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a memoir/novel by Daniel Hallford
With the 2006 publication of his memoir/novel Upper Noe (PublishAmerica), Noe Valley native Daniel Hallford brings the neighborhood to life through the eyes of a child in the 1950s. The interlinking stories follow the adventures of a group of boys, students at St. Paul's Grammar School, as they roam free through the red-rock hills of Upper Noe and the bustling streets of downtown San Francisco. The book captures a time of innocence, a neighborhood populated by working- and middle-class families, and a rough-and-tumble spirit that many longtime residents remember with nostalgia.
Hallford, 55, now lives in Sacramento and is a retired parole agent and teacher in the prison system (his past pupils include Charles Manson, Dan White, and Sirhan Sirhan). He is a graduate of Riordan High School and an alum of San Diego State University and U.C. Berkeley, where his draft of Upper Noe was awarded the Eisner Prize for Literature.
Last year, he published a mystery crime novel, Pelican Bay, based on a true story and inspired by his work in the prison system. He also has a short-story collection, Tattooed Love Dogs, available in e-book form on www.electronpress.com.
Of Upper Noe, Hallford says, "I wrote it in part for my son and daughter who grew up in Sacramento, so they could get a sense of what it was like to be a kid in San Francisco. Back then, I'd tell my mom, 'I'm going to the park,' and I'd leave in the morning and meet all the other kids at Day Street Park, and we'd play baseball and football and wander around all day and not come back home until just before dinner."
Hallford returns to Noe Valley when he can, to see friends and relatives and "to hang out," he says. "Noe Valley is a special place for me, and over the years I've been glad to see it grow up and remain as vibrant and alive as it was when I was young.... I do wish there were more children in San Francisco, though. Is there something we can do about that?"
If you have suggestions, you can tell Hallford at a book-signing at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, 4175 24th Street, on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. His books are also available at Cover to Cover, Phoenix Books, and Bird & Beckett Books & Records in Glen Park.
A Trip to the Bridge
A Chapter from Upper Noe
By Daniel Hallford"I thought maybe of visiting the Golden Gate Bridge today," Reynaldo said.
I had been to the Golden Gate Bridge before but only with my parents. I thought about it for a while and I asked him how he was going to get there and he said the bus. I asked him if he knew what bus to take and he said yes and that it was easy. It sounded like a good idea to me and I decided to do it.
"Let's go," I said as I stood up.
He said to wait a minute and asked me if I had any money and I answered yes, I had money in my pocket.
"I don't know," he then said slowly, "I've got to ask my mother first."
I was surprised. It sounded as if he didn't really want to go. Then I got mad at him because it was his idea in the first place. After talking to him for a while I finally convinced him it would be all right, and we walked down toward the streetcar line.
On the way down Harper we ran into Chickie and Little Bit, who were playing out in front of their house. They asked us where we were going and we said that we were going over to the Golden Gate Bridge. They got excited and asked if they could come to. Reynaldo and I looked at each other and he said that it was okay for them to come if they had money to take the bus, which they did. I didn't mind Chickie coming; in fact, I was glad that he wanted to, but I was afraid that Little Bit would get tired or something and pee in his pants or start screaming for some little thing. I said that Little Bit couldn't come because he was too small and Little Bit started to cry. After crying for a few moments, he screamed and ran over to me and bit me in the hand. Little Bit always bit people when he was mad or frustrated. There were small teeth marks on my hand but it didn't hurt. This time Chickie told him to shut up and hit him until Little Bit fell on the ground saying that he would shut up. Then Chickie turned to us and said:
"Let him come with us. He won't bother anybody."
I still didn't want him to because I knew Little Bit. Reynaldo looked at Little Bit and looked at me and said that he thought it would be all right. Reynaldo said that because he didn't know him as well as I did. But since Chickie wanted him to come and Reynaldo didn't mind, I had to agree. I told them to go ask their mother but Chickie just said no because he knew she wouldn't let them go even if they did ask. We walked down Harper to 30th and past the park. Someone was even playing tennis on the tennis court. Little Bit and Chickie didn't go to St. Paul's like me and Reynaldo. They went to Kate Kennedy, which was only around the block from Harper Street. When I asked them about it, they said they liked it because there were no nuns and priests there like at St. Paul's.
We went into Leo's Market to buy food for lunch because we knew it would take all day to go there and back. Sweet Boy was sweeping the sidewalk and we left Little Bit outside to talk to him. We each bought small wrapped pies and cupcakes and potato chips, and Leo saw us and asked what we were up to.
"We're going to the bridge," we said.
"Good luck!" he answered and laughed.
Outside, Little Bit was talking to Sweet Boy. I heard him ask Sweet Boy where he got the broom and how long he had been sweeping outside Leo's Market and I realized that they had never met each other.
"Sweet Boy, this is Little Bit. Little Bit, this is Sweet Boy," I said.
"'Hello!' they said to each other and shook hands.
We left and boarded the streetcar that was going downtown. We stayed on it until we got to where the cable car was. There were people all over the place and we walked into a department store, the Emporium. I remember going to the Emporium when I was younger and seeing Santa Claus and asking him for a horse, a barn, and some hay one Christmas.
