In this day and age, it’s unusual enough to find a pay phone on the street. It’s even more unusual to find a grown woman talking into a pay phone while holding a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh doll.
I spotted her one afternoon from halfway down the block—an overweight woman in a denim jacket, clutching Pooh-bear in one hand and the telephone in the other. I slowed down to eavesdrop (no, I am not above eavesdropping; it’s one of the most entertaining advantages of living in a densely populated area). And, as I passed her, I hit the motherlode.
“I don’t trust them!” she was yelling in a childish voice, stamping her feet and waving Pooh about. “They’re trying to make me look like the crazy one!”
Such eccentric characters are the bread and butter of San Francisco, as much the reason we live here as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Irish coffee. Several years ago, it was the homeless woman with multicolored hair and a vaguely British accent, whom we always referred to as Mrs. Slocombe. (Thankfully, no one ever asked about her pussy.) We would pass by her now and then, slouched in a storefront doorway after closing time, and give a smile of recognition, perhaps a few dollars. But when she wasn’t around, we’d give her nary a thought. Until she wasn’t around a lot. Until she wasn’t around at all. And then we started to miss her—the quirkiness, the odd stability of her instability.
And so it is with the Pooh girl. That first sighting was weeks ago, and it briefly gave me an interesting story for cocktail parties—but that was that. Out of sight, out of her mind. And mine.
Until tonight. On the way home from visiting a friend, I got on a bus I seldom take anymore, and there she was—sitting by the window, with Pooh in her lap. She was holding him upright, turned sideways to face the window: she wanted him to have a good view. I half-expected her to whisper to him about the sights passing by on the other side of the glass, but they rode together in silence, just the woman and her bear.
And suddenly, I remembered a passage from A.A. Milne, the one that gave Armistead Maupin the title for one of the Tales of the City novels. Piglet whispers Pooh’s name and Pooh asks what’s on his mind: “‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’”
I was on my way home to my empty house. My boyfriend and I spend three nights a week together, and this is not one of those nights. And when I crawl into bed in a little while, as I do on all the other Thursdays, I will clutch my ragged old teddy bear to my side and try to find my lover’s scent in his matted fur.
We all need to be sure of something. We all need our Poohs.