ADJUSTING CLOTHES. Stuffing her phone into her tote bag. She prepared to leave the apartment. Drew needed the car for work and Mag hurried to take ADKAR’s shuttle. Facing the hallway mirror, inspecting her appearance as Drew shouted from the bed.
“Can you take Popper for a walk?” She yelled towards the bedroom, “I’m running late for the shuttle!”
“He has to go right now. I don’t have any clothes on. And I have to leave soon for my meeting.”
Popper whined impatiently near the apartment door and Mag sighed… if I don’t take him, he might have an accident and Drew will blame it on me.
“Fine! I’ll do it.”
The shuttle was a welcome perk at ADKAR. All buses had scheduled pick-up locations close to city bus stops throughout San Francisco Bay. And unlike public transportation, ADKAR shuttles stuck to their schedules as if managed by bullet train operators. Also, they provided free wireless access, enabling employees to work with the same level of network reliability as if in the office.
Scurrying Popper to the stairs, the dog’s rough-collie coat bounced down, floppily. In part due to lushness, but also plumpness. Living in a confined apartment, eating an unbalanced mixture of human and dog food allowed him a diet Mag realized was damaging to his health. But also accepted, the dog seemed happy and rarely barked while lounging in the apartment. Instead, he kept a watchful eye on things in his own relaxing way, encouraging Mag to focus on the essential things in life. Food. Sleep. Fun.
She prodded him to do his business on the sidewalk outside their building door, but Popper denied her. Searching for grass, he walked a block down the street to a thin patch of lawn paralleling an iron fence of a neighboring property. Mag succumbed… you got your way again, didn’t you? Making me relax and wait. How do you know when I need to calm down?
The moment is temporary.
Upon retrieving his gift she led Popper back to the apartment, up stairs, then rushed out the door.
Bands of glowing light beamed sun rays uphill as she walked down towards the pick-up area. Dawning, a clear view of the Golden Gate bridge. The morning sky providing rare occasion in the city… there’s no fog. Slowing her descent, she absorbed the scenery. Welcoming the sun’s warmth against skin. Mag sighed… this is why I love the city. It’s beautiful.
THEY LONG DISTANCE DATED FOR A YEAR and afterward, decided to move in together. At the time, Drew lived with his parents near Pittsburgh and Mag, in San Francisco. Upon deciding to live together, both learned the market for apartments in San Francisco’s most coveted neighborhoods was cut-throat competitive. They’d attended open houses at five apartments, paid application fees for four, receiving acceptance at one.
She assumed other applicants offered paying higher than the rental fee, or accompanied their application with gifts for the landlord; anything to make themselves seem more desirable. It was common practice for renters in the Bay Area. Writing exhaustive letters to landlords, detailing their portrayal of perfect tenancy. Maybe including a gift card, or trinket handcrafted by their children, or by a pet. Refusing to resort to these tactics, Mag and Drew eventually settled for a rent-controlled corner studio apartment.
It had an angled view of the Golden Gate bridge.
Windows perched from the fourth-story flat, portrayed near panoramic images of the intersection below. Its interior, offered original hardwood floors, accents, and frames; but only five hundred square feet of living space. They compromised, only needing enough space for two adults.
No laundry machines existed in the flat, but communal machines resided on the first floor. Mag and Drew conceded, it was better than no laundry at all. Besides, she used laundry facilities for free at ADKAR and at the time they didn’t own a car, nullifying the fact there was no dedicated parking. But the final determining factor? Its location was amazing.
Nestled, walking distance from Lombard Street; the most crooked street in the world. Close to Fisherman’s Wharf and Coit Tower. One block from San Francisco’s world famous trolley route. Surrounded by unique restaurants. Bars. Cafés and independent grocers. Quaint ice cream parlors.
They lived in Nob Hill.
An exclusive area filled with historic homes. A location most San Franciscans (with nice incomes) desired to live. But nine years later, Mag realized much of the apartment’s quaintness had lost its charm. The fact there was no washer or dryer meant she’d become responsible to do laundry at work. Lugging clothes to and from ADKAR once-a-week.
And yes, the apartment offered stunning fourth-floor views. But lacked an elevator, making the burden of hauling belongings up-and-down stairs, unavoidable. To compensate, she carried as much as possible in single trips. Cradling bags and boxes in her arms. Often encountering other residents at the same time going up-or-down. She squeezed past them like a tightrope walker holding breath, sharing limited space with unwanted guests. Losing count of how many times she’d dropped something, failing to pull off the Ringling Brothers maneuver.
