The boy was fucking a box of fish sticks. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. His parents were standing next to him in the frozen foods section and paid him no attention. He had grabbed a box of “Mrs. Barnacle’s Old Sea Dog” brand fish sticks out of the freezer case and was dancing around humping the box. It was groin to box, groin to box. He was dancing around fucking the box of fish sticks and saying “Feelin’ good now, feelin’ good now, I’m feeling good now, yeah, feelin’ good now.” Nobody seemed to notice. I was standing there with my feet on top of some advertisement set in the floor for chocolate chip cookies, watching the kid orgasmically ramming the box of fish sticks into his crotch. His parents noticed me and gave me a “What the fuck are you looking at?” look. I felt it was pretty obvious that I was looking at a kid fucking a box of fishsticks. I went on about my business, with the kid chanting “Feelin’ good now, feelin’ goooood now, feelin’ GOOD!” behind me. I turned around just in time to see the kid’s mother grab the box out of his hands and shove it back into the freezer case.
There were advertisements glued to the floor, hanging from the ceiling, hanging from the shelves, the whole supermarket was poisoned with images. One of the true curses of being poor, being advertised to constantly; having the shit shoved in your face when you couldn’t afford any of it. Never mind the fact that you didn’t need any of it. At least at the beginning. Even if you didn’t want any of it at first, they kept telling you that you wanted it. I bought my instant noodles, and a bottle of cheap wine and got out.
It had stopped raining. Maybe it was the fog, but for some reason the night seemed darker in San Francisco, even with all the lights. Maybe it was just the way I felt about it. Maybe it was because I had never spent the night in Helsinki. The streets were black & slick. People with cell phones and gold watches and bland, expensive clothes were clogging up the sidewalks. I suddenly had to piss. It had crept out of nowhere. I had tried one of the dark green municipal pay toilet kiosks down near the bus station, but it kept spitting my quarter back out at me.
I got down behind the wall the bicycle messengers sit on during the day, and stepped into some mini cesspool of toxic waste. My right foot sunk in to the ankle. I thought of all the horrible shit flowing beneath the streets and pissed in the pool.
There were little boxes of ‘INSTANT NATURAL JELLYFISH’ and ‘WHITE FUNGUS BIRD’S NEST DRINK’ stacked outside the Win Long market. Inside the HAPPY DONUT shop the old man leaning on his cane at the register had completely pissed his pants. The wind blew me the voice of the old Chinese lady singer who kept singing as the Grant St. junk stores closed up, corrugated steel shutters pulled down one by one in the darkness. I walked past the Bamboo Lounge, the Cho-Cho Japanese Restaurant, and the Thailand Massage Parlor, and went up the stairs into the St. Dismas Hotel.
Three floors of shit, old shit. Good view of Clown Alley. Hello naked hanging lightbulb, we meet again. Me, the happy jerk-off clown, the old Don Rickles looking motherfucker in room 146, Uncle Douchebag. Pour a drink.
Yellow sheet of curtain window, smashed open dangling smoke alarm above the empty Victorian room service button. On the other side of the bolted door the wine gnats were clustered around the garbage in the hallways. Angry clouds of them. Big black explosions of flies filling the halls. I had been in worse places, but they weren’t that much worse… and the butler somehow never did manage to come around with the Hors’ d’ oeuvres.
Commercials were the only thing willing to crawl out of my radio so I turned it off. Boiled water, cooked and ate the noodles, drank the wine, looked into the mirror that wasn’t there. Only the Greek Lyre shaped arms over the dresser where the mirror used to be. Somebody else’s bad luck, but I knew why they had broken it. I didn’t want to see myself in that place either.
Out & down the hall in a towel, futuristic blue plastic Chinatown flip flop sandals. Candy bar wrapper in the shower, used band-aid stuck to the wall, broken faucet but if you switched the one knob handle back & forth between the hot and the cold spindles…hot water. Hot wonderful water. Forget who else had used the shower, forget the miscellaneous pubic hairs stuck to the sides of the fiberglass coffin shower stall. No shower ever felt as good after leaving the room safety and running the wino gauntlet to barricade yourself in there. Heat, steam, yellow paint. Good Chinese ginseng soap. Smelled like a secret monastery in the mountains.
The crack heads in the room across the air shaft were lighting up. At first their conversation was intelligible even if it was the usual boring shit; who was a badass, who had upstaged somebody else in a bar; who had talked back to the cops, “I told that motherfuckin’ cheap-ass, trailer trash motherfucker to kiss my ass! Fuckin’ dumb ass!” etc.
As they smoked crack the bits and pieces of their conversation drifted apart from one another, didn’t recognize each other anymore. Got quiet. I stuck my head out the window, looked up the air shaft, and saw three cold stars up there in the purple square of night above the city.