I used to love the coming of winter: bonfires at backyard parties in the East Bay or nights at Ocean Beach digging sand pits and stoking the logs into blaze. But last year’s Ghost Ship fire and this year’s North Bay inferno destroying communities and blanketing San Francisco a hundred miles away in a haze that burned nostrils and coated tongues makes me anxious. Like everything is impossible. Like fuck holiday cheer.
I’m trying to hide my attitude because I’m in bed with Terrance and we sip coffee. He’s a bit hungover and I can smell the malty sourness of last night’s beer on his skin. Since I’m not drinking, I feel slightly superior and judgmental. Not in that asssholey way. Just in that ha, I feel fucking great and you don’t way.
He’s a new friend. It’s my first time in his apt. I look around: small and clean and feels homey but I say, No books, which comes out in that assholey way.
He says, It’s cheaper to read on my Kindle, in that isn’t it obvious tone.
It’s the beginning of things. I don’t want to falter so I let it slide.
He says, You want to read something. It’s under the bed.
He’s rubbing his eyes in that cute youngboy kind of way. I kiss his shoulder and reach under the bed. I power it on and the cover of Prince’s Purple Rain pops up. But it’s not a book cover; it’s a mp3 file. I hit play and the song “Take Me with You” spills, tinny and echo-y, from the cheap speakers of the Kindle.
I say, I had no idea this thing played music too.
I say it in that genuinely surprised way.
He smiles like we’re conspiring and says, See. There’s so many things you don’t know.
And pulls me to him like he had the whole thing planned.
It’s taken eight days to hang out again with Terrance. At ten a.m. on the dot on a Sunday morning, I knock at his apartment door in West Oakland. A solid knock. Not too eager. But determined. He opens it and I’m like what’s up arms all wide and then hand him some flowers: a mix of purples and pinks and greens.
He grins, white teeth and clean shaven face, and says, Chino. It’s good to see you.
I say, I snatched them from an event last night at the MoMA.
He says, Filched flowers from your workplace. Even sweeter.
He walks to the kitchen and I watch him move. A crisp white tank top, black denim shorts, vibrant neon crimson Nikes without socks. I just smile in that who the hell is this person way.
Terrance tells me choose a record and I struggle. I know I need friends, but with friends with records like these you know. Plus I don’t want to offend.
There’s Rihanna, understandable.
Juan Gabriel, but of course.
But the predominance of 80s music stupefies.
The closest thing to metal or punk, my musical genre of choice: Alice in Chains. I figure sure why not. I pull the album from the shelf.
I say, How’s this, and hold the record high.
He’s in the kitchen constructing his self-proclaimed famous seasonal fruit bowls with local honey and greek yogurt. We’re both trying to get healthy. No sugar. No wheat. No drama.
He doesn’t look up but says, Doesn’t matter.
I say, Honestly? Everyone always says that but really?
He says, If I own it, I should have no problem playing it.
I say, I agree, but secretly I don’t.
There’s times I want something specific, the long, hard build up of doommetal or the fast punch of thrash.
This shit’s serious you know.
I pull the record out and place the album on the turntable. The needle moves and the speakers crackle to life. But it’s not anything remotely like 90s grunge. These synthesizers hum, slow and rhythmic. Then another joins, an octave higher. A drum machine begins and bumps along. It all coalesces into this rhythmic clapping beat and all I can do is bob my head. Suddenly, Terrance races in from the kitchen with a spoon and acts like it’s a mic. He belts along with this nasally singer: I die, you die, and it’s the worst, most beautiful thing ever.
I say, This is not Alice in Chains.
He says, This, my friend, is the immortal Gary Numan.
I say, Never heard of him.
He says, Sadly, he’s mostly a trivia trick question because his biggest hit is called “Cars” and everyone thinks it’s by the band Cars.
I say, Wait. Are you serious? It’s not by the Cars?
He smirks but says, I’m so glad you found it. I’ve been looking for it.
I say, You have? And realize I sound so dismissive and he’s so cute.
He says, Sometimes what you need finds you. Let’s dance.
I say, It’s like 10:30 in the morning. I’m not only sober but haven’t even had any coffee.
He pushes me and says, You’re afraid you can’t dance because you’re sober and uncaffeinated? Listen, you got everything you need right there with you.
He stares at me. He’s still holding the spoon up to his mouth. Like he’s hungry. I look at his chest and see he’s got a handmade tattoo of that trucker lady logo. I see the legs pointing toward his armpit.
I say, You want me to dance to this song?
He says, What would you like?
I say, Not the 80s.
He says, Fine, and kills the record player and steps to the computer on the coffee table and flips it open.
He says, How’s this playlist: Cali Love. Don’t ask what’s on it. Let’s just find out together.
I shrug like of course but I can’t help it. I step to the screen and see some names I know: Joni Mitchell, Missing Persons, Warren G and Kamaiyah. But then I see the A Tale of Two Andres album cover and the song “My Homeboy’s Chevy.” I click on it. It opens with Mac Dre saying, Stop thugging out and get your weed from the store the legit way and the music starts and we both bounce our shoulders to the beat. Then Terrance dances. Then I dance. We keep two feet distance between us and then I reach a hand out and he reaches out and we touch. Like needle to record. Like voice track to drum track. Like welcome home and stay a while.
