On San Francisco, Part MMCCLVII

I guess we’ll always have a complicated relationship.

After spending my first appreciable amount of time in “The City” since I escaped it in 2005,  find that my feelings toward it have moderated to some extent. Part of me expected (or maybe hoped for) some grand revelation that I really missed San Francisco and wanted desperately to “come home”. That didn’t happen, and the bigger part of me didn’t really think it would. But I no longer feel the grinding hatred that drove me out way back when. In fact, I feel fairly neutral about my old hometown. It doesn’t excite me in any way. It’s just another place I used to live, and not one I’m especially eager to live in again.

And maybe that was the problem all along. San Francisco just stopped seeming “special” enough to justify the premium one pays to live there. It’s an aesthetically pleasing and generally pleasant sort of place. (Granted, the silly politics and the pretentiousness annoy me rather a lot, but so do the religious nutjobs and anti-intellectualism found in many parts of the South.) But for me, at least, there’s really nothing that sets San Francisco apart from any other major urban area in the country. In fact, I find it less appealing than many other cities. Thus, I can’t see paying such an outrageous price to be there when I could get an equivalent (or superior) urban experience in almost any other major city.

San Francisco is analogous to a “fine dining” restaurant for me. Maybe it’s my lack of sophistication or maybe I’m just a tightwad, but I’ve never yet found a $100 meal that was really ten times as good as the average ten buck meal from a really good dive. Similarly, I can’t image life in a $3000 San Francisco apartment being half again as good as it is in a $2000 apartment in another big city. Or am I just missing something?

Yes, I realize there are things that make San Francisco special for some. I was one of those people back in the day. In the 1990s, it was a great place to be a young alternaqueer who wanted to drink and get laid a lot. I was willing to make the sacrifice and pay the premium then. There are certain career paths that it’s probably somewhat easier to follow in the Bay Area. And yes, I have many incredibly happy memories of my time in San Francisco. But they’re just that: memories. The San Francisco that helped create them no longer exists and neither does the younger version of me that experienced them. And that’s not a bad thing. San Francisco is a part of my past, and now I feel like I have to look toward the future.

As for that future, I could very well see it taking a more urban form a few years down the road. I think part of my recent reluctance to do so is related to my tendency to think all urban places will be like San Francisco. Deep down, I know that they won’t, and I think that with exploration I may well find the one I like: one where I don’t have to give up quite so many other comforts of life in order to experience it. If it came down to it and money weren’t an issue, I guess I could live in San Francisco again. It’s not a choice I’d ever make on my own, and the thought doesn’t excite me any more than does the idea of living in Greensboro for the rest of my life. But what would it take? I just don’t know right now.

Fixing a hole

I’ve been amused by this series at Popdose for several months now and keep forgetting to link to it. The idea (in case you didn’t feel like clicking) is that the author is assembling a collection of “fantasy” Beatles albums (think “fantasy football”) complied from post-breakup solo work by the individual members. Sorry. I’m just kind of inspired by this sort of geekiness, although I am much more enticed but it when it’s about music rather than sports.

No U-turn

My mom tells me that when I was a very small child, specifically on our trip to Montreal in 1967 for the World’s Fair, I was fascinated by “No U-turn” signs. Like so many things we hear all our lives about our childhood, I’ve sort of absorbed this as gospel truth and even convinced myself that I have some memory of it, when in fact I’m sure I really don’t. That’s part of how we process the past, creating digestible tidbits that we can organize into stories whose plots vaguely resemble our lives. Ironically, the real constant in these stories is that in real life, there aren’t really any U-turns. It’s  a one-way street and there’s only forward momentum–even though it sometimes doesn’t seem that way.

Nostalgia (the late, great Herb Caen called it “the white man’s burden”) and the study of the past are both my passion and my career. Personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about the past. I can rattle off milestones and anniversaries, tell you what I was doing twenty years ago on a given date, and produce with reasonable accuracy a list of past tenants of any given building or plot of land which was part of my routine in the past. When I visit a place where I’ve spent a lot of time, my natural inclination is to reflect on my time there and to explore the area, looking for whatever relics might remain. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of that on this site, and at times when my life is unsettled, I’m even more prone to it. Witness this account of my 2001 trip to Atlanta, which strikes me as a pretty good example.

