The night I arrive, a Wednesday, Deborah meets me and we walk around a bit looking for a place to eat. It’s after dinnertime, so the food part is just for me, meaning there need to be drinks available as well.

We choose a hotel bar with an epic Maxfield Parrish painting of the Pied Piper. It’s in a grand old hotel lobby——old by West Coast standards, anyway——but there are contemporary concessions: flatscreen TVs, vax card inspections. Still, the fancy salad I get is good and the drinks are right.

Then we go to a subterranean bar/club decorated with typewriters and old newspapers. A jazz combo plays, seemingly miles from where we sit, across the cavernous basement. Our waitress, in a tight black dress, tattoos, and very fake tits, is appropriately blasé about checking how fast we’re drinking. The next table over orders only one cocktail between the four of them, and she doesn’t seem put out in the least. It’s a nice-looking place, but feels more like a stage set than an actual bar.

The next day, after visiting with Joan Mitchell at the museum a couple hours, Deborah meets me and we walk the mile and a half to the bookstore.

I’ve been to San Francisco a few times and have walked around a lot, but the level of homelessness and insanity on the streets really hits me this time. Perhaps it’s the route we take, but the sidewalks overflow with damaged zombie-like beings. The contrast with the obvious wealth of the real estate and businesses——those not still boarded up, anyhow——is jarring.

A few lost souls screami bloody murder, but for the most part, they lurch or stagger about doorways and corners. Some have random items laid out for sale on the sidewalk, but the majority lay or sit just waiting. What could they possibly be waiting for aside from the temporary relief from a dose of this or that?

Every city in this country I’ve been to has more and more tent cities and homeless encampments. It’s a sure sign of a failing civilization. There are many thousands of empty units in buildings being constantly rehabbed for occupancy by the upper classes, while the streets below teem with the unhoused, addicted, and insane. It makes no sense at all. The homeless amid the empty homes.

It feels like some long-ago age on the sidewalks of San Francisco. A young woman we walk by on Market reminds me of a waif straight out of Oliver Twist. The divide between haves and have-nots could not be more stark. Walking through it, past it, taking care not to notice too much, is like a high-wire act. I keep thinking about what my responsibility to these strangers is. Whatever it is, I can’t ignore them or pretend they aren’t there.

They pile in the car with me for the drive back to Chicago.