A Day in San Francisco

June 20, 1994|By ANDREI CODRESCU

SAN FRANCISCO — A day is truly infinite, as James Joyce amply demonstrated. It is only we who are finite because we are inattentive. I'm as inattentive as most, but sometimes the sheer hammer of data will dislodge me from my crib of ennui and routine.

Take this day in San Francisco, for instance. I began with my walk from Union Square through Chinatown to City Lights Bookstore -- a ritual walk I have undertaken 1,000 times, 500 when I lived here, and 500 since. It was a foggy, cool, classic Frisco day, the kind Dashiell Hammett loved. The pressed ducks in the windows of Chinatown shops looked like ghostly stamps.

At City Lights Bookstore, the books smelled of espresso, cappuccino and young poets. Nervous hands with skinny fingers leafed through them. The ship of dreams was launched. Upstairs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous American poet and proprietor, told me that the city had named a street in honor of his 75th birthday. We took a walk to see it. There it was, halfway down the hill, visible from the park and framed by North Beach: Via Ferlinghetti.

What a civilized city! What other place in America has named one of its streets after a living poet? San Francisco, of course, has, at the behest and lobbying of Ferlinghetti himself, streets named Rexroth, Kerouac, Hammett and Kaufman.

We had clams at Enrico's, the cafe where Kerouac, Kaufman and Rexroth had often had theirs, and then said goodbye to Lawrence, who went to his studio to paint. I walked back toward the Mission, and I ran into Greg, an old friend, on Market Street. We bought two garish jackets for $20 from a street vendor to celebrate our chance meeting.

Dressed like twins, we proceeded from espresso to espresso to Mission Street, intercepted now and then by large panhandlers with requests for $5 to $20. ''Wimps!'' shouted Greg, ''go burgle and rob! It's unmanly to beg!''

Well, that was Greg, and after we said goodbye, I sat by myself in a tiny Thai restaurant and watched the fog roll away, revealing blue-sky bits of my youth.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of ''Exquisite Corpse.''

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