by STEPHANIE ECHEVESTE
I can’t sleep. I don’t know if it is because of the cappuccino I had at Ritual around 5:30 p.m., because of the street noise outside my 24th street facing apartment, or because I had two major breakdowns on the phone with my father, neither of which was because of any serious event.
The first trigger occurred this morning. I was on the 47 heading west down Mission in SOMA, going from one sew shop to another. After getting on the bus I negotiated the pros and cons of sitting down, just like I would on any other day. The pros included being able to sit down for the ride, the cons included having to sit near people. Since we were all packed in there anyhow, I decided sitting was not really that different from standing and found two empty seats near a window. One for me, one for my bags. I sat with a sigh of relief. Shortly after, a man draped in various layers of stained clothes dragging two black garbage bags filled with week old compost, no doubt, asked if he could sit on my bag seat. I gave a chipper ‘sure!‘ and then tried to inch further and further towards the window, my own bags on top of my lap, as to inconspicuously not touch him. Eventually I gave up and stood between some other bag carrying people and held onto a dirty pole. I looked around and realized I was the only person on the bus that was not homeless, crazy, or both. Yet I was, like everyone else, non-white and carrying multiple bags.
The contents of my bags were as follows: my lunch, which I had prepared so I could eat at my desk and not spend money on an overpriced meal that I could not sit down to enjoy; my iPhone, which I needed so I could constantly check my e-mail and texts to coordinate things with our driver, answer various questions about seam allowances or pattern pieces, and see what nonsense was going on at our new trendy office space; my notebook, which gave me security even though I never actually had time to write in it; my headphones, which I normally used to block out the non-stop jack-hammering around the city that started outside my front door at 7 a.m. and continued throughout my sew shop visits; then there were the samples: pants, jackets, whatever I needed to get looked at or dropped off...buttons, zippers, thread swatches, fabric, and other odd ball things that most people don’t think twice about because they are already wearing the final garment. I felt like a turtle that was going insane. I had all the makings of shelter and sustainment for no apparent reason.
I am only 26 years old. I have never been to war. I have a college degree. I’ve lived abroad. I speak more than one language. I live in the most beautiful city in America. What is going on?
I got off at the next stop because I kept teetering between one person that may or may not have pooped his pants and another person who probably had pooped his pants in the last 24 hours. I couldn’t breath. Now on foot, I started crying. Lukewarm tears streamed down my face, as if they had been sitting behind my tear ducts for weeks, already lost their luster. I thought my sunglasses concealed this until I turned my head to the left to see another crazy, homeless person with many bags ask, very sincerely, if I was ok. I said no, and kept walking.
I soon made it. The loading dock was empty, which made the concrete slope colder and more sterile than normal. One time I almost stepped on a dead rat. It was more intriguing than disgusting. I was mostly interested in how it had died because its carcass was kind of poked and then smeared, with blood drops extending about a foot out. It wasn’t there the next day. This day though, the floor was clear, save some dust bunnies as normal, and I walked up the four flights of stairs to my destination, stopping for a moment to ponder my favorite graffiti: ‘are we all truely inspired ?! JESUS IS a little chinese lady’, which had appeared in various stages over many months in multiple handwritings.
Silence, until I opened the unmarked door to a massive floor of sound. Siss burr clack clack sputter spurrrrr clop whirrrrr fai dee! The white noise of the shop blocked out all other thoughts. The floor was big and filled with random things, some was functional like the long cutting tables and working sewing machines, and some was just waste, like the clear plastic bags filled with trash piled from floor to ceiling and the broken unidentified machines wheeled into forgotten corners. I found some comfort in the familiarity of space; the placement of physical objects...half of them in constant movement, half of them stagnant. I go there nearly everyday. It’s nice to be around so many people that are not speaking English; so many foreign dialects that I will never be able to distinguish. I watched the women sewing pieces of things that I may have helped design. On a certain level, it all looked the same. I chatted them up a bit, all smiles because the reason I put myself through the chaos is so that I could be a part of something that provides work to a predominately female, Chinese population in San Francisco, instead of sending the work overseas. I value local production. I am part of that trend that gets a lot of press, but that is really a minority.
I am a minority. I don’t have a 401k, but I lie about it when I am asked if I have one by older people, who look at me like I am stupid, but also gush when I say I work at a start-up. I consider renting out my room as a viable source of income. Someone that works at Google, a man that studied computer science and will have lots of gorgeous, talented women to date in this city, would probably pay thousands of dollars a month for it. And feel lucky. He wouldn’t mind the street noise because he’d probably be out all day and night anyway.
The second trigger happened after I got home from German class. I was on the phone with my mom, who said she’d just spend four hours selling root beer floats and maybe made six dollars. It was some kind of fundraiser for my younger sister’s cheerleading competition. I asked to speak to my dad instead, because I didn’t want to be further disillusioned by the suburban reality of selling root beer floats as a viable source of income. I felt sick, but I started craving a root beer float anyway and wondered how much it would cost to order one online. People actually do that, here anyway.
The more I tried to justify to my dad the reasons why I needed to quit my job and move back home, the more confused I got. I started feeling spoiled, like a teenager that got everything but still wanted more. I realized I hadn’t lived in my hometown for ten years. I felt like I was giving up, but I also knew I was just growing up and re-prioritizing. I used to dread going home, but now I look forward to it and I dread coming back. I used to cringe at the thought of getting married and having a family, but now I actually wonder why I would do anything else. I blurted out loud, to my father — who has only ever wanted me to succeed and be self sufficient — that I fear I am the person that needs other people, that I need to go back (to school? somewhere!) because I can’t do anything else.
But I don’t have a normal job. And I have lots of people. And you can’t go back.
When I first moved to San Francisco, after leaving some club, I shared a cab with a random guy because there were very few and I just wanted to go home. He asked me if I wanted to play the "What Start-Up Do You Work For?" game. I couldn’t believe he was serious; I couldn’t believe that when I played, I won. My start-up had been written up in the Times on multiple occasions. I can’t even remember what his was.
Stephanie Echeveste is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find her website here. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about I'm So Excited.
"This Is The Last Time" - The National (mp3)
"Graceless" - The National (mp3)