June 20, 2005
cried a horrified friend in Portland, Oregon, with the incredulity of a campfire cowboy who discovered his salsa was made in New York, upon learning of my plan to move south. “You’ll never find a man therethey’re all gay!”
Au contraire, mon frère.
First off, I came here to love a city, not a man. And I fell hard.
THE FANTASTIC FIVE
And second, San Francisco is home to five of the sexiest straight men anywhere, any time, any place: Gavin Newsom, Matt Gonzalez, Ross Mirkarimi, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Barry Gifford. There’s nothing sexier than brains, and these guys have got them to spare. Brains and charisma, eloquence, social consciousness, and that old standby you never hear about much anymore because there’s so little of it going aroundanimal magnetism. One more thingthey’re all too busy doing their thing to be aware of how sexy they are. And how sexy is that? (I tend to be attracted to busy men as I know they won’t take up too much of my time.)
LIKE FLIES TO SHIT
Despite contraindications about the gay/straight ratio in this city, consider this: the very first week I spent in San Francisco, in 1996, while scouting for an apartment, I had a different man on my tail every night of the week. Without much forethought I’d stumbled upon good renters for my house in Portland and realizedhey I had to get out of there! That’s generally the way I wreak big changes in my life: I set in motion a course of events and by the time all the dominoes have fallen I’m where I wanted to be. I’d heard of a job opening at an art gallerythe owner had just filled the position I was applying for, but had called me anyway because he was attracted to the third eye pyramid I had on my envelope and resume, and told me about another job that was coming up. He said to look him up when I got to town.
EASY GOIN’ THERE
I flew down on the spot. I remember opening my street map up on the floor by an airport phone and sitting on my heels thinking, “I wonder where I’m going?” Seeing my map, a friendly stranger came along to offer help, and pointed out a kiosk with hotel and hostel information. I chose the Easy Goin’ hostel on Haight Street because heyhow San Francisco can you get? Plus it was at 555 Haight Street and it was in ’55, that numerologically harmonious year, that I was born. A guy I was telling my story to in the airport van offered to put me up if nothing else panned out. I couldn’t believe how friendly people were in this city. (Well you’re a woman, said a guy who had not had that same experience here.)
As soon as I signed up at the hostel and stepped out of the joint, before I had a chance to again wonder where I was going, I made eye contact with a guy crossing the street toward me, as if we were keeping an appointment neither of us knew we had. He was Jesse (not his real name), a tennis instructor. We struck up a conversation when I asked for directions and he said he’d go with me to the art gallery, the only firm destination of my trip, where they were having a reception that afternoon. Once there I pretended I was a random patron (I’d worked in a print gallery in Philadelphia) and talked up the art with the owner. After making a generally good impression as a cultured, personable and presentable sort, I introduced myself as the gal he’d talked to on the phone. We made an appointment to chat the next day, but the job didn’t pan out. Someone came along who could start immediately. I was secretly glad.
Jesse showed me around SOMA and we stopped for drinks. Later that night we went on to Nickie’s, where we got a little tipsy and a little kissy on the dance floorcasually so (no tongue action). He lived around the corner from the hostel and we met up the next evening as well and he came to get me at the door, greeting me familiarly, too intimately, as if I were his sudden, instant girlfriend. Out on the street I said whoa, baby, we only just met and I’m just breezing through town. I still have to find an apartment, go back to Portland and pack up my house, build a new life, find a job, all that stuff. I can’t start up with anyone, you can understand that can’t you? But he couldn’t. He was crushed, really despondent. Say again? It was as if his girlfriend of 5 years was breaking up with him. He announced that he had to leave; he couldn’t proceed with our date. I had just barely come out of the hostel and walked right back in again, and in the space in between had managed to break someone’s heart on Haight St.
CAN I HELP IT IF I’M SO SEXY?
The women in the TV room had seen me being picked up by a man and wondered what was up when I came back minutes later and flopped on the couch. We bitched about men for a while. I tried to assess my behavior from his point of view. I guess he’d met this great gal (that would be me) and had had a great time and thought it was leading to something, but the chemistry was not there on my side of the equation, though I’d enjoyed his company and he was a great dancer. I’m not the firecracker I used to be, but I’ve found throughout my life that men often mistake a vivacious personality for being a come-on. Should I not have kissed him? It had seemed too harmless to even remember it. I have to admit though that I was shooting sparks that week, on a manic high radiating energy with visions of my exotic new life in the Bay Area, and attracting attention in the process. I was also, at the time, in the best physical shape of my entire life. Not too many people would say this, but I sure wish I had my 40-year-old body back!
