In a Hayes Valley thrift store, a forlorn man pushed his cart.
“I cause nothing but trouble,” he said, a five-year-old’s whine in a grown man’s baritone. He looped through the books and crockery and polyester Women’s Jackets, head down, intent on his sing-song confession.
“I cause nothing but trouble.
I don’t blame you for not talking to me.
I. Cause. Nothing but. Ch-rubble.”
As he passed behind me, I wondered what mother he addressed.
“I cause nothing but pink stocking trouble.”
A few shoppers noticed the twist, and glanced at my bubblegum tights. I’m trying on his words on as an epitaph.
The next evening, on the Muni platform, another lonely man struck up a chat. His beard and missing back teeth gave him the sunken look of a civil war veteran. It was raining, as usual.
“Must be heavy if you can hear it on the roof all the way down here.”
“Sounds like a stream a ways away. The runnels make me think of a creek running over stones.”
“That’s exactly what it sounds like.”
“I hear these things. I’m from Washington State. I hear things city people don’t hear. I could hear a bird far away even in the city. If I listen hard. People here don’t listen so well.”
Oh, darling. What happened to you? I was afraid to ask in case the answer followed me home. Instead he told me about western birds.
“I like your shoes,” he said. I was wearing the new trainers I’d bought on my last Sunday in New York. They are silver patent leather, something the Tin Man would have worn, and I like them too because they make strangers laugh. “Where did you get them?”
I tried to think of ways not to say “Prada”. “New York,” I offered finally.
“Oh,” he said. “If it was here I’d have liked to get a pair.”