Alternative Ride Through San Francisco



I wrote this with author Kenji Kai. It was published in Eskimo Pie Lit Mag this July… Kenji and I are both interested in quirky San Francisco history…

The photograph is of Bradford Street, the steepest street in San Francisco. It’s in Bernal Heights, not an area where tourists hang out. Everyone thinks Filbert Street is the steepest, but it’s only a 32% grade and Bradford Street here is a 41% grade. Not the best photograph, but you get the idea…



Did you know there are two separate Arguello Streets, Lombard Streets and Moraga Streets in San Francisco? Two and a half Mason Streets? Two North Points?

Or that no 1st Avenue or 13th Avenue exists but that there are two 13th Streets?

Or that the streets are in alphabetical order in the Sunset District, Hunter’s Point and in Glen Park but not the rest of the city?

You probably know that the Golden Gate Bridge is not gold, and you might know that the crookedest street is not Lombard Street, which is more than my sister Mary knew.

Mary flew out from Birmingham, Alabama to visit my partner Kenji and me in San Francisco where we live. Mary’s in her fifties, is a lot of fun, and had never been to San Francisco before.

She was excited about seeing the city. We told her we’d take her on something we called Alternative Tours, our made-up tourist agency for our friends who visited from other places.

We boarded our tour bus, or Kenji’s red Prius, Kenji and I in front, Mary in the backseat with her tourist map, and set off for our first stop, the Golden Gate Bridge. “You know, Mary, the Golden Gate Bridge ain’t so golden,” Kenji announced while driving.

“It’s more of a reddish color, right?” she asked. “Don’t they call it the gorgeous redhead?”

“It’s neither gold nor red but is painted a color called international orange,” I spouted. “The reason why it’s called the Golden Gate Bridge is because it’s named after a nearby body of water named the Golden Gate Strait.”

“Okay,” Mary said, and once there, she loved the bridge to pieces. Who wouldn’t with its graceful arches? “Where to next? Can we see the crookedest street in the world? According to my map, it’s close by.”

“Sure,” Kenji and I said in unison, both of us knowing full well that this is where the fibs began. The crookedest street was not located on fancy brick-paved Lombard Street in tony Russian Hill, but on a section of Vermont between 21st and 22nd Streets in the not so tony part of Potrero Hill. We shot down Van Ness Avenue.

“We’re here,” I said twenty long minutes later.

“Why did it take so long?” from Mary.

“We thought you’d like to see the real crookedest street in the world,” Kenji chimed in, “not the crookedest street in San Fib-cisco.” Mary acted confused when we drove down the cement rollercoaster with its careful switchbacks. It was a lot like Lombard with its houses and trees, but not as nice.  

     We told her we’d later take her to Lombard Street and she said great, as she wanted to drive up Filbert Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, the city’s steepest hill. They seemed closeby on her map.

“Filbert Street is the steepest street in the city, right?” she asked.

“Maybe in San Fibcisco,” Kenji said.

“You see, Mary,” I said, “what the tourists flock to are crooked streets and steep hills in pricey, touristy areas, but if you want the real story, then you need to drive out to some of the less glamorous neighborhoods. We proceeded to nearby Bernal Heights and showed her the real and true steepest hill in San Francisco located on Bradford Street above Tomkins with a 41% grade. You feel like you’re going to topple over. “Filbert Street actually comes in 8th as the steepestt hill in the city, tying with three other streets at the same 31.5% grade.”

“Well, what about Goden Gate Park?” Mary asked. “It’s the biggest, most beautiful park in San Francisco, or am I wrong again?” Her eyebrows narrowed. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I said. “It’s beautiful, yes, but my favorite is McLaren Park.”

“Golden Gate Park is indeed the biggest park in San Francisco,” Kenji said in his best tour guide voice. “It clocks in at over three miles long and is 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park. It houses museums, playgrounds, picnic areas, boats, gardens, and even buffalo. It also houses a lot of visitors and it’s a parking nightmare. If you could diagonally hop across a map of San Francisco you would find McLaren Park, located in the south-east portion between the Excelsior and Hunter’s Point Districts. Although it’s the second-biggest park in San Francisco, it’s often treated like an ugly stepchild. If Rice-A-Roni is the San Francisco treat, then McLaren Park is San Francisco’s best-kept secret. You can often have this park to yourself, as it’s usually unoccupied, leaving plenty of peace, quiet, and parking over which San Franciscans are known to start fisticuffs.”