DON’T FUCK WITH ME
Just then another boarder came in all tanked up, who owed me $10 I’d lent him against my better judgment. I confronted him, a scary West African dude with a waterfall of dreadlocks framing his face, and he gave me some bullshit to which I countered, “Are you fucking with my head?” He said, “When I fuck with you, woman, it ain’t gonna be with you haid.”
WHERE AM I GOING?
The next day was all about finding a place to live. Jesse had agreed to meet me for breakfast, but was a no-show. Whatever! I had decided that I was going to “do” San Francisco by living in cheaper Berkeley and working in San Francisco, because I figured I wouldn’t get to know the East Bay otherwise. I headed for Berkeley to search for an apartment and asked directions of someone on the platform, a transplanted New York rug dealer, very clever guy. We hit it off zinging east coast one-liners at each other and in no time flat he was chauffering me around Berkeley in his wine-colored Jag. He asked me to go into a convenience store with me because he wanted to be seen with me. After I made the move to Berkeley, he invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner that turned out to be hosted by the employers of the only friend I had in the Bay areamy first taste of what an intimate village we live in. Evan (not his real name), surely in his 40s, told me he had not read a single book since high school. I could scarce imagine such a life. He also told me that if he hadn’t found a life partner by the age of whatever, that he planned to kill himself. I chose to not take him seriously.
THE SEX IS BACK!
The next afternoon at the hostel, after a fruitless day of apartment hunting and a matinee of “Lone Star” at the Act 1 and 2, I hit the chance meeting jackpot. I’d asked the hostelier to move me to a room off of Haight St. as it was too noisy to sleep. When I walked into the new room with my stuff, there he was, ready-made and waiting, a beautiful blonde California surfer-looking guy with a knock-out smile and the strong, finely muscled forearms I always look for on a man. Qwertyuiop (not his real name) was not a surfer but an electrician who had built many houses. I have a weakness for men who are able to build you a house with their bare hands, and a sexist notion that all men ought to be able to. “Are you supposed to be here?” I asked, not knowing they placed men and women together. I thought he might be staff.
We exchanged sly smiles when we saw each other coming and going at the hostel. I had the bunk above his, and went to sleep before he did, waking him up as I was leaving the next morning. His face looked up at mine like the rising sun. I took him in for a moment and searched his eyes, this beautiful man lying in bed smiling at me. I’ve always found that to be a terribly intimate moment. “Sorry.”
YADA YADA YADA
That night I was in my top bunk writing and he was in the lower sorting his cassette tapes. We talked to each other through the bed. He kept finding some reason to get up and make eye contact with me. Then as I was climbing down the ladder to take a bath, he pulled at my shirt and sweetly, timidly asked me how I felt about some cuddling.
I had to smile. I let him wait a beat. “Don’t go anywhere,” I said. I’d been looking forward to a long hot soak, but took a hasty shower instead and nicked my legs up with a cheap disposable razor. I attempted to pat the little beads of blood dry, but gave up and went back to our room in my bathrobe, climbing in under the blanket he held up for me. It’s amazing with the right chemistry how intimate you can get with someone you didn’t know last Tuesday. I guess Jesse had expected something like this. You can’t make these things happen, they just do. Cuddle we did, snuggle we did, and yada yada yada we did, with my legs leaving faint red streaks on the sheets.
Later I told him, “Now I know what people mean when they say they ‘got lucky.’”
Next morning he went to his union job and I went apartment hunting. No luck, and I was in the shower when Qwerty got in. The bathroom window looked out onto the window of our room, and we wolf-whistled each other. It felt wonderful to have made this connection in a new city right off the bat. “What you would rather have first,” I asked, letting my towel drop to the floor, “dinner or sex?”
Yada yada yada and later we had dinner on the garden patio of a place on Haight, with balmy autumn gusts blowing around us carrying dried leaf fragments. It smelled like fall. He said he wanted to show me something, and put us on the 30 for the Palace of Fine Arts. We clung to each other as we boarded the bus, laughing and trying to trip each other. The driver had to smile because we so well fit the bill of “attractive couple.” It was a night supreme, warm enough to go sleeveless. I thought the PFA was only the coolest structure in all of North America, and we strolled around arm in arm and admired the moon reflecting in a pond, silver wavelets undulating along its surface. San Francisco was glowing. I was glowing. In the silver light, Qwerty looked like the marble statue of a Greek God.
Then we had a wild hair to walk the Golden Gate and got on another bus. The pedestrian path was closed but we snuck in there anyway. In about a minute a guard trained his flashlight on us and said we couldn’t be there. It was definitely time for a drink.
SWEET AS CHERRIES
On the way downtown Qwerty stopped in a corner store and got himself a carton of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. He said he’d seen a guy eat an entire pint by himself in one sitting and was jealous. We sat rocking on the MUNI bus stop’s swivel seats. He took a big glob of ice cream in his mouth and moved in to kiss me, and then came the sweet warmth of his snaking tongue penetrating the cold ice cream as we passed a lump of it back and forth in our mouths.
