Monday Night Nonfiction: Warm

Sad man in the streets of San Francisco

On a Friday afternoon in San Francisco, I decided to take a walk. Nimby was working late, and I wanted to pass the time till we could go to dinner together. I walked from his office on Folsom St. to The Embarcadero and proceeded along the water all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. The sun was going down, the end of our stay in SF was near, and I really missed my cat. Nothing was wrong, but I felt lonely and homesick.

“What would make this better?” I kept asking myself. I had a little cash in my pocket. I could go shopping or stop for a drink. I could find a place to sit and watch people or stare out at the water. “What do I want right now? What would make me happy?”

Eventually, I came up with an answer: “It would be really nice to have a friend, not to be alone, to be warm.”

As the sun set, the cool wind off the water was gaining strength, driving home both the chill and the loneliness. Sure, I’d be having dinner with my husband soon, but at that moment, I felt totally isolated. Even as I had these thoughts, I was walking into the most blatant tourist trap in town. Dressed in the baggiest jeans I own and several layers of clothing, walking alone and sporting ratty pink hair (my hair had a rough week), I became aware of the suspicious glances I was getting from tourists.

As I entered a section of tightly packed souvenir shops — the kind that look the same in every sea-side town — I heard a man complaining about the tourists who couldn’t spare enough change to get a burger. It’s true that I have a history of giving my pocket change to the first person who asks when I leave my hotel, but I had no intention of giving this man anything. I checked my phone for a status update from the husband and was just reaching to put it back in my pocket when the man saw me, assumed I was reaching for cash, and began to thank me. It was too late. We’d made eye contact. I finished putting my phone away and moved to another pocket to fish out a dollar. Caught up in my own awkwardness, I may have smirked by accident.

“Please don’t laugh at me,” the man said.

I took a second to look at him. He looked in his 50s, tired, weathered. He wore a thin wind breaker.

“I wouldn’t laugh at you,” I said. “You’re a human being.” I gave him a dollar, and he hugged me. He even kissed me on the cheek and exclaimed about how cold my skin was. His face was rough and bristly.

“Your skin is cold, but you have a warm heart,” he said.

Our exchange lasted all of 10 seconds, then I kept walking. A few minutes later, I got a phone call from Nimby and went off to meet him and a friend for dinner in the poshest apartment building I’ve ever seen. We had a nice night. We were warm, and we ate well.

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