I have been working on a novel called "Waking Up" for over a year now. This is the first chapter.
He found himself waking up concomitantly with the Eastern sun rising over the East Bay mountains, shining bright and brilliant, bouncing blinding scintillating rays of sunshine onto the windows of tall San Francisco buildings that faced eastward. In the cove off of Townsend Street where Jack Sweeney slept for the night, the sun's rays glanced off the window by his feet and bounced directly to his eyes. A scruffy large knapsack wedged between his back and the glass door of a Nail Salon that had not yet called the cops on him for regularly sleeping there overnight. It also helped to avoid the brisk cold night air which sweep over San Francisco on a regular basis.
Bundled in a 3 year old haggard sleeping bag he bought at the Goodwill store on Haight and Cole, Jack Sweeney begrudgingly reconsidered his two options : continuing his slumber, or becoming functionally conscious.
Jack had become homeless 3 years ago for some really fucked up bullshit — although honestly, Jack currently drank alcohol everyday and was making no effort to change or evolve his current circumstances. He also gladly smoked marijuana whenever he got the chance. Thus it was really easy to condemn him for being an absolute fuck up just because he sleeps outside and has no official address attached to a building or home. People often judge others based upon their own moral rectitudes because they secretly fear they themselves are not living up to their own standards. Hence it is easier to condemn someone else or those who are obviously derelict, rather than correct oneself according to one’s own virtues.
The first thing Jack does every day — after waking up with the sun in his eyes and the concrete on his back — the very first thing Jack Archibald Sweeney does, is breathe. Then he reaches over, grabs the nearby pack of cigarettes and sparks up the first of what will probably be 28 to 35 cigarettes a day. He used to roll his own, but nowadays the pre-rolled cheap cigarettes were so much more affordable, even for a 62 year old cagey Vietnam Vet living off of both a small government pension and a large inheritance fund from his wealthy grand-father who was one of the original automakers in Detroit that sold out to General Motors when the consolidation phase of the industry occurred before 1970. Investing the proceeds in various stock and bond portfolio’s, Jack Sweeney found himself with 1.2 something million dollars worth of interest-bearing investments at the age of 51. How he became homeless 11 years later was a mystery to everyone else but Jack, who would gladly tell anyone his story, except no one ever asked, and most people he encountered were loath to say anything to what they perceived as a rotting human carcass wearing filthy garments and reeking of tobacco.
Born to a middle class family of two hospital workers, Jack grew up in a modest home near 23rd Street and Capp in the Mission district of San Francisco with his sister Susanne, who was 3 years younger. His father was a radiation specialist. His mother was a nurse for a cardiology team. Due to the nature of hospital schedules, they were rarely home at the same time. As a result Jack spent more time with his sister than he ever did with both his mom and dad. This was during the sixties in San Francisco, which was one of the places out in the Western United States where the restive youth of the United States decided to go after uprooting from stale rigid local social environments, those states East of the Rocky Mountains, most going to California — but also to places in Oregon and Washington State — in order to achieve and attain what they felt was freedom.
At the age of 51 Jack was suddenly a millionaire. He decided to retire after 25 years working with the Coast Guard. This was right before the first dot-com crash in 1999. Jack had diversified his funds wisely, but a size-able portion was also in future valuations of tech stocks that all were bust after 2001. His wife divorced him in 2002. It was a childless marriage, but not any less emotionally destructive. They had met during an event the Coast Guard would hold on July 4th near Crissy Fields. She was a secretary in the office at Fort Mason at the time. They started dating and were married within 11 months. 11 years later the contract was broken and he had to yield half of his estate.
Was it jealousy because he was no longer working 35 plus hours a week like his wife? Did the romance die and the willingness to co-exist wither on the aged vines of what was once a sweet nectar? Jacqueline did seem to grow more aggravated and distanced over the last few months before she asked for a divorce and left the apartment they both shared in the Mission district.
“Look Jackie, I wouldn’t consider being a curator of that lovely posh gallery on Jackson the same thing as jumping into the water and swimming out to rescue someone,” which he knew would be stirring up the beehive, but he couldn't help himself.
“You could come visit me more often,” was all Jacqueline responded.
That was the pivot point, the one most people never understand in the moment, the beginning of the downward slide to where he was now, the moment before his out of state corporate landlord priced him out of his apartment on Valencia and 18th by deciding to increase his rent by 350 percent.
That inaugural moment of conversation with his ex-wife Jackie, he now remembered as he leaned against the cold window with the Eastern sun becoming brighter and more confident. After that moment there would be no chance that their marriage would last. The bickering became incessant. They both projected their wounded sense of failed expectations upon the other person. Within 6 months they mutually dissolved the contract, with thankfully no rancor and minimal drama.