To show her what Kenji was talking about, we got on Mansell Avenue and made our way to McLaren Park, unknown most likely because of its location. The surrounding neighborhoods are thought to be dangerous compared to the ones that surround Golden Gate Park, thus leaving it with little to no publicity in tour books and among tour guides. But as more of San Francisco becomes gentrified, expect McLaren Park to slowly fill as the Mission District’s Dolores Park has since the invasion of the techies.”

“I think I’ve had enough for today,” Mary said, and as we made our way home we filled Mary’s head with other factoids about the city.

Did she know that 3rd Street was the longest numbered street in San Francisco?

Or that the 38 Geary was the busiest busline?

Or that there was only one three-digit Muni line, the 108.

“It’s the bus that goes to Treasure Island,” Kenji reported, and I seconded it. 

When we dropped my sister off at her hotel, we noticed she’d left the map in the back seat.


© Eliza Mimski and Kenji Kai (Co-authors)

*Kenji was a finalist in both the 2012 and 2014 San Francisco Writers Conference Contest.


How I Became a Hater



Published by Social Justice Poetry…

I’ve always pretty much been a gentle soul, mild-mannered,
the kind of person who easily forgives, doesn’t hold grudges.
That is, except for certain situations that have happened to me in the past.

When was the past reopened? Was it with his talk about building a wall, or later with the registry? No. I felt others’ pain but didn’t experience it as sharply until the lewd language about women, bragging about groping them.

It was then that I felt personally threatened, my past abuses reopened like an old wound with salt sprinkled, no poured, on all its surfaces.
Suddenly, my perpetrator was the president-elect and my country was no longer mine.

My country slid away, my past rising from its coffins.
The time when I was six and cornered in the garage, told to take off my clothes –
The president elect became that person.
The time when I was ten and Mr. Aberle pushed his tongue down my throat –
The president elect became that person.
The time when I traveled to Mexico and men followed me and grabbed my butt –
The president elect became that person.
The time when I was date-raped on a deserted road.
The president elect became that person.

I became a hater,
my gentleness gone.
I hated him in my heart.
I slammed him on Twitter.
I ridiculed him on Facebook, bullied him just like he bullied others.
I hated him with the same determination that I once reserved for my abusers.
All their faces melted into the same face.
They shape-shifted into the same person.

And now, as a hater, I channel my hate into marching.
Now I protest.
I have a voice.
Now I write poems.

Got this in my email today…

I rarely win anything. I won a pencil in fourth grade and that’s it! We’ll see. I’m a finalist in UK’s Fortnight Poetry Contest…

Who will win the £140? Stay tuned until tomorrow’s announcement… congratulations to all these fine poets, from Australia to America, and in-between…

Alison Palmer for‘Felling Trees’
Cassandra Cleghorn for ‘Drunkle, After Rehab’
Dominic Leonard for ‘No God Is Like A Vapour’
Eliza Mimski for ‘At Seventy’
Ellen Girardeau Kempler for ‘Inauguration Blues’
Emily Osborne for ‘Four Drawers’
Greer Gurland for ‘Chapter Three’
Kate Ennals for ‘Heidegger’s Truth’
Lynne Burnett for ‘It Rains For Him’
M.E. MacFarland for ‘A Halo And Some Doves’
Masa Torbica for ‘Landscapes’
Meg Eden for ‘My Grandmother is the Blueberry Bush’
Phil Provance for ‘Triangle’
Sarah Carey for ‘Accommodations’
Seanin Hughes for ‘Pink Is A Sister Sick’
Wes Lee for ‘They Say We Made It Up’


PS I didn’t win, and am still thrilled to be a finalist!

Final Time


This was published in 101 Word Story:


My sister picked me up at the airport. We drove straight to the nursing home. A year had passed since I’d last seen our mom. I braced myself, my sister telling me she’d changed for the worst.

At ninety-four, her body was shrunken in her metal hospital bed. She thought my sister was her aunt. She looked at me curiously and asked who I was. I lied, saying I did volunteer work. “You seem like a nice person,” she said. She looked off into the distance.

I can’t describe the sadness. We’d always had trouble connecting. Now it would be impossible.