THE END IS NEAR
Then came time to return to Portland. I was told as soon as I got here by another apartment seeker that there was a 1% vacancy rate in the Bay Area and she’d been looking for months. But I threw that off. “I don’t care what anyone else’s story isI have one week here and I AM LEAVING WITH A BERKELEY ADDRESS IN MY POCKET!” It wasn’t easy, I followed every lead, made eye contact with and talked to everyone, but I did at the last moment, manage to find a place, on a scrawled note on the community bulletin board at the Ashby and College Whole Foods, sharing a two-bedroom lower floor of a house with a drummer and painter calling himself Richard Congomy share of the rent came to $350 or so. When I called he was only a couple of blocks away, and came out to meet me. “Are you an artist? You look like an artist.”
I had a tiny room, not really a bedroom at all, but I would make it home. All I really needed was a way station. I could take it from there. I had to choose between putting my double bed or my desk in there and chose my desk. I slept on a love seat. To secure the place I had to pay October’s rent even though I’d be in Portland packing up. My Portland renters were moving into my house on Nov. 15th and by then Qwerty would probably have left on a trip down the Amazon he had planned for a while.
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS
That night, our last night together, we discovered another woman had moved into our room. We never did meet her before we went to bed but it wasn’t long before the door opened, letting in a rhomboid of light from the hallway. Then came the always pleasant circumstance of having sex with a third party within earshot. Lends itself to a strange frisson of letting go and holding back at the same time.
In the morning he had to leave for his job, and I got out of bed to say goodbye. He, fully clothed, embraced me, fully not. From the corner bed came the discreet clearing of a throat. “Don’t forget me,” I said. “We’ll always be able to say, ‘Remember that hostel on Haight Street?’” he said. I went back to sleep, sleeping the gratified sleep of someone who found had a home in the Bay Area. We’d talked about him flying up to Portland for a bit. It would be great to see him again but I had a passing feeling I should leave those three nights as perfect as they were. I left a love note under his pillow. I had a new life to build; it would be OK.
RAIN ON MY PARADE
Qwerty had sent me a letter when I was in Portland, and I did call him when I got into Berkeley but he couldn’t come out due to a vicious slanting rainstorm that made it too dangerous to drive. My great friend Ross who drove me down from Portland, said that wouldn’t stop him. He said if he had someone waiting on him across the Bay he’d make sure he got there somehow. I too thought it rather “flat” of Qwerty to cave so easily. If he had come maybe things would have gone differently. I had a pint of Cherry Garcia at the ready, but I was unable to get a hold of himhe didn’t actually live anywhere. I had tons of off stuff to take care of and a lot of stimulation around me, so after a while I just forgot about him.
A HOT ONE
Around a year later, though, I decided to send a Christmas card to his P.O. Box for kicks. It read only “Remember that hostel on Haight Street?” And, surprise, he did call me and we went on a few dates, but life was more established, not as spontaneous and so not as thrilling. I had bought a house in Berkeley and was working at an architectural firm. We caught up with each other over lunch. The next time I saw him we met at a bar where he was talking to the people sitting next to him, and I bounced in and laid a hot one on him. MMMMMMMMMMMM-WAAAAAAAAA! They all laughed. Qwerty was “green,” he was saying, “green” because he’d never made it to the Amazon but now I, virtually without planning, was going to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval. “I’m green, green.”
MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS
Late that night after dinner we fell into the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel, and warmed ourselves up with a cosy couple of cognacs on a loveseat. As the night drew on, we somehow managed to nestle ourselves down in the sofa in such a fashion that no one noticed his face had disappeared into my cleavage. If anyone saw they didn’t care. Time for bed I guess. We were supposed to go to my house in Berkeley that night, but Qwerty couldn’t abide the thought of the filthy yellow BART carpet so he suggested we stay at the hotel. An inspired idea and the genius move. At the registration desk he whipped out a $100 bill. What an aphrodisiac! We stumbled into the hotel pharmacy and failed to amuse the bored night clerk by loudly comparing different brands of condoms while shrieking with laughter. He remained stone-faced. “No that one tastes too rubbery.” “Do they have those ones that glow in the dark?” “Does a man’s condom size have anything to do with his shoe size?” “Get the Trojans, no the Lifestyles, no the Trojans, no the Lifestyles”
“Get the 12-pack,” I said, finally.
In the hotel room Qwerty and I dive-bombed onto the king-size bed. How luxurious it was to bypass BART and wrap oneself in crisp fresh linens, feather pillows and fluffy comforters with a beautiful man in their midst! I was very happy and very sleepy, but we stayed up another hour and yada yada yada.
