Written: February 26, 2011, in Tucson
About: mid-January, in San Francisco
I was walking through the cool air of San Francisco winter, a few feet along the sloped sidewalk, smiling bright. The music was still in my ears, and the beat was in my step. My friend had just dropped me off near my hotel after a wonderful evening of swing, late-night pizza, and conversation. Always a late-night conversation, like a cherry at the bottom of a shake. It is that comforting light, the safe harbor at the end of the night that I always look forward to, that point where we are sitting somewhere, exhausted, and just talking. The splendor of the evening was still clinging to me; it made me warm and pleasant all over.
A crowd of drunks filled the sidewalk right in front of my hotel. The crowd was a bit older than me, and well-dressed. The sort of drunken crowd you encounter with zero apprehension. No one here is belligerent and in the mood for a fight. No one is drunk enough to spray you with vomit. Safe, but still obnoxious. I quickly glide past them and duck into the hotel.
As I am jogging up the stairs, I hear it. The late-night mating call. The drunken swipe at my serenity.
“Hey there handsome!”
I quicken my step, hop multiple stairs, and circle toward the elevators, pretending, hoping the call was not addressed to me. It was. I knew it was. A refined and beautiful evening is about to be invaded.
The hotel is quite old, and the elevators are slow. As I wait, the drunk stumbles onto the scene completely obliterated. Her sentences are short and slurred. Her gaze is unfocused. In fact, she has trouble looking at me directly, instead focusing on a spot that misses me by a few inches. A licentious smile floats on her lips. The ruin of my peace is upon me.
She introduces herself, “Shannon.” (Removed in time, I do not recall her actual name.) I politely shake her hand, and reply with my own name. My smile is conservative and strictly friendly, the hand contact brief and formal, but the subtlety is lost on her. In the alcoholic haze, she recognizes that my name is Russian, and produces a few words in my native tongue. An impressive feat, especially given her state, and I curtly compliment her knowledge. Again, my brevity and lack of enthusiasm are ignored.
The elevator arrives, but provides no relief. The lady follows me in, albeit with some difficulty. In the close confines, physical proximity cannot be avoided. Fifteen floors is suddenly a very long ride.
The ride is tense. I am keeping a polite distance, and it is finally beginning to dawn on Shannon that whatever she had imagined is not coming to pass. The realization is slowly coming to her foggy mind. She grasps something has gone wrong here. Reality and her intentions have diverged in a terrible way. Her eyes still fail to focus on me.
“So are you into fun stuff?” This is the desperate last stand. The last cards are tossed ungracefully onto the table.
“Not tonight,” I say. The universe gives the scene a screen-perfect beat of silence, then the elevator doors slide open on my floor and I step out. Shannon is left behind, confused and regrettably disappointed.