This week we nearly finished the corner. It will be good to move away from the apex of all the activity. The wheelchairs and overloaded shopping carts tightly navigate the turn. Trying to keep the wet paintbrushes from accidentally getting on someone’s clothes requires constant vigilance. It’s hard not to bump into the stony faced African American guy standing dead center, on the look out for police, working for the Honduran drug dealers who circle the site. He’s not unfriendly. I have a much more visceral reaction to the ragged white girl in a mini skirt that barely stays on. She is so shrill and in need of her crack or attention or something. She has sores, scrapes and bruises. She was sitting in the gutter the other day picking at her black eye with tweezers. She can speak pretty good Spanish as she harasses the drug dealers. They tolerate her to a certain extent. Part of the business.
The Honduran dealers are not drug addicts. They are not flashy except for the one with eyebrows that look tattoed on. Maybe he goes in drag at night. Handsome and a bit pretty. We sometimes very slightly acknowledge each other, just enough to be friendly but not enough to be in each other’s way. The short guy with the raspy voice on his cell was not around this week. Monday was amazingly quiet. It was misting that day, verging on rain. There were Chihuahuas, one white and one black, barking in the front seat of a big white truck parked next to us. On Wednesday my student Cristina came all the way from Monterey to paint. John worked with her on the Hyde Street side, painting symbols while a homeless man slept, passed out, next to them.
Was it Wednesday or Thursday that the small dark legless man in a wheelchair, high on something to ease the pain, talked urgently to Jenifer. “I see elephants! Elephants! Paint elephants in the mural” . The day before an older woman with a big cross asked if I could paint her naked. Oh, she said, you have skills, and taking a longer look at the mural she exclaimed “I feel it! I really feel it” . Soon after a Chinese grandmother in a wheelchair gunned down the sidewalk and ran over my foot.
A sharply dressed woman, who has worked at the Civic Center Post Office for 20 years was full of warning the first day I met her. Lately she is coming out to see our progress, posing in front of the wall. She apparently knows some of the regulars that populate the corner and jokes around with them. “I know you want to date me! I’ve got a job, I’ve got a place to live!” On the inside, the inner sanctum of the post office she continues her warnings. It’s all survival she says. Be careful. Be smart. But they know you are just there to paint. Our building looks so big! My friends may even visit me here now.
I had a conversation with one of the Honduran guys the other day. He’s been in San Francisco for 2 months. He lived in Ohio before he came. His family is still there. His three baby daughters. He wants to go back to Honduras. His partner got into a scuffle with a pudgy white guy about a picture he took, about living in the neighborhood, about calling the police. The dealers all disappeared, the police did come and took a report. The angry shirtless guy paced up and down the sidewalk talking about the “snitch”. I saw him push a haggard old woman against the wall asking for money as she protested and squirmed away.
An hour later they were all back, including the young Honduran gal in her jeans and simple shirt. Nondescrip. A modest and unexpected crack and pill dealer. An unperturbed blank look on her face. I greeted her yesterday. Now she always says “Hey mama” . Lots of “Hey mama, Hey papas” all day long. “Thank you hijo” says a relatively healthy looking customer to the guy with the sharp eyebrows as she takes her pills. People are addicted to pain pills all over the United States – over the counter , under the counter…so much pain it seems. One of the best comments this week from an appreciative passerby “Art makes life tolerable”. We are fashioned into a spectator population when we need to be participants in the creative moment.
All the time we are painting, wrapped up in the colors and lines. The passersby love the mural. The women in the Coffee Shop across the street are ecstatic. The Hummingbirds keep appearing. Every curve of the Khmer Leaf design is painstakingly being painted by Jenifer in full OCD mode, who still manages to be friendly to drunk dwarfs seeking elephants. It is a great corner site, an exciting but exhausting gig painting in the micro climates of the scaffolding. Hot on one side and cold on the other. Sweet and sinister, everyday living mixed with screeches of pain. My favorite compliment this week: “The Hummingbird is a motherfucking powerful bird.”