiSSSing bus brakes! Art Academy students are the jewels of the neighborhood--fashionable shoes, young legs, and bellies not yet stretched out from pooting out babies. Alexis fit in with the jewels, a kind of cute oddball.
For some low-income residents, a good day is a free Meals on Wheels dinner delivered by a pretty college girl. And in the Tenderloin, just as in prison, even the worst news is never really that bad.
I liked her this way, mean and honest, but I doubted I could fuck her now. Her magic evaporated as soon as the soft human tools were destroyed. No flirting or innuendo, no groping eye contact, and no drinks after work where our knees touched under the table. I was now communicating with a mannequin. I would forgo those lovely muscle creases in her calves, that proud birdlike chest, and her tiny mean breasts.
Four years passed since I visited the strip club's sticky vinyl booths and boozy Stumptown streets but not much changed. That visit was for pleasure; this one was for business, but it started with déjà vu. Same human roaches. Same dirty pigeons. The same forlorn Chinatown was next to the same sketchy halfway houses with a garden of ashen meth heads and registered sex offenders planted on the steps. The scene was as dreary as the useless wet pigeon feathers plastered on the pavement.
Excerpts from Flying Without Leaving the Ground, a novel by Kurt Van Leiden.