Across Embarcadero from the Ferry Building there is a phalanx of flea market booths staffed with people who want to tell you why their product is superior quality or designed just for you. They sell liquor bottles smashed into small platters designed to hang on your wall or hold a messy spoon used to stir a pot.
Jewelers turn spoons into bracelets. Little Asian women create necklaces made of stones or shells. There’s something for every taste. And only the brave steers his/her way through the forest of stalls.
In a small, almost invisible, stall a man sells little test tubes of murky liquid. “Accentuate your favorite sense,” he says loudly to the sidewalk. Most people give him wide berth as they make their way to tourist street pretending that he doesn’t exist. “How does he get away with this,” I hear someone say to her companion. “He’s nothing but a drug pusher.”
It is hard to ignore him. His product and sales pitch create curiosity. “My favorite sense,” I wonder. “What is it, and would I take the risk of accentuating it?” I have the hawker’s immediate interest.
He tells me about the research that went into his product. “It’s not addictive. You don’t take it to get a jolt or a high. It’s for the purpose of accentuating a particular sense. But,” he warned, “all the rest of your senses will become duller after you take it. So you have to decide what your favorite sense is.”
I carefully consider each sense trying to decide which I would be willing to lose and which one I’d like more of. I like sight because I can look into my wife’s eyes and enjoy her beauty. I like hearing because it opens up the world of music to me, and I can also hear the dulcet tones of a sweet conversation. Without taste, Green’s Restaurant in the City can’t create the usual party in my mouth, a taste I love.
Without smell I can’t enjoy the fragrance of onions in a kitchen, sautéing in a skillet. Without touch I can’t enjoy my wife’s gentle brush across my cheek or the hug of a good friend.
I thanked the man for telling me about his elixir and said that it wasn’t for me. “I can’t think of any sensation I want to diminish. And I fear that any sensation given priority would become tyrannous and distracting.”
I walked away in the direction of the Ferry Building looking forward to some dark, aromatic coffee and a pastry at the Peets store, while bathing in the vision of the Bay and the sea gulls floating in the salt air.