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I think it’s easy for San Franciscans to take their cultural freedoms for granted. Today I add another item to my list of pleasures in being the boyfriend of Jasmina Contrevic: seeing a San Francisco street fair through her unspoiled eyes. At the moment, this consists of watching an aging hipster fry up our New Orleans beignets while smoking an enormous doobie. We take our first bites as we cross the street.
“That is hilarious!” she says.
“So you can pretty much do whatever you want?”
A completely naked man sets up a chaise lounge on the sidewalk.
“Or not. The neighborhood’s blocked off and they’re policing the exits, so the cops don’t feel the need to hassle anyone. Hey! Free coffee.”
We head to a bicycle-drawn cart, where a couple of young dudes are delivering free cups of java. Jasmina licks the powdered sugar from her fingers and takes a sip.
“So this is the Promised Land.”
“We call it Dowhateverthefuckyouwant-istan.”
She reaches back and gives my butt a mighty spank.
As choice a gig as this might be, the logistics are proving a little sketchy. During setup, I realize that we will be playing in eighty degrees of freakish October sunlight. The people running our stage float the idea of fixing their tardiness by shortening our set. Pamela (bless her) shoots them down. Then the sound guy takes freakin’ forever clipping a dozen mics to my kit.
The funny thing is, all these red flags lead to a pretty terrific set. The mics are giving my drums a lot of power, and the band feels especially tight. At one point, the sound guy has to snatch my boom stand before it falls off the back of the stage. The distraction causes me to miss a drum cue, but the band plows through, unhindered. Our stalwarts have arrived just in time to fill up the shaded half of our dancing area. I spot my lovely girlfriend up front, and I don’t even care about the sweat soaking my shirt.
Afterward, I stuff my drums under a table, enjoy the unparalleled luxury of a musicians-only porta-potty and head out with Jasmina to catch the Mermen, a legendary surf-rock group. A passel of young ladies walk by on stilts, clothed in petticoats and gartered stockings. Jasmina whispers in my ear. “You had better check out those girls.”
“I don’t even care.”
“Don’t give me that patronizing bullshit. They’re wearing tiny little skirts, and they’re five feet off the ground! How often do you get this opportunity? Now look!”
She grabs my head with both hands and aims me like a telescope. The queen stilter, trailing a train of white ribbons, catches our predicament and gives me an enchanting smile.
“Now how did that feel?” says Jasmina.
“Use that later on me.”
We lean against each other and stroll the freaky avenue. I nuzzle her ever-gorgeous hair. “You’re getting feisty. I like that.”
“The Woman’s Bible?”
“Lizzie had balls the size of Delaware. Check out the lookie-loos.”
A road soars over the Potrero Hill District; fifty spectators stand at the railing, some with binoculars.
“Voyeurs,” says Jasmina.
“Cheapskates,” says I.
“Chickens. Bug-gock!” She flaps her arms, then slides over to give me a kiss. “I’m going to surprise you today.”
“That’s the surprise. I hear surf music.”
“Well let’s go.”
The street fair coordinators have left me in a troublesome situation. I can’t drive back on grounds till midnight, but I’d really like to get my drums into my truck. The only solution is to carry them, two pieces at a time, four blocks to my parking spot. I send Jasmina off to enjoy herself and set to my work.
An hour later, I am recovering with a beer next to a miniature airship when Smeeed and Landa wander past, clothed in black leather biker-gear. Powered by gig buzz, I grab both of them in a big, goofy hug.
“Awesome job, dude.”
Smeeed grins. “You too. Dude. I was really digging on all that power. Your drums were thunderous.”
“I know. I could feel it.”
“We found your girlfriend on a telephone pole,” says Landa.
I laugh. “I told her to stop doing that.”
She pulls a piece of paper from her pocket. It’s a missing person flyer. The girl in the photo is a little heavier, the hair a little shorter, but otherwise she’s a dead ringer.
“Kelly Copper. Freaky!”
“You’ll have to show it to her,” says Smeeed. “Hey, the Baby Seals are playing in half an hour at the far end.”
“Geez. I better start out.”
I’m walking past a mob of techno-dancers when I spot Jasmina two blocks away. We send each other big waves, and then she takes off her shirt. I respond by taking off my shirt. She reaches behind her her back, undoes her bra and takes that off, too, twirling it over her head as her breasts bob in the sun. An electric charge takes form in my feet and shoots through my groin. My girl, topless on a crowded street. The lookie-loos on the bridge give a cheer as I race up and meet her bare torso with mine. She smiles through a fit of giggling.