WALK OF SHAME
The next morning Qwerty was delighted when I called room service for “a great big glass of orange juice.” He answered the door with a white hotel towel wrapped around his waist. We crossed our legs on the bed and had bacon and eggs for breakfast. He suggested we both take the day off, but I said no, let’s just leave the night as perfect as it was. “Why are you so wise?” he asked dreamily.
Coming into the office wearing yesterday’s clothes, I was not spared. “Wa-alk of sha-ame! Wa-alk of sha-ame!”
STAR LIGHT, STAR FIGHT
We eventually lost each other at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room where we were first conniving to pick up our cocktail waitress, but instead ended up drinking too much and getting into some stupid fight. Next thing I knew I was alone on BART shedding tears over I know not what. What had happened? I don’t remember. Alcohol makes people so attractive.
We stopped seeing each other for sure after he dumped me in a friendly but terse email“there’s not a thing wrong with you, you’re a perfectly fine person but blah blah blah blah blah”a quick exit surpassed only by breaking up with someone via post-it note stuck to the refrigerator. I did not respond. Attention, world: do not break up with someone on email. Just don’t do it. Technology or no, we still have to treat each other like people. Unless you’re cyber daters who have never actually met. Then go ahead. You’re hopeless anyway.
Ladies, take notethat was only my first week in San Francisco. I haven't had one like it since, of course, but hey...
2 + 1 + 1 = 4
Here’s a shorthand tour I put together for a friend of my whirlwind week in The City:
“Should I get on this plane?” was a question that entered her brain pan only as a gnat brushing by her face might be dismissed. Numbers don’t lie, that she knew, and she knew as well that if her number, 211, the number that haunted her life, ever appeared in her travel itinerary, she had reason to be cautious. But she boarded Flight 2114 to San Francisco without a qualm because it was her time to live, not die. This airplane would not kill her; it would take her where she needed to go. It was very simple, really: two plus one plus one equals fourthat is, it’s all going to add up. The butterfly emerged from her chrysalis and began life in the air. The magic carpet glided to a slow hover and dropped her on the Haight. Nor did the next number lie. Displayed in all its magnificent symmetry over the door at the Easy Goin’ hostel, 555 told her this was where she needed to be. She was born in ’55, declared alive and fit to thrive outside the mother hive. All things would come to her, all blessings emanate from this place, because she was ready to call them in. The doors of perception would open one by one because she had the master key. And the next week of life did so fall like a shower of dominoes, one person, one place, one happenstance leading to another. The Year of the Tiger, African drumbeats, Jamaican dancesteps, boys kissing boys, a pick-up on BART, a broken heart, a broken date, gals so high they fly, men and the things they’ll try, a pair of shoes that led to a fistfight, music and noise that lasted all night, A Lone Star, a funky bar, a Guyanan mind-fuck, an unexpected snuggle, feet pacing and heart racing, a bulletin board, a Congo with a pyramid, he came in through the bathroom window, a city seen from a bridge, a cosmos seen from a palace, a good-looking couple for a couple of nights, a cherry-flavored kiss at a bus stopthe kiss that lingered on her lips on the flight back to Portland, the keys to the city in her pocket.
Jesse the Tennis Pro: I hadn’t seen him again for a couple of years when I ran into him at a Babatunde Olatunji (RIP) concert at Ashkenaz. He claimed he had not stood me up for breakfast, that he’d been there and didn’t see me. OK, whatever. I avoided him the rest of the night though in his dancing he kept gravitating toward me. I next saw him working for some car service at SFO. I ended up moving to the Lower Haight but haven’t seen him around.
Evan: We remained chums for a couple of years, until I had a serviceman at my house one day and he called to tell me he’d driven by my house and my lawn looked awful, that I had to do something about it. I said I wasn’t going to talk about it right then and he said “Why not? Because it’s the truth?” I have always hated it when people look around my place with their discerning and assessing eyes and say, “You know what you need to do?” Yes I need you to shut up. Homeowners are very likely to already know what the flaws of their house are without being reminded they can’t correct them right now. So he rubbed me the wrong way and I said I had someone there and would call him back. It’s not that I intended not to call him, but around that time I had fallen in love and Evan drifted out of my consciousness. On his part he must have figured I’d blown him off.
Qwerty: Not seen since. I dropped him an email note some time later advising him that it was “weak and silly” to drop a friendship over a drunken fight. But mostly I was hoping he’d work on my house! He did not respond.
We hope you’ll join us next time when we take a look at the Fantastic Five and what makes them hum.
The author and her aura on Haight Street, 1997
Short Attention Span Poetry Corner
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