I spent 4 very different hours at Dolores Park with 4 very different people
I got to Dolores Park without really knowing what I was going to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to this park at least once a month since I moved to San Francisco 5 years ago so I know exactly “what to do.” But this time it wasn’t the weekend, I wasn’t hungover, I wasn’t on my phone trying to find my friends, I wasn’t drunk – or on my way to be. I was just, there. At 8am. On a Tuesday.
I spent 4 hours there, and had 4 conversations with less than a minute between each:
I was also 260 pounds then.
After taking that image you clicked on to get to this article, I sat down at the nearest bench and attempted to wipe the mud, I’d stepped in so I could get that perfect tourist shot of the city, off my shoe. I asked the person on the bench if I could sit, though I knew he would let me. He replied “take your chances, apparently it’s wet paint,” but I told him I trusted the fact that he also had pants on. Roderick was wearing a trendy camo hat that I later found out was an “O’Reiley’s autoparts” hat that, well, makes it even more trendy and a rocking a rainbow logo on the corner of his black tank top.
“Whatcha up to today?” I asked him. He said he was headed to work at O’Reileys which he seemed embarrassed about and brought up the fact that his friends question that he rides a bike yet works at an auto body shop.
“I dunno… I think it’s pretty cool you get to work with your hands. You get to tangibly see what you did on any given day.” I said as if I was responding to his friends.
“RIGHT?!” he replied and held out his hands almost as if he was relieved he wasn’t questioned further. He went on to say how he used to work in home loans, that he used to raise people’s bills if they were late on payments. “I used to have to take money from, like, 70-year-olds. I hated it. Now I actually ‘work with people’ and not the way they tell you that you will ‘work with people’ when you call them for money. I was also 260 pounds then.”
“Yeah. I feel great now. Everyone in my family is in the military or a cop, but I stay here, dance, and do art.” I asked to see his stuff and he showed me some hilarious paintings of, for example, Little Red Riding Hood with a gun. When I questioned the painting he responded, “just thought she needed an Uzi.” We both laughed and then were silent for a while. He broke it with “I actually just got back from talking to my Buddist friend who really helps me out. He tells me not to run from pain but ‘lean into it'” as he motioned his body forward.
“It’s true. You gotta feel. If at the very least, to just now how that felt.” I replied not totally knowing what he was referring to. But I guess it didn’t really matter.
we sat on the bench looking down at Dolores in our makeshift offices.
I saw Nero sitting at the top of Dolores with his Armani Exchange sunglasses and his tailored shirt and slacks combo. I noticed he was flipping through a stack of black and white house listings so I asked him if he was in Real Estate.
“Yeah, what do you need?” he replied.
“Oh, nothing… I was just-I noticed your papers” I said, caught off guard.
“Yeah I’m in Real Estate, what do you do?” he retorted, bringing the conversation back to me. I gave him my very best small-talk response of how I just graduated, much like I do for a lot of older, more traditional people I know. But then I looked down at my notepad and camera and decided to go for it.
“I write! And I travel. Well I want to be a travel writer.”
He looked at my notepad, which I’m guessing he thought were flyers. “Oh word. Travel? I remember when I went to the Philippines. I was hella paranoid.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, just walking around and all that. Maybe ’cause I didn’t have my Iphone” he said half laughing.
“So why here?” I asked him.
“Motivation. Us agents work on our own. The park pretty much gets me out of bed and to stay on track. Like I used to smoke up and kick it with the homies a lot.” “And like, freestyle all the time” he said with his arms as if pointing to his old life.
“Do you do that anymore?” I asked him
“Nooo. Hell nooo. My raps would be boring. About some buildings or something.”
We both kind of chuckled, and then were silent for a while as we sat on the bench looking down at Dolores in our makeshift offices.
Klaatu & Gabriel:
free will is an illusion.
“Hows your guys’ day been?” I asked them.
“Stressful” one replied.
“What? You’re here, at the park. How can you be stressed?”
“Doesn’t really matter where we are. We have been to over 60 residents this past year. Who I was before is not who I am anymore” he replied, as I realize these two are not just some tied-sweater wearing, retired couple venturing over to the park on a Tuesday. I don’t know how it really happened, but it did. In minutes, Klaatu and I were straddling a “wet paint” bench at Dolores while he explained to me how he and his friend Gabriel (who didn’t say a word the entire time I spent with them) are on a “God-like” journey outside of their “scripted character roles.”
Klaatu explained their lives, which he believed mimicked the movie “The Truman Show” in which everything we do is scripted and that “free will is an illusion.” Klaatu and Gabriel are on a quest to find out who or what controls this illusion we call a life. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Bad peyote trip or acid trip or LSD trip or shroom trip or fuck it, a combination of all? Nope. Klaatu reassured me with his piercing blue eyes, against his aged, sun-stricken skin, that he hadn’t done any drugs since his teen years. That he hadn’t even drank a beer in over a year.
After that he somewhat let his guard down, as if to say “look, I know what this sounds like,” and explained he used to be just as inquisitive as I was. That they used to question what was going on. That maybe they were a part of some Government-led experiment out of their control. But he realized soon enough that the Government too were just as scripted as the everyday human.
“Who else is living in your un-scripted world?” I asked.
“We believe we are the only ones” Klaatu responded. “We are just as scripted, but we can see it. Thus, we have more control over it.
As Klaatu explained how it was chosen for me to be there, asking him questions and taking his pictures I couldn’t help but think how egotistical he sounded. Almost that I was there solely for him. That I didn’t choose any of my actions leading up to our conversation.
But I held it in. I held it just long enough for him to start talking about his previous life. Klaatu left all his attachments to his character role. His job, his family, his food, his music, his sex, and his love – which he said was merely a “feeding.” He left it. When I asked him about Gabriel, when I asked him if he loved him, Klaatu looked over at Gabriel, Gabriel’s eyes still to the floor, and said no.
“Right?” he asked Gabriel, and Gabriel nodded yes.
Liz & Lucas:
We just got married.
“Want me to take your guys’ picture?” I asked them as they struggled to get themselves, the park, and the city all in one selfie.
“That would be great!” Liz said as she handed me their Polaroid.
“Are you guys visiting?” I asked after I took their photo.
“Well, I am. He’s lived here.” Liz said as she pointed with her thumb to Lucas. “But we are moving here” she said confidently.
“Yeah this place makes more sense for us” as she looked around the park. “We’re both from South Carolina. We were both engineers there.”
Liz and Lucas left their cush jobs back home and traveled to San Francisco where they plan on “doing what they want to do.” They told me about how they are becoming web designers and how they were meeting one of their partners in about half an hour at the park.
“Why’d you stop being engineers?” I asked them
“We felt trapped in that egotistical, authoritarian life.” Liz said while Lucas nodded, “Now we are freelance. In every sense.”
“We are done doing that 9 to 5.” Lucas said a little apprehensively. Then I asked him about his family back home in which he expressed how they weren’t exactly happy with their decisions. But that he is – that they both are. The whole time this conversation was going on, Liz and Lucas were constantly looking at each other, giggling, and touching.
Then out of nowhere Liz blurted out “We just got married. Actually we are on our honeymoon.”
I smoke too much weed.