When in Rome…
One obvious benefit of never leaving the greater nest of one’s birth city is that old friends always end up having to return because Jesus is blowing out the candles again or, as the case may be, some relative is getting married. After the ceremony time was set aside for a confluence of old faces round tables with first burritos and then beers littered about in various states of being. Somehow conversation wound its way round until my friend began to recount various experiences of being a single woman in Rome which is most easily compared to that of a young and startled ewe in some run-down iner city petting zoo. Women walking alone don’t endure just cat calls or hungry stares but actual groping, grabbing, pinching, petting and other less than sophisticated forms of degredation.
Those rascally Italians, gold chains and body hair and the pasta and those antiquated attitudes towards any woman who’s not their mother. Everyone’s heard stories about Italian men and everyone files it in their greaseball dossier next to the file that talks about Germans’ affection for mixing sex with their shit, or shit with their sex, or whatever the fuck that’s all about. That’s how it is, how offensive, but what are you gonna do?
Meanwhile I’m busy looking back at the documentary Z Channel and a clip of Jim Jarmusch talking about seeing an Antonioni movie (I think it’s La Notte) on television. A woman crosses a piaza choked with tight stripes shirts and deep set eyes that follow every move she makes, every shift of the hip and the turn of an ankle. She walks through the center of this maelstrom of simmering blood acutely aware, I’m sure, of a very curious power.
Walking home from the bar I duck a woman trying to beg a cigarette off me. I apologize but deny her request and turn away as quickly as possible– I know her. Almost ten years ago I worked down the street at a record store and she would come in with stolen CDs which I would buy for nothing so that she could get crack. At the time I didn’t feel anything about my efforts on fencing hot wares but I was certainly confused about what to do with this periodic visitor. I didn’t wanna deal with her, I never gave her money for nothing, but I could never kick her out of the store. It seemed easier to give her a couple of bucks so that she could go be a junkie instead of treating her like a junkie and kicking her out– I don’t think I did the right thing and I don’t think it led to anything remotely ‘good’. She would see me on the street and she would never hit me up for anything other than a hello. Sometimes she would walk with me down the block on her way to God knows where and it always kinda bothered me until some outreach center stopped us on the sidewalk and tried to insist we used condoms at which point it really bothered me. Eventually she burned her own bridge by running around the store one night flying high– she insisted on sweeping and cleaning the bathroom in exhange for all I had done to help her out. She ended up ripping off some shit from the back and I didn’t see her again. At least my stupid behavior up until that point was clarified. Almost ten years and while she doesn’t look any worse she’s not doing any better. Mostly I was amazed that she was still alive– something of a revelation to think that a strung out junkie can cut it so long on the streets. In a way you almost hope they overdose so they don’t continue to live in their rat cage world– it’s just too terrible to even imagine a week of being her let alone a year or five or a decade.
The other night my roommate’s bleaching the living hell out of the shower curtains to quell some rebellious mold and I’m being as polite as possible about her use of chemicals. She mentions someone who had worked for a while with us at Amoeba, a girl who’d fucked up quick enough to be fired without any emotionally charged discussion or, well, mention at all. She’d come in the store that day strung out and beat to hell, out of her head with a black eye and bruises down her arms. Some sort of incident ensued and she staggered out of the store after screaming at security. A co-worker who lives in the Mission said he’d seen her turning tricks around his house.
Last time I’d seen the girl I ducked her as best I could but she was too clever for me and looked back through the clear class bus shelter wall and got up to say hi. She was pretty well dressed, adult looking department store outfit and a little professional bag and a little handheld device of some sort. Said she’d gotten into the wonderful world of personal assistants for a couple people she knew– keeping track of appointments and running errands for them, that sort of thing. She didn’t look fucked up at all, but I always thought she was a little bonkers when I knew her and every time I’ve been trapped on the street in conversation I’m always trying to break away. Sure, sure, we’ll go have a drink some time, I’ll see you.
But now instead of annoying she’s just become– what? What has she become? A ghost to haunt me ten years down the line? Probably not, probably she won’t be alive much longer. It’s the most horrible thing I’ve heard in a long while, hearing about her. What can you do? That’s how it is, how offensive, but what can you do?
You can’t find SFPD statistics on prostitution on google, that’s for sure.
-Q&D July 19th SFPL 3rd floor MAIN350 (General Collections)