North Beach three days before New Year's. Christmas this year is a
funeral. The setting sun has begun to seem like a spotted plastic giraffe
dancing in my head. I find breath in the night, and walk up Columbus
Avenue with the bloated moon to Specs--the only bar in North Beach without a
television--where Johnny Cash bleeds from walls decorated with relics, old
photographs, newspaper clippings, and safety orange life preservers with
no-one left to save.
The bar is dim, musky and miserable with a concrete floor. However, after
adjusting to the darkness, you can invariably find something strange,
colorful and distracting. Tonight, from atop a bookshelf, an over-blonde
kewpie doll laughs at me with a wide sugar mouth.
At a back table David, the doorman for Vesuvio's, who wears teddy-bear
ears, and Marco the Finn play Magic The Gathering with cards of their own
design and animal figurines. They play here every Sunday; it is their
religion, they say.
David puts a toy guerilla in the pitcher of beer and then takes it out.
"Mark Schwartz (one of the North Beach poetic characters, emphasis on
character) is the toy guerilla," he says, "and he's drying out like a good
Marco pulls out cards from a new deck called Polka Of Doom. Marco was
one of the blues musicians from this alley when I first stumbled into North
Beach, unemployed. 9-11 had just happened; the country was in chaos, our
president couldn't offer any explanation except for the terrorists were
"evil". The job I thought I had, I didn't, and I was too embarassed to move
back home. I remembered that John Steinbeck once wrote in an essay,"San
Francisco is the golden handcuff of inspiration," at time when he too felt
lost and spent his evenings drinking cheap wine in North Beach while living
on Bush Street not able to find work. I'll stick it out, I thought, and
drank Marco's blues and $4 glasses of Specs' house white. It was in Specs
where I met the poet who would become my husband.
It is now two years later, I have a job, a handful of poems and a soon
to be ex-husband. Langston Hughes tells me love is a hangover, and the
only cure is another drink. Love is like whiskey, love is like wine, the
only way to be happy is to love all the time. I have never liked whiskey,
so I order a glass of wine.
I gulp down my first glass at the bar, and another.
David and Marco look at me. Marco scrunches his forehead like he is
confused, and David says, "Two glasses at the bar, and now a third at the
table, this isn't like you, be careful, you're not a professional you
"My grandfather died two weeks ago, the funeral wasn't easy, and to top
it off the last time I saw most of my family was at my wedding," I say.
"I was asked too many times, 'so how's married life treating you' and
' where's your husband?' "
"I didnąt think it appropriate to say the truth, ' with his new
"Funerals are never easy, divorces are even worse," David offers. "But
in your case, I think you are better off. Never marry a poet."
Marco nods his head.
I finish my third glass and stare at Marco's hands. His hands are heavy,
like rosewood, and smell of scotch and tobacco.
"And I'll take your lunatic fire cat, and attack with one of my North
Beach-poet loser cards," David says to Marco.
Marco snickers at David's cards and scratches out his points with a red
pen on a folded piece of paper.
David asks, "and doesn't the guy in this card look like Eric Idle?"
I get up and order another glass of wine from the bar. I sit back at the
table, and look inside my glass. The wine is like liquid white gold. I
drink it quickly. David begins to pack his toys and cards. I try to stand
up, and sit down again. I move to the bar slowly and order another glass.
The slack jawed face in the middle of the sun on the barroom wall grins and
seems to float towards me.
I come back to the table. I try not to slosh and find balance by
focusing on Marco's hands; his fingertips are tinged in black. "What's
that?" I point.
"Oh," he looks down and giggles, "pen, from ink drawings I have been
working on today."
He is a slow blues, an Etta James slow blues, I think, swallowing now my
fifth glass of house chardonnay in desperate gulps. Again, I stare at his
hands, bar callused and heavy. The city cries silvered stars through the
"May I?" I slur, touching his palm lightly. "Does the halo of your
blues ever get tilted?" I trace my fingers over his hands, fingering the
"Are you ok?" I think I hear him ask.
"You are a slow blues, a Sunday morning kind of love," I mumble as his
A native of the Monterey Peninsula, Nicole Henares- at the age of five-
hand holds mine, gentle as I fall, every pore tingling.
authored her first book about the Monterey Public Library's lop-eared
mascot, Bigfoot, and moonlighted in her early twenties as the street-talk
reporter for the Coast Weekly. Henares has since penned two chapbooks of
poetry, Lush and Duende, and edited a small poet's press, Magenta. Her
poems are where the blues meets the mean reds and have appeared throughout
the small press in publications such as The Homestead Review; The Monterey
Poetry Review; Poetry Bay; Poesy; The Circle Magazine; Main Street Rag; and
Remark. Nicole lives in San Francisco with two cats and one husband.