Velvet

I am here in San Francisco for work. I decide, this sunny Saturday, to go and see the Painted Ladies, that row of colourful houses, hoping to cross another classic tourist spot off my list after the very disappointing “Asian Art Museum”.

I arrive, snap a few photos, self-conscious at behaving as a tourist does, and quickly walk away, up the hill of Alamo Square Park to see what other views I could enjoy of the city from this elevated spot.

Then I see a fat Jack Russell Terrier leave a group of four picnicking middle-class Asian-Americans and chase after a homeless man, trudging along wrapped in a dirty blue sleeping bag. The dog yaps, barks and snarls as its big thighs chunkily power it along. It seems pretty harmless, being a comically overweight dog, circles the homeless man a few times, continuing to snap and yap. The homeless man seems wary, recoils slightly from the wobbling drool, but otherwise he does not seem too concerned.

An overweight, gay white man sitting on a bench nearby overlooking the grass on calls out, “VELVET. VELVET! COME BACK VELVET.” He shouts, laughing. He looks at the Asians and shrugs, grinning from ear-to-ear, “He just doesn’t like homeless people! I just don’t know where he gets it from!”

They all look at each other and then look at him, and burst out laughing, the homeless man metres away. Velvet circles back round to another group of people, now all white, and they play with him, scratching him behind the ears.

Velvet decides to make another pass at the homeless man who has already begun to make a move down the hill, away from all the happy, laughing wealthy people, the clear blue sky bright and clear, the sights of bridges and skyscrapers all around.

The fat gay man calls out to Velvet again and laughs, repeating himself – “I just don’t know where he gets it from! He just doesn’t like them! I don’t get it!” He continues to shrug and smile at no-one in particular, and no-one seems to find this peculiar. Tourists walk around. Polaroid cameras click and whir, and the wind is quite soft and pleasant.

Velvet jumps onto a nearby bench and plays with a new couple and the same Asian girl continues to watch, and laughs, that same open mouth shrieking laugh. I walk away, to the other side of the part, and I can still hear her laugh, ringing through the air, at what now, I do not know.

A few minutes away, I see a black man, large and bald, explaining to another young Asian-American woman what venture capital firms like to see in start-ups: “autonomous income streams”, apparently. That is, companies into which you don’t have to put any more work to pull out endless amounts of money. She nods. He stares at me as I eavesdrop.

I walk to the bus-stop and I overhear a young couple talk about enjoying the snake carpaccio with white truffle cream sauce.

Then, my phone runs out of battery and I accidentally take the trolley bus in the wrong direction.

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