My Friday evening taxi driver was a 56-year-old woman with waist-long blonde hair. She had rambled up and down California since she was nineteen, apart from a few stints in Hawai’i and Oregon. Did I ever go a Renaissance Fayre? Or Burning Man?
“Oh wow,” she said, as we sat a red light. “Look at that block with the trees. There aren’t enough trees in San Francisco. It nourishes my soul to see them. I could paint those, with the tops of those two Victorians and then the trees. I’m learning to paint, and it’s teaching me to see things that _other people don’t see._ I feel the world is becoming special to me again, and me to it. I think I’m going to sell some paintings at Renaissance Fayre…”
California’s hippie boomers seem to be forever addressing the mommy who asked about their day over milk and cookies.
When I moved to San Francisco, my Brooklyn friend Mary lent me her best friends. Laura and Dorothy are sisters who just bought a Victorian house together. Laura’s son is four months old. Dorothy’s daughter is two months old. Though she’s the youngest of all of us, Britt has a daughter of thirteen, and so she brings tales from a scary future of Live Journal and text messages and Disney’s vamping jailbait.
Once a month we go to the Porchlight storytelling series; a live, San Francisco version of This American Life. Last month a comedian who has a day job as a shrink described what happened when his schizophrenic patient chanced across a Comedy Central show in which the doctor and his identical twin brother played ax murderers. The paid-for stories are so good that we rarely get to chat ourselves, but last night, Porchlight was sold out, and we went for Pimms instead. Though the bartender at the Orbit Room looks stern, she mixes drinks with the kindliness of a grandma making lemonade, adding layer on layer of ice and lemon peel and cucumber and mint; a low-alcohol treat for a pair of nursing mothers.
Despite–or because of–our matron/spinster status, we spent a good portion of the night discussing whether or not we would go on a date with Steve Buscemi.
“Define date. Does date mean just dinner and a chat? Or does date mean that there has to be some possibility of making out?”
Britt was inclined to be indulgent. He’s funny, and as far as we remember he has neither squashy man-ass or man-hips; two deal-breakers. I was firm: absolutely not. Not because he’s ugly, but because of the chip on the droopy shoulder of every character he plays. A girl does not cross the Atlantic to date love-stunted men with tombstone teeth.
We ran through more test cases. Paul Giammetti? William H. Macy? John Turturro? Benicio Del Toro, before he turned into Super Mario with man-boobs? Johnny Depp? Britt said that she has been in love with Jon Stewart for a very long time. I confessed certain feelings for Bill Murray, who started his career as a butcher across the bridge in Marin County. We pyschoanalyzed Tom Cruise. Laura wondered if his looniness is a good calling card for the press agent he fired: _you see what I kept a lid on all these years?_
They described the San Francisco dating scene. Yes, there were more straight single men in Phoenix, where Laura and Dorothy were from, but the chances of finding someone you’d actually want to match with were higher here. And yes, the Valley was full of men, but they were engineers. Alpha-geeks who played foosball. In khakis. _Pleated_ khakis. It wasn’t as if we’d want to work with them again. Would we date them?
A friend of Laura’s had made a documentary on the men of Silicon Valley, including a guy who spent his free time fusing Japanese anime doll heads to Barbie bodies and sewing costumes to display them in his cubicle. They were prettier than his wife, he said sadly. We took a small poll. Steve Buscemi started to look good.
“You know, there’s plenty going on between the Castro and the Valley,” said Laura.
Dorothy described her husband’s friend, who talks about his mother every time they fix him up on a date. I told them about a college friend of mine who was caught on HBO’s Taxicab Confessions, cursing his Irish mammy. “My mudder? My mudder is my woorst fuckin’ _enemy!”_
They talked about what it’s like to rear a child in a culture that measures health by distance from your family. Shiftless, rootless California, land of the future, where we scramble to improvise ties and tribes to replace what we’ve lost.
“Are you still liking San Francisco?” Laura asked.
Ehh. I miss New Yorkers, the friendliest strangers on earth. I miss the subway, the mobile theater that got me to anywhere worth going to, at any time. I miss Coney Island, and Saturday nights dancing in Prospect Park. No matter how disgusting the garbage stink or the brown banks of slush, I miss the seasons that reminded me of life cycling on. “At least there’s no snow,” people say here, and I think of the first winter storm of the year, when New Yorkers spill out of bars to skid and throw snowballs in the middle of Fifth Avenue.
San Francisco feels like Dublin, with its dank “summers,” real-estate babble, and parish-pump cosmopolitanism. It crawls with Irish people too–this is where most of those early ’90s freebie green cards washed up, drawn to surfing, a tech boom, and that mythical California “quality of life.” It’s small enough to bump into someone I know every time I leave the house, but it seems to sprawl too far to drop in on them. Life is comfortable here. Like Dublin, San Francisco dines out on its own charm–which it overestimates.
On the way home I stopped at It’s Tops, “Where Good Friends Meet, Since 1952” for a late-night BLT to soak up the Pimms. The Fifties theme extended to the waitresses, who wore short Betty Page bangs, black glasses, red lipstick and fishnets, just like the bartender at Orbit. San Francisco style owes a lot to the East Village four years ago, but they wear it more cheerfully here. The waitress fussed over my tea, while she told her friend about her roommate.
“Four in the morning. Every frickin’ morning. He has a _mirror,_ this full-length mirror, on the wall between our rooms, and all I hear is, “Oh baby, look baby, we’re so hot.” Hours and hours of badoinkadoink, just as I’m getting to sleep after my shift. I swear, he sets the alarm for it. I’m living in an episode of Gay Man _Sex and the City._ And of course I have to end up living with Samantha.”
“I’m sorry you had to listen to my stories,” she said sweetly as she brought the check later. “I suffer, so the whole city has to suffer.”
Well, it ain’t home yet. But in its warm, Betty Page women I see hints that one day it might be.