All Over Coffee By Paul Madonna
The Eviction Series
It was my birthday and I went to North Beach. I just wanted to forget that that the city was changing faster than I could keep up. To draw something nice and take myself out to a dinner of spaghetti and wine.
I wandered until I found a spot just off the beaten path where the light and composition grabbed me. I set my bag between my legs, took out my pad, and breathed in deep. For a few minutes I just stood there, calming myself in the angles of the buildings, the reflections in the windows, the drapes of shadow spilling over the scene like a darkening film. Then I began to draw.
The street was mostly empty, and as my lines took shape on the page a few people occasionally walked by. Then a person came straight toward me. I thought it might be a fan or a curious local, but then I recognized him, and the moment turned very strange. The man was me. I was looking at myself.
I rubbed my eyes. Earlier I’d had dizzy spells and peoples’ faces were disappearing, but no, there I was, standing right in front of me.
“I remember that one,” this other me said. And when I didn’t respond he arched his brows and pointed to the pad in my hand. “It turns out to be a pretty good drawing.”
He was undoubtedly me. It was like looking in a mirror, except the reflection had a better haircut and was trimmer, which made me hope he really was from the future—I mean, if I had just those changes to look forward to then I’d be happy. Still, I didn’t understand how—
“You’re not crazy,” he said, clearly reading my thoughts.
“But you do need to stop this sniveling.”
I squinted at him.
“For all that you observe,” he said, “you don’t see what’s right in front of you.” Then he pointed into the distance and I followed his finger to see a strange cloud hovering in the sky. It looked like a burn mark. “That’s been following you for months,” he said. “And it’s going to consume you.”
I opened my mouth but he cut me off. “Listen,” he said. “It’s all going to happen really fast now.”
“The eviction?” I said.
“The—? Oh right. No—well, yes. You’re going to lose your place. But in the end, that won’t matter.”
He smiled tight and I recognized the heavy look in his eyes. It was real compassion. Not the distorted mix of sympathy, pity and unease that I often feel in the face of hardship, but genuine empathy. Which I supposed made sense—I mean, if we can’t muster feeling for ourselves, who can we come alive for?
“Forget about the move,” he said. “You’ll get a new place. Yes, it will be hard. Your landlord will be ridiculous. She will literally put her fingers in her ears and shout, ‘La la la I can’t hear you.’ A sixty year old woman who intentionally abused the law to screw you will act like a child. It will be infuriating. But you will remain in the city and in some ways, life will be better. Your neighborhood won’t be great, but it will be good enough. You’ll have a big work space, good amenities, even a garage. You’ll sort through all your things and it will suck. You’ll throw out truck loads, some of which you’ll later wish you had, but justify by saying, ‘At least I know I didn’t throw out too little.’ You’ll pay twice the rent but find you can afford it. Your work will change, but you’ll know it was coming anyway. You won’t be happy for the experience, but because you won’t want to be a person who wallows in victimhood, you will turn the adversity into triumph. You will realize that life is short and tell yourself, ‘I’m a better person for it.’ That, ‘The city changes, and either I change with it, or I get left behind.’ And that’s fine. Good for you—for us. But in the end, it won’t matter. So let it go. Take yourself to your birthday dinner and enjoy your spaghetti and let all of this go. Because there’s something else coming. Something big. And that’s what I’m here to tell you.”
But before he could say what, a screech of tires spun both our heads. I saw an orange VW van speeding our way and before I could react it was right there, the door sliding open, two figures jumping out. Everything went black as a hood was thrown over my head. Up was down as I slammed onto a hard surface. I heard a voice yell, “Go! Go! Go!” And felt the van rocket off.
Paul Madonna writes and draws All Over Coffee, the weekly series published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on the Rumpus.net. His stories and drawings have been published internationally and exhibited in galleries and museums. He is the author of two books, All Over Coffee (City Lights 2007), and Everything is its own reward (City Lights 2011), which won the 2011 NCBR Recognition Award for Best Book. Find more of his work at paulmadonna.com. We are stoked to have his work on our site as well.