So far, I’ve lived what I think has been a pretty interesting life. I’ve made some very stupid mistakes and some incredibly brilliant moves. I regret none of them, including all those years I spent in San Francisco. Despite all the whining I did in the later years (none of which I regret either), that was one of the most important periods in my life. Without having experienced it, I wouldn’t even resemble the person I am today. And I generally like the person I am today, thanks.

One thing I recognize, though, is that my years in San Francisco are part of my past. They’re an important part and a part that I enjoyed, but they’re not something I’ll ever experience again. I could move back to San Francisco tomorrow and probably have some sort of life. I could eat at some (but sadly, not all) of the same restaurants and even cruise some of the same bars. I could even start working at Kinko’s again. But I will never again be a 28-year-old experiencing it all for the first time in 1992.  I will never again be happy living in a dingy hovel just beacuse it’s within walking distance of the sex club. It can never again be the same. In fact, within a year or two, it already wasn’t the same for me. To be honest, the version of it that I recall today probably never quite happened either. The tendency is to dwell on the highs and the lows rather than on the mundane middle ground that is the majority of our life experience at any given moment. We tend to remember the joy and the drama and to have very little recall of the tedium of getting to and from work every day. And trying to park the car. And doing the laundry. And the lines at the grocery store everywhere.

An analogy that only I could come up with is that it’s like visiting a Lucky supermarket in San Francisco. Lucky was a chain that was absorbed into a bigger chain more than ten years ago. It didn’t work out well, and the Bay Area locations were sold to a different chain a few years ago, and this company restored the Lucky name and the old logo. But the restored logo doesn’t make it a Lucky store. There will never be Lucky stores again as I remember them. These are just Save-Mart stores with Lucky logos and a bunch of vintage photographs (many of which I supplied, but that’s a different story).

I don’t miss San Francisco (or Charlotte or Atlanta) so much as I miss being a lot younger in a very exciting place and time. That’s not coming back, no matter how much I may want it to, and it’s become very important to me in the past couple of years to realize that and start looking at the future rather than the past. As an individual, I’m shaped by my life experience, but there are some parts of that experience that are over now. It’s not that I’ve gotten old and “changed my evil ways” or started moralizing. I don’t drink now because I don’t like how it makes me feel. I don’t smoke because I’d like not to die anytime soon. I don’t spend lots of money on clothes and other doodads because I just don’t care that much about “fashion” anymore. I don’t chase boys because I found the one I loved and chasing other ones stopped seeming like something I wanted to waste time and energy on. It’s not that I regret doing any of this stuff in the past. I merely realize that it’s just that: part of my past.

That’s not to say that I don’t think of the past; I think of it very often and quite fondly and it colors every decision I make. I just recognize now (or at least I’m trying) that there’s no turning back. There is only the present and the future. So much has changed in my life just in the past six months that even the July version of my life is now irretrievable.

There are no U-turns in life. And that’s probably a good thing so long as you’re not counting on one.

Too close for Hazel? Maude knows best?

I’m really digging Antenna TV, which is now running on one of the local Fox affiliate’s sub-channels. Aside from all the Norman Lear stuff that runs every night (including Maude, which you almost never see anywhere) today brought Father Knows Best, Hazel, and The Flying Nun. It’s pretty much everything Sony, in its position as heir to Screen Gems and Columbia Pictures, has to offer.

But best of all, Too Close for Comfort starts tonight at 7:00. I always liked that show. There was just something odd about it that I could never quite put my finger on. Maybe it had something to do with its being set in San Francisco (which usually has a tendency to make everything seem a little surreal and “off”). Maybe it was the whole Jm J. Bullock thing (he eventually found that missing “i”, right?). Or maybe it was related to the odd history of the show.  Anyway, it’s one of those kind of quirky shows which surprisingly few people seem to remember and which didn’t get a whole lot of airtime after its original run. It’ll be fun to see it again.

Fifteen years

Yeah, so the site was born fifteen years ago today, albeit under a different name. I’m not sure there’s really anything all that profound to say about it at this point. The old website definitely ain’t what it used to be but for some reason I keep on doing it, even long after the “use or freeze by” date has passed.

Thanks to all of you who’ve stuck around for the ride. Hope you’ve had a little fun somewhere along the way. I have.