Sometimes, only a samurai revenge tale will do. Last week, I clocked 115 hours on my time card. While I was toiling away, the only thing I could think about was cuddling with a cat on my couch and watching Harakiri, which is probably my favorite Japanese movie besides The Seven Samurai. I get into a groove where I just want to watch movies about ronin (Japanese warriors who have been let go from their lords and are forced to wander around in search of work). Lately I've been trading off between samurais and documentaries about African-American history, namely slavery. They actually have a lot in common: Both deal with being displaced, struggling to hold on to your dignity, and an underlying thirst for vengeance.
Dignity is a strange thing. It is entirely a construct. It's an emotion, a feeling. Depending on whom you talk to, you either need to hold on tight to it no matter your circumstances (being dirt poor, or in a concentration camp or prison) or agree to let your ideas of it go completely (the teachings of Zen Buddhism, Gandhi) in order to be happy.
I think about this stuff whenever I'm walking down Market Street, the place dignity goes to die. Well, I'm usually thinking about the paucity of bars on Market Street. What gives? It's one of the busiest streets in town, but there are relatively few restaurants and bars. I'd gotten off the bus at Van Ness, hoping to land in a random place for a drink, only to find myself walking for blocks, crossing into the Tenderloin, and then eventually ending up near Union Square. I was a lordless ronin in search of a happy hour.
I eventually ended up in the bar area of Puccini and Pinetti, at Ellis and Powell. It's an upscale Italian restaurant with hottie hostesses and well-groomed bartenders.
But back to the death of dignity. I sat at the window and looked out at the people spare-changing on the street. My Beck's was put before me in a frosted glass, and all around me were people who lived quite comfortably. I suppose it's unfair for me to look at homeless people and immediately assume they've lost their dignity. I imagine there are some people who like the freedom of having nothing, the "Hallelujah, I'm a bum!" approach to life.
I was waiting for a friend, who had to deal with my series of texts telling him to go here and then there until I settled on Puccini's.
"You like opera," I told him, as if I had planned on us coming to a place named for a composer all along. Indeed, he is my only friend who likes the art form, besides my mother. I suppose I like opera in theory — good plots, nice solos, great costumes. But to truly want to sit through an entire performance would be pushing it.
He squished in between the table and the window and ordered a martini. Behind him on the street was a bedraggled man I'd remembered seeing before, chiefly because he owns probably the cutest Labrador retriever that I've seen, and he puts a sign around the dog's neck asking for change. It disturbs me, because I worry about the dog, and not the man. This is not good.
"Let's talk La Bohème," I said.
"Okay," my friend said, resigned to whatever fate I was about to lead us into.
"Why is it that we can romanticize poor people in art, but not in real life? Why don't I look at that guy outside like he was Mimi, consigned to her consumption and struggling to hold on to her dignity?"
"I don't know," he answered, taking a sip. I stared at him. He wasn't going to bite. "I don't want to be drawn into your philosophical musings," he said, as kindly as he could. "Is this for a Bouncer? Oh, God, no, please ... " (I had promised, as I have a few people, never to write about him.)
"No," I lied.
"You've been talking about poor people a lot lately," he said, which, when I thought about it, was true. I have to watch out with this column. Sometimes I hit too many Irish bars in a row, or talk about dating, or tourists, too many times in a row, or have some stupid philosophical musings too many times in a row.
"I've just been thinking about dignity, is all," I said.
"Are you suddenly incontinent?" he asked.
"Only when I laugh," I said.
We sat in silence. Our own silence, that is. The rest of the place was pretty loud. A gigantic group of teenagers came in and went to the very back of the restaurant, where a whole section was waiting for them.
I looked at the hostess' butt, which was pretty amazing. No panty lines, and it seemed to defy gravity. That has to be a requirement for hostesses: Offer a pretty face upon entry, and then something to look at as your guests head for their table. I used to be a hostess when I got out of high school. I wonder if it was because of my butt.
"What deep thoughts are you churning over now?" my nameless friend asked.
"I'm pondering man's inhumanity to man in the face of hardship," I lied. "I'm wondering whether dignity lost can ever be regained."
He stared at me incredulously. "Waiter?" he said, ordering another drink with a sense of urgency.
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