Based on characters and situations created by Jo Vasquez
The Lesser of Two Evils (Early October 1986)
The bus ride seemed to take forever, but when it ended, he would finally be a peace. He pulled at his long stringy hair and wondered what it would look like with highlights. He still had a few things to do before the end.
He looked out the window to distract himself from his thoughts but saw only his own reflection. His Mexican-American face was whitewashed in the glass, a spectral premonition of what he would soon become.
There was a considerable amount of greenbelt as the bus journeyed from Joey’s small town of Northbay to the great city of San Francisco. The passing hills and valleys became a yellowy blur of autumn grasses as his eyes focused past window. He would never see these hills again, and more than the loss of any people, he thought that was sad.
His mind was clouded with angry red visions of the night before. The burry memory of Tom and Teddy with their sweaty hands and drunken whiskey breath made him convulse. The intense emotions stripped away his false demeanor, relentlessly bashing at the thick walls of the faux normalcy that he painted on himself.
He swallowed deeply— no tears. It would only bring the pity of strangers and right now he just wanted to fade into the lonely numbing purple dark.
The steel of the Bay Bridge stretched across the water like the skeletal remains of some time-forgotten beast. The iron ribs shot up beyond his sight as he watched with awe as the skyline of the city grew closer. Wonder battled woe inside his head as the colossal structures grew in detail.
What were the possibilities in this amazing place? Wonder is never as real as the heavy weight of truth. The red visions grounded him and reminded him of why he had come. This grand city would make a fine ending. San Francisco would be his tombstone, and all those that hurt him would never forget what they had done.
As he stepped off the bus Joey was greeted by the cold damp embrace of the Bay Area. His army surplus coat seemed thin against it and the joy of the city faded with the bite of October cold. A heavy-set old woman pushed past him as she emerged from the bus. She was rushed upon by two small children and a fatherly looking man. They embraced in a thousand hugs of love. This was the way it was supposed to be— a Norman Rockwell life. He wrenched away as the walls grew thinner still and walked out of the bus station.
He had been here once before on a field trip in the fourth grade to see Fisherman’s Wharf. He fell in love with the city by the bay. The sounds of gulls, cable cars, and the ships rang in his ears for weeks after. He never forgot that day and he wanted to see the wharf one last time.
There was some strange attraction to the cold grey sea in his memory, something calming and distant. The wharf was where he would do it. He began his dead man’s walk from the city center to the shore. There were fewer steps ahead now, than those behind.
Signs throughout the area pointed him to the wharf, but the journey was slow. The steel and glass canyons shot up around him and he found himself at times just starring. The endless flow of people rushing and moving around him was alien to his small town lifestyle and he felt tiny and alone. He was lost in the concrete maze and drowning in a river of people.
The cement and glass towers eventually gave way to the blue-grey shore of the Fisherman’s Wharf. It was an outdoor shopping mall filled with ‘SF’ themed nick-knacks and snow globes. The main concourse of shopping was pier 39, an extended row of novelty stores and restaurants all offering some bounty of the sea. Joey thought it was odd that San Francisco would have snow globes.
A giant video game arcade caught his eye, and he couldn’t resist his addictions. Ms. Pac Man, Tempest, Dig Dug, Burger Time, all the standard fare was there. They also had some of the new laserdisc games that featured interactive animation. The line for the animated fantasy adventure was seven people deep, and the game cost four quarters to play.
Joey squeezed in next to the games and watched for nearly a half hour but didn’t bother to stake his place in line. He then drifted from game to game, playing a few old favorites simply for the memories. No one liked ‘Space Invaders’ but it had a place in his heart. He was growing hungry. He hadn’t eaten more than some Tic-Tacs and a Coke all day.
A mime quietly performed as a homeless man watched— the performer’s only audience. The crowd was thin at this time, but still enough for him to hide in. He ordered a bowl of chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl from a bodega. He didn’t eat as much of it as he thought he would. It seemed somewhat wanting for a last meal. He realized he was stalling.
Joey immediately realized his nerve was faltering. He left his meal and found his way to end of the pier. He sat on bench that overlooked the bay, with the Golden Gate barely visible through an incoming fog bank. He did not move or give much thought to anything; he just looked off into the gray blue waters and the dimming sky until darkness was driven back by the pink glow of artificial light.
The seagulls culled and Joey drew his eyes back to the chilling concrete skyline. A million people walked and moved before him, but all he could see was the unfolding of his life in the gently falling darkness. The people were incidental to the world and no longer part of his perception. It was only him and the city now.
The waves lapped against the pier and he walked forward. It wasn’t very far to the water. The sea below was dirty, green and brown, with chunks of garbage rolling in it. Was this to be his end?
He looked to the distance, to the Golden Gate Bridge that spanned the green shores. There was a place to truly end it all. Everyone in the world knew the Golden Gate Bridge and he knew that if he jumped from it there was no chance of survival. Not the pier, but the bridge.
With that he began his soon to be dead walk back into the Canyons of the city. He wasn’t going to chicken out, he just needed a little more time. It was still early, not even eight, and he had money to spend. His last night on earth couldn’t be clam chowder and tourist shops. He wanted just a little more.