The Long Island to San Francisco By Way of Alexandria Blues
By Jeff Baker
I’d been staring at the parade for a while and my eyes were starting to frizz over. The drag queens and shirtless guys were starting to look alike. I glanced to my left and saw the folks at the other window. Three, no, four guys with a rainbow flag. I glanced above them; guy in a leather harness who had the virtue of being kind of buff. With another rainbow flag. I smiled to myself. I needed to work out. But I was in pretty good health for my age. I looked across the street, over the rooftops. Coit Tower was off in the distance, hidden by one of the buildings. I smiled. I remembered when the tower had been shiny and new, when the bridge had been just a fantasy.
I glanced to the left again; the youngish guy in a white t-shirt was staring over at us. I focused on the parade; a line of men and women in business attire were marching past, waving at the crowd.
“Oh, yeah!” came a voice from the above window. “Cubicle-dwellers! My people!”
I laughed along with several others. Good to see the Pride parade wasn’t dominated by the nudists and whackos that gave video ammo to the homophobes.
I heard a measured “thump, thump, thump” behind me. I turned. There was a guy in white t-shirt and jeans, the guy from the window at left. There was a thick cast on his right foot. He grinned at me.
“Sorry about the noise. I should be using that damn crutch but it makes me feel like Tiny Tim. I’m supposed to be marching in that parade, but I busted my foot a week or so ago. I mean, well, aren’t you Matthew Reynolds?”
He held up the book; “Missouri-To-San Francisco-by-Way-Of-Nevada: Mark Twain in the West” with my name underneath the photo of Twain.
“Yes,” I said smiling. At least it had been my name for the last several decades.
“I actually work in one of the offices here,” he said. “I had this book in my desk and I, oh gosh; I’m Barry Osaka.” We shook hands. “I recognized you from the book jacket. I loved the book by the way, and is there any way I could get you to, you know, sign this?”
I grinned again. “Seeing as how you bought the book and helped pay part of my cable bill, how can I say no? I didn’t just come here from Long Island to watch the Pride parade.”
After I signed the book we stood at the window and watched the parade. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
“Wow,” Osaka said softly. “It’s like, well, I’m thinking about…well…”
“People who should be there.” I finished. “Ghosts.”
“Yeah,” Osaka said. “I just turned forty, and I still remember the nineties pretty well. I grew up around here, and I lost a bunch of friends.”
I hadn’t been back here for years, but I still knew all about losing people. I sighed and smiled and closed my eyes, remembering the beautiful men from the decade I’d lived in Alexandria. But I still preferred the present.
I fished in my pocket for my cellphone.
“Zap me your address,” I said to Osaka. “I’ll e-mail you a picture of Twain and my great-great Grandfather the family had. Probably taken not too far from here, maybe around 1864.”
Definitely 1864, probably near where Market Street is now. I thought as he tapped out his e-mail. I smiled again. This kid and his friends were the future.