Noe Valley, San Francisco

Once the Irish, the Germans, the workers pressed together, clustered little Victorians, where they were born, lived, then died. Now babies in strollers, babies pressed against mom, against dad, toddlers wobbling, wide blocks of deconstructed, reconstructed, houses, pasted photos, smiling women and men, realtors, listing, listed, selling, sold. White buses, elevated people, wearing laptops like blankets, heading south to touch more technology. Hilly hills, wisps of fog, oceanic clouds, permanent winter like they say Twain said. Past and present commingle in gusts of wind, September summers, sometimes rain and rainbows.

One Foot History

I remember being in front of the classroom; leg shaking slightly, the sweat was no longer just in my pits, there was a wet ring expanding to the size of a sand dollar, darkening my Arrow shirt. On the board in my handwriting, Violence is the answer. The words simply arranged to spur discussion, debate. We were moving towards studying General Sherman and the Civil War, the scorched earth policy. Weeks later we’d compare Grant to Truman, and the dropping of the A bomb, but I always started with probing student psychology, trying to get kids talking and thinking out loud. Still on one leg, Raymond was also sweating, we were 20 minutes into class, his leg was wobbly. Raymond was the center for the football team; he kept coming to class late, my pleas falling flat. 11th grade, 16, 17 years old, and they were all systemized, stigmatized; I was the face of the public school bureaucracy, handing out tardies. Raymond was a tough, kinesthetic kid; I needed to lose the script. “I bet you put your foot down before me,” I said when he came in late again. I wanted him to do push-ups, but that seemed like a step too far, now we were in this one-foot thing together. “Violence is the answer, if Gandhi got shot, he’s dead, then what?” said Patricia. I hopped over towards Brian who had his hand up. “People talk about peace, but what about us making nukes? Only peace because we might blow someone up,” he said. “How many of you could burn someone’s house down in front of them, watch a child’s teddy bear become smoke, you holding the torch yourself?” I asked. No one said they could do it, they’d almost forgotten about Raymond and me, we were all in the present moment, thinking about destruction’s role in history. “There are no rules in war,” Phil said. “So, if you could, you’d poison the water supply for the entire South? Kill all the toddlers, dogs and horses?” I asked. Phil started to squirm. “No, no, there should be rules against that.” “But why?” I countered. 35 minutes into class and Raymond was puffing, flushed, swaying, about to topple. He finally put his foot down, gave me a grin, and sat down at his desk. My face was dripping sweat, I jumped over, shook his hand, “please don’t be late again.” “I won’t,” he said. I stayed on one foot for the rest of the 55-minute class, the bell rang, they walked out still debating, I heard one of them say, “violence isn’t the answer.”