Friday, May 27, 2005

Shane was tall, taller than me at 6-2, thinning hair swept up in a rockabilly pompadour and babyish good looks slowly losing the war against fat. He would show up at the studio in white V-neck T-shirts and always smelled strongly, pleasantly of coffee. I want to say he had a bunch of Sailor Jerry tattoos, too, bright and optimistic, the Bettie Page pin-up girls, swallows, stars, and hearts reminding me of forties funny pages with their raw pulp-color brilliance and nostalgia.

I had committed to a daily morning Mysore practice at the yoga studio, a move that had jimmied open a whole new perspective on the yoga and introduced me to a whole new cast of characters: the morning shift.

My girlfriend and I were living in the Mission in San Francisco, on 27th and Guerrero, in a slant-floored firetrap. The flat's amenities included splinters from the peeling wood floor and, living in the building's common basement, an uncountable and ever-changing mass of illegals sleeping on sweat-stained mattresses. On weekends the group of small, sun-darkened men would drink cases of beer and listen to what sounded to me like Mexican polka music, the bomp-bomp of the drum and nerve-grating whine of accordion turned up as loud as it would go. I never felt in any physical danger, but the men on the street would hiss and sometimes grab at Tiffany, so I feared what the men in the basement might do, nerves galvanized by cases of beer.

The yoga studio, Ahimsa, was only a few blocks away on foot. Alice, with her fierce full-back tattoo of Kali, had turned an old storefront into a warm and inviting yoga studio tucked between a grocery and a storefront church.

Shane was gregarious, friendly, quick to laugh. He was inconstant in his practice because, as I soon found out, he was a member of the dock-worker's union. A few mornings a week he would head to the union office to put his number in the lottery for work. I imagined the job hard and exhausting, calloused men in peacoats and beanies cursing in the cold and fog, wrestling giant crates, twisting crowbars, banging, slamming, heaving, and groaning.

Months passed. My girlfriend and I moved to a better apartment in order to better unravel, and Alice eventually closed the studio to have a baby. Shane joined a long and ever-growing list of people I idly wonder about---people I knew only in passing, yet with whom I was profoundly intimate, peope I saw every day, six days a week, for months on end, all of us sweaty and half-naked, moments of poise and grace alternated with shaky struggling and ragged vulnerability. Where is Shane now? Maybe practicing yoga, maybe hauling crates on the Oakland dock, maybe lolling about the union office, waiting for his number to pop up, hair a bit thinner, face a bit fuller, bright tattoos beaming, still quick to smile, still fast with a joke, still good for a laugh.