I cancel my next date with Terrance opting instead to bike through the city to the beach by myself. I have this beat up Bianchi with 21 gears but I only can ever use 7 of them because the gear shifter is busted and so the chain is stuck on the biggest chainring so like it’s fucking hella hard to actually pedal around with all these hills. I do it anyway. That pain and sweat such a perfect remedy for desire.
My father had this saying: We gotta bounce. Meaning he wanted to leave asap. Like immediately. Like get your ass to the car now. He’d say it and laugh at me scrambling to gather my shit. He had a good laugh. One of the few good things about him but that’s TMI I’m sure.
I got like two hours before sunset so I drop everything and bounce. I get to Ocean Beach, sweaty and sucking air just in time for the last hour of sunlight. I put away my phone and ear buds. Something about the beach at dusk makes me want to listen to the world.
People stroll along the shore. A few people jog. Show offs, I think with their neon shoes and spandex shorts flaunting sexy asses. I watch a man and a child, who looks to be about 5, hustle across the grayish sand till the shore line. When they’re a few feet from me, the girl begins to scream for her dad to come back and take her sandals off. Like she doesn’t want wet sand on her shoes but she’s cool with dry sand. I guess I get it.
She flips out. She actually starts rolling in the sand. The tantrum is so comical I can’t tell if she’s faking. She whips sand around and it flies all over me.
Her father runs up and says, Sorry, to me and stands over her and I feel nervous because, you know, fathers. But then he kneels down. I watch him slowly take off her sandals and brush off her chubby little kid feet. Softly. Delicately.
I hear the child doing that huffing you do after you totally just lost your shit and your calming yourself down. He sits next to her and takes his shoes and socks off and it’s strangely intimate to watch. I look away to the sunset: vibrant oranges and yellows and subtle purple on the edges.
When I look again, I see them lying on their backs, legs raised, feet next to each other. They both have bright red painted toenails. They wiggle their toes and swing their legs and laugh.
Terrance and I stayed at my place last night in the city and I’m walking him down Shotwell to 16th Street BART like a gentleman. It’s before eight a.m. on a crisp winter morning and I’m in some kind of funk. Terrance can tell. So he just sings some stupid Morrissey song and snaps his fingers as we stroll.
I say, What’s up with you and 80s music. Like Morrissey.
He says, Like The Smiths, in that how dare I confuse the two way.
He stops immediately and says, Fuck present day Morrissey. But I do love the way desire was not fixed to body parts or gender in so many 80s hits. Be a boy. Be a girl. Be both.
I face him and say, I like body parts.
He says, I do too.
I say, I know, and touch his chest covered by a red and black flannel, picturing those sexy legs tattooed underneath.
He says, So how you feeling about us.
We are standing at a bodega in front of stacks of yams and onions and fruit on rickety green carts just outside the BART station.
I say, You’re not trying to have that conversation right here.
He says, Sure why not. Now that you bring it up.
I say, I didn’t bring it up, but I hear myself sound a bit desperate.
He says, You seem distracted.
I say, It’s just been a hard year.
He says, Winter is always hard for me too.
We both say, Family, at the same time like duh.
We both nod and don’t really say anything else for a sec.
Then he says, That’s why I’m all about orange fruit.
I smile. I’m not sure how to respond.
He says, Trust me, orange fruit. It’s all sunrises and sunsets and warmth and potential. I have an idea.
He turns from me and grabs a paper bag from the cart at the front of the store and starts filling it: mandarins with their green leaves and stems, persimmons with their blotchy red and yellow hued bodies.
A person comes out and scolds him, Don’t mix. Different prices, while handing him another brown paper bag.
Terrance disappears inside to pay and then steps back outside says, Here, feel better, and hands me a bag of Hachiya persimmons.
I say, I hate these kind. I want the kind you eat like an apple.
He says, Listen Scrooge, when these are moist and soft and gushy, come to me and we will make the best holiday persimmon bread your grumpy ass ever had. Fuck the official holidays. We’ll make our own.
I sneak Terrance, Mike, and Kay into an evening holiday event at the SFMoMA. I figure what better way to introduce my best friends to Terrance then at an awkward work party.
When I texted Kay to meet me and Terrance by the front entrance at eight p.m., Kay texted: damn! getting serious
I texted: he gives me fruit, so fml
She texted: n the feels
I texted: cherry emoji
Terrance wears tight black jeans and a purple sweater and this Jansport backpack like it’s 1995 all crimped tight to his back. Kay and Mike bang into us out front and we all bound into the museum and they want drinks asap. The bar is next to the dance floor and, while they make small talk in line, I watch a group of people trying to follow some professional dancer leading them through a routine. I smile at this couple in the front row flailing around but laughing and trying so hard not spill their eight-dollar plastic cups of red wine.
Terrance says, People dancing’s the greatest thing.
Mike says, Should we show them how?
And he starts to dance.
Kay leans her head back and laughs, her hat wobbles on her head and she reaches for it.