After walking around in the stores, we got on the cable car and rode it as it went up the hill past Union Square. In the square, I saw a man playing the trumpet and a few people watching him, and I saw a man talking into the microphone with nobody listening to him. Inside, the cable car was crowded and only one of us sat down: Little Bit. He was sitting on an old lady's lap who thought he was cute and shouldn't be standing. At the top of the hill, we got off because we didn't want to go back down the other side, and we got another bus that went even higher up the hill and over and down some more. We didn't know where we were, but we got off on a big street, Van Ness, and got on another bus. After we rode for a while, the bus driver announced "Golden Gate Park" and we jumped off. The bus stop was next to the park and we ran into it. Reynaldo was the fastest. He was hard to keep up with. Little Bit was the slowest, and since he carried all the lunch, me and Chickie held him by his jacket and pulled him along. We ran until we got tired and then lay on a big lawn. Soon a policeman on a horse came by, and we said hello to him and asked him if we could ride on his horse but he didn't answer so we just followed him. After following the horse for a while, we saw it take a crap on the street right in front of us. We decided we didn't want to follow it anymore and ran up a trail. Next to the trail was a hill and we found a little path under the bushes and we found another trail and ran down it. All this time, Little Bit complained that he was hungry, even though nobody else was. We ignored him. He started to cry a little so as we got near a group of buildings we stopped and had lunch. We sat down and took the food from Little Bit and evenly divided it. I noticed a lot of people were going in and out of the nearby buildings.
After lunch, which went very quickly, we walked over to one building and stood in line and paid the girl at the counter to get in. Reynaldo said it was the aquarium where there was a lot of fish. He had been there before. Looking around I realized I had been there before too, with my parents. Chickie and Little Bit said they had never been there before in their lives so we showed them around. We saw all the fish. We showed them the gigantic bear that had once lived in the mountains and we saw birds and deer that lived in the mountains also. We saw the talking fish and dolphin and the different-colored snakes.
When we had been there a long time and stood by the railing looking into the alligator pit, throwing pennies onto the backs of the alligators and crocodiles, Chickie suddenly said:
"I'm gonna throw Little Bit in there!"
He lifted Little Bit by his legs over the railing. We knew that Chickie was joking, but Little Bit didn't. He kicked and screamed so that everybody near the pit looked at us. Me and Reynaldo smiled at Little Bit taking everything so seriously. Then he gave Chickie an unexpected kick, and Chickie let go. Little Bit fell right into the pit where all the alligators and crocodiles were. He landed on a soft dirt mound where there were a lot of ferns so the alligators didn't notice he was there right away. Chickie got so excited that instead of being calm about Little Bit's falling in, he jumped in right after him. I think the crocodiles and alligators noticed Chickie because they started to move around right after he landed and hugged Little Bit. Both of them screamed as loud as they could. An alligator that must have seen or heard the screaming and moving around in the ferns crawled toward them from one side. It crawled very slowly as if it knew exactly what was happening and it opened and closed its mouth. Then Reynaldo yelled:
"Watch out, Chickie and Little Bit! The alligator is coming to get you!"
They both looked over at the alligator and saw its nose pushing into the ferns where they were. I didn't think it was a smart thing to yell out because Chickie and Little Bit hugged each other tighter and started to scream even louder. I didn't know what to do, so I shouted and I took off my shoe and threw it at the alligator. It bounced on the alligator's head, and the alligator stopped for a moment and looked around.
By this time everybody watching yelled also. A man pushed through the people next to me and jumped down to where Little Bit and Chickie were. The alligator was getting closer all the time, and the man picked up Little Bit and handed him up and as he turned to pick up Chickie, the alligator was so close that Chickie, who had picked up my shoe which landed near him, hit the alligator on the nose. It snapped at Chickie's foot and if the man hadn't pulled him away he wouldn't have had one. The man stumbled against the wall while he held Chickie and the alligator moved up. Just as the alligator was about to open his mouth and take a bite out of the man's leg, another man right near me wearing a suit shot the alligator with a gun three or four times. The alligator wiggled wildly and then lay still. It was dead.
The man in the pit stood up and handed Chickie to another person in the crowd and then they pulled him up. The man who shot the alligator put his pistol into a holster under his coat and when some men with uniforms came running up to him he said:
"I'm an off-duty cop. I always carry a gun."
The man who shot the gun had two little girls with him and they were crying. Soon another man came and asked questions. He must have been the head of the aquarium because everybody yelled at him at once and he said why didn't everybody involved come to his office. When he made that statement a big crowd moved with him. Me and Reynaldo followed him from a distance. As they were going through a big door with everybody shouting and wanting to know what to do and the little girls still crying, Chickie came back to where we were and gave me my shoe. Right before they slammed the door to the office, Little Bit slid between someone's legs and ran to us. We all raced out the entrance of the building, down the steps, and through the paths of the park. We came to a bus stop just as it opened its doors and we jumped on. I asked the bus driver if he was going near the Golden Gate Bridge, and he said, "Two blocks from it." I felt safe and glad that we were really going to get there.
This excerpt from Upper Noe, published by PublishAmerica (Baltimore: 2006), was reprinted with author Daniel Hallford's permission.
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