“Dating and Biking in San Francisco” by Tomas Moniz

I used to love the heat of summer: late night bonfires at backyard parties in the East Bay or nights at Ocean Beach digging sand pits and stoking the logs into blaze. But Oakland’s Ghostship fire and North Bay’s inferno destroying communities and blanketing San Francisco a hundred miles away in a haze that burned nostrils and coated tongues makes me anxious. Like everything is impossible. Like everything is doomed.

But, I’m beginning to feel something like excitement about being back.

I have a new two-week temp gig at the SFMoMA.

I’m seeing two cool people in Leila and Terrance and I’m still sometimes setting up dates.

My sublet is ending soon, but Metal Matt set me up house-sitting up north for his mother. More time to find the right place to move into rather than commit to something out of desperation, always a good idea.

My only reservation is that I’d need to commit to a month.

All this work to get sober and get laid and I’d have to put it all on hold. I’m afraid I’ll lose the connections I’ve made. I’m afraid I’ll start drinking again.

Because what else.

I try not to think about it. Tinder helps.

Like this one date with a guy named, Devon. I text him to meet me in the massive Richard Serra sculpture at the bottom floor of the museum. This whole dating game is new but disconcerting. I’m shy at first but I can get going. I know this. I tell myself I just like to be in control. I mean who doesn’t right? Working in the corporate sponsorship department for the SFMoMA, I get free entry to the museum, a discount at the coffee shop and cafe. Strolling the art’s a plus. My favorite room is the photography room. The Jim Goldberg prints. They break my heart. His photos of poor people in the city all in black and white and moody. He told the subjects to write little snippets about themselves or their lives on the photos in their scribbly handwriting. Stories of such loneliness and heartache. Sounds trite I know, like really, but even the photos of rich people and their much more legible handwriting just felt vacuous, like all the stereotypes about rich people were true. Devon’s rich. Or at least he got money. Or at least more than me. Or at least I think so. Devon and his wife are looking to set up a three-way. I’m looking for I have no idea. To not be so afraid. Not be so picky. Not be so goddamn moved by photos of other people and their handwriting.

But to be honest, perhaps I hope to practice my fantasy of me and Leila and Terrance.

Initially Deven wanted to meet at a bar. I thought about acquiescing even though I’m not drinking. But I figured if I’m gonna get naked and vulnerable with someone, let alone a couple, I wanted to meet out in the ugly real world, midday, no pretty lighting, no background music.

After he texts me that he’s here and I tell him to go into the Serra sculpture, I walk down the wide cream-colored wood steps to the massive oxidized sculpture a floor below. I feel on display. I feel eyes watching me. I feel like everyone knows what I hope to find in the recesses of metal and shadow. At the entrance to Sequence, the sign reads PLEASE DON’T TOUCH, but like every child and half of the adult patrons, I ignore it and place my fingers on the grainy, cold steel and walk in to meet my date.

Nothing comes of my date with Devon, but I’m still satisfied.

After work, I bike through the city to the beach by myself. I have this beat-up Bianchi with twenty-one gears, but I only can ever use seven of them because the gear shifter is busted and so the chain is stuck on the biggest chainring so like it’s fucking hella hard to actually pedal around with all these hills. I do it anyway. That pain and sweat such a perfect remedy for desire.

My father had this saying: We gotta bounce. Meaning he wanted to leave asap. Like immediately. Like get your ass to the car now. He’d say it and laugh at me scrambling to gather my shit like a trained pet. He had a good laugh. One of the few good things about him.

I got like two hours before sunset so I drop everything and bounce. I ride to Ocean Beach, sweaty and sucking air just in time for the last hour of sunlight. I put away my phone and ear buds. Something about the beach at dusk makes me want to listen to the world.

People stroll along the shore. A few people jog. Show offs, I think with their neon shoes and spandex shorts flaunting sexy asses. I watch a man and a child, who looks to be about five, hustle across the grayish sand till the shore line. When they’re a few feet from me, the girl begins to scream for her dad to come back and take her sandals off. Like she doesn’t want wet sand on her shoes but she’s cool with dry sand. I guess I get it.

She flips out. She actually starts rolling in the sand. The tantrum is so intense I can’t tell if she’s faking. She whips sand around and it flies all over me.

Her father runs up and says, Sorry, to me and stands over her and I feel nervous because, you know, fathers. But then he kneels down. I watch him slowly take off her sandals and brush off her chubby little kid feet. Softly. Delicately.

I hear the child doing that huffing you do after you totally just lost your shit and you’re calming yourself down. He sits next to her and takes his shoes and socks off and it’s strangely intimate to watch. I look away to the sunset: vibrant oranges and yellows and subtle purple on the edges.

When I look back I see them lying on their backs, legs raised, feet next to each other. They both have bright red painted toenails. They wiggle their toes and swing their legs and laugh.

I bike home feeling the world is a beautiful place.

At a stoplight on 18th and South Van Ness, I’m breathing heavy, earbuds blaring some Fiona Apple song and I wonder if Apple is her real name and what fucking Spotify playlist this is on when, I shit you not, a car bangs into the back of my bike.

The bike pitches me to the left and the sharp pop of the bike tire inner tube rings in my ears as I lay on the street. I close my eyes and can hear the faraway sound of Fiona crooning about being a criminal.

Someone from the Whiz Burger on the corner rushes to me asking, Did you hit your head?

I consider my body: no head contusion, no bone juts from any limb, no asphalt pebbles freckle my skin. I realize I’m fine.

My bike is a fucking mess though and one earbud is broken open like a small chicken egg. I stare at them for a moment.

The person from Whiz Burger pulls me up and I stare into the front windshield of, and I’m not kidding you, the most beautiful lowrider I have ever seen: a ‘70s Chevy Nova, the hood airbrushed with an Aztec warrior, in browns and golds, wielding an ax, adorned with a feather headdress. The rest of the car is candy apple red.

The person driving emerges from the car and he must be barely fourteen, wearing a Giants jersey, looking like he’s about to shit his pants.

He says, fuck. How’s the bumper.

I say, How’s my bike?

I hear the Whiz Burger person ask the driver, Do you even have a license? The teenager looks like he’s going to cry, looks worse than someone in trouble or caught. He looks like he’s about to give up.

He says, I’m sorry. He shrugs and leans against the car delicately. Then, like he had an epiphany, he shoves his hand into his khakis and offers me the folded bills. I reach out and take the money. I hear myself saying, Just leave, as I pick up my bike. He doesn’t hesitate, ducks back in the car and roars away.

I hear the person who helped me ask, How much did he give you?

I unfold the bills and count seventeen dollars.

I look up and say, Enough.

Tomas Moniz edited Rad Dad and Rad Families. His novella, Bellies and Buffalos, is about friendship, family, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. He’s the recipient of the SF Literary Arts Foundation’s 2016 Award, the 2016 Can Serrat Residency, the 2017 Caldera Residency, and others. He’s recently been published by Barrelhouse, and was awarded the 2018 SPACE on Ryder Farm residency. He has stuff on his website, but loves letters and pen pals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back.

Image: “Pulse” by Bobbi Le’ Rae Valentin

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