Terrance says, I got nothing but respect for a person who can dance anywhere.
He high fives Mike who grins.
But we decide to check out the art. On the fourth floor, we stand in front of a Cy Twombly canvas, massive and scribbly and self-indulgent.
A docent steps up to Terrance and tells him to turn his backpack around. Terrance looks and me and shrugs. He slips it to the front and I can see he has a few persimmon in the little front pocket.
Kay says, Chino, you weren’t lying. He really does come bearing fruit.
Terrance says, You want?
Kay reaches out and grabs one.
Terrance says, I‘ve learned what Chino likes. These’re ready to eat right now.
He hands one to me and to Mike, who refuses saying, I don’t fuck with persimmons. They’re bland. Like apples but with no flavor.
Kays says, A subtle apple, and puts it to her lips.
The docent says, Excuse me. No eating in the galleries, mam.
Kay acts offended like is she talking to me.
Mike says, Kay don’t you dare.
Kay says to me, I like your new boyfriend a lot.
And she bites down.
I feel weird because I’m happy.
It’s Sunday and cold and raining and I’m too tired to do anything so I commit to staying in my apartment all day. Plus everything’s so damn far from my comfy couch and blanket that’s soft and perfect and warm. I gaze out my window. San Francisco is beautiful, all foggy and gray, as well as depressing, like a crumpled piece of paper.
The last few days, on the street, all I’ve seen are techies jumping into Ubers, which makes me nauseous but also bothers me because I feel so self-righteous. Or, all I see are people struggling, especially around 16th Street BART station, and I know it’s a systemic, institutional problem and I know to call a mental health crisis line and never the cops, but still I feel like a different kind of asshole as I walk past their makeshift homes out of old REI tents and blue tarps.
I just want to hide away today.
Which makes feeling happy more disconcerting.
I have the radio on 102.1 old school hip-hop, heavy on the hits from the 90s and 00s, mostly from the Bay but other classics like Biggie, Wu-Tang, The Roots.
Kay texts me: girl, the MoMA was a blast
I text: thumbs up emoji
She texts: we gonna get our toes done sparkly – wanna come??
I do because friends but I can’t move because ugh.
I text: next time.
I text: heart emoji
She texts: rainbow emoji.
And I shit you not right then outside my window the sun breaks through and a rainbow arches across the cityscape. On the radio Prince’s”When Doves Cry” begins with that growling guitar and voice pleading yeah yeah yeah over and over. But then the clouds return and the song is matched by the urgency of a siren. Beat for beat.
I’m like, Fuck you, universe, I get it. This is what it means to be alive.
Terrance says, Huge bubbles are rad.
And I can’t disagree.
There’s this freaky dude in clown makeup on stilts making those massive bubbles with two wooden sticks and some rope at the park down the street from my apartment. It’s been a disconcerting week with no rain and the bluest sky. San Francisco is not supposed to be this pretty during winter. Families with their kids wiling out on the small green mound spread out across the park. It’s some festival or something. There’s stalls and a face painting station and someone is reading a kids book about collaboration to mostly adults because the kids are going crazy with the paletero. He’s joking with all the kids in a Santa hat and hearing him switch from English to Spanish cracks me open.
Terrance just stares at the bubbles and all the kids jumping up to try and pop them. I have to admit the freaky bubble maker has skills because the bubbles just hover over the kids out of arm’s reach. Like it’s taunting them. Daring them.
Terrance turns to me. He says, Look at you smiling like a fool. You like bubbles too?
He says it this shocked kind of way.
I say, Who doesn’t like bubbles?
I say it in that don’t be stupid kind of way.
He looks around and says, That woman right there. She’s not even appreciating the bubble beauty that’s around her.
I laugh. He hugs me and says, You have a great smile.
I say, Are you going to tell me to smile more.
He smiles like aren’t smiles the best.
He says, You know there’s only one way for this to end.
I say, You buying me a persimmon paleta.
He says, God don’t be gross.
He says, Popping bubbles.
He kisses me on the mouth and lets me go and runs all crazy like the kids and joins this group still jumping up to try and pop a bubble. I see him talking with them and then picking up this little child, her face painted with beautiful purple wings and he hoists her high and I’m worried for a second because you know parents.
But then she pops this translucent massive bubble.
And all the kids scream in celebration, shouting, Me next. Me next. Me next!
Tomas Moniz edited Rad Dad and Rad Families. His novella Bellies and Buffalos is about friendship, family and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. He’s the recipient of the SF Literary Arts Foundation’s 2016 Award, the 2016 Can Serrat Residency, the 2017 Caldera Residency and others. His debut novel, King Pleasure, is looking for a home. He has stuff on the internet but loves letters and penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back.
Ari Bird (b. 1988, San Diego, California) seeks balance in the interactions between seemingly disparate objects, shapes, and colors through many mediums. Primarily a painter and installation artist, Bird cuts out and collages symbols from her surroundings to create new narratives. She has exhibited in galleries and DIY/underground spaces nationally, and has been an arts educator for over 6 years combined. She currently makes work and lives in Oakland, CA.