The circle grows

In May we acquire company. Mr. Squish, as he was known at the SPCA, enters our home and our daily routine. We sit on the kitchen floor and chase crumbled balls of paper together. It is a trick we’ve been taught at other houses full of kittens. It is the season.

We nap together, him curled on my lap and me, exhausted from the cleaning and preparing, the allergies and the stress of selection, with my head against the cabinets. A little later on I move him to his bed, in the overturned cardboard carrier he came home in. I then go back to sleep against the cabinets before making it out of the kitchen.

After the lights go out he mewls, stuck in the kitchen. From the bedroom we ignore him, as old instincts and new SPCA handouts have taught us. Impatient for access to the larger world he vaults the cardboard barrier to the mudroom. Built from a diaper box I’d found in the downstairs recycling earlier that day, it had looked far taller than he could jump. In play, anyway. A bundle of fluffy nerves in the dark he clears it easily.

Lights on again and nerves of my own aflutter I re-tape it after assuring him there is nothing of interest in that direction. Some shoes. The fridge. A handful of re-usable bags for grocery runs. He seems equally surprised to find himself out of the tiny sphere of the kitchen. I pull him back with one hand and work on the barrier. The gaff tape is confusing to my half-open eyes. Eventually he is again constrained by temporary walls featuring giant babies. He mewls. I lie on my back in the dark and think of all the things in life I am not yet strong enough to survive. Eventually I sleep.

Our apartment is far vaster than his room at the SPCA. He was kept by foster folk for some weeks, but confined to a bathroom, and with other kittens. Even a dog, says the report. In the kitchen, Mr. Squish is a rampaging animal of adventure. Out of it, on his rare forays to the mudroom, the living room, the hallway, he is a jumpy creature of extreme fluff, puffed up and shell-shocked, eyes wide. He hops on all fours and ducks under the built-in cupboards.

His name, like his fur, is something of a mystery. The SPCA had several kittens, short hairs of standard nomenclature. They were called Giles and Lucy and Lulu and Hawk and Cleo and Colin and Clyde. Among them, with his long black hair and soft underfur, Mr. Squish stood alone. To find him the SPCA required precise spelling. Mr Squish produced no such cat. Neither Mister Squish. And so, in his scant days with us, he has earned the title I repeated often to politely searching volunteers: M R period Squish.

Long may he remain.

Perfect city

In the fog Clement is welcoming. On Sunday morning the Blue Danube is full. On the couch a scruffy man in a well-worn Giants hoodie is slouched, deep in a book-sale copy of Notes from the Underground. The couples chattering at tables on either side do not disturb his focus. Coffee in hand I push the door open, heading back out into the mist. An old chinese woman reaches to catch it’s swing. On her hand cart she has boxes of bananas, apples, and other buried things I can not see. Perfect, I think, holding the door for her. This is the kind of city I want to live in, where coffee shops are filled with sports fans reading Dostoyevsky and fresh fruit is delivered by hand.

As I head downtown on Geary early in the morning, I think about this city I love, and the city I want. Late the night before we’d sat up in the dark, four of us, discussing places to live, in the future. Friends who’d first met in Shanghai, we’ve spent time on each other’s rooftops in Hong Kong, lived separately and together in Taiwan and Japan, and are happiest imagining. Perhaps because we are surprised to suddenly find ourselves residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Still we are curious, on the move, and consider Portland, Berkeley, and Seattle as immediate American alternatives. Housing, jobs, and the inevitable hope for cultural comfort are all mentioned as criteria. Transportation, I add, thinking of my electric scooter, of Tokyo’s trains.

Downtown the fog lingers even in SoMa and I think about those criteria again, parking on Minna. 6th and Natoma is a block filled with crack addicts and homeless people, artists and those just passing through. On Sunday morning it reeks of human excrement and a spilled bag of Cheetos. It is an interesting intersection to spend time on, which I do thanks to the Boxcar theater. It is not exactly what I meant when I said, just ten minutes earlier, that San Francisco was the kind of city I wanted.

The city I imagine is dense enough to be walkable, like SoMa and much of San Francisco. Like Shanghai, where even the furthest corners of downtown Puxi are within reach on foot, if need be. In the evenings of my imagined city, long after house lights have begun to go out, after the business districts have emptied and the restaurants closed, we are able to wander home without fear in less than an hour. This implies a great density of population or a small town, implies a level of public safety, implies housing of an affordable nature in the city center. It implies nightlife, businesses, and housing constructed within sight of each other. Hong Kong has much of it, and Shanghai. San Francisco, in parts, and New York, though more thinly spread. Ithaca has this, or much of it. Why not then the small town, I wonder, what is the fascination with the megalopolii of Asia?

The answer comes instantly to a child of upstate New York. This city of fantasy has jobs to attract us, we migrants of urban desire. It has companies that value youth, or the approximation of it as we age. As cities go it is no stickler for ties. The streets of my imaginary home are narrow and highly used, filled with electric bicycles and pedestrians. Trees and curved pathways that facilitate motion rather than constant stop signs weave between the skyscrapers of the downtown. Shops and offices fill the lower floors of buildings that open to the air and to the city, that approach the pathways rather than being set back from passers by.

I return to the first aspect I’d imagined. In the evening the streets are still busy. As the lights come on people return home, busses and subways empty, and restaurants fill. In each neighborhood different scents sit in the air, and grocery stores become hubs of pre-dinner planning.

Couples whisk by on silent scooters, their jokes covered by quickly fading laughter. Runners jog past, working off the pressures of the day solo or in pairs. As the air cools and the sky slides through blues towards black birds rustle in the trees and cats, having spent the day out on the city’s grassy patches, sneak homewards in search of food.

Above the streets the office towers slowly go dark, first single rooms and then whole floors. At their base food carts ply their trade, and vegetable stalls linger for those last customers. Arms laden the well-dressed workforce heads into the subway or down the block, the quick commute of the urban household.

In my dream house, much like the real one, the wood is soft and light good. Letting the cat back in I put out the milk bottles and mail for tomorrow’s rounds, glad again that the delivery man lives on my block and shares my coffee shop, with its book-lined walls and open air grill.

The city of my dreams exists, in places, in parts. It can be found on distant islands and countries whose borders do not touch my own. On foggy mornings and wind-swept afternoons I see it here, in San Francisco, waiting for me when I am half asleep. The question of this place, of where to find our own desires, is not of how long to look or far to travel. It is of how much to invest, how deep to sink our roots, and how much to try and build.