It’s the rare Saturday night where we decide, YES, let’s go out, even though they are all out, the amateurs. The chance to promenade, to cruise without a car, even if it’s just for a plate of babaghanoush, is too strong this mild nearly-spring evening. A long, busy week, and wouldn’t it be nice?
We’re only halfway to the corner when the strange gentleman who is the mayor of this stretch of Divisadero (his open briefcase spills consequential documents) alerts us to the body on the sidewalk. Not unusual, where we come from. But the prone man has one of those well-groomed pocket dogs on a chain leash, a little Fizzgig number guarding him.
The last thing anyone here wants is to read the next day of the man who died and no one did a thing: a city mouse/country mouse dialectic that plays out too often. But it’s the pause that makes me a city mouse, that I don’t jump to it. What is that bit about San Franciscans, that they look one another up and down, shoes to hair and back? This man has innocuous running shoes, but they fit him, they aren’t dirty.
The first operator hangs up, but the second is brisk with questions that can’t be answered—or at least, not to his liking. Can I shake him? Not without his dog biting me. He’s face down, so no, I can’t see that he’s changed colors. His hands look okay, I can see his hands. He moves a little, so we can assume he’s not dead, there’s that, and he asks some more questions that clearly form the script of a bad night out, a place no one wants to be, the live one who stopped when no one else did and the one who may not be long for this terrible world.
“I can’t move him without his dog biting me.” I get mocked because I admit it’s just a little dog, although I know those are the worst, in the same way the bite of a baby spider can kill you, those little dogteeeth are sharp and do the trick. What’s a little self-preservation amidst the performance of duty?
Somehow the Medics are at the gas station, waiting on the corner. The Mayor of Divisadero flags them down, they come.
“Maybe next time wave at us when you see us, we had a hard time finding you.”
Okay, but I was on the phone with 911, trying to wake this guy and not get bit. The implication is that there will be a next time. Point taken.
I’m tired. The first time I called in this city was to report a fight in Alamo Square.
“Can you get closer to tell how many people are in the fight?” the operator had asked.
“They have knives, and do you mind if I don’t get killed?” She hung up on me.
It is not an easy job: people call 911 to get their kids to eat dinner. There’s clearly no moral to the story, because none of this is about morality, you shouldn’t let a person die if you can help it and no one ought to be comfortable with anyone laying on the street. But we’re obviously somewhat strong in our egos, enough that we think we can be helpful. Not really, not particularly, not likely. We’re as useless as the operator thinks us.