Additionally, their cozy kitchen-space became cramped and isolated. Separated from the remaining apartment by a thin hallway. Whenever they cooked and happened to vacate the kitchen (maybe to watch television or talk in another area of the apartment); their meal burnt to a crisp as if consciously awaiting the opportunity. Mag acknowledged… if we had more space it’d be easier to monitor food while we cook. We’d have fewer food disasters.
But what she disliked most? The lack of a discrete bedroom.
Due to limited space, they had little choice but to place the bed in the middle of the apartment. Its location forcing anyone who desired to enter the living area, to (either) walk through the improvised bedroom, or down an adjacent hall. The only barrier separating the living room from the bed space? A makeshift curtain they’d draped over the archway between both rooms. When they desired privacy, they tied the panels closed. An inventive solution when they moved in. They high-fived themselves upon completing it. Now. Felt. Ghetto.
APPROACHING THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL with time to spare, she joined other Adkarians waiting in line and scanned their faces. Not recognizing a soul. They all worked for the same company, but ADKAR employees numbered in the thousands. Most being engineers or architects. All seemingly too busy to chat with someone new, barring a task-related reason to do so. As a result, Mag rarely initiated conversation.
Standing beside her, an employee cradled his open laptop in one arm. Staring at the screen. His free hand typing code. Another employee, narrowed focused on her phone, feverishly. Thumbs pecking its screen, blurred away at what appeared to be the most important text message ever. The morning temperature hovered around fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Her forehead glistened with sweat.
Mag thought… I should check email.
She reached into her bag as a gravelly voice mumbled, “Hey pretty lady. How you doin?”
Looking down. A man, laying on his side atop bare pavement. His body slumped against the exterior of a consignment shop. One hand propping his head up, palm to ear. Elbow pivoted against the ground. Crusted clothes. Dark. Soiled. Scarred face. She’d seen him periodically walking the neighborhood, rummaging through garbage cans and assumed him homeless. Also confirming… he always seems nice.
Smiling nervously, she stammered, “I’m good. How are you?” Before scolding herself… dumb question. He’s homeless. How do you think he is?
He smiled gratefully. Yellow. Missing teeth. “I’m alright, can’t complain. Hey, you got two dollars and twenty-seven cents?” He never asked me for money before!… fumbling her bags. Pressing hands to waist. Pretending to check pockets she realized… I’m wearing a skirt and leggings. I don’t have pockets!
Stuttering, “N-no, I uh…”
Sights and sounds of the shuttle interrupted her, stopping in front of the group. Mag spoke while stepping away. “Sorry, I have to go to work.”
“God bless you.”
She re-positioned her bag and boarded the bus as a male employee behind her spoke quietly.
“That’s so annoying, isn’t it?”
Having no desire to pass judgment on the homeless man, she pondered… it was mildly annoying, but what do you think his life is like? Though she replied, “No – no it’s okay.” Climbing shuttle stairs to the second level, she located a pair of empty seats in the back and sat. Peering out the window towards the man on the street. Contemplating… it’s sad how people end up this way. And that guy’s a dick for saying, ‘It’s so annoying.’
THEY RAISED HER TO RESPECT OTHERS and treat everyone the same, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or position in life. Mag learned the most important trait a person possessed was their quality of character. That she should judge folks based on how well they demonstrate that trait in all situations. She recalled a mixed race Caucasian-aboriginal girl who briefly attended her grammar school. Having no opportunity to befriend the girl, Mag despised hearing schoolmates refer to the new student as ‘half-caste’ or other more demeaning terms. She dissociated herself from those prejudicial outliers and for one year, noticed the girl from a distance. The following year she was gone. Daydreaming on the shuttle. Head, pressing against the back rest, Mag wondered… whatever happened to her? She wished they would have spoken. Maybe become friends.
Unlocking her mobile, she called her parents for morning check-in, then told them about the homeless man and young girl she remembered from school. Towards the end of the conversation, her mom asked, “Why do you think that man asked for two dollars and twenty-seven cents? It’s such precise change.”
Mag’s face puzzled, “I don’t know. It’s an odd amount, isn’t it? Why not ask for two dollars and twenty-five cents? Or just two dollars? Who has exactly twenty-seven cents?”
“Maybe he knows the exact price of something he wants to buy, and the total he’s requesting includes tax.” said her father.
“Yeah,” Mag smiled. “Next time I’ll ask him if the amount he’s requesting already includes tax.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “Then I’ll inform him of the low probability someone might carry exactly twenty-seven cents.”
“Right!” Her father chuckled, “Then ask him if he’s got change for a five.” Her mother gasped, “No. Don’t do that! That might make him upset.” Being aware her mom rarely recognized the sarcasm Mag shared with her dad, she blurted, “Mom! I’m only kidding. I would never do that.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes your father seems serious.”
“Darn right, I’m serious! I’m a bloody bastard.”