I roamed the Park on Saturday, June 6th, spending the morning at the deYoung, spending the afternoon at the Conservatory. I was feeling grey and heavy because two of my employees had not been paid, and I had no idea of how to solve this problem quickly, since it is out of my hands far away in Chicago. We changed our payroll to be more self-sufficient for the employee the week of Memorial Day. Naturally, there are going to be people who aren't going to do it right. And because I hold up the whole works, those people got left behind when I went home early on Friday, May 29th. (Remarkably, that's also the day the phone service levels crashed. I have to live at work or things collapse. A lot of things collapse, at times.)
So two people didn't get paid Friday, and I walk around wearing that guilt like a hot, damp, wool blanket that I can't shed. Then I came home, my stomach gave out, and I was about 10 lbs lighter in 100 seconds. I cleaned up, dressed, and went out to gather my ticket for "77 Love Sonnets," a performance by Garrison Keillor sponsored by City Arts and Lectures. I left a little early, to look for a collection of Lorrie Moore short stories and the poems from Keillor in book form.
I got off the Number 6 at the Van Ness and Market stop. I walked up Van Ness with my cream-colored scarf blowing about me, and giving myself a break from worry with each step and the traceable wind from my scarf. I planned to stop in Books, Inc., just north of the theatre, to look for Garrison's collection and to look for another story collection by Lorrie Moore. I walked into Books, Inc. I took a leisurely walk around, picked up the Moore collection, and found another pair of reading glasses. Fancy. Then I still had time, nearly an hour, so I thought maybe a drink and a nibble at Max's Opera Cafe, next to Books, Inc. I had heard wonderful things about Max's.
They're all true.
So I ordered at the bar--it was half-empty, and I don't like to take up a table by myself in a crowded cafe unless it's the only option. I hoisted myself up on the high chair, placed my jacket and bag in the chair next to me, and ordered a Grey Goose Cosmo and an appetizer called "Shrimp and Steak Bites with Potato Croutons."
Keep in mind, when you walk into Max's you walk past the counter where you would see the pastry selection and where the kitchen lines up the plates of warm food to the wait staff. Above this counter is a long billboard of several pledges that Max's makes to their customers. One of them, my favorite, says this:
"If we ask you 'Just one?' we'll buy you a drink."
No one asked me just one, and I found myself refraining from it when I approached the hostess. "Would it be possible for me to order food at the bar?" "Absolutely." And I perched at the bar and read the rest of the billboard--"We fresh brew iced tea at your table--let it steep for the perfect glass of iced tea." "We will buy you a slice of Niagra Falls cake if we ask you if you want change with your check." They even have a piano player, and occasionally the wait staff sings with him. My drink and nibblies were delicious, and I even got ideas for next time--potato latkes and the lamb patties. There looks to be a wealth of a menu.
Then I was joined by another woman at the bar. She was in her 50's and was also going to see Garrison. His performance was to benefit 826 Valencia, and I got to talk about that organization to the point of getting myself excited again about volunteering next school year. Then I departed at 7 to pick up my will call ticket, and walk into the lobby of the theatre, where a long table stacked with his books stood stretched between the doors. People were milling around, and there, mere feet to my left, was the great man himself, signing books and greeting, a stately tall man in frumpled linens, faded denim, and red running shoes. I purchased the book of sonnets and stood in line, feeling my mother come to the surface of me. When it came my turn, I was so nervous that I could barely speak. "Do you want me to sign this for you, dear?" he asked gently. "Yes." "To you?" "Yes. Sarah..." "With an 'h'?" "Yes. Thank you for asking." I walked away nearly weeping. Did you see that, Mom? We got to meet him, Mom.
Here was the inscription:
All in neat, softly curved, blocked letters.
The theatre was ornate and intricate, like the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto. On the stage a grand piano was parked off to the left, like a casual car, and the motif against the back of the stage was of a trolley car turned into a diner. Garrison's stool was center stage, with a microphone in front of it, a music stand to his right, and to the right of the music stand a small, square, white table with a glass of water and a little orange mantel clock on it.
Half the sonnets he sang (accompanied by Rich Dworsky), some were spoken, some commented on, and toward the end he told how he came to write sonnets. Some of the sonnets were about his daughter, some on things he loves, one on Obama, and the rest were varying shades of sex.
There was the remembrance of love. Love of the female form and of lying with the female form, and all was washed away--everything everyone else wants me to be, everything I'm supposed to be at the stage of. That song, that series of songs, that's the kind of man that I desire. He exists. He is possible.
Post Script: As with any other California experience, one of the homeless, mentally derranged, or rude members of the population does deflate the ecstasy a little and brings me back to earth, and this experience was no different. But those details don't belong here. I won't give those details creedance beyond mentioning that they occurred.