My first night at my apartment in the Tenderloin turned into sex with a fan of my novel.

The only furniture in my apartment was a bed and bathroom supplies. I had recently gone through a break up with a girl. We lived together in the Mission District and I had two options, stay in the Mission, a neighborhood I adore, and live with a roommate, or move into a studio in the ‘Loin and live alone.

I wanted some solitude and I like Vietnamese food.

The Tenderloin invited me into her arms by giving me a sexy 20-something girl, someone who was literate. Someone who came from the Sunset District and wanted to meet me at the Hemlock. Someone who didn’t shave her pubes and respected her jungle down there.

The Tenderloin called and gave me a dark haired woman with kissable lips and an infectious, eager smile. After drinking at the Hemlock we ended up back at my place and were naked within 30 seconds, rolling around on my only piece of furniture.

“Do you have a condom?” she asked.

In my 40 years on this planet I haven’t slept with many women. She was my 8th. I was a virgin until I was married at 25 since I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t have a condom, I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to having sex since I was actually too busy doing promotion for my novel.

I ran down the stairs and outside while the wind gusted east down Geary Street. I wore my clothes half on/half off so when I got back to my apartment she wouldn’t have time to change her mind. There was a naked sexy girl waiting in my bed. It was 2:45 a.m. so all of the liquor stores were closed. I asked an Asian dude walking down the street with a tripod who seemed harmless where I could find a condom at that hour.

He said to try Frenchies, an adult video shop up the street. Then he asked why the desperation and I told him there’s a woman in my bed and I want to have sex with her.

“Can I come up and film you guys?” he asked.

Welcome to the Tenderloin.

I ran to Frenchies and put my hand in the condom cookie jar, buying whatever I pulled out. Lubed, ribbed for her pleasure, hooker grade STD double thicks.

Running down Geary back to my apartment I held the handful of condoms in the air like they were an Olympic torch and I was running my way towards victory.

I found condoms. I was going to have sex. She was still naked when I opened my apartment door.

I shed my clothes. She had a wonderful laugh and we giggled and snuggled under my blanket and got things started again.

I fell in love with her that night. I fell in love with the Tenderloin that night.

I fall in love easily. Less than a week later we were talking relationship and it was too soon for me. I needed to heal from my last two long term relationships. I needed to understand myself and trust myself. I knew my judgment was clouded by my own baggage and my lust for her.

The Tenderloin and I are still in a relationship. We’ve had our ups and downs. Sometimes I’ll gaze upon her and just watch and know if there is an Apocalypse, this is how the people would look and act. Many carrying all of their possessions in carts. Some screaming at the sky with mangled faces because they didn’t get their medicine, prescribed or unprescribed.

And then there are tough Brazilian trannie hookers all dolled up, every once in a while slamming a purse on some privileged suburban kid who thought the ‘Loin was Disneyland and you can touch and make fun of the characters.

And then there are us so-called functioning people. We can walk a straight line, hold our mouths quiet until society deems it appropriate and we clean ourselves. We watch the madness, sometimes with sympathy, other times with dread, knowing one little click in our brains can have us wandering down these streets, screaming about how well our novels were received and about that one time we had sex and fell in love with a fan. It would be a little hard to believe while doing a poop in an alley.

As for the girl from the Sunset District who came to welcome me to the Tenderloin with her adoration, well, there are times I can still smell her hair.

“Shapeshifters,” says the missionary. He’s dressed in a grey suit and grey-checkered tie. He’s black. Looks like he’s in his mid sixties. He sits back in his chair a bit and laughs confidently. The old black dress shoes on his feet he plants firmly on the floor. There’s a Bible in front of him opened to some book of the New Testament.

A large black Rastafarian cuts him off. “What kind of god could make a serpent talk to someone?” he asks. He sits across from the missionary. His large round beret reminds me of the top of the Downtown Transit Center, minus the casino lights.

They look like they just met.

The missionary’s feet don’t budge. I mean, how could he be afraid talking to this giant of a stranger? The entire station is crawling with Jehovah’s Witness missionaries. This is their front line: just off the edge of Fremont Street. A ledge hewn in the chasm. Near rock bottom. A holler or two past the digital bells of cartoon slots and Wheel of Fortune games.

Outside the station, papers and bibles lay scattered on tables in front of transients.

Here on the inside, the missionary smiles at the Rastafarian and his idea of a talking serpent. “The same kind of god that can make a block of wood talk to someone. It’s called a ventriloquist,” he says.

I’ve seen a lot of well-dressed missionaries around the station. This guy wears a yellow shirt. It’s clean. Pressed. White paper napkins stuffed in his coat pocket poke out like a silk hanky. He wears glasses. I see his Bible opened to Luke. There’s a small stack of papers on the table in front of him. I see the word “watchtower.”

“I guarantee if you eat a pomegranate you’re not going to go, ‘Ahh!’” the Rastafarian says. His dreads poke from beneath his beret. He has a pointy beard and yellow eyes.

“It wasn’t a pomegranate from that tree. That was a special tree,” the missionary laughs.

The Rastafarian starts to get up then sits back down. “All pomegranates should have been descendents from that tree,” he says. “They should all be magical. But they’re not. What about the chariot that came down and picked up Elijah?”

“That was a dream. A vision,” the missionary says.

“Can a dead man come back to life? What bones can bring a person to life?” the Rastafarian’s voice booms. Not a single transient nearby stirs.

“It was an unusual occurrence,” the missionary says.

“An unusual occurrence? You don’t have an answer, do you? You don’t want to accept?”

“Accept what? What do you want me to accept? Son, what do you want me to do about that?”

A nearby drunk jumps into the conversation. His words slur. He looks like he’s spent at least forty days downtown on Las Vegas streets. “You have to go back to the beginning. They’ve been arguing this since the beginning of time. Nobody ever noticed that one lady, whatchamacallit. That Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend. She the one come down from the cave…”

“No, that’s not right.” The Rastafarian looks at the bum and laughs. “You know what that proves? You just proved that nobody was there.” He laughs again and turns to the missionary. “What kind of man walks on water?”

“A God who walks on water.”

The Rastafarian stands up and sits back down. He changes the subject. “How come these other people John baptized didn’t get godly powers?”

The missionary is soft spoken. “John didn’t even want to baptize Jesus. He said ‘I’m not worthy.’”

The Rastafarian gets up, turns his back. He has an I-can’t-take-this-shit look on his face, then sits back down while the missionary reads some verses from the gospel of Luke.

When the missionary finishes reading, the Rastafarian laughs. “You would tell Jesus how his own life was. You would do that wouldn’t you if you met him?” He wants to leave but then thinks up another question. “What about the darkness? According to the Bible there was darkness. Where did all that come from?”

“It didn’t come from anyplace.”

“Ain’t that something? So it was always just there. So he was just sitting in the darkness by himself?”

“He was part of the darkness. He could change it. He created it. He said, ‘I’m sitting here alone in the darkness, by myself. I’m lonely.’ So then he created Jesus Christ, I mean, Michael.”

A little black lady walks up to the table as if out of nowhere. She tells the missionary to ask the Rastafarian about wisdom.

“Are you finding any wisdom, any laws in what we’re discussing?” the missionary says. “Or is this just a conversation?”

The Rastafarian ignores the question. “Can you tell me how much the planet weighs?”

“I used to know.”

“Can you tell me how much badlands and good lands there is?”

“You can look it up.”

“What color is topsoil?”

“Dark brown.”

“No. It’s black. There are some things you know and some things you don’t know. I’m just checking. Tell me, what type of guy would have red eyes?”

The missionary thinks for a moment. “Albinos?”

“No, animals.”

“I thought you were talking about humans?” Even the missionary is growing tired. I can hear it in his whispers.

“No, I do mean what type of person. You see them at night. They glow.”

The missionary thinks again. “Someone genetically predisposed. Which way is up?”

The Rastafarian laughs. “Whichever way my head is.”

“The way your head is pointed?”

“No, whichever way my head is. I have two heads. One up here and one down low.”

“I can’t believe you went there,” the missionary laughs. He laughs deeply then gets up. “That puts an end to this conversation.”

The Rastafarian laughs too. He also stands up. “Alright Gerald. I’ll see you on Monday,” he says and walks out the door.