I was cleaning the yard after work one evening when she came walking up Market Street from the Safeway. I write "she" in the most generous sense, of course. The other day, she looked, with her bleached and cropped 'do, in her button-down cream silk blouse and black slacks, like any other neatly dressed Filipina auntie... Even if her shoulders were a mite wide.
Several years ago, I used to see her regularly at the Pilsner Inn where my friends and I would play pool. There she was turned out more in the style of an old Trader Vic's barfly, in silk Hawaiian shirts with a waxy, peach-hued lily tucked behind one ear. We used to call her Imelda Markdown. At least until she got really trashed, sloshing her drink and yowling in Tagalog, at which point she became Imelda Meltdown. And whenever she wore white pants, there would show up at some point in the evening a small wet spot on the front of her pants, the result of a combination of poor coordination in the toilet, too many Mai Tais, and a botched steerage-class snip-snip that apparently left her with an angry inch. I once saw her fall off a bar stool.
This is the first time I've seen her in years. I wonder if she's sober, maybe in a program, a renewed tranny professional with a fresh sense of purpose in her life.
She saw me looking at her, and she knew I recognized her even if she didn't recognize me. She paused, puzzled, then gave me a curt yet polite nod, and kept walking...
Hangdog Harry redeemed a few bucks worth of bottles and cans a couple of weeks ago. He kept trying to engage me in conversation, but I had to keep the line moving. I could sense he very vaguely, very dimly recognized me, but couldn't place my face. I suppose I've changed a bit in eleven years, but he looks the same. He has one of those jowly, drooping faces that never change -- one that came out of the womb looking the way it will when he's in the casket.
I spotted him right away, of course. He was my coworker at Pacific Bell, where I first met him in 1996. He hasn't really changed much. He's looking a little more ashen, with a little more gray in the hair, but he'll never change -- doubtless he looked 40-something in high school, and doubtless he will still when he's in his 70s.
Sandy Van didn't cast me a second glance when she came around to the scales with her aluminum. I last saw her 5 years ago when she was a program director with the non-profit for which I did administrative work and some grant writing. She was in her 60s then and still is, and is looking rather well for someone who smokes a pack of Parliaments a day. I wanted to talk to her, to connect and catch up, but again -- had to keep the line moving.
The thing I loved about Sandy was that she is a comedienne. Oh, the late-night jokes she could tell: "...And then she turned to her friend, and said 'Oh, Mary, I don't think that's a mushroom'," she would intimate in her gravelly, Marianne Faithfullesque growl.
And while I remember her of course for her good work with the community, and her dedication to helping the poor and disadvantaged, I remember her primarily as a funny person, because that's how she connects with people.
I saw her once again, on Market Street, and once again she did not see me; her back was turned, and she was headed in the direction opposite me, carrying one brown paper grocery bag. This last sighting only confirmed my perception of her, as who more than a comic would appear to an outside observer just so: walking up that hill at Haight and Market, slumped over and defeated-looking, exhausted and alone.