The logical place to start the story of Gail is the second and last time I met her, which was on a weekday afternoon at the Buena Vista Cafe during the year when I was on sabbatical in San Francisco, the spring of 1991.
The Buena Vista is not a bar I went to very often, but I was down there at the Hyde Street cable car turntable for some reason and so I stopped in for an Irish Coffee. After a while there was a woman standing beside me and smiling at me and at first I mistook her for a woman named Mary I used to see at the Bacchus Kirk (on Bush Street), and so I asked her whether she'd been to a gallery opening that afternoon, which is what Mary might have done. And this woman smiled in a way that I interpreted as an affirmative. And she said that yes, I could certainly buy her a drink.
I quickly realized that this wasn't Mary at all. But she certainly seemed to know me and was talking to me about what were apparently supposed to be mutual friends and shared experiences, and yet I couldn't quite establish a frame of reference for her.
I was embarrassed to just out and out ask for her name. For a while, I thought that she might be a woman I'd known while I was doing my original NLP training, six years previously. But eventually I discarded that hypothesis, along with a few others. She seemed to respond indiscriminantly positively to whatever hints I threw out about any woman I might possibly identify her as.
She wanted to go to another bar and so we left the Buena Vista. In that area there are of course sidewalk vendors all over the place and she wanted everything we saw. "Oh can I have one of those? Can I have one of those?" We came to a Vietnamese guy doing charcoal portraits and she really really wanted her picture drawn. It was maybe $20 for black and white and $35 for color, so I suggested that the black and white might be good enough but she insisted she absolutely had to have color.
It took about twenty minutes for this guy to draw her picture, which was much too long, as far as she was concerned. She was chattering to him about all sorts of names of her friends as if he knew them, and he was clearly doing his best to cope with the bizarre situation.
It was now apparent that this woman was totally out of her mind and approached everyone as if they were a long lost friend. Finally somehow she mentioned that her name was Gail and that settled it. This was no woman I could remember ever knowing.
She kept bugging the artist about why it was taking him so long and by the time he finally finished, she was totally bored with the whole experience. She took the picture and presented it to me, saying, "It's yours, you paid for it."
We went on to a bar in the Holiday Inn and had several drinks and were having a great time. She was lots and lots of fun and very cuddly. I would have loved to have had her as a girl friend if she hadn't been so damned expensive. (I suppose I spent about $60 or $70 on her over the course of two hours. But it was much better value for the money than I would have got spending the same amount on a hostess in a Honolulu bar.)
Finally I couldn't stay any longer and I was running out of money anyway. This woman was much too crazy and too expensive to be involved with, so I just told her I had to leave and gave her a $20 bill so she could get back home or whatever. I had expected that she might get all upset at this (and in fact, I had considered just sneaking away), but she accepted it fairly calmly. The woman bartender and waitresses, though, looked daggers at me -- just walking off and abandoning my date that way, giving her a $20 bill to fend for herself. Of course I didn't try to explain that I'd only met her a couple of hours before and didn't know her at all.
Afterwards, though, I kept being haunted by the feeling that I'd known her before. But I couldn't think of any context where her face or the name Gail really fit in. I asked my friend AnneMarie if there'd ever been a woman named Gail among the crazies in North Beach, but she couldn't think of any.
Finally, more than a month later, I finally remembered. I'd met her only once before and that time had been almost an exact repeat (as it were) of my more recent experience.
It had been years before, maybe 1986, and on my last night in San Francisco I'd gone into a bar near the Hilton called Coffee Ron's. Ron's was virtually deserted and I almost turned around and walked back out, but I decided to stay for one Irish coffee (their specialty, of course).
So there I was drinking my Irish coffee and suddenly this very vivacious young woman was sitting beside me, wearing only a light sweater despite the cold San Francisco night, and quite agreeable to my buying her a drink. In fact, she was quite agreeable to my buying her a number of drinks and a rather overpriced sandwich as well. She explained that she'd been over from Richmond for the day with her boy friend, but he had simply walked off and abandoned her with no money. I was of course shocked at her story.
She was wonderfully affectionate and cuddly and kept playing "I'm Just a Gigolo" on the jukebox over and over again.
It was believable that this woman might be agreeable to spending the night with me but I couldn't figure out the logistics. I was staying at a Tenderloin hotel called the Gaylord, which has a twenty-four hour front desk and doesn't give their tenants keys to the front door. One of the main reasons for this is to prevent tenants from bringing whores into the hotel at night and whether or not Gail was technically a whore, I was certainly stymied. And to take her to another hotel would be more than I could afford. Besides, I had a plane to catch the next morning.
Finally it was getting close to midnight and I told her I'd take her down to the BART station and get her on a train back to Richmond. But she kept stalling. "I just have to hear this song one more time.''
"Look," I said, "if we don't get to BART before midnight they're not going to let you in. And if that happens, I will abandon you, no matter what. I can't get you into my hotel and I don't have any way of taking care of you for the night."
Finally I got her to BART about ten minutes before it closed, bought her a ticket, gave her $5, and that was the last I saw of her until that afternoon in the Buena Vista several years later.
Obviously she made an impression on me, though, since I still had a vague memory of her face five years later.
Why is it that women can't ever be affectionate and cuddly without being crazy?
February 17, 1995