i) In the fourth most dangerous city in America, I rinse the deck of the boat with fresh water at the gas dock. The container ships and their stork-like loading cranes rise out of the heat half a mile down the canal behind us. The colourful containers are stacked for miles like a giant’s orderly game of Lego.
Next to the dock, a man leans on a railing and watches us fill and rinse. In a solid path down the centre of his smooth-shaven head blooms an avenue of dark tattoo trees. We chat about the heat and his work on the container ships.
“How is it?” I ask, “Where will you go now?”
“I just got a job today on a ship going up to Valdez,” he laughs, “I don’t want to go up to the cold though, but there you go. We leave tomorrow”.
He tells me it’s a bit like jail but the money’s good.
“You have to go places you don’t want to go, with people you don’t want to go with, doing things you don’t really want to do away from home and the people you care about”, he says with a smile.
The heat is unyielding as I untie the lines from the dock and push the bow out into the canal, but as soon as we’re past the container ships and out into the bay the wind has come and with it the cool air from further out, beyond the golden gates of this city.
ii) I spend my second hour at the yarn store sitting on the couch reading about knitting techniques. I haven’t done enough knitting yet to actually understand the craft apart from the way it unfolds before me on my needles. Like blueprints to someone who has never built a house, these patterns mean almost nothing to me. But like the man who sits on cleared land and sees angles and archways where none yet stand, I finger the skeins of wool and cotton and easily imagine warm toes and ears.
I lie; I only read sock patterns in between watching people enter the small store and approach the salesgirl. Mostly, I’m watching. The book is a prop.
“Excuse me? Do you know how this wool blocks out as lace? It’s a project for donation, and I want to make sure it works out even in the hands of someone who doesn’t know anything about good wool. We’re raising money, you see”. She’s small and Asian and moves through this space like she is familiar with its layout.
“You know, I’m not totally sure about that “. It’s clearly not the first time the salesgirl has fielded questions from this particular customer. The Asian woman nods knowingly (these things are hard to know, I gather).
“Maybe I’d be best with the machine washable wool then”. I turn the page in my book of toe-up sock patterns.
“Is there any brown wool?” The salesgirl turns from organising one of the tall, narrow shelves to look down at a small, dark haired girl dressed all in black. She’s unsure of how to start her answer.
“Are you looking for any particular weight or material?” She’s impressively accommodating. The girl shrugs and doesn’t make eye contact. It’s a challenging retail moment, to be sure. The salesgirl looks around, then reaches up and holds out a skein of brown cotton yarn. It is received with both hands and carried silently away to the cashier in the other room.
“Lots of projects on the go then?” The salesgirl looks down at my basket full of different colours, weights and fibres. I survey my collection as well.
“There are just too many good colours to get two of the same,” I say, trying to explain the physical pull that deep purples and bright blues have on me. She nods and smiles, still looking at my basket.
“Anyway, at the end of the day, stripes aren’t so bad, right?” I haven’t graduated to stripes yet, but I nod and we both sit looking at the jumble of blues and purples and yellows until the tinkle of the doorbell ushers another crafty customer across the threshold.
iii) For less than four dollars each, Steve and I have plates of heaping Chinese food in front of us. There is only one sign in English on the wall. The last menu item is Sparerib and Peanut Porridge. While I’m not completely sure I could name the ingredients in the selections on my plate, I’m fairly sure I gave that one a miss. We move through the ten or twelve other eating customers to take our seat at the back. To my left, a woman is in the middle of her own plate.
“How much?” She points to our plates. Steve tells her.
“Good,” she says, “they gave you much. Good price”. To my right, a young chinese mother feeds a baby rice while a small girl beside her works on her own bowl. As she eats, she studies a sticker on the table next to her bowl.
Es bueno ser sano, it tells her.