Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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links.net : vita : sf : september 2000

finger piano!

Tonight a backbrain dream of several years was fully realized in the midst of a city that was supposed to have lost its soul.

I was in the city for some software training from Gamers.com. The training let out early, but not so early that I wouldn't get stuck on the bridge heading home to Oakland. I decided to run some errands.

I was in Union Square, I walked to Banana Republic. That store was very clean and well laid out with slightly funky music playing and very discreet cameras everywhere. I've never really stolen anything larger or more valuable than chapstick (unless you count a voting booth or signage from a NJ Turnpike rest stop) but all the cleanliness and security made me feel like a dirty thief. I bought some underwear on sale, and some that wasn't.

Then I went to Macy's and I spent serious cash on a couch and a blanket, because now I live alone and Amy took all the comfortable stuff (I kept the electronics).

Walking beyond Macy's, I discovered a store, Courtoue San Francisco, featuring Ermenegildo Zegna. It was a boutique with high-end men's fashions; I recognized the label because I had picked up a Ermenegildo Zegna coat at an Oakland GoodWill just this last weekend. It was a beautiful silken black suit coat, for $7.99. I went inside and found an eager salesman. I shared my stroke of good fortune with him:

"These are nice clothes!" I said with open face.
"Yes they are!" Smiling, he was rubbing his hands together in his mind.
"I went to GoodWill this weekend and I picked up a jacket like this, this brand name for eight bucks!"
His mouth opened wider, "Wow, you're lucky."
"Yeah, I felt lucky, it's a nice coat." Gesturing to a coat like it on the rack, I asked, "How much for this coat?"
"Fifteen hundred dollars."
Another salesman who had been listening in between requests from a customer came over and said, "Get this guy out of here." I offered to walk out without a fuss.

The overheard mobile phone fragments of the polished downtown shopping district gave way to a crowded street market filled with cheap chirping fake crickets. I walked to ChinaTown, which is still dense and packed with people of Asian descent, between the white tourists speaking foreign languages. I was hoping to buy some ink and brushes and paper at Amy's and my favourite Chinese art supply store, near the Buddha Bar, but they were closed.

I drove to the Mission district, and I was early to meet Sonic for dinner. I was tired, so I read some and took a nap in my car. Right across the street, some exciting transaction was happening as one guy arrived for three guys waiting. Not all three of the guys were happy though, one saw me sitting in my car in my brown suit watching them and started yelling that I was a cop. I got out of my car and removed my jacket to reveal my red polka-dotted shirt, and he was still yelling that I was a cop. I locked my car and left in a hurry, at once glad to be getting away from tweaking freakers, and reassured that the Mission district was still somewhere they could score drugs.

Sonic couldn't make it, I went to dinner alone at a brightly decorated cute restaurant of the latter-day Mission, the Yum-Yum House. I thought it would be the worst of gentrifying but the size of the tiny restaurant appealed to someone eating alone. It turned out to be caringly crafted Chinese food and the waiter was very kind.

My sister Chris lives nearby so I wandered over to romp with her children. Eli (9) had videotaped a series of interviews with Cassidy (6) about her acting career and her life as an artist. They tackled me and danced around screaming. I stayed up late talking to Chris and Gideon after Elias and Cassidy were finally restrained in bed.

Walking back to my car after 10pm, I noticed the usual array of late night stuff sellers on 16th between Guerrero and Valencia. Amidst the aged vinyl and probably stolen knick-knacks were four finger pianos. A guy named Txai had made them from calabash gourds, birch and spring steel, he was selling them for $15-20 a piece. After playing all four for some time, I picked one for myself. I paid him $25, got in my car, and called Amy to share my discovery. Obviously, she should have one too. So I turned around, and I bought another finger piano (it was a nice moment, leaning out of my car window waving money late at night in the Mission district). Driving off, I was about to hit the freeway when I remembered that Eli's birthday was coming up. I turned back around and bought a third. Txai was very happy to see me, he was sitting in his car making more finger pianos.

Ephat Mujuru I love finger pianos (Mbira?). Someone (maybe Yonnie) loaned me an Ephat Mujuru album for the electric eclectic and I developed a great appreciation for the sound and spunk of the instrument. Now and then people have them laying around and I always enjoy playing them and think to myself, I should have such an instrument in my life so I can play to make this kind of music.

I found my finger piano late at night on a dingy street beneath the neon and still scabbed hands grubbing for change. I'm thankful that San Francisco is still a city of delicious spontaineity.


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