Friday, May 30, 2008

Where The Kissing Never Stops

So, a while back I went to San Francisco, and all you people got was this lousy....wait, y'all got nothing. I didn't write about it.

I know. It's weird. I just wanted to keep it to myself for a while. Talking about it, I mean. Just to maintain the buzz; keep it a little precious, keep it mine. I'll explain later.

After my long dark season, it was just ever so slightly amazing to have all our travel plans unfold before us so smoothly. In our household(s), I'm the one in charge of travel arrangements. Mostly this has worked out just fine, in spite of a few mishaps and one major blow-out akin to W.W. III in a hideously post-modern hotel in West Hollywood, but that's another story. In this story, the limo picked us up right on time. The plane took off on time and even got us into San Francisco early. Our luggage arrived with us. Our cab driver did wonderfully until he left the freeway and made a right turn on Market Street instead of a left, but we straightened him out fast. It's not like we're tourists, or something.

We arrived at the convent formerly known as Beck's, checked in, and headed out immediately, as is our wont to do. I love walking up Market to Castro, noting what's changed, what's new, what's gone. All of our old favorite haunts were still in place, some having received a new coat of paint, and so after a nightcap or two, we headed back to our monastic cell and crashed.

We really didn't veer too much outside of our regular program of things we like to do in San Francisco. These include walking, shopping, drinking and meeting up with scads of handsome men. I'm very thankful for my many years of service given at the Dugout. Almost to a one, so many of the men we saw were people we've met in the past decade or so at the bar. Over the years, some people have taken to referring to me as The Dugout's Mayor. When people laughingly approach me and ask if I am the Mayor, I always reply: "Why, yes I am, and I hope I can count on your vote and future support!". In fact, Tim's been working there for over 10 years, and we've been hanging out there much longer than that, and so it would seem a pretty sad state of affairs if I hadn't actually met all the people I have.

We spent Friday, navigating downtown, visiting the California Historical Society and doing some shopping at Gump's and Old Navy. Tim napped and I hit the gym. We headed up to the Edge for yet another festive Friday after-work gathering, where we were greeted by our pal (from the Dugout) Bruce, who tends bar there. It's a merry room, full of happy handsome men ending their week in much the same way we did so many years ago, but no longer do. After a couple of drinks and much flirtation, I spy Bob (from the Dugout), who's stopped by on his way to Michael and Larry's (from the Dugout) house for a drink. I shamelessly ply him with bourbon; we hug and kiss as we catch up. Just out of sight, I can catch the sound of one of Tim's old friends complaining that I'm hanging out with "that beary boy" too much. Tim shrugs. I send Bob weaving up Collingwood to Michael's house and talk to the new bartender, as the shift changes. A fireplug of a man introduces himself as Henry. I smile and shake his hand, just as he leans in and sinks his teeth into my left pectoral muscle. Hard. I yelp as Tim walks by, surveys the scene, smiles and says "I think you could do much better!" I gingerly extricate myself, and follow Tim into the bathroom, where, over the trough, we decide it's time for dinner and a change of scene.

Saturday, we trolley down Market to Polk Street, and walk it's length to Russian Hill. There exists a plethora of shops we like to poke around in, though, like everything else in the world, it's changing too. We go to the Swan and Bob's, rituals we'd never forgo. We try on several garments at Johnson Leather; the gentle people who work there could not be more accommodating. I spy a really nice CPO-style jacket that Santa will be bringing to a very deserving man this year. We drop into Naomi's and afterwards have a Bloody Mary at the Cinch, so potent and chock full of