Whenever the question arises, "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"— and for some inane reason this question comes up a lot — I always have the same answer. I would go back in time and, well, look at stuff. I would like to see the Neanderthals burying their dead, Henry VIII eating a chicken carcass and throwing the bones over his shoulder, and Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. I would do creepy things, too, like watch Jack the Ripper stalk some prostitute, or go to the Salem witch trials.
The closest I have ever come to actually possessing this magical power happened during my recent annual mother-daughter trip to Europe. My mom and I visited the ruins of the lost Italian city of Pompeii, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. The place is fantastic, not only because of its massive size, but also because, unlike other ancient ruins, Pompeii ended abruptly and is nearly perfectly preserved. It was buried in volcanic ash in AD 79, keeping it safe from looters, the elements, and progress. I guess Neil Young was right — it's better to burn out than to fade away.
By far the coolest things in Pompeii were the plaster casts of people who had died there. When folks first started excavating the area, they came upon the bodies, which were preserved under all that ash and clay. Unfortunately, once exposed to air, they disintegrated. So some dude came up with the idea of filling the recesses of the corpses with plaster, and now we can see people crouching, writhing, and praying upon their deaths.
When I got back to San Francisco, I naturally thought about what people might find here if we were suddenly buried in, oh, I dunno — a million tons of PG&E effluvia. This city is so diverse that how we would be remembered would really depend on the day of the week. For example, what if the tragedy happened during the Folsom Street Fair? Historians would assume we were slave owners and that a dildo up the ass was a sign of wealth. Or what if it occurred during Pug Sundays at Alta Plaza Park? Future generations would find dozens of pugs, buried in midfrolic, their owners forever frozen with grande nonfat mochas clenched in their grasp, obvious gifts to their canine superiors.
Personally, I would probably be buried in a bar. I thought about this as I waited for a beer at HiFi on Lombard. I was with my friend who had just been dumped, and we were the only people in the place. She had chosen the HiFi because the previous weekend she'd had a blast there. At that time, it was packed, so apparently people do frequent the place ... just not on this night. That was okay with me. There is something ghostly cool about being the only customers, especially since we had a lot to discuss.
HiFi is your garden-variety "lounge" with a mod interior and sleek booth seating around its edge, the sort of place college students and Marina kids head to for mojitos. As close and my friend and I are, we don't have a lot in common when it comes to nightlife destinations. She loves to go dancing, for example, which is something I avoid at all costs.
If there is a mantra that the recently dumped have, it would be "I just don't get it." They are shocked and hurt, frozen between how they felt the day before and how they feel now.
"I just don't get it," my friend said, buying me a Hefeweizen.
As for me, I never really liked the guy she was with, never really trusted him, and it was now my job to let her know that she was worth more than that. I did the best I could. "He's a creep," I said. She insisted that he was actually a great person, just confused and scared.
Mmm-hmm. Never mind that he told her she was the love of his life in a whirlwind monthlong courtship. They were talking marriage on, like, the third date, and every moment they weren't working they spent together. Then her friend saw him at the movies canoodling with some other woman. This is how she found out that maybe their futures weren't soldered together with passion's heat.
"I don't get it," she repeated, tearing up. If we were suddenly destroyed in a pile of ash, you would see us sitting next to each other, me leaning into her, the bartender perhaps bent over in mid-glass-wash. No one would be able to tell what we were talking about. That is where my superpowers would come in, even in Pompeii. I would love to not only go back in time and see things, but also to be able to hear things and have more context.
In Pompeii, with a good imagination you could sort of make out conversations and movement. You could see indentations of the wheels of the chariots. In the back of one of the "fast food" restaurants on each corner, there was a gambling parlor, where excavators found weighted dice — someone there was duplicitous. Two rich slaves who had bought their freedom had built a large apartment, and painted at the entrance was the image of a man resting his gigantic member on a scale. This was the ancient equivalent of driving a Chevy Tahoe. Ah, menfolk.
"Here's what I have learned about men," I began to tell my friend. (Picture me with a long beard, sitting Indian-style at the top of a mountain in Tibet, if it helps.) I said that when it comes to love and sex, all bets are off. You think you are a good judge of character, and you might very well be, but if you are romantically involved with someone, you can't help but be naive. A guy could indeed be a great person in his dealings with everyone else, but if he decides that you aren't it, he will turn into Mr. Spock on a dime. The same guy who held you close and noticed the way your left dimple dances when you laugh is the dude who will coldly answer your phone call with monosyllabic retorts, leaving you saying to yourself, "I just don't get it." The trick is to remember who you are and who you were before you ever met him, and not become the person that you think he sees now ... an unlovable loser.
I told her how great she is, how smart and pretty she is, and reminded her that she loves to dance ... slowly I tried to chip away at her ashy despair cocoon. She is in fact rather plucky, and she said, "You know what? I am beautiful!"
"Yes, you are!" I rejoined gaily.
"And he's an idiot not to want me!"
"He is indeed an idiot!" I chimed in. She needed to carry on, pull herself out of the ruins of her relationship, and move on. I knew her feelings of strength would be temporary; no one gets over this stuff overnight. But for now, I felt better that she felt better. We made a toast, two women sitting alone at a bar, frozen in time.