At Seventy


(This poem was published this June in the anthology called Hers by Beatlick Press… and in July I was a finalist in the UK Fortnight Poetry Contest)

I like my body
I mean, it’s not the body of a young girl or even a middle-aged
woman, but so what?
I’m old. My skin is old and it hangs, dramatically sagging
It folds into herringbone pleats
It falls into patterns that it never used to
It sighs

My chin, my neck, my stomach, my back the most
My chin is crumbling but I love it
My neck is corded but I love it
My stomach is dimple deluxe and I love it
My back is shifting and I adore it too

There is no going back with 70-year-old skin
My inner thighs – I think they call them crepey
Meaning wrinkled, elephant grandma skin, but I prefer not those words

Besides, elephant skin is grand
It is fascinating as a fingerprint
It is matron skin
And crepey?
That’s just my skin deciding to be artistic, throwing a pucker party

I will keep my skin
I will keep my age
I will keep my body
I will celebrate it
Because my body is mine and therefore it is beautiful





Ever wish there was one singular word to describe a particular feeling? Sometimes in other languages, there are…

I always wondered at this obnoxious behavior of mine
How I’d squeeze my grandson till he told me I was hurting him
I just loved him so much I couldn’t help myself
So I sat on my hands when I was around him
And tried to control myself

Then I read about gigil, yes gigil
A word in Tagalog meaning that exquisite urge to squeeze someone –
You know, like babies that you love so dearly
Their cheeks and bottoms and how you want to
Gigil them, giggle them, padiggle them until they cry

I always wondered at this strange behavior of mine
How I solved my problems by walking against the wind
Wind hitting my face and knocking my thoughts right out of me
Wind rushing, wind gushing, wind blushing against my cheeks
Living in San Francisco helps with this

There is a word in Dutch I learned
It’s uitwaaein, yes uitwaaein
The wind slapping you awake, bringing you forward into yourself
So you cannot help but feel alive and good
At least for a little while

I always wondered at this intriguing behavior of mine
How I’d feel so good after writing a poem
Boiling the words down just so
Chipping away at the meaning until it gelled
Grabbing the syllables and kneading them together into something new

There is a Chinese word I learned
It’s called yuan bei, yes yuan bei
It means a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment
You finish something and it’s just right
You cannot make it any better and you’re happy

I always wondered at these behaviors of mine



That Long Pinky Nail


As a substitute teacher, the kids seem to always ask me about my long fingernails. Are they real? How do I get them that way? They ask about the wrinkly skin on my hands — a lot of Black and Hispanic kids aren’t used to seeing wrinkly skin as their elders age with less wrinkles because of their skin color. I tell them I’m old but I still rock and I’m a force to be reckoned with. They like that.

I have a tattoo on my hand and they ask if it hurt. Sometimes I tell the truth, in that it didn’t really hurt, but at other times I say, “You have no idea, but if you really want something in life, sometimes you have to go through the discomfort.” (This is mostly to the older kids and I’m trying to imply that they should do their work).

I enjoy being with the kids. They are all the same. They are all good in the same way and act out in the same way. Sometimes they aspire to being the worst class I’ve ever had and I laugh and tell them they have no idea how ordinary they are. This sobers them….


Porn Government

17092400010_20fd6bd48c_bPublished here:


He undressed the country and grabbed it in his sweaty palms. As the zipper came down, the country split in two. He inserted his finger into the wrath. He inserted his finger into his following but they didn’t notice. He peeled open the law and banged it into the first half. He abraded the tissue. He promised beautiful garments to the second half. He sweet-talked. The country grew grotesque. It took on an absurd shape. It bulged in strange places. His jack-o-lantern smile assured all that everything was just as it was supposed to be.


A cabinet of little boys who hate women.

They dropped my rights down a well.

Men talking about my body. A frat club making rules about my eggs.

He’s an orange glow – radioactive – and I don’t like him.

A long flight of stairs leads to the past you thought you left behind.


The men are nails.

They hold locks in their hands.

They are telling us to go to sleep.

But we are awake.

We rise up.

We are healthier than them.


The ABCs of the Vagina, or New Vagi-words



Published by:

When I was growing up, my mother used to put a big X on the calendar to mark the day she expected her period to start. She referred to it as the curse. I never questioned this, later learning that many women from her 1920s generation also used this derogatory phrase. Nor did I question it when I later heard women referring to their vaginas as fishy, as in stinky down there, that nameless place at the meeting of our thighs.

Most of the words used to describe the vagina were crass then and are crass now. Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with my good buddy Panda (nickname) and she told me of an incident that troubled her.

“Some guy at the 7-Eleven just called me a bitch fish taco,” she said. Yuck.

“What’d you ever do to him?” It was so outrageous that I had to laugh.

“He tried to squeeze in line ahead of me and I wouldn’t let him.”

“You’re horrible,” I said. And then: “Did he say it real loud?”

“He said it under his breath as I was leaving the store. I turned around, calling him a bastard dick burrito.”

“I guess bitch fish taco is the new bitch,” I said. She agreed with me.

