"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
+1 (415) 983 8000
by Des Ayuno
The last time I saw H, it was also over breakfast – ten years earlier, at a smart café on Melrose in West Hollywood. I think we both thought it safest, it being too civilised for coffee or knives to be flung. I’m pretty sure he had eggs Benedict, while, trying to distance myself from him, from our heretofore near-perfect culinary harmony, I ordered something sweet, probably French toast. It was uncharacteristic. I am not, as I’m sure he would agree, a “sweet” person. I didn’t even have the option of delightful crispy bacon to soak up the maple syrup – I didn’t eat meat, then. But, well, he didn’t eat cock, then. We’re different people now.
When I arrived, San Francisco was suffering an uncharacteristic heat wave. Already fuming at the early-morning start and at my own weakness in thinking this was a good idea, I clambered up hill after hill, the bright-green Prada heels I’d been determined to wear slipping across the sidewalks, and arrived dripping with sweat at H’s aggressively trendy ad-agency workplace. Reception was at the top of two flights of marble stairs and as I tried to catch my breath, I reflected on the grotesqueness of its gold-patterned wallpaper. Then I realised it was shelves upon shelves of glassed-in Clios and Roses and those chunks of gilded tin they hand out at Montreux, stretching into the distance.
After fifteen minutes or so, he bounded down the big central staircase, unapologetic and skinny and glowing as ever. We dawdled down to the waterside as he rambled with mock chagrin about all the trips to Delhi and Dubai he’d had to make recently; the time-sapping TV pilot he was developing; the expensively decorated, lonely city-centre apartment; the much older boyfriend, whose ex-wife and children dared to stake a claim on his time and substantial bank account. We stopped at a chic oyster bar where the waitresses all knew his name and, ever the gentleman, he guided me solicitously to the seat with the most picture-postcard-perfect view of the Bay Bridge, with hands that had always felt like soft, nimble brown paws.
Americans have funny ideas about what constitutes brunch. Or maybe it was normal for ad men, or for borderline-eating-disordered gays in San Francisco. H ordered a massive platter of oysters (“All Pacific, obviously,” he reminded the waitress with a wink) and a crispy, gooey, three-farmers-market-cheeses-on-grilled-artisan-sourdough sandwich that he suggested we split but only watched me eat with hungry, shining eyes.
Afterwards, I sat down in front of the Ferry to watch the pigeons. They were bigger than London’s nervy, ragged birds, glossy and sedate. I wanted to tell H that they chose marriage and kids and got fat and stupid. I wanted to ask if he remembered the icy winter night a few months after we met, when we argued, even worse than usual – him screaming, me sobbing, somebody coming down from upstairs to scream at both of us to shut up. He had stopped instantly. Then he had poured two shots of whiskey, looked at them for a long minute, and flung them out the window into the snow. He had taken my hand in the newly echoing silence and pulled me into a wordless, graceful waltz until I slumped into him, exhausted.
My phone rang. I ignored it for a minute, then reached inside my bag. Next to the phone was a small package. Under the brown-paper wrapping and narrow red ribbon was a crinkly bag of very expensive jasmine-flower tea, and another of dried orange slices, which I’d bought in Beijing two years earlier, seeing them next to each other on a supermarket shelf like glowing talismans and suddenly panicking that I hadn’t seen H in eight years and might never see him again. We’d listened to Leonard Cohen nonstop in those first few months, although that day on the waterfront I was thinking less of “Suzanne” than of another song, the one I still can’t bear to hear, with its extraordinary, searing selfishness. “If I have been unkind,” he croons, “I hope that you can just let it go by.” I guess we’ve both tried in our way to be free.