At times, when Jack was briefly honest with himself, he would acknowledge his own inability to have relationships that were not condescending or held at arm’s length, but this morning wasn’t one of those moments. Instead, his emotions blundered across the miasmic consciousness of his roused existence, sloshing with the unrelenting byproducts of the alcohol from a plastic container he had imbibed before passing out not long after midnight.
He would have to move in a few minutes. The air of the city was cold and moist, swirling around the caverns and valleys made by the skyscrapers and tall building on the North-east side of the city by the bay. Since it was Tuesday, early risers began to walk on their way to work, one of the many different offices or buildings from where Montgomery Street meets Columbus Avenue in North Beach, South across Market Street to Harrison and 6th Street in an area that is called the SOMA (SOuth of MArket) -- just like SOHO means SOuth of HOuston in Manhattan, New York City.
San Francisco has long been seen as the sister city to the NYC, viewing itself as the great financial city on the West coast since the post Civil War and Gold Rush era — what is to the commerce of Pacific-Asia that New York City is the Atlantic-Europe-Africa-Middle East. Until air travel became a viable option and the Port of Los Angeles at Long Beach became a reality, San Francisco was the main port of call on the West Coast of the United States. Goods delivered into California that came by sea came to San Francisco and then were distributed elsewhere by wagon or train. This necessitated warehouses that housed the goods and offices that collected the paperwork, in addition to the lawyers that were needed to legally validate the paperwork. The first skyscrapers were built by bankers who intended to lease out the various offices that were necessary for the circulation of the economy. Other modern buildings popped up, apartment buildings, factories and workshops which used the imports to manufacture other products, and then of course the restaurants, theaters, grocery stores, artisan shops, book stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, a veritable mercantile paradise. “The City” as it is known by the locals, San Francisco has long been the boutique store for the surrounding communities in the bay area.
The old economy started to evaporate once air travel and trucks began incrementally replacing the distribution of goods into California. Firms and small manufactures dried up. Those that survived tended to cater to the local developing metropolitan area of San Mateo county or across the Bay into Oakland. The Computer Industry that grew up in the 1980’s and the internet revolution of the 1990’s largely revitalized (and altered) the economy of the Bay Area, San Francisco in particular. The old architecture was inhabited by new inmates, doing different tasks for different purposes.
Today, in between the modern buildings, cars barreled down streets towards daily destinations where they would park and coexist within work relationships analyzing numbers or managing cyber-based internet products for 9 or more hours. Stops and pauses in the routine would necessitate coffee, bagels, salads, soups, sandwiches, sushi, hamburgers, and/or pastries. Otherwise the routines were very firm and deterministic, going from the same place to the same place, while never looking at the differences or being in the moment because the destination was never in the moment. Most pedestrians held their portable television sets everywhere they went, staring into them like into a digital hole that fed their brains with inconsequential timeless momentary info. Sidewalks streamed with inobservant humans hermetically sealed from the surrounding cosmos of humanity.
Sometimes Jack liked to set up over by the ferry building with a can beside his feet while he scribed poetry. “Poetry for a dollar” was the sign he would use, made by a black marker on a rectangular piece of cardboard that he leaned up against a bench, a wall, or a pole. Most people just dropped a few coins or a dollar in the can, never really caring about the poetry that might be experienced for their payment. Jack didn't really need the money, but it was cool sometimes to be able to pay for his coffee and a sandwich at the nearby Subway without having to tap into his own funds.
After the vultures jacked his rent up, Jack moved his precious possessions to a 10 by 8 foot storage area in South San Francisco. It cost him $225 a month. He could take a bus from Market that would drop him off two blocks from the building. For a period of time, sometimes he could stay overnight, especially on nights when a female black manager named Esther worked, sleeping on the sofa he kept in the storage area unit. Esther would ignore the fact that he was sleeping on the sofa during her 11pm rounds of the establishment before she left at midnight. Jack would usually leave right after or before the storage unit opened at 7 am. There was a back door that was not hooked up to the alarm system, so when Jack would leave at 5:30 am, no one ever saw or knew that he had spent the night in the storage unit. Except Esther.
When Esther changed jobs after a few months, Jack had no idea that the new employee, Cedric Myers, would call the cops when he found a man sleeping on the sofa in a storage unit. He discovered this ruefully as two police officers roused him from his slumber, handcuffing a 50-60-ish year old man, putting him in the back of a police car, and processing him at the South San Francisco police station. Fortunately the charge of trespassing was dropped down to a misdemeanor, which did not require a court case or a lawyer. He was let go on his own recognizance after 6 hours, having to pay a $345 fine.
No longer able to sleep in the storage unit, Jack just let it all go to smithereens.
Fuck it, I don't need that shit anyway.
He stopped paying the monthly fee. The storage company eventually sold the contents at an auction, after the third month of non-payment and three letters to a P.O. Box that Jack made up when he initially wrote out the storage unit contract. The business never checked the veracity of the address. As long as the monthly check arrived, the relevance of the contractual information never mattered.