From there we got to talking about the negative vagina-words floating around our culture. Words like fish taco, slit, gash, bang hole, and axe wound to name a few. Of course there were positive words as well, such as honeypot and muff – I like muff because of its warmth – but let’s be honest – negative words outnumbered them today just like they did in my mom’s generation. This was when she told me that as a writer it was my responsibility to invent new positive vagi-words, as she called them, saying that we needed language that spoke of our vaginas in more respectful terms.

“And this is my job?”

She said it was.

So, I got the idea of creating the ABCs of the vagina, my idea being to go through the dictionary and create vagi-synonyms using each letter of the alphabet. She liked my idea. I did too.

“Call me back later with them,” she said excitedly.

“Will do,” I said. This would be easy, right?

“And don’t make them too corny. They have to be real.” But what was real? How real was honeypot?

We got off the phone and I brewed a cup of tea, plunking down at the kitchen table with my faded red dictionary I hadn’t used in years. I needed something tangible. I leafed through its tissue-thin pages, beginning with the letter A. I reminded myself of the assignment. I would come up with twenty-six positive names for the vagina, one for each letter of the alphabet.

I opened the dictionary to the As, considered the word altar – I could see the vagina as an altar of sorts, but it seemed a bit clichéd. I kept on looking. When I came upon the word “ambrosia,” I paused. I remembered eating this fruity salad as a child, people bringing it to potlucks to everyone’s delight. Pineapple, coconut, mandarin oranges, marshmallows. Whipped cream. Sink your teeth into that! In Greek mythology, ambrosia was thought of as food for the gods. Good enough for me. Therefore, my first vagi-word came into being. I added the adjective sweet and voila! Sweet ambrosia. It had a drunk and dreamy feel to it.

I continued with the Bs, sipping my tea. I came up with Bliss Tap but crossed it off. It made the vagina sound like beer. Hmm…How about Beautiful Surprise? Nah. Panda would say this was way too corny. How about, I thought, Ball of Woman Fire? Nah. Pretty ridiculous. A few minutes later I invented Blessed One, and I liked the holy feeling it invoked, making our vaginas a sacred place. And then I invented Best Attribute.

The pretend-conversation in my head went something like this:

“How is your Blessed One today, might I ask?”

“My Best Attribute? Why, she’s doing fine, thank you.” Fun. I was feeling good about my body.

Fifteen minutes later and I was having a hard time finding a vagi-synonym that began with the letter C. It had to be spectacular to counteract that other famous C-word: cunt. Its positivity had to match the latter’s negativity. Another ten minutes, but I came up with nothing. I decided to come back to it later. I moved on. For D, I decided upon The Most Delicious Meal, and a second choice: Dining at the Vagina Cafe, my creativity blossoming.

I continued. E: The Elastic Wonder. F: The Fantastic Wonder. G: The Gymnastic Wonder. I was on a roll. For H, I decided upon Heavenly Palace, and okay, I admit I was lapsing into the world of corny. The letters I, J, and K breezed by, as did L, M and N. Momentarily I got stuck on O, but came up with Opulent Jewel, which I considered one of my best.

P, Q, R, S ,T U, V. Pretty easy. But X? It took me a while, although Y and Z proved pretty easy.

I’d thought I was finished, but then remembered I had to circle back to the letter C. I mulled over new words, the worst of which was Curvaceous Smile – what was that supposed to mean? – and came up with nothing I liked. And then an idea alighted. What if I took the cunt-word and made it positive? In other words, what if I owned it rather than opposing it? In two seconds flat I had my example – Beautiful Cunt. Yes. Beautiful Cunt. I loved it.

An hour and a half after our conversation, I called Panda back. “Are you ready?” I asked.

“Lay them on me,” she said.

“Some of them have more than one example,” I said. And I read her my completed list of words. Language is so important, the names we label ourseleves with.

Sweet Ambrosia.

Blessed One. Best Attribute.

Beautiful Cunt.

The Most Delicious Meal. Dining at the Vagina Cafe.

The Elastic Wonder.

The Fantastic Wonder.

The Gymnastic Wonder.

Heavenly Palace.

Inner Spirit.

Juicy Fruit.

Kitten. Kitty Kat.

Lusty Lips.

Her Majesty.


Opulent Jewel.

Miss Peach.

The Queen.


Sacred Place.


The Ultimate.

Velvet Priestess.

Winsome One.


Yum Yum Tree.

Zesty Delight.

My friend Panda liked them and I did too.

What did I observe today?

I watched a documentary with Kenji tonight. He admired the speaker. I thought he was a big ole sexist. I observed what a hothead I can be. I want to learn how to just state my opinion without all the drama.

I observed how I miss Tiger when he’s not with me.

I fell in love with two new dogs at the kennel yday. Both are six years old and surrendered because their person went into a nursing home. How hard that must be.