Still Haunted

Still haunted by your absence, I enter the city prepared. On campus I forget you. I do not look for you or go to your apartment. I do not even remember you: the unbound knot of your spine, our awkward first trip to the city, photographs of your mouth on my body.

I do not walk the five blocks to see you. I forget about the distance.

In the city, we do not speak of you, your present absence. We forget. We drink wine and compliment each other. I do not dream of you. You do not approach me.

I see no one. All are names and blank faces striding past into the darkness.

I am one of a group which boards the train at the station and miraculously moves as one through the tunnels. We surprise each other upon arrival, for we are unintended.

I board the plane with Proust. Outside, the runway lights imitate a flower or the curvature of your profile, two intersecting lines of brightness reflected into my eyes.

I remember you. I let you go. I let myself go into the darkness of the world, the unending horizon.

An exercise in memory

Things discussed in the span of three hours:

God, atheism, Buddhism, mental health, Catholicism, nature v. nurture, memory, whether the duality of good/evil is fair or ultimately biased, whether we can have a conversation that doesn’t result in one person being told he/she’s wrong, happiness, karma, reincarnation, Mario, texting, breakups, whether I will be punished for having free will, whether a person who is isolated from birth will be an atheist or a believer in religion, serotonin, anger, vespas, uncertainty, the inability to write, drugs, being used, using, San Francisco, leaving, abuse, parents, detachment, despair, dependence, birthdays, peer pressure, breaking the rules, death, weed, cigarettes, alcohol, therapy, fear, irrationality, farting, insecurity, men, women, children, cheating, sex, being thirsty, disability, fragmentation, the norton anthology of literary theory and criticism, dance, tagalog, age, Lennard J. Davis, honors classes, communication, mutual respect, friends, the 1950s, sexism, TV shows, USF.

A city to come home to

St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad, St. Petersburg, Peter. In my mind, the present iteration for the city of my birth is “Absent European.” The city, built on the backs and bones of thirty thousand men, brought Russia into the age of modernity, but it is absent. It is absent from my memory, absent from my grasp, and there is an absence of hope of return to the city of my life.
The duty of every Russian writer must be to write about St. Petersburg, for the greatest have done so: Gogol, Bely, Brodsky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov. I follow in the footsteps of giants, traversing Nevsky Prospect, laboring over these rectilinear streets, these canals that contain the bones of thousands.
As a child, I chose a school in the center of the city over the one I could see out my bedroom window. Each morning, one of my parents took my sister and me on the hour long commute to the city center by subway and tram; crushed between absent-minded men and women heading to work, we emerged from the metro station on Nevsky to the voices of street peddlers.

We’re so in love with ourselves

Whatever brilliance we once had has disappeared. You said you hate feeling this way, but this feeling you can’t articulate is what you need. You need some shame, and a little bit of loneliness. You need to step out of the club at midnight, vomiting the remains of seven or ten vodka shots onto the pavement. Maybe then you’ll remember that we’re not so different after all.

I sometimes wonder why you did it, but I understand. Do you remember the night you went home after I had asked you to stay? It must have been early on, maybe in February or early March. I had asked you to stay and you said you couldn’t sleep there. I went to M’s party, steadfastly determined to drink myself into a haze. How old was M that day? I cannot remember. I only know that when I arrived, I could hear the music from the second floor all the way out on the street. I had to call him so he could come down and open the gate. The staircase was really strange, a self-contained building like a clock tower with doors leading off onto the floors. The door to M’s apartment was badly fitted, with an enormous space at the bottom where it should have been flush with the floor. He had the corner unit.

I’d been there once before when we first became friends. Then, the apartment was small with just the two of us in it. This time, every available space had been filled with bodies. We pushed through to the center, where a couple of girls were dancing. M pulled one aside and introduced her as his new girlfriend. Strangely enough, I’d never seen her before.

Trieste Two

“Hey buddy,” he says each time I walk into the cafe.

The building is situated on the southwest corner of Dwight and San Pablo with a column supporting its front corner. It’s a rather awkward architectural design, because you have to avoid the column on your way in and out. Outside, on San Pablo, there is a bus stop directly adjacent to the building, and also the aforementioned sex shop and fancy restaurant. Across the street is Cafe Gratitude, or some other such liberally named establishment. On the opposing corner diagonally across the street is a liquor store, where Teddy usually takes an old shopping cart to buy ice by the twenty pound bag.

Cafe Trieste has several tables lining the San Pablo side of the building where the usual locals (a tall older man with a cap who looks like a disheveled construction worker) smoke and drink house wine. The tables are next to several bay windows which are often open in warm weather.

The cafe itself seats thirty people at most. On days when Papa Gianni is present signing opera, there is a standing-room-only crowd which spills out onto the sidewalk. People stand inside, some with cameras, listening to Papa Gianni (who must be at least 80) belt out traditional opera and watching him down cups of espresso. Whenever he’s there, I tend to walk in and order a quick vanilla latte to go before heading back to my apartment. Papa Gianni’s appearance always deters me from studying at the cafe.

I come to the cafe late at night to read and watch people sit around and drink wine. The cafe also has a delectable assortment of pastries and cakes. My favorite is the white chocolate cheesecake. When I started to run out of money and food, Sam would give me free coffee and food whenever I showed up. I’m still amazed at his generosity.


Once, I’d have walked out of my apartment, turned left down Bonar Street (don’t even think about making that joke again), turned right at Dwight Way, walked three blocks to San Pablo Avenue, and I’d be there – Cafe Trieste, on the west side of San Pablo. It’s a tiny place often filled with locals.

The original Cafe Trieste was opened in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco by Papa Gianni, an Italian immigrant who came to the US in the 1950s. It’s still open today, just one block up Columbus from the City Lights bookstore, on Vallejo Street. The Berkeley location has been open for a while; it is filled with photographs of famous people, as well as Papa Gianni himself – standing on a Navy ship in the 1940s, singing opera at the San Francisco location – some days there’s a low key jazz band or Papa Gianni himself, singing opera on special occasions.

Fridays through Mondays, Sam runs the counter. Sam is a Sri Lankan who goes to college in San Francisco. He’s been working here for seven years, and he’s the one I always greet. When I began frequenting Cafe Trieste in February, the locals were intimidating, crowding around the old-fashioned wooden counter, shooting the shit. Gradually, I made friends with Sam and Teddy, a Massachussetts transplant who also works at a fancy restaurant two doors down. In between Cafe Trieste and the fancy restaurant is a fancy sex shop, windows covered with white film for privacy. If you walk by and look inside, it looks like a sort of library, completely unlike a sex shop.

Every time I walk in, Sam grins from behind the counter and reaches over to shake my hand.