The pratfall

Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
Trip End Sep 16, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, September 7, 2007

There are some murals in Tenderloin that I wanted to see. I had hoped Peter would accompany me on Wednesday morning as we were travelling into the office together, but we ended up getting a taxi. So, on Thursday morning I steeled myself and set off to find them. It required me to walk a different way to work with a short detour, towards the centre of the 'loin.

To be fair, I had worked myself up beforehand, but as soon as I turned off the main street I felt very uncomfortable. I was hoping it would be quiet at that time in the morning, but the street was busy with groups of homeless people sitting on the sidewalk, pan-handlers, and dodgy looking geezers who offered a 'hello baby'. On the corners, the rubbish bins smelt like toilets. I came to the first mural, took a hurried snap (see photo gallery) and looked down the block to where the next one should be. I completely lost my bottle and abandoned the whole thing, turning around to retrace my steps even though there was a shorter route back to the main road if I'd carried on. Better the devil you know.

Back on the main street, things weren't much better, as I'd really freaked myself out. Again, nothing had actually happened. As I got deeper into Tenderloin, I started to look ahead to see if I could spot any potential nutters on my side of the street and would cross the road if I could or walk along the edge of the road to avoid them.

Nearing my office, I'd calmed down a little but was walking briskly to get through the area quickly. My attention was on a commotion happening across the street at a bus stop, when I tripped over a kerb and fell sprawling onto the pavement. The paper folder I was carrying went flying and I grazed my hand and toe. Of course, the few people standing nearby came to my aid and handed back my folder, asking if I was OK. Once I'd picked myself up, one homeless guy said to me 'Don't worry, I've done that many times!'

I felt so ashamed that I'd been so worried about walking past anyone that looked down-and-out. In actual fact, I was the biggest danger to myself. I decided then that I needed to find a better way of dealing with life on the streets in this city.

After work that day, Michele gave me a lift to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I'm always interested in seeing photography at art galleries, especially portraits, but usually try to squeeze it in around the paintings. This time I decided my focus would be just on their acclaimed photography collection. It's enjoyable visiting a gallery alone because you can set your own pace and not have to think about whether anyone else wants to leave. I must do it more often! The main exhibition was the work of Martin Munkacsi, a Hungarian Jew working from the late 20s to the 50s. He photographed Hitler and Goebbels, as well as many film stars, models, sporting events and travel locations. He was one of the first photographers to use a modernist style, and his work was captivating.

I popped into the MOMA gift shop to look for a postcard or two and ended up going on another shopping spree. What's got into me?! There were some really unusual and stylish things for sale. I even bought some Christmas presents (sorry to put that thought into your head).

Michele and I ate at a smart seafood restaurant for lunch on Friday, with the slightly unappetising name of Crustacean! We placed our order but waited and waited for our food. Over 30 minutes had passed when I asked the waitress if we'd been forgotten and she replied no. In another 5 minutes, people who'd arrived long after us were served and I was just about to kick up a fuss when our food was delivered to the table by the head waiter who told us discreetly - 'the manager will take care of your bill'. We both assumed that meant a discount for having a long wait, but at the end of the meal we were told we could go without paying! No such thing as a free lunch, huh?

I'd been angling throughout the day on Friday to get invited for drinks with some of the permanent school staff after work. I didn't fancy going straight back to my hotel. After some vague 'not sure what I'm doing' replies, I was beginning to get a bit paranoid, but it all came together last minute and I joined four other teachers and admin staff in a gay bar a short distance from the school. It was great to get to know them and to my delight I was invited out on Saturday night too for Alissa's birthday. It probably wasn't cool to be so keen, but my Saturday night diary was an empty void, so I jumped at the chance.

I walked back to the hotel area with one of the teachers, Wendy. I talked to her about the homeless problem and asked how she felt, living with it all the time. She told me about the things she does to help and I was really glad to be able to discuss how I'd been feeling with someone.

I ate dinner at a sushi bar. I got talking to a conservative, but friendly couple. They reminded me of Dougie and Jeanette from Shirley Valentine - the tedious couple who tried to take Shirley under their wing because she was single. Mind you, spending so much time alone in the evenings over the past week, I have almost started a conversation with the wall. Anyway, their daughter had just been chosen to be in the American version of 'What not to wear'. I didn't know whether to congratulate or commiserate them! The program's called 'What you should wear' over here. Doesn't have the same ring to it at all. I wonder if it's for cultural reasons, or legal.

On the subject of versions of TV programmes in the States, Calvin told me about the format of Big Brother here. There's no audience participation. Apparently they tried initially to get viewers to vote, but hardly anyone did so they changed it. The winner of the task each week nominates two housemates and then the rest of the housemates vote for which one to evict. I think this is a far less interesting format because the contestants won't be playing up to the public, and it's less likely to have a heart-warming outcome like the British BB when the most down to earth and honest person usually wins (I said usually)!
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