SAN FRANCISCO – On the corner of Polk Street and Washington Avenue, It’s a Grind Cafe hosts a monthly word and music series every second Monday.
I happened to find out about it while waiting for the 19 MUNI going northbound on Larkin Street. A bald black guy was telling another chic that he would be slamming there, as well as The Anarchist Cafe and The Independent later this week. I later learn his name is D Allen.
Yeah, I’m good at eavesdropping. It was appropriate, too, because I was on my way to my old ‘hood, the Tendernob, which inspired my first novel, “Sirens.” I wanted to see if the “scene” had changed much.
That’s the remarkable thing about San Francisco – after five years, it really hasn’t changed much. The only thing that had changed about the backdrop of my story is the Grass Roots cafe, juxtaposed in between DIVAs and the America Hotel, where my main characters, Juanita and Dinah live. The Fire Station looked exactly the same – why would it change? I guess I just thought it would change since I have. This is where I lived when I saw the 9/11 attacks, and since the TV was showing so many firemen, I guess that’s why I got obsessed with the firemen across my street – Post Street, to be exact. Hmmm. I’m starting to understand more and more that my stories are all about comparing what I see on TV and what I see with my own two eyes. When they match up, something weird seems to happen. I guess this will be the mystery in my story.
After walking down memory lane – to Felicity’s Fetiche and past the Thai and Mediterranean restaurants, past the thrift shops and convenience stores, I found myself at It’s a Grind Cafe, just in time for the open mic – 7 p.m.
I order a hot chocolate and I find a sit right up front next to two overweight white guys. I decide not to social network. Not because I’m prejudiced of overweight white guys – I just don’t feel like it. A girl’s gotta manage her energy sometimes, and not be so desperate to market this or that. So, I was just being. Just listening. Absorbing.
Jeanne is the moderator. A short, brown woman with a sarcastic bite to every announcement. She reminds me a bit of my Tia in NY – strong, opinionated and won’t take CRAP from anyone. RESPECT.
I sit and listen and try to decide if I want to read tonight. And WHAT will I read, pray tell???? At first, I think of reading my Chakra Girl comedy piece. This looks like a crowd that would enjoy some comedy. I look it up on my iPhone and somehow, it just doesn’t seem appropriate. And, in the midst of this crowd, it seems – fake, contrived, because this was the first version of it and I can’t seem to find my second, more polished draft.
Then I remember Valentine’s Day at Bookstore in the Grove. My sci fi love letter to My Ami. Aha! Yes, this is it! Of course this is what I should read, almost a month after I left. But then I have to decide which name I will use – Melanie or Kemila? Oh, drat, this identity thing can be such a pain sometimes. I’m really becoming a bi-polar nutcase.
I walk up to the sign up sheet. Instinctively, I write, Melanie Feliciano. Ah. That was easy. Of course I am Melanie. I am a writer tonight. Not a businesswoman. F Kemila. She needs to take a break sometimes. Apparently Esmeralda Santiago, author of “The Turkish Lover: A Memoir,” which I am reading right now, developed multiple selves as a survival mechanism. At home she was Negi. In Texas she was Ez. At the MOMA in New York, she was Esmeralda. I am so glad to know that this is just the tendency of a writer – to split up your multidimensional brain into different characters. We’re NOT supposed to make sense to mainstream society. Let them think we are crazy. And let us be the ones laughing all the way to the bank with our bestsellers featuring unique, colorful characters.
When Jeanne finally calls my name, I walk up to the Mic, wondering if I will be nervous. Surprisingly, my hand is not shaking and my voice is not quivering.
“Hi. My name is Melanie. I’m bicoastal. It’s kind of like being bisexual, except I’m dating two different cities.”
Ha ha ha ha
Hey. They’re laughing!
“I have been living in Miami the past 5 years, and before that I was here for 4 years and now I’m back. What I’m going to read tonight is a love letter to My Ami.”
Short and sweet introduction. It is smooth. It is confident. Where did this confidence come from? Part of it is the fact that I chose to follow my own path again (and NOT a boyfriend’s). Part of it is my new lover and partner. Part of it is being here in San Francisco, where I can walk freely, without a car, without fear, and be stimulated by each step by storefront windows, people on the streets, cafes on every corner, green parks in between concrete, Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
This city stimulates me.
I am trying to decide if San Francisco is reality and My Ami is fiction. Perhaps. Everything we see and experience is just a filtered illusion. So maybe it’s all fiction. The difference is that I am able to focus here. In My Ami, I just want to relax and go to the beach. But maybe things will be different when I go back next week…
Later in the night, the featured reader, Joyce Jenkins reads from her beautiful poetry. This woman is a wordsmith. She reminds me of my French teacher in high school with her long gray hair and her kind, smiling eyes.
There is one stanza I will always remember:
“My heart is outside of me, like a trembling bag of water.”
I like that. That was GOOD. She also happens to have a web site that will help any writer visiting San Francisco find their way to all the different open mic nights: Poetry Flash. Check it!
My bus ticket is about to run out of time, so I head out of the cafe and walk up to Van Ness and catch the 49 Mission down to Market Street. I wait in the nipply cold for the next bus up to the Haight.
It’s another full, and unplanned day in San Francisco. I’m still flowing. This is the spirit of a traveler…The Virtual Gypsy.
Words by Melanie Feliciano.