Oh, Valencia, Michelle mourned. Michelle was a poet, a writer, the author of a small book published by a small press that revealed family secrets, exposed her love life, and glamorized her recreational drug intake. Her love life and recreational drug intake had been performed up and down Valencia Street, the main drag of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, once Irish, then Mexican, later invaded by a tribe bound not by ethnicity but by other things—desire, art, sex, poverty, politics. For six years Michelle had lived adjacent to this particular strip of gentrification and resistance, of commerce and SRO hotels and boutiques and taquerias. And, of late, it had changed. The Chameleon, a bar hung with velvet clown paintings, where Michelle had read her first poem to an audience, was no more. The poem had been awful, a melancholy love poem delivered in poetry voice, that stilted, up-toned lilt. She had compared her lover to a desert and her heart to a piece of cactus fruit busted up on the dusty ground. She had feared the poem was bad but rationalized that bad art had its fans and that her shabby offering would find its people. And at the close of the open mic a meek young lesbian had brought her shaved head over to Michelle and shyly thanked her.
Michelle had a special place in her heart for the Chameleon, its stage painted sloppily with giant orange flames. Its poetry event was famously unruly—all the poets were alcoholics, slamming each other in the head with chairs like professional wrestlers. That bar was Michelle’s first home in San Francisco, when she moved there from New England. She had enjoyed playing the part of the quick-witted and enraged baby dyke, she loved to clamber up to the microphone and holler at the drunks to Shut The Fuck Up! before launching into a spoken-word diatribe against pornography and child molestation. She did it well enough that the drunks stayed quiet, gave her a grudging respect afterward. When she bound her rants into xeroxed manifestos they bought them, and Michelle traded their damp dollars at the bar for pints of beer. The Chameleon was its own ecosystem, but the owner had fallen into a crack habit and so the business went under. Some French people bought it and renamed it Amnesia, as if Michelle would forget. It was so perfect it was cruel, the new name. Amnesia. Michelle marveled at it.