Last night we went for dinner, gelato and a walk in North Beach. We had a good time -- a sublimely garlic-centered meal, some shopping in the poetry section at City Lights (where I found, among other things, a new biography of Taha Mohammed Ali, a complete surprise). Chocolate-orange gelato. Then we were just walking, taking pictures of engaging signs, and turned up a side street onto a block of Chinese shops and restaurants. The storefronts were battered and beautiful, so we kept going for a while, and then turned back downhill to return to Columbus Ave. In front of a Chinese restaurant, a family group had gathered while a frail elderly couple were being slowly helped into a waiting car. Just then a car came screeching down the street way too fast, slammed on its brakes, and sounded its horn for a very long time as it came to a stop behind the idling car. More honking. Everyone was looking at the woman who was agressively leaning on her horn as if they were wondering how anyone could behave like that. And that's when I did something I probably need to stop doing: criticizing the uncitizenly actions of strangers.
I yelled something like "Behave yourself!" The people standing in front of the restaurant said, "You tell her!" The woman behind the wheel glared at me, flipped me off, glared some more, then called me a "fucking faggot." We kept walking, and in a while the idling car moved, and the woman still behind her wheel drove past, calling more names; I thought she had to be high to be that cranked up. As we moved on down the hill she was still carrying on. She pulled around the corner to the left on Columbus, and just as we were turning the corner ourselves she re-appeared -- unbelievably, on foot this time. She'd parked her her car and come back to have it out with us. She was tall, very forceful, and walked right up to me, maybe a foot away from me. Paul told her that she'd just committed a hate crime, and she proceeded to a little more verbal abuse, at which point I gave her some back.
Now comes the incredible part of the story. The woman runs across Columbus; she's double-parked in front of a restaurant called the Caffe Macaroni, but instead of getting into the car she runs into the restaurant. We are walking away when we hear her yell "There they are!" We turn and she's come out of the restaurant with about four big guys, who start to come in our direction.
My impulse is to get off the street, so we dash into a cafe on the corner, a tiny little place. There are no customers; two waiters are sitting around smoking, since they've got nothing to do. We tell them we're being followed by some people who called us faggots. They're shocked and tell us we can hide in there, and usher us into a little area behind the dining room. They run to the door to look out, but suddenly they're exclaiming -- hurrying to hide the cigarettes, because it's their boss who's coming. We seem to have chosen to hide in a restaurant owned by the same guy who thinks this insane woman's honor needs protecting.
And suddenly, as if a trapdoor has opened in the evening and we've landed in a scene from The Sopranos, two guys enter the restaurant, two more are posted just outside the door, and I've got an angry middle-aged guy in a black shirt with flowers on it standing in front of me and he's not happy. I cannot narrate our conversation here, as it's all a jumble in my head. He's threatening (not necessarily in his words but his stance and tone), he's telling me to get out, but I'm not about to walk out onto that sidewalk with these weird entourage bodyguard types standing there, I'm saying I'm going to call the police. Then the strangest thing: he takes my arms and he says, "Even though you are who you are, you gotta think twice before you talk to somebody."
I have no idea what this means. Does "who you are" mean gay man, middle-class man, entitled person? No idea. The guy's telling me to get out of his restaurant, and somehow I make it clear that I will not leave with those men at the door, and they move over, and out we go, with a barrage of insults behind us -- "The Castro's on the east side of town, get out of the neighborhood, twinkletoes, get lost faggot" and so on. We're hurrying away with our hearts racing and half sure that those guys are going to be right behind us, a feeling that goes on for blocks.
Later, my legs feel liquid, my heart isn't ready to slow down. Thinking about how strange it is for a woman alone to come after two six-foot guys. Thinking how she wanted this to happen, somehow -- singling us out for her rage instead of the people in the car ahead of her, coming back to provoke us, then running into the restaurant to fetch the men. So that she could feel her power over them, or us? So that she could vent her rage at men who for whom her sexual mojo doesn't work? Something about the nature and complexity of violence -- which this very nearly turned out to be -- makes it feel impossible for me to really understand the scene. Not much context for all this but what I can create.
Resolutions: when I see people behaving badly, I will keep my mouth shut unless it is a matter of life or death. And I will never go back to North Beach, never.