She nudges me awake at five in the morning and we enjoy a bout of wild, barely conscious sex. When I return from the bathroom she’s back to a full snooze, her hair spread out over the pillow. I see something sticking out of my jeans pocket and pull it out. It’s the flyer. I bring it under the bedside lamp.
Kelly Copper has a small but distinctive freckle near her left eye: a flattened lower-case m, a seagull seen at a distance. I lean over the bed to study Jasmina’s face, but I don’t really need to.
Here, please. Drink this. You need it. You both need it. I know this is hard for you. But there are so many things you don’t understand. God sets obstacles in our path, to make us stronger, to test our faith. Even Jesus was tested. Will you eat something? Please, eat.
I am horribly baked out. So I declare my own sabbath. I leave Jasmina snoozing away, tie my hangover to a leash and take it for a stroll. My limbs feel like sections of lumber, but the memory of lovemaking leaves them loose at the hinges. This divinity, this sacred girl has penetrated my tendons.
Inevitably, the Depot. Patty makes me a perfect latte. She turns to grab a pitcher, revealing her madrone shoulders. She catches my gaze and smiles.
“You’re Jasmina’s squeeze.”
“So you read the story?”
“You read the story?”
She waits for the milk steamer to quiet down. “I was equal parts impressed and embarrassed. If only I could get a guy to write me something like that.”
She squares her stance behind the glass and begins the espresso-pour.
“Jasmina’s mind is pretty borderless. She stuns me on a daily basis.”
Patty finishes and spoons a cap of foam over the brown spot. “Yeah. And the package ain’t bad, either.”
This makes me laugh.
“Hey, I-Chun’s the lezzie. But I do know gorgeous when I see it.”
I crouch a little so I can study the stripes. “This is exactly how I pictured it.”
“Presto!” says Patty.
The back corner affords an old couch for the weary, and I am certainly that. I drink my perfect latte and attempt to read the Sunday paper, but soon I’m down for the count. When I awake, I feel like a spelunker emerging from a mile-long cave. The sun has migrated to the other side of the café, and the clock reads three-fifteen. After a brief dance of stretching, I am able to hobble streetward. I lean my head into the moviehouse, but Jasmina’s not there.
“She’s not in.”
I follow the voice to the box office, where Javid wears a haggard expression.
“Really? I thought she was working today.”
“Supposed to. I’ve been covering the snack bar all day.”
“Wow. Sorry. I’ll go see if she’s sleeping.”
“She’s at your place? She’s fifty goddamn feet away?”
I wave and cross the street. When I open the door, I hear a sound like a ventilation fan with a squeaky belt. It’s her.
I race up the stairs and find Jasmina in the bathroom, curled up next to the tub. There’s blood everywhere: the sink, the tiles. She looks at me with frightened, animal eyes.
I grab a towel and wrap it around her arm, trying hard not to look. In ten minutes we’re at Ava’s clinic and the towel is soaked. Ava jumps up from her chair and pulls us into a back room.
Ava’s hair has a mind of its own, a mop of wiry red that can be molded into shapes like topiary. Her preferred nervous habit is to pat it down, as if that’s going to do any good. She hands me a glass of water.
“Okay. Look. I understand the impulse to come to me, Mr. Undercover. But… I am really pushing my luck here. Your girlfriend’s got some pretty deep lacerations, but I’ve got them stitched up, and the bleeding has stopped. From what I can tell, she took the zig-zag thing from the other arm and just went a lot deeper. I’m going to give you some bandages and disinfectant; you need to clean the wound and re-wrap it once a day. At the first sign of infection, you need to take her to Marin General, okay?”
Ava grips my shoulder and drills me with those blue eyes. “This is some serious shit, Paulie. You need to get this girl to a psychologist.”
“Yes. I’ll do that. Thanks.”
“I’ve got her on some pain meds. She’s a little groggy, but I think you can take her home. She should be able to get by on Ibuprofen after this, but let me know if she needs something stronger. Or perhaps you can give her something homegrown.”
I give her a nervous smile.
Jasmina stumbles up the stairs, mumbling like a drunk.
“Let me out… out! Don’t… want to. Don’t make me.”
“It’s okay, honey. We’re almost there.”
“Outside, want out…”
I manage to ease her onto the bed. I do a quick study of her bandages before pulling up the blankets. She’s already out. I pull a chair next to the bed and watch her face. My hands begin to shake, and then I just cry. A few minutes later, I’m all leveled out. I wipe my face on my sleeve, and then I see a wad of paper on the rug. I pick it up and flatten it out. Kelly Copper.
Photo by MJV