There’s a fog in the hills this morning, obliterating the giant radio tower on Twin Peaks, originally peddled to skeptical locals years ago as “San Francisco’s Own Eiffel Tower.” I have an excellent view out my back window, facing south. “Valley fog” or “morning ground fog” is what they call it this time of year. When it really comes in thick over the summer months, the weather people refer to it as “low coastal cloud” or the “marine layer.” The guy on the radio always tells you it’s “expected to burn off by midday.” But he doesn’t know, really; a maritime climate’s a crapshoot.
I listen to the radio a fair bit, the news mostly. The news in America is that we no longer get any undoctored news. Also, you never know what’s going to turn up and the twist they’ll give it. If tomorrow it was disclosed that Cheney and his people knew about 9/11 beforehand, William Safire in the New York Times would probably compare Cheney to Churchill, who let the bombing of Coventry go ahead in order not to tip his hand to the Germans and jeopardize the larger war effort. An administration spokesperson would ask: “Where’s the beef?” There would be a collective resigned shrug across the land.
If the sun does eventually come out, I might just walk up into the hills with my basketball, all the way to the top of Stanyan and across to Tank Hill, then make my way down the hidden stairways that connect the streets in this part of town—between Buena Vista and the Duboce Triangle—till I reach my special, semisecret basketball court at the base of Corona Heights.
I like to shoot baskets by myself. I’ve been shooting baskets by myself since I was big and strong enough to get the ball to the hoop. It’s an especially pretty spot, that particular court, in a city filled with pretty spots. The Mission district and Potrero Hill spread out for miles below, and beyond is a panoramic sweep of the East Bay. No one much is usually up there, at least not early in the day: a few people walking their dogs, small children playing on the swings while their mothers watch.
This is where I engage in my own variety of Spiritual Exercises, quite different in nature and intent than those prescribed by Ignatius of Loyola. My basket-shooting is free of any deistic implications. It’s more along the lines of hygiene for the mind and spirit, closer to meditation than prayer. I can’t imagine whom I would pray to if I attempted prayer: perhaps the ghost of Bruno, the late bartender and presiding spirit of the nearby ZamZam Room; a most stern and unforgiving God he would be, too, quite as wrathful and even more unpredictable than Yahweh. Or maybe I’d pray to dear fat old Patty, my long-dead cat whom I mourn for still, and who regularly haunts my dreams; he too would make for an intractable and unforgiving deity.
I do on occasion encounter two other semiregulars up there at the court, also engaged in their individual methods of spiritual renewal. One is a man, perhaps a few years older than myself, who does tai chi, a Chinese martial art and exercise that is more popular out here on the Pacific Rim than elsewhere in the country. It’s pleasing to watch. You really do see it around here quite a lot, particularly among the Chinese, especially the elderly. You can check it out on almost any greensward in Chinatown, a group of them in their quilted pajama-type clothing “swimming in the air.” The legend goes that a certain Chang San-Feng was awakened one morning by scuffling noises outside his window. When he looked out to see what the commotion was, he observed a crane and a snake engaged in mortal combat. From their thrusts and parries he came up with the principle of tai chi, the balanced alternation of strength and yielding.
We never speak, the tai chi guy and me. He swims in the air; I shoot. On one occasion, after having not coincided up there for a few years, we found ourselves together again one day, doing our thing. We nodded politely to one another and smiled, noting to ourselves, rather ruefully, the effects of time as they had befallen the other, and returned to our solitary activities.
Then there’s the resident kook. San Francisco is long on kooks. After Reagan was governor it became kook-o-rama in earnest around here. Half the people you run across on the street are talking to themselves. Some of them have that semi-hidden headset telephone thing going on; most don’t.
The kook’s been hanging around up there almost as long as Tai Chi and me; he sits under a shade tree with his boom box. He’s an aggressively friendly, talkative cuss so you want to be polite but allow him as wide a berth as possible. If he’s drinking beer, as is often the case, his friendliness and volubility expand to a worrying degree. He’d probably try to kill you, if you let him, with his conviviality. He always recognizes me from having seen me up there so many times over the years and gets very excited. I give him my best Duchess of Windsor smile and keep shooting. I suppose I don’t need to tell you what he’s always listening to on his boom box, do I? You’ve probably guessed already; of course you have: Black Sabbath.