Polk Street, San Francisco, 1987: I met Gaye at the Unitarian Church, perhaps when Cliff married Maggie’s daughter, or perhaps when Maggie died. Maggie Northcott was a delightful and wise woman whose company I always enjoyed, about the age that my own mother would have been.
I had a pretty set of dishes inherited from my mother. Maggie admired them, especially the huge serving platter. The dishes were painted with flowers around the scalloped edges, and painted with fruit and vegetables in the middle. I didn’t really enjoy things that decorated, but they were my mother’s so I kept them, and felt a little sadness at every meal. I realized that they’d be broken over time, hurting my heart with each little chip, each little crack, each little loss.
So, in a brilliant inspiration, I gave the whole set to Maggie, who I knew would admire them and give them a good home. They suited her, and I was happy knowing they’d be loved and safe. My mother’s name had been Maggie, too.
Over time, Maggie invited me to several events at the Unitarian Church. And then one day the daughter invited me to say goodbye to Maggie. Back then, I’d have been riding my red Yamaha motorcycle, in a brown leather motorcycle jacket, and brown boots. At the Unitarian Church, Gaye smiled in a nice way, so I got to know her.
Gaye lived in Berkeley, divorced with two gangling boys, one at college, and one still in high school. According to her, the ex-husband, an attorney, was no damn good. Who’d have ever guessed?
While married, she and a friend ran a food stand at the Telegraph end of University of Berkeley, with great success. Encouraged, she decided to open a restaurant. It turned out to be beyond her reach, or maybe downtown Oakland just hadn’t come back enough, for in the end the restaurant didn’t survive.
I tried to help, spending two days walking the sidewalks in a suit, handing out some coupons I’d made up, to induce more people to visit. It didn’t do much good, and not long afterward, she bid me adieu. I hope it wasn’t my coupons!
When we were going out, her being in the restaurant biz, she liked to go to different restaurants, and that night we dined on Polk street. The menu was unexceptional, the food good, and the waiter was an older fellow, active and wizened, with a personality showing through.
Gaye struck up a conversation, and let it be known that she ran a restaurant. He grinned.
“I did, too” he said, “Once upon a time. But I went back to being a waiter.” Gaye was intrigued.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Why did you go back?” The waiter gazed over our heads, into the past.
“It was just one problem after another,” he said, “Problems, problems, problems.”
She nodded, somberly. He continued.
“One day,” he said, “I got fed up with all the problems. I sold and went back to being a waiter. Now, no problems.” An expression came over his face at once surprised, delighted, and mischevious. He leaned closer, happily confiding.
“Because now,” he said, “Now I am the problem.”