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Breathing San Francisco, January 1991 It was a week after New Year’s, and city workers had taken down the holiday decorations. The city was under scaffolding, under repair. Even though the earthquake had done its damage a year and a half before, the insides had to be trussed up, and all the money in San Francisco was thrown at mending its backbone. Every building was surrounded by a jerry-rigged jungle of fitted metal pipes and warping two-by-eights, and the entire town seemed Closed for Repairs, See You Next Year! On the train ride in, Dennis noted where the money was being taken from: on the Muni bus, huge tarry smears of inscrutable gang names were jagged onto the windows. Old newspapers blew around pedestrian ankles . It would be years before the snazzy French selfcleaning toilets were installed, so the homeless, their infrastructure devastated as well, found a jungle gym wonderland of nooks and crannies. Dennis still followed his drought-era water-conservation habits by 24 25 showering with a bucket at his feet and using the runoff to flush the toilet, and even then, observing the rhyme, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” It was a habit for life, despite the nonstop rains this winter had brought. Dennis saw Rigo first, when he walked into the clinic, framed at the receptionist desk, already hard at work. Dennis thought he had the loveliest, most girlish eyelashes in the history of beautiful men, but Rigo was intoleather,andheworechapstoworkeveryday.Mostly he sat behind his desk, so you would never know it. But chaps were not what he was remembered for. “Two nuns are traveling around Europe,” he told Dennis as he signed in. “And after they visit the Vatican , they head for the Balkans, and in Transylvania, a vampire jumps on the hood of their rental car! The driving nun asks, ‘What’ll I do?’ And the passenger nun says, ‘Turn your headlights on!’ And she does, and the vampire curses the light, but holds tight. ‘Now what should I do?’ asks the driving nun and the shotgun nun says, ‘I just filled our windshield washer fluid with holy water from the Pope, to bless our journey, so squirt that on him!’ So she squirts holy water on the vampire and his skin is burning and he’s shrieking, but he still hangs on. ‘Now what will I do?’ asks the driving nun, and her nun friend says, ‘Show him your cross!’ And the driver says, ‘Perfect!’ And she rolls down her window and leans out and yells at the vampire, ‘Darn it, I’m very frigging angry!’” Say fuck, thought Dennis, or even damn. But Rigo never swore. Dennis believed certain good and beautiful things in the world coexisted with—required— obscenity. Behind him, Sue the nurse breezed in. Her hello to Rigo and Dennis was sunny but vacant, a pretty, rentable apartment. This was the second time in his life Dennis had seen her. The first time was when he came in to have his blood drawn for the test. He felt as if they were intimate friends, similar to the feeling he got after telling a total stranger some terrible secret. Rigo, positive and proud, had cajoled Dennis to come in. “Knowing is better than not knowing,” he told him. “At first it hurts like h-e-double-toothpicks, but then it makes you stronger.” Sue went through the office door and the next thing they knew, she was standing next to Rigo with the clipboard . “James Thornton,” she said through the window of the reception area. Dennis looked over. How had he missed this only other, weeping guy in the room? Sue didn’t bother to usher James through the door. Dennis felt the press of time all around Sue—got to save lives here, got to get this man healthy again, got to make a grown man stop crying. She didn’t even put her purse away. Dennis watched Rigo weigh James Thornton like a flyweight, his lean body slouched over the little beaded weights. From the way Rigo stood close, Dennis could tell that the two men knew each other, were friends 26 27 or something, a similar suitor-to-sister relationship Dennis shared with him. Probably, Rigo had talked Jimmy Thornton into the test, too, and here it was, hurting like h-e-double-toothpicks. Rigo escorted the man to an exam room...


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MARC Record
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