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One Tangerine in Chinatown


One Tangerine in Chinatown

I handed her the tangerine on a cool March morning in Chinatown as she passed by and entered the long thin grocery store filled with Saturday before Easter shoppers in all sized, all decreped and bent. She was going to get an apple for the rest of our walk. I was already starting to feel low-blood-sugared but it was only eleven fifteen. I was looking forward to the tangerine in the easy-peel packaging.

I practiced my breathing. Counted in and counted out. “Let go. Release. Pause.” Count to three. “Inhale all the goodness that’s coming your way today.”

I counted people with red shoes on. I watched the parade near me and the parade across the street. Everyone was heading toward a goal. I wanted my tangerine and girlfriend so we could continue on the pilgrimage to City Lights. An homage I’d been recreating for thirty years. Anytime in SF, and you’ve got to walk over the hill, through Chinatown to City Lights. Maybe have some lunch nearby.

I wouldn’t really need to spend a lot of time in the bookstore. Just check for my name. No. See if any of the staff selections were interesting. But now, I was just waiting outside a random grocery mart filled with people heading up hill or downhill like me. Waiting. I thought I could put on some music as I waited. I fished out my earbuds. The music immediately put my “waiting” state into “whatever, it’s fine.”

Here’s the truth. She never came out. She vanished. By the time my patience ran out, about 20 minutes, she was long gone. I explored the back of the market. There was no exit. The staff was English-challenged and of no help. She would’ve had to be smuggled out through the back office. Or, she ran. Fuck. I stood there, back out on the bustling street, no cold and alone. City Lights lost its appeal as I dialed 911.

“Report a missing person.”

“Twenty-four hours? I was just with her. She went in for a single tangerine and an apple.”

“Yes, that’s my number. You’ll call me? Okay.”

Now what? My impulse was to sit on the stacked palettes and cry. I took a photograph of the market and address, so I could come back.

The police never called. She never called. Her phone no longer reporting “delivered.” I waited until dark. The police came about three hours after the phone call. They never even talked to me. All of one car and one officer, lights setting off the dusk over the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Nice photograph opportunity, but I was beginning to panic.


SF, no longer my friend. City Lights a sham. As much as Jack tried, he never really attained any sense of okayness, unless he was lit up. Then all the world was nirvana and his words spilled onto the page with flight and fancy. Sober Jack was probably not much fun. All his worrying about Mama. Men and their moms. “Oh, Jack, I know. I know.”

How was I going to explain it all to her family? To my daughter who had grown enthusiastically attached? Shit, how was I going to swallow it myself? Vanished! Like a dramatic German movie. The girl goes missing. Our protagonist flounders and fails to fly.

The walk back to the St. George Hotel was dark and windy. A light mist made the downhill walk more treacherous. My mind was blanking out. I tried some mantras. Some prayers. A few sufi chants and tai chi hand mudras. I was a wreck. The pseudo rockstar in the lobby suddenly seemed like a friend. He didn’t appreciate being spoken to.

I asked Jay the chatty reception desk guy, “What should I do?”

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