Public sex and a hint of violence in after-hours Sacramento
Public sex, schizophrenia, drugs, prostitution … and Brad
When I arrived at The Streets of London Pub at 2 a.m., a group of three women wearing varied colors of bedazzled dresses stood outside smoking cigarettes and laughing. I approached them with the most wholesome of intentions. Honest.
“Hey, I’m just doing a story on after hours.” Before I could finish, a beefy man in a rugby shirt wedged himself between us. “You want me to fucking kick your ass?” he asked. His breath smelled of whiskey and onions, his hands were balled into fists and his thumbs stuck out like fat little kielbasas.
It was a loaded question, I understood. He wanted me to say “Yes, please, I would love for you to kick my ass,” so he could punch me in the face. But I didn’t say anything right away. Instead, I tried to imagine him as a normal person: His name was probably Brad, went away to college, visits his mother in Walnut Creek for Christmas, chronic masturbator …
“No thanks,” I said and went back to my car.
“Yeah, you better get the fuck outta here,” he said.
And I did. I drove toward the county jail; surely, I thought, something more peaceful would be going on there. I parked on I Street and walked by the public library, where the homeless had learned to sleep sitting up. A patrol car coming from the depths of downtown slowed at my presence. There’s something about being alone in the small hours that makes you feel guilty of a crime. While I tried to look innocent with a tight-lipped smile, the police car sped off.
I walked toward the jail’s main entrance where, along with two other people, a black woman with untamed hair sat on the ledge clutching a large paper bag. While she didn’t look particularly chatty, she didn’t appear to be violent, either.
“Hi,” I greeted, and she looked up with a scowl.
“Hello,” I said. “Would you mind … ”
“OK,” I answered, and shuffled toward the end of the ledge where I took a seat.
Is it the wee hours that make people violent or is it that violent people simply enjoy the dark? Or is my presence just unsettling?
Just then, a white woman with large glasses, a yellow blanket wrapped around her upper body, an orange scarf and an array of full plastic bags walked by very fast.
“Hello everybody!” she said with a loud, theatrical voice and showy smile. Nobody paid her any attention. Well, except for me. I followed her to the light-rail station on Seventh and I streets.
When I got to her, her bags were on the ground and she was already splayed out on one of the benches like a house cat on a living room sofa. She was thoroughly disheveled, but not exactly homeless-looking.
“What?” she asked at the sight of me just standing there.
“Oh, I’m from the newspaper. I just wanted to say hi.”
“I’m not from New York,” she answered. But before I could figure out what she meant, she began telling her story. Her whole story.
Her name was Katie. She was a regular methamphetamine user who lived in Alkali Flat with her sister, also a meth user. According to her story, she had been physically assaulted by men on more than one occasion in more than one state: “Idaho, Arizona, Colorado … ” she listed. When she talked, her head moved in jerky circles, like the second hand on a bootlegged Rolex. And judging from her thick Brooklyn accent, she was from New York.
“You look like Sammy Davis,” she said. “Like Bob Hope, like, like Jimi Hendrix, like [unintelligible].” Everything about Katie was stuck in another time, another dimension. When she finished a sentence, she’d laugh, then scowl like she was about to cry.
“Are you out this late every night?” I asked.
“I’d never hurt a fly,” she said, laughing, then taking a pull from her unlit cigarette. “But I’d kill you.”
By the time I got back to Midtown, it was almost 3:30 a.m.
A drunken fat man who I had seen stumbling out of Faces hours earlier was still making his nonsensical way along 20th Street. He tried the door of the Mercantile Saloon, which was closed. He stood there, perplexed in the parking lot, weaving. And just when I was sure he was going to topple over, he’d walk back toward another locked door and attempt to wriggle it open.
A young guy (maybe in his 20s) walked down K Street by the MARRS building, wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts. His gait was leisurely, and he didn’t appear to be going anywhere. It seemed strange—in an hour when people walked fast, smoked cigarettes and talked to themselves maniacally—to see a young, healthy person casually strolling along.
As I watched him walk toward Rubicon Brewing Company, a silver Volkswagen Golf passed slowly. The car turned on Capitol Avenue, then turned again. A minute later it was back, driving right alongside of me. A nice-looking guy with short, parted hair who wouldn’t have looked out of place in an accountant’s office rolled down the window.
“Hellooo,” he said, dragging out a slow, slutty smile, which was all I needed to put things into perspective: Lavender Heights, wee hours of the morning, a strolling man …
“No thanks,” I said, and turned around as he grumbled off toward something more available.
I walked east, pondering the situation, but was soon interrupted by a shirtless Caucasian with a shaved head and a peach-fuzz mustache. He was practically running toward me. “Hey,” he barked. “Can I have a cigarette?”
“Don’t smoke,” I said.
“Fuck you!” he yelled behind him. Thankfully, he continued on his way.
Tired, I walked through the alleyway by Crepeville on 18th Street, where I watched a man and a woman having sex in an SUV. The light in the car was on; the woman straddled the man as they bounced around carelessly, oblivious to my presence.
When you’ve been outside roaming the city for hours before the sun rises, the sight of a couple screwing under the streetlamps might seem like a figment of your imagination, but not entirely unimaginable.
As I walked through the alleyway between Capitol and L streets, I heard a high-pitched screech—like a flock of weak, excited birds—but I couldn’t determine what the sound was or where exactly it was coming from.
The lights were on inside Old Soul Co., where a baker was carefully rolling out portions of dough. It was the most peaceful, rational thing I had seen all morning.
As I stood outside watching him for what seemed like 20 minutes, the dark horizon began to show the first pale signs of morning. The tiny sound I heard earlier became louder, and I looked up to see a spotted black cloud above my head. As the baker began his day, methodically kneading then rolling dough into long, smooth baguettes along his wooden table, I was at the end of my day, in the alley, being attacked by a colony of bats.