“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.” Cormac McCarthy, The Road
My world, like my mother’s, is shrinking. Each of us orbits three points.
Hers: bed, bathroom and bright sunlight in a lion-footed chair. In truth, the time in the chair is short. A few vertical minutes and she wants to go back to bed. She is most comfortable in a world that is largely horizontal if not quite flat.
When she arrived, San Francisco was to be first stop on a trip around the world; my mother planned to find a ship and sail West. Waiting, she hung out at the Black Cat Bar on Montgomery Street. It was frequented by writers like Saroyan and Steinbeck, a scene of Kerouac’s On the Road is set there. Bohemian San Francisco enfolded and held her.
“It was five cents a song. Some one gave you a quarter and you only played four. The juke box gave you back a nickel. When you had a twenty five cents you went to Chinatown and bought dinner.” The story was always told in a restaurant where Beijing ducks hung in a row by the cash register, the menu was written largely in Chinese and our chop sticks were poised over something sweet and sour. Choosing to stay made perfect sense.
My world now is not much larger than the points my mother was able to walk to three months ago: her house, the row of shops around the corner and Haight Street, two blocks from the famous Ashbury intersection.
I was here for the Summer of Love, but missed it, being too busy with a never-completed philosophy Ph.d or working in a topless bar to fund same, I can’t remember which. So the current parade down Haight Street is a little lost to me. Mostly young, they wear layers of clothes; the girls frequently have corn cob hair and the boys usually don’t have beards. They have backpacks and dogs and congregate in Golden Gate Park, but don’t make their own music, there are no fields for dancing, no signs saying “Make love not war.” On the surface, it is more post-apocalypse The Road, than Hippie Neverland.
Perhaps deeper down as well. I meet Benjamin who dreams of moving on. Tall, with light red hair a few inches below his striped knit hat, good teeth and a great smile. “My father was a Vietnam Vet. When I was 9 he flipped out. He wasn’t very nice to me,” he fondles his hair, “because I look like my mom. I went to the Vets Administration to try to get help for my problems. They helped him because he is a disabled veteran, but not me, his spawn. Sometimes it is very hard.” He has a list of cities where things will be different: Seattle, Vancouver, London.
I’ve lived in six different countries and been around the world twice. I think he might be right. Sometimes new, strange places, feet on the open road, wind in your hair work a cure. I wish him luck and complete my tight little circle.
When I get home my mother is in bed. Eyes closed. Not sleeping, she says. I wonder what goes on in her mind.
A visitor has brought her a tea towel. Embroidered on it: “I live in my own little world. It is okay, they know me there.”