It was one of those delicious San Francisco days when the air blows in liquid and the sun graces everything gold and anything can happen. We were in the Haight, Brint and I. The late summer sun drenched the streets in syrupy amber light as we walked side by side, watching two young women prance along the thronged sidewalk ahead of us: Brint’s teenaged daughters, Tara and Raven. Though four years apart they were almost exactly the same height, but Tara wore her mop of copper curls short while Raven’s straight, shoulder-length hair was dyed flamingo. Seventeen-year-old Tara wore black tights, impossibly short red shorts and a bustier-style top that exposed her midriff. Raven, younger and slighter of build, relied on accessories: an elaborately embroidered belt, thick yellow spirals through gauged ears, silver rings on most of her fingers. The girls looked funky and sexy. They were attracting attention and they knew it, yet there was an innocence about them, a healthy animal playfulness, like fillies that canter and roll simply because their bodies are strong and the sun feels good on their supple skin and they’re excited about the potential inherent in every juicy hummock.
The girls had come down from Oregon to spend two weeks with us. I had taken them to the Haight to show them a part of my world: the café I liked to frequent between classes, the thrift shops, the flamboyant Victorians, looking as though they’d been rolled in fondant then gilded and bejeweled, the mash and swarm and pageantry of the kids and freaks that posture and pose and the tourists that come to bear witness. Watching the girls bounce ahead of us, I realized they were much more at home here than I was. They were in their element: two more bright flowers joining a parading celebration of youth.
As we approached the Blue Front Café, my favorite lunch spot on Haight Street, I noticed a trio of street urchins hanging out by the front door: a tall, gangly adolescent with long blonde sideburns, wearing a Dickensonian top hat and a guitar slung across his back, and another young man and a woman, colorfully costumed and happy, not hostile like some of the street kids and hippie-gypsies that haunt the Haight, leaning against storefronts with their grungy knapsacks and dogs-on-strings, panhandling for change and cigarettes and spitting sarcastic “have a nice day”s at my back when I shook my head.
We went into the cafe and I shepherded Brint and the girls to the counter in the back. They were craning their heads to read the vast menu on the wall and I was making suggestions (the falafel burrito, the baklava) when suddenly the trio from outside appeared before us. The boy with the top hat stood in front while his friends hung back, flanking him. He was clearly on a mission; his smile stretched from sideburn to sideburn. The boy--he was maybe nineteen or twenty--had a large mouth and one of those toothy infectious grins that made him look like an errant hayseed blown into the big city.
“I just have to tell you,” he began, then took a perfect little beat: “You’re gorgeous!”
For half a second I thought he was talking to me. But of course he wasn’t. The lovely creature he stood breathless and vulnerable and emboldened before was Tara. He beamed at her, and she beamed back, and said “Thank you!” and they stood this way for a good fifteen seconds until finally the young man tipped his hat and turned and he and his friends filed out of the café. Tara blushed, Raven pinched her and growled and Brint looked bemused and proud, as only a father can. We smiled at her, with her, as did the handful of customers waiting to order. As the front door banged shut and set the bell a-jingle, I called after the trio; “What am I, chopped liver?” with just enough razz and bravado in my voice to reassure people I was only joking.
Anything can happen. Tara glowed and tingled through lunch, a secret smile playing on her lips. No doubt the scene continued to dance through her mind, even as she talked about other things. I replayed it, too--“You’re gorgeous!” echoing, echoing--for the incident shocked me, shook me good and hard with the knowledge that somehow, as I stared down forty, what was once a brash declaration--Anything’s possible!--had evolved into a practical and thoughtful question: What’s possible?
It wasn’t jealousy. It wasn’t as if I wanted strange men following me into cafes. And it wasn’t as if I resented the fact that the spotlight had shifted, for it hadn’t. Indeed, the spotlight remained focused where it always had been; I had simply moved through it and become a part of the audience. It took a young man in an absurd top hat, beaming his admiration at a beautiful woman in the full flush of her burgeoning, to deliver the full voltage of this truth. And the beautiful woman just happened to be Tara. Tara, who was in love with the world, in love with herself, and with Possibility--the word was her breathless mantra.
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