Gregory and Xeno


On the corner of 16th and Valencia
The Mission
Monday afternoon

***

Xeno, Baby.

Xeno was born in December, on the darkest day of the year. The air had that cold, damp, satiny gray brume that lets you know the North Pacific will be there far, far longer than any of us. Everything was still.

When I started to take him out in public, especially once he was a little older and I could wear him facing out – where he can look into people’s faces – I noticed that everywhere I went, everyone was looking at me. All the people in the street. Passing motorists. People working in stores. Shoppers and meter maids. N’er do wells on the corner and the proprietors of the suspicious shop down the block.

And they were all smiling. All of them. I had stepped into a dream, a perfect city where everyone looks at me with a deep, radiant smile of simple purity. It’s a beautiful way to walk around the city, around my own neighborhood as though I were seeing it for the first time. Which he was. And so, I learned, was I.

It makes you giddy. Imagine it: everywhere you go, everyone is happy to see you. Everyone beams when you enter a room. One afternoon I walked into Tartine to buy a loaf of bread, and everyone looked up and stopped talking, like in an old Western. They all smiled as though they had been waiting for me all day, just killing time with flaky croissants and cafés aux lait.

I was never a stroller, and to the extent that I considered myself a flaneûr, it was just that I didn’t mind walking a couple of miles to get somewhere. But the baby likes to stroll; there’s something about little babies that just makes you want to walk around carrying them. They grow calm, then fall fast asleep. You are one. I never had to think about how warm he was, or how cold; if he was comfortable or if something was bugging him. I just knew, the way I know how I feel. It’s got to be evolutionary.

I really learned to walk. I’ve walked every street in the Mission by now. I roamed, and poked into shops just for the hell of it; to chat with the people there and complement them on their tortillas or their just-so crafty earrings. I learned that I can talk to anyone, at least as long as Xeno is strapped to my chest to break the ice. Which is pretty much always.

I talk to everyone I see, which is completely new for me. A lot of it is just pleasantries, but even that is a big deal for me. I’ve learned the names of a half a dozen neighbors I have seen for more than a decade and had never spoken to: Troy, Liz, Tingo, Rose, Kerry, Dora. They were there all along, but Xeno wasn’t.

The baby makes me feel approachable. Maybe I wasn’t before? I don’t know – I certainly always wanted to be approached, but really didn’t want to initiate it, always afraid I’d be encroaching. With women especially, I’ve been maybe too sensitive, maybe too in control, maybe too afraid. But with Xeno as my figurehead, doors open.

A gaggle of Mexican grandmothers on the corner, interrupting their morning chat to swarm the boy “¡Ay que bonito!” Tired commuters trudging home from the BART, hunched over in dark coats, brighten and break into smiles, and stride more happily.

One man, glancing sidelong at Xeno, stumbles on the sidewalk, and nearly falls down. Another stops us to tell the baby he is ninety-seven years old.

The hot, hot women— erect and bright—come straight over and lean in close, and say the things I’ve always wanted to hear them say: “Hello beautiful! You’re so adorable! I wish I could take you home with me.”  They’re aiming their gaze at my chest, at my boy, so I can look back openly, longingly. I can smell their hair.

A homeless woman tells me the story of a child she saved. A man on a bicycle stops to tell me about how much he loves his four year old. Middle School students look him right in the eye and smiling, say “Hi, baby!” People on the sidewalk walk along with me—“Oh! He’s so beautiful!” – and describe their own babies. Babies now 23, or 42.

Young guys have no reaction. Young guys are the only people who have other things to do. Of the rest, a few people look away, or stonefaced, show me nothing, and I feel sad for them.

At its peak, when Xeno was about six or eight months old, and fit folded into the sling like a little baby Buddha, cars would slow on the street. Fixie kids would look up almost sheepishly, their girlfriends beaming. I could lock eyes with anyone, and we could see each other, instantly, for who we really are.

A ratty homeless man, drunk and stinking of urine, looks up from where he’s slumped against a wall in the morning sun, smiles and says “Baby!” through the stumps of his teeth. Whatever else has brought us to that moment no longer exists, and we revel in it.

On 23rd street, we walked into a gang fight; some kind of beatdown under a leafy magnolia wherein a bunch of guys in red danced around a guy in black. “Beat that nigga!” one of them cried, and they did, landing sloppy kicks and messy punches, and we just walked on through with a free pass. I wondered how many of them are fathers.

In the Pirate Store, everyone is talking about us, and I stand there, dumbfounded until the ruddy, bearded hipster pirate, his eyes alive like Young Saint Nick says “Yes, it’s you! Did you know you have a baby on your chest?!”

We went into the theater there, to watch the fish. Xeno fell asleep on my lap and I listened to tinny 1920s love songs and watched the fish make their rounds before the Soviet-era map of Siberia. I missed Karl a bit, and I shed salty tears for no reason at all—and for every reason at once. They ran down my cheeks and made the boy’s hair damp.

Sometimes I have to stop walking and hug the babe to me on the street, and put my lips to his warm hair, and whisper in his ear: “Xeno, baby!”

***

You can see the rest of Gregory and Xeno’s photo shoot here.

Gregory’s website is http://www.dicum.com/

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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    This one gives me chills — the good kind of chills, that is. Beautiful post. And, as always, beautiful photo.

  2. amber
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    fave. fave. fave. fave. Why isn’t there one hundred stars I can award this post? There have been so many lovely stories in this beautiful place but this… this one won me over.

  3. Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    What a nice description from a father’s eyes. I liked the changes and views that a baby, a little one, your little one makes you go through, all for the best. Very sweet +refreshing story.
    Cheers Gregory +Xeno, el bebé bonito 😀

  4. Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Loved this story and the photos. As a daddy myself, i know what it’s like to be ignored when i’m alone, or the center of attention when I take the kids with me.

  5. Kate
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    So beautiful, so true!


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