I’m sleeping on the couch these days. For waking at an early hour, I no longer have the convenience of a clock radio. My wife fired it through the bedroom window the other evening. Sleepless nights have put her on edge. Look, it wasn’t me, really. All I did was duck, and dive.
I hate cell phones, but mine has alarm clock functionality. I slip it under the pillow and worry about microwaves pulsing through my skull the whole night. Consequently, I no longer dream of waves…I dream of flat tires and rotting teeth. I know it’s the microwaves.
At five in the morning the little device jerks me awake with a death cry. Vibrating, squealing, you’d think it was being threatened with a careless drop into an open toilet. I cut its tongue and stuff it back under the pillow. This is a critical time. I lay back down and I risk getting a proper amount of sleep. I risk doing the right thing. I risk not risking my life.
The larger, lumbering machines of the morning ensure my rising…the street cleaner, garbage truck, delivery vans…all double parked under my windows, all producing timely, consistently tuned clashes, slams and rumblings. Air brakes, greased metal doors, hydraulics, it’s the stumbling rhythm of early morning on this street in San Francisco.
Within minutes I’m flying up over the lagoons of Crissy Field. The Golden Gate Bridge is strung forth like a red coral necklace seen in some Union Square shop window. Davey’s down there somewhere, pouring over plans to retrofit the north end, slurping hot coffee with the iron workers, maintaining that careful balance between management and union.
Sometimes he’ll call and leave a message: “Jimmy, we just had another one, off the south tower this time. The guy didn’t even make the water. His brains are all over the mote. The gulls are on it!”
Beyond the Gate is blackness. The sea and sky are one vast canvas void of horizon, delineations, contrasts of any sorts. The bridge’s cold lampwork barely illuminates ribbons of whitewater wrapping around Fort Point.
By the time I make Geary Boulevard, the Wells Fargo sign gives half past five and 44 degrees. My hot water bottle sloshes reassuringly behind my seat. I slow down as the street narrows, as streets often do when they near the ocean. It winds toward the Cliff House, a street named after a city father twisting into that of a wolf, wanting no association with the dirty, tortured beach below. The sea churns there in her insomnia, caught up in her bed sheets.
Standing naked in the blustery sideshores, my wetsuit and I have it out, me eventually celebrating victory but not without dislocating a shoulder first…a painful process of reverse molting. How wonderful the rattlesnake must feel as he writhes out of flaky old skin, basking on a warm desert rock, consumed with thoughts of swallowing small furry rodents.