Here's a fact: “Noe” is Spanish for Noah. And yea though the upper-middle-class progressives came in two by two, each couple laden with golden retrievers and French bulldogs. Their baby carriages alit on Mount Duboce, their young supped of organic fruit, their animals frolicked and jumped, and it was a good thing that the Lord had made, if you could afford the property taxes.
There are a lot of neighborhoods here that inspire house envy. When I see a fabulous house, I immediately think of buying a Lotto ticket, because that is the only way I will ever be able to live in one. Yerba Buena's yearly mansion giveaway always lures me in as well, though I could not afford the upkeep on such a place, and would have to take the cash prize instead and settle for some shithole brown-shingle in the Berkeley hills.
Envy is a deadly sin, though if you had to put them in order of lethality, greed would be at the top, followed by wrath, and then the rest would fall into place and make you nothing more than a pain in the ass to be around (vanity, sloth, pride…).
Envy is something I deal with daily, and it's probably why I love to walk on Noe Street. There is a thrill in envy. It is not like jealousy, which just seems to curry vindictiveness. Envy is more passive; it's a personal pain that generally does not lash out at others. I see toddlers wearing shoes that cost more than my own, and I feel envy. I see amber-lit living rooms through Victorian windows and tall steps to bold front doors, and I feel envy. I see fathers with their babies strapped to their chests, and I feel envy.
So I usually wander down Noe with a faint yearning tinged with bliss, then coast over to the Castro, where I am an outsider without hope of ever fitting in, relieving any want. But this is also why I never go to Cafe Flore, despite the fact that every time I walk past it everyone seems to smile at me. If you sit outside and drink at Cafe Flore, you see all the Noe people walking by. You also see people sitting at tables reading interesting books, or chatting with their fabulous friends, or banging away at their laptops. The last time I was there I saw two men sitting at a table that was covered in landscape architecture blueprints, all held in place with a hardback version of Sunset Western Garden Book. Maybe they were rich enough to be designing their own garden plot. If so, I envied them.
It was a rainy day, so I was lucky to find a table inside. Someone's Smiths mix was playing softly in the background, and there was a two-for-one drink special happening, which filled each table with eager tipplers. Flore might not be Badlands, but it is close enough to the Castro to have the same liberal happy hour.
“What can I get you?” asked the guy behind the bar. He had on big, black, round-rimmed glasses (not like Harry Potter; more like Charles Nelson Reilly), one dangly chandelier earring, a maroon vest, a cute '80s haircut, and the air of someone who loves his job — or is just good at faking it.
I couldn't tell if they took cards or not, so I held up my Visa seductively and said, “Do you like what you see?” and he replied, “Oh, indeed I do!” It was an inside joke between strangers, because A) I looked like shit that day, and B) I didn't seem like his type. This guy just had something. Charisma. In a city full of interesting people, he was unique.
I became immediately fascinated with him, and I developed a whole back story for his life. He moved here from the Midwest — probably a suburb of Detroit. He was awkward and nerdy in high school, but he did his best to stand out despite this, because he had an irrepressible personality. He immediately started to make friends when he moved here, eventually scoring a coveted bartending job at a cool cafe. The hours were good and it allowed him to meet still more people. Indeed, it did seem like he knew everyone that came up to the counter. But then again, my interaction with him had that same familiarity. Damn, this guy was good.
He kept seeing me stare at him, which is always embarrassing. Usually I pick one person to constantly look up at without thinking, which is bad enough, but good lord, I hoped he didn't think that I thought that our fake flirting was real. He smiled back now and again, but I could tell he was starting to get worried. Was I from the CIA? Was I a bill collector all the way from Detroit? Was I full of lust? (Now there's a deadly sin I can get with.)
Nope, it was just envy. I wanted to be this guy for one day. He was joking around with his co-workers, meeting a million people, and then throwing together some fabulous outfit to go off to some stimulating evening with his pals. Yes, his life was perfect. Then I realized that I sort of have the same life, albeit with a worse fashion sense. That's the thing about envy: It makes you skip over what you already have.
Besides, I still have the lottery. Which of course I did not win.