"And the rainbows fly on prayers of butterflies," a man on his soap box of a guitar case is rocking out, just outside the coffeeshop and to the left. Two sandals on two hairy feet, and a broad grin across an even hairier face. "And don't worry about the message from above, all you need is love," his song carries only as far as the first lane of traffic, just a sidewalk's distance away. With the oncoming onslaugt, his soundwaves of larynx and guitar string are smattered against windshield after windshield.
"I agree," looking up at him, I return his smile that he offers freely to the world. Reaching for my green lighter, I pull off and away from guitarman. As the cigarette held tight between my lips burns, the ears listen. Butt in the trash can, I look up, and catch his steady eyes, "I'll be right back." His eyes roll up into his head as he nods his acceptance. I go inside the coffeshop.
"Excuse me, sorry." No response from a sweet face. My coffee doesn't have enough sugar. I reach across a pale hand on it's way for the condiment rack, and accidentally brush it as she mixes in her milk, nonfat. Mine needs more milk, regular. Taste satisfactory, I put on the white plastic lid.
"'Excuse me, sorry," another, shorter girl with a torn sweat shirt announces as she makes for the coffee-pot.
"No problem," is my response. Trying to keep pleasant I turn and smile. She's busy with the milk now.
Got nine, one-dollar-bills in my pocket, and one-dollar-coffee in my hand.
Guitarman is gone. Shit. No wait, he's right up there through the throng of white tourists. With my usually cruising speed sped up, I catch him just as he stops and talks to a crouched man with long, thick-blond hair. Hindu prayer beads resting between two relaxed hands.
"Hey, you left too quickly," I direct my attention towards guitarman.
"He told me to move," his voice comes out muffled and insecure, in direct contrast to the heavenly heights he hit on his soap box.<\p>
"I'm sorry about that, but I, uh, got a dollar for you anyway."
"Cool, thanks," he cheers with sincere enthusiasm as the dollar bill slides into one of his numerous pockets.
"What's up," crystalman's blue eyes gaze up at me from the soiled, used ground. Until now, I had not realized the twenty or so different stones and crystals he had in an open suit case next to him. The energy vibrating out of that box is absolutely ridiculous, period. I sit down.
"So, where didcha get the crystals from?"
"Uh, mostly from around the city. Just trading, mostly. I'm traveling now, trying to get to the show."
I know the show is supposed to be some specific show, but can't think of who it is for the life of me. "What show?"
"Uh, String Cheeses Incident," he murmurs as he watches the people passing behind my back.
"That's right! I really wanted to go, but just quit my job,and I gotta stop going out."
"Sorry man," the crystals speak for him anyway. There is orange black striated smooth stones, faded green lightning rods, sharp angled crystals. There is rock black as night with purple protrusions, flaming red stars, and immense power and silence beyond all understanding.
"Well, I'll buy one. Which one you want me to buy?"
"This one," he says with the most vocal awareness I have heard from him yet. With his hand wide open, he reaches for the biggest quartz crystal in the box. The since latent eyes spark up a fire like only a man who either really wants or needs money does.
"Aw man, I can't afford that. I just quit my job. Look, I got seven dollars in my pocket. Now, i can't give you all of it. I told two environmentgirls down there that I'd give each two bucks for a beer. That leaves us with three."
"Uh, I don't know what I can let go for three," his business face never reaches mine.
"Aw, come on man. You pick. Whatever you can give me for three," my voice adds a tinge of emotion as I slide all-too-gently into bargaining mode.
"Ohkay, that's cool," the resentment is noticeable, "I can give you this one." A rock the size of a thumbnail comes into my hand. On one side there is rose-colored quartz. It doesn't matter.
The exchange is concluded, I bid my peace, he his blessings, and we part.
Fingering the new stone, I cross the street on a green light and make my way back to where I saw the bright-blue, collar shirted environmentgirls. Even from 100 meters away I can make out their presence, both by the flouresence of their clothing, and by the streams of people, who with purpose, casually avoid them.
I catch them off-guard when I come up behind their attention, "Yes, I'd like to donate fifty dollars to whichever cause it is that you are out here for today.
The Chinese environmentgirl turns with a radiating, ready white smile, "Awwww man. Your that guy who told us you used to work for us." Her dissapointment is noticeable in the eyes, but not the face. A decent saleswoman.
"Sorry, I just couldn't resist. But I did come back." The talk continues on with the slightest tinge of flirtation, but Miriam (as I learn asianenvironmentgirl is called) just won't drop the business in her voice. "Anyway I got the two bucks I promised you," I offer her it as she smiles for the tenth time. A damn cute smile.
The other environmentgirl had recently taken a seat on the curb, massaging her feet through her shoes as I approach. "Hey, this is your first day on the job. You can't give up already."
"Hey," her voice is tough, "you told me you quit the same job after just three days! Don't be givin' me any shit." She finishes off with a smile as she glances up.
"So, here's your two bucks to get a Forty."
"A Forty, huh. Thanks. I'm gonna need it." Her voice is still hard, but I can hear the appreciation.
"No problem," and we part on good terms.
"Hey, excuse me, ma'am.," I shout out to the back of a tall woman who is walking in front of me. Long, fine braids, half brown, half bleached-white, cascade off her head, fall down round shoulders and end loosely at the small of her back. She stops and turns around.
Her face is sculpted with finely set big brown eyes, immediately noticeable patches of cover-up hiding the bags beneath those two semi-precious stones. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry, I just saw your hair and uh, uh. Well, I, uh, I am a wannabe writer, but I, uh, I was thinking about doing this piece on a girl with hair the same as yours."
"Hah," she lets out an honest laugh, "you are like the third person who has stopped me today about my hair."
"Well, it is quite interesting," I enourage her.
"So, you are writing about a girl with hair just like mine?"
"Yep. I was wondering, how would you describe your hair?"
"Groovy. But it is also relaxed. It looks like my scalp is getting yanked out, but actually I barely notice it." Her hand pulls at a single braid to demonstrate.
"Well, uh, uh. What else can you tell me? Who did it?"
"My friend Monica who goes to the National Beauty Institute," she proudly tells me, her voice a sing song swish of perfect harmony. "It took seven hours."
"All at once?"
"Uh, um, just one more question. If you don't mind."
"Nope, not at all. Just gotta catch up with my mom in the store here."
"Are you a dancer by any chance?"
A fascinating look of astonishment crosses her face. "In fact, yes, I am. Don't even tell me the girl in your story is also a dancer. That's just kinda wierd if it's true, you know." As she holds my gaze steady with her eyes, I get lost in coincidental revelry. "I actually am going to fashion school right now. But I do dance to pay the bills. Haha. Hey mom," she shouts inside the store where her mother is, "this guy is writing a story about a girl with braids like mine who is also a stripper. That's crazy."
From inside I can see her mom is also amused by this scenario, though I don't have the heart to tell her that the story is going to be about a rave girl, not a stripper. "I must admit, that is pretty nuts," I wholeheartedly agree.
As she says goodbye, her smile melts me onto the pavement.
As I walk down Haight Street, and make a left on Cole, I toss a dollar into a street kid's hat, who is doing absolutely nothing at the moment. With a nod that I catch out of the corner of my passing eye, he issues his thanks.
The apartment is empty when I get home. I sit down on a worn couch, reach for the glass pipe, already packed. Out of my pocket comes a green lighter. I offer a prayer of thanks to my grandfather, who passed away two weeks ago, and take a deep breath.
When they looked into grampa's corpse's pockets, they found a wallet with a ten dollar bill inside. My grandmother took me aside at his funeral and told me gramps intended to give that bill to me the next time we saw each other.