Trained Seals by Charles Tarlton

August 29, 2013 Comments Off on Trained Seals by Charles Tarlton


I remember Cheetah from the Tarzan

movies, how he’d pull his lips back

and seemed to smile (or was it a



And, he’d pound his chest with hairy

hands, yelping that way chimpanzees


Somebody’s grandmother, you might have said, or maybe a librarian from San Rafael, except for the pink tulle tutu over padded ski pants and the broad sun hat with a long neck flap. She was sitting with her back against a wall on the San Francisco Embarcadero, her knees pulled up to her chin. She was singing. Beside her on the ground lay a large athletic gear bag, unzipped. Wooden things spilled from it — the handle end of a broken baseball bat, a cane, branches torn from low hanging trees, pieces of old lath, and a two foot length of half-inch dowel.

She came here every day and sat up her spot opposite the sea lions that gather on floats a little way out from the pier. She sang; they barked, in syncopation.

“She’s part of San Francisco’s homeless problem,” a man in a Giants sweatshirt said to the small crowd.

“I thought she was hired by the tourist bureau,” another man said, and everyone laughed.

“A left-over hippy?” a woman in red asked, expecting laughter too, but everyone just looked at her blankly.

“Where you from?” a Mexican boy asked, sarcastically.

While the sea lions on their floats were the main attraction — cumbering over one another, going in and coming out of the water — it was hard to ignore the singing woman. Her voice became harsher and sharper, the rhythms quicker.

As if she could no longer tolerate the competition from the sea lions, she straightened out her legs, kicking the bag of spilled sticks aside, and stood up.

Was she, indeed, a homeless person, I wondered, mentally ill in all likelihood, poverty stricken, and alone in the world, or was she a local eccentric, wealthy as all get out, come down from a fabulous house on Russian Hill or Chinatown, to test the gullibility of denizens and tourists?

“Oh, you idiots,” she said to the crowd as she stuffed the sticks back into her bag, then picked it up, and walked away toward the Ferry Building. As she disappeared, the crowd turned back to the sea lions.

“When they balance a ball on their noses and toss it to their trainer like in the circus. . .” a woman in chartreuse baseball cap and silk hoodie announced, “…when they do that, they call them trained seals.”

© 2013 Charles Tarlton

In 2006, Charles Tarlton retired from teaching and turned to writing poetry and short form prose. His work has been published in Shampoo, Review Americana, Tipton, Barnwood, Haibun Today, Ink, Sweat, and Tears among others and is a Pushcart nominee. He has recently finished a  a chapbook of 15 flash fictions based on homelessness in San Francisco.

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