by Chris Prioleau
When I started to tell people that I was finally stepping out of my cove of sunny beaches, comfy couches, and slow marijuana soaked afternoons – that I was leaving Santa Cruz for The Bay – most assumed that I'd be moving into San Francisco.
“You're moving to the The City?” they said, eyes gleaming like the Golden Gate. They were proud, of me for making the change, of themselves for putting the puzzle together. The pieces fit so well, me, crowded street car, light drizzle from the late morning fog, European scarf around my neck. In a few short months I'd be parallel parking like Steve McQueen and starting my sentences with “When you've lived out here for a while you realize...” but no, that was never the idea.
“Naw man, I'm moving to The Town. Oakland. Much cheaper.” And that would pretty much settle it, money being maybe the only practical reason to move to a place with over 120 murders a year. The practical reasons are the easiest ones to get other people to understand. The deep rooted ones, the ones that are so mixed in with who you are that you can't even look in a mirror without seeing them staring back at you, those ones are more difficult to explain. My haggardness is such a reason. I'll put it concisely. I'm far too haggard to ever be allowed to live in San Francisco. It's just not in the cards, I know it as clearly as I know that I'll never memorize the periodic table of elements or that I'll never perform fellatio on any of the twelve apostles. It's weird that those were the first two things that popped into my head.
To be a haggard isn't just to be accident prone or unlucky or a fuck up; it's a lifestyle. And it's not a choice. I was born a haggard: seven days late and with a rare disease that ballooned my head so big that I looked like one of those cartoon character sherbet treats you used to get from the ice cream truck, the ones with the gumball nose that would always fall on the ground before I had the chance to eat it. I was born a haggard and I'll be a haggard until the day I die (the most likely causes: water intoxication or a mishap involving a ladder, anything equally preventable and ridiculous).
I'm not 100% positive of the causes of haggardness but if I had to take a figurative stab in the dark – because a haggard should never take a literal one – I'd say that it's genetic. My dad spends 90% of his free time in his underwear and always keeps his refrigerator stocked with an array of expired mayonnaises. My mom enjoys making Popsicles for her dogs. Of course these were the people who made me.
As far as I know they were only a couple for around two years and having appraised them over the course of my life I can honestly say that I cant picture them having ever been together under their own volition. It's easier for me to see them as pawns, vessels of a celestial syzygy meant to bring haggards into the world. I'm sure Mercury was in retrograde on the day they met. It's easier to for me to imagine three bodies bumbling together the night I was conceived, Mom, Dad, and Cassiopeia all inverted, basking in the glow of the moon.
I was in San Francisco last weekend spending time with Alex, a friend of mine from school. Her family was in town and and though they aren't from there, it was easy to see them as city people. Her mom took us out for lunch in Union Square and all during the meal I studied the way they'd interact with one another; everybody seemed so competent and poised. I thought back to the lunch I'd had with my parents in Oakland the week before and how my dad had spent ten minutes berating me for eating part of a jar of olives out of his refrigerator.
“Those were expensive olives Chris, they were from Whole Foods. You know that place? You should get a job there, you'd probably get free olives. Then you could replace mine that you stole.” As he said this, a white glob of cream sauce was beginning to cake itself into his beard.
But this lunch wasn't like that, this lunch was nice. No one was threatening anybody with violence, nobody was bursting into tears or even looked like they were about to. It was just people enjoying one anothers company. There were moments when I'd get caught up in it, the smiling and the actually listening to each other speak; there were moments when I'd feel like this is where I always belonged, like there was some sort of prenatal mix-up and I was supposed to be one of these people, networking, talking about my clients, being employed at all, that was the life for me.
There were other moments though – quieter ones – that would pull me out of it: sitting in Union Square, watching all those sweaty tourists gathered around the Dewey Monument and losing myself for a second, forgetting who I was and where I was and thinking that I was one of them – a tourist – all alone in a strange city with nothing to keep you from drifting away.
I think my favorite part of the day was being in Niketown and playing with Alex's younger sister, she's like five (I think she's five?) and we were just rampaging through the store, screaming, laughing, bullshitting, all the things that I wish it were still okay for me to do in public. I was really thankful for her presence. Half the fun of it, unexpectedly, were the looks that random shoppers and workers would give me as I passed them by. They weren't the usual “hey look at that hairy black man chasing that little girl” looks that I've been getting from store employees my entire life, looks of shock or aversion. They were looks of respect. I could almost hear their thoughts: “What a responsible young adult!” “Look at that non-haggard humoring that small child, how estimable!” The sheer fact that I was with Bella made me appear like a responsible, highly functioning member of society even though my behavior was still disruptive and essentially haggard. I was starting to believe it myself.
And I did believe it until the next morning when I, foolishly thinking that I was leaving my haggardness in San Francisco for good, proceeded to get lost in traffic for two and a half hours. I hadn't even left their company for ten minutes and there I was, lost as all hell, my phone's dead, my shoes are in the trunk, stopping at gas stations for directions barefoot like a runaway slave. Some day I'm going to stop doing things like that. Some day I'm going to have a job that pays me enough so that I can live the sort of life I want to live. Some day I'm probably going to be some one's parent and feel overcome with joy when they look up at me with their needy little eyes and say “I love you dad. Take me home.” But then I'll say, “I love you too future child, but we're going to have to wait for the space tow because I've locked my keys in the car again.” Those things are in the cards for me, I'm a haggard. Just keep me the hell away from San Francisco.