Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author
Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author

Golden Gate Blues



            The first thing Jessica Summerfield did after driving into San Francisco was pull into Stonestown Galleria and buy a new pair of black high heels at Nordstrom’s. It was a birthday present for herself. Today was her thirty-second birthday, and she was new in town, having just driven across the country from New Orleans. She had spent the morning on Highway 1, driving up from Carmel where she stayed the night in a small hotel.

          Tired and hungry, she entered the mall and became energized by the bustle all around her. She hurried up to the perfume counter, stopped to spritz herself with a sample of Chanel No. 5 then continued to the shoe department. Drawn to a sexy pair of black high heeled evening shoes, she tried them on and laughed out loud. It was a Cinderella moment. “They fit!” she whispered to herself. “I shall marry the prince!”

            She bought the shoes and slipped them on, noting that they looked especially cute with the little black and white sundress she was wearing. Perfect for an afternoon drive.

            She got back in her car and headed north, spotting a sign for the San Francisco Zoo. When she reached the zoo, she got out of her car and shivered in the chilled air rolling in with the late afternoon fog. It was four o’clock and the zoo would be closing in one hour so she bought a ticket and hurried through the entrance. She wanted to see where the Siberian tiger named Tatiana had jumped the barrier and mauled three young men who were taunting her. She’d heard about it on the news, and it fascinated her.

            Jessica felt sorry for Tatiana and often wished that she could leap the barriers surrounding her, caging her inside the walls of “acceptable” behavior. Diagnosed three years ago with bi-polar disorder, Jessica had slogged through a succession of psychiatrists, all prescribing different medications, none of which alleviated her symptoms on a permanent basis. She went for days without eating or sleeping. She suffered from racing thoughts and moments of supreme energy, followed by serious bouts of depression. Then she was hospitalized until the latest combination of mood stabilizers and anti-depressants could be assimilated in her system and she could once again try to maintain some semblance of normalcy until the next time she succumbed to a manic episode and required another stay in the psychiatric ward. So far she had been hospitalized four different times, and each time she was released from the hospital with a new regimen of drugs to try. She promised her father that she would take her meds every single day, and not lapse into poor eating or sleeping habits which could lead to another episode.

            Last year her father printed in his shaky hand on an index card the following sentences: “My name is Jessica Summerfield and I have bi-polar disorder and currently take medication. Please contact my father Harold Summerfield at 504-482-1849.” He worried about her working the night shift as a typesetter and being out on the road late at night. He wanted to make sure he was contacted in case of an emergency, so he made the index card and put it in her purse.
            Jessica folded the zoo map and slipped it into her purse next to her father’s index card. She stood at the barrier, gazing down at the tigers. They were asleep. She waited for them to move until she heard the announcement that the zoo was closing in fifteen minutes. She was cold and disappointed by the lethargy of the dozing tigers. She turned and headed toward the exit, her high heels clacking on the flagstone sidewalk.

            When she reached the front office, she stepped inside and said, “Excuse me. How do I get to North Beach from here?”

            The clerk took out a city map and showed her the most direct route from the zoo to North Beach.

            “One more thing. Do you know of any Italian restaurants in North Beach?”

            “It’s the Italian section of San Francisco. There’re plenty of restaurants on Washington Square at Union and Columbus.”

            “Thanks. You’ve been so helpful.”

            “No worries,” he said.

            She made her way to Washington Square and went into the first Italian place she came across, called Joe DiMaggio’s Italian Chophouse. Inside, the dark mahogany walls were lined with black and white photos of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. There was live jazz music floating from the bar through the dining room where quilted leather booths and elegant chandeliers created a stylish ambiance, accentuated by tuxedo clad waiters serving porterhouse steaks and Merlot.

            Jessica sat in a booth by herself and looked over the wine list. She laid the wine list on the table and ordered an Arnold Palmer, iced tea and lemonade, with a salad and polenta.  She ate with relish, realizing that she had forgotten to eat yesterday and had not yet eaten today. Remembering that it was her birthday, she ordered a piece of Colossal Chocolate Cake for dessert.

            She gazed up at the wall beside her booth and saw a photograph of Marilyn Monroe in a dark suit with a white fur collar standing arm in arm with Joe DiMaggio. She looked radiant and Jessica wondered what she would look like today if she were still alive. Marilyn would be in her eighty’s, and probably would still look radiant.

            Jessica admired the ability some people have to appear happy on the outside, even if their personal life was less than desirable. She believed in taking a bad situation and making it better, not settling for the hand life dealt you. She wanted to do all she could to improve her lot in life. That’s why she had the courage to drive away from her life one night after work, instead of going home to her father’s house. She had moved back home with her father after her recent divorce.

Her father was worried about her because her marriage ended, she lost her job as a journalist at the Times Picayune, and she suffered from an incurable disease which as yet seemed impervious to treatment. He loved her and wanted the best for her, but he tended to be negative and fearful. He worried about what would happen to her when he was no longer around to take care of her, so he encouraged her to reconcile with her ex-husband Jake.

            But Jessica was adamant about leaving; Jake did not want children and he was tired of dealing with her illness, especially her repeated stays in the hospital and the loss of her career, and her inability to contribute financially. However, she wanted a family, and she felt like she deserved a man who would love her in spite of her illness and she was willing to keep looking, no matter how long it took. Settling for anything less was unacceptable.

            After she finished her meal she stepped outside into the crisp night air. She then walked across Washington Square to St. Peter and Paul’s Church where a homeless man greeted her on the front steps.

            “I’ll work for you for a penny,” he said.

Jessica smiled, noticing at once how he was dressed. He wore suede chaps over his jeans, and a red necktie tucked into a denim vest with a yellow silk daisy pinned to the lapel. He also wore a straw cowboy hat and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. She looked at his hands and noticed they were clean.

“Do you know your way around North Beach?” she asked.

            “I do.” He swept off his hat and bowed before her. “Stanley Bogart, at your service. I will work as your guide for a penny.”

            “I’ll pay you more than a penny if you can help me find a cheap hotel nearby.”

            He thought for a moment then said, “Hotel San Remo, on Mason Street.”

            “Can we walk there from here?” she asked.

            “It’s several blocks.”

            “We can drive.”

            They got in her car and she followed his directions to Mason Street where she found a parking spot near the hotel. Stanley waited outside on the sidewalk while she checked into a room.  After settling in, she met Stanley out front and they walked down the street toward Fisherman’s Wharf.

            “I’m cold,” she said to Stanley. “Aren’t you?”

            “No. I’m used to it.”

            “Do you know where I can buy a jacket?” she asked as they approached the corner of Bay and Mason.

            He glanced around. “There, at Walgreens.”

            They went inside and she gave him a ten dollar bill as payment for being her guide. He bought cigarettes and a coke. She bought a sweatshirt and a wind breaker and put them on as they left the store.

            “Do you know where Haight Ashbury is?” she asked.

            “Absolutely. I can show you, for a penny.”

            She gave him another ten dollar bill and they walked back to her car. They drove to the Haight and Stanley guided her through the main sections of the district, showing her different points of interest, like the house where Janis Joplin once lived, and the house where the Grateful Dead lived years ago when first starting out. They drove to Telegraph Hill and Stanley recited a quick history of the hill. They proceeded to Divisadero and Lombard then descended the steep hill on the winding stretch of Lombard Street which was crowded with tourists. He told her it was called “the world’s windiest street.” They went to Presidio Park and pulled up to the pet cemetery and Stanley gave her a quick history of the burial ground.

            Her cell phone rang and she answered it. It was her ex-husband Jake.

            “Why didn’t you call your dad?” Jake demanded.

            “I couldn’t,” she said.

            “Why not?”

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© Melissa White