Colin Asher

We were, someone said, “Swaggering—looking like a couple of ladies were going to be in trouble later on.”

The description was probably generous. It was hard to affect a swagger while sliding, brushing, and shoving through the obstacle course of humanity on the sidewalk. Mission Street between Sixteenth and Seventeenth is chaotic always; on the first and fifteenth of the month, it's positively Biblical.

The mood was hollow euphoria, sprinkled generously with dwindling finances and empty stomachs, made frenetic by sirens, screams, and colliding chemical substances. My friend and I saw a sidewalk pocked with shit, used napkins, broken glass bottles and stubbed cigarettes; our fellow travelers occupied a different reality. For them, a glance would tell you, the world was warm and welcoming in a way that it had not been since last payday. Standing twelve to fourteen hours on a street corner was not tiring, cold doorsteps felt comfortable, all friends were good, and—for the time being—everyone was a friend. The prevailing reality was rosier than ours but the effect was contagious, so we tried to swagger.

When you shove past someone, you don’t notice them. It’s when you avoid them that you're forced to pay attention. As we half-stepped up the block, we were mostly all shove. Then there was a fissure in the crowd.

A Filipina woman wearing a jean miniskirt, limp cowboy boots, and a pink tube top stood in the rift she had created. Her hair, which had been plaited several not-very-restful days earlier, was now more dreadlock than braid. Her eyes were spider webbed by tired veins, her skin had the patina of jaundice. I thought, “Once upon a time she looked too good for her own good. A bit homelier and she might not be where she is.”

She was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, legs spread wide as her skirt would allow, arms straight as rods forming a triangle with her torso. She shook—and in more than one way she was not steady. Her fingers wove around the stubby grip of a cheap, single-shot pistol that she pointed at someone standing just inside a doorway. Without the gun to focus her attention, I thought, she might forget how to stand.

She was screaming, “Bitchyoudon’tthinki’llfukinshootyoubitch. Bitch, I’m gonna kill you, bitch.”

No one took much notice, everyone ignored her. I walked behind her, my friend in front.

Before we were half a block past her, she stopped screaming. Maybe she forgot why she was angry, or remembered she was standing in a crowd. “Maybe she thought we were cops?” my friend offered.

Whatever her reasons, she lowered her arms and straightened her legs. She reached back and slipped the pistol into the ass pocket of her miniskirt—like it was the thing to do. The crowd enveloped her, the fact that she had just threatened death seemingly forgotten, maybe forgiven, definitely accepted. We kept walking.

“A jean miniskirt,” my friend said. “Amazing.”

“Amazing,” I agreed.


Colin Asher is a writer/freelance journalist in San Francisco. He can be reached at


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