Tales of the City

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

After a long year of searching for the right opportunity, I finally found it and moved to San Francisco. A few things I’ve noticed so far:

  • It’s a city of storytellers.
    People here are so open, maybe because there’s so many of us in such a close compact space so we have to be, but everywhere I go people just start talking. It’s wonderful. On the bus, at the store on the corner, the coffeshop, the street corner, the elevator up to my office, in line for a sandwich at lunch, or just outside waiting for a light to turn. I’ve had a lot of complete strangers tell me the most random things.
  • It’s a city of readers.
    One of the best things about public transportation is that it makes you realize that reading isn’t dead nor will it ever be. Everybody reads! Little kids read, snuggled up to their moms in the morning. Punkish-looking teenagers read. I saw a teenager wearing five different colors of neon and reading Dumas the other day. It was simply glorious. Men in fancy suits read. People who carry their lives in bags read. Almost all of the women read. (I didn’t find this at all surprising.) Other books I noticed on the J this week included The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Bell Jar, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Next. Also, there’s a healthy mix of print and e-readers. I’d say there are even more print books. But maybe  that’s just because all the e-readers tend to take the BART and not the MUNI.
  • Parking is hard.
    Ugh, the way I used to feel about traffic on highway 1 is the way I currently feel about parking in Noe Valley. It’s feels like some kind of minor catastrophe  (and by minor catastrophe I, of  course, mean a $50 ticket) is inevitable. My first week here I got three parking tickets and two not-so-passive-aggressive notes on my car. Ooops. So I’m trying to learn the rules. Don’t park too far away from the curb, don’t park too close to a garage or red curb, don’t park too far from a garage or red curb, don’t park too close to other cars, and don’t park too far from other cars. Parking by bums and nefarious looking characters is actually you’re best bet–they’ll watch your car for you and the rich neighbor’s don’t mind if you take those spots. Oh man, lame.
  • Food is amazing.
    I’m sorry Santa Cruz but the food just tastes better in San Francisco. There’s more of it, everything is always fresh, the service is always good, and it’s yummy. (I still haven’t found a good Mexican place though, so Santa Cruz still wins on that one.)

So yes, I’m loving it so far. Changing your entire life can be overwhelming at times but it’s incredibly exciting and well, invigorating. It’s like getting a healthy slap on the face or jumping into a freezing cold ocean–a shock to the system but a waking up as well.

But enough of all that (there’ll be plenty more later I’m sure) lets talk about what I’m reading.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

I picked this up at Red Hill Books while exploring Bernal Heights with my friends Victoria and Laurie. Victoria was the one that spotted it on a table and told me that it’s all about San Francisco and there’s currently a production in the works. So I grabbed it. The writing is kind of simple but it fits the tone of the book. The dialogue is great and each paragraph/chapter has a tendency to end on a little witticism or one-liner that sometimes annoys me but somehow it works in this context. The stories are fun and dishy. It’s like having a friend tell you all the good gossip of the city. And it actually helped me learn the neighborhoods and street names since San Francisco is both the protagonist and antagonist of every story. The other characters are enjoyable as well. And there are some great lines and good advice peppered throughout…

“When a woman triumphs in this town, she really triumphs.You’ll do alright dear. Give it time.”

She would not call him. The love he offered was deceitful, destructive and dead-end. He would have to call her.

“Mona… lots of things are more binding than sex. They last longer too.”

There were moments when Vincent felt like the last hippie in the world. The last hippie. The phrase assumed a kind of tragic grandeur as he stood in the bathroom of his Oak Street flat, fluffing his amber mane to conceal his missing ear. If you couldn’t be the first, there was something bittersweet and noble about being the last. The Last of the Mohicans. The Last Supper. The Last Hippie!

He had stopped truckin’ a long time ago.

I finished it my first week here and I’ll probably pick up some of the other books in the series. It’s fun and I care about the characters now and need to know what happens to them all.

The Double Life Is Twice as Good by Johnathan Ames

The Double Life Is Twice as Good by Johnathan Ames

This book was delightful and the perfect thing to read on the MUNI–lots of short stories and essays that you can start and finish in the length of a ride home. The only problem was some of it gets really racy and I always blush and feel self-conscious when reading “dirty” books or listening to “dirty” songs in public. I feel like everyone around me must know what I’m reading or listening to, but of course nobody does and it’s just me being silly.

So yes, Johnathan Ames is kind of depraved, reckless, and self-destructive but he’s also hilarious and full of heart. Ha, or he writes that way anyways. If anything he seems honest and that’s always fun to come across in writing. His stories have a sweetness to them that’s horribly attractive. He reminds me of a modern-day Kerouac and his group of friends are like all the crazy beat poets and characters only they are much more upfront about their gender-bending. (None of that subtle guessing stuff.)

I think my favorite piece in this collection was his article  about attending a goth festival. He was able to talk to so many people and get a lot of genuine stories and comments out of them that, oddly enough, everyone ended up seeming kind of sweet and innocent at the end of the piece. It wasn’t what I expected and I like it when writing does that–surprises you.

Some fun passages…

Being competitive never goes away. It’s instinctual, like lust. No matter how much you’ve made love you’re still, more of less, interested in sex. I, for example, never play competitive sports anymore, but I do play Internet backgammon against anonymous strangers and I find myself wanting to win. But why? Who cares? It must be Darwinian. To prove you are the best, then you get to have a mate and you get to pass on your genes. Why we want to pass on our genes, I don’t know, but seemingly we do. So this desire to pass on one’s genes fools one into striving, even at Internet backgammon or professional tennis. Something like that. Well, we’ve all been hearing about intelligent design and I’ve just now given an example of ignorant Darwinism.

The air temperature is pleasant. It’s the kind of night that makes you forget about global warming for half and hour.

It’s their eerie still blankness that makes me think they’re capable of murder–and the fact that I’m in the Midwest. The Midwest seems to cultivate serial killing. Must be the boxed-in geography.

They are the freakiest, most dysfunctional band of incredible lunatics, shining and exploding luminescently like human Northern Lights.

It was a good week. A good two weeks. The city is full of people and sunshine, the occasional unexpected rain, beautiful shoes and scarfs, dogs everywhere, spray-painted fish swimming on concrete, free energy drinks, protesters and joggers… More than anything it’s new. It’s a change.

I think this place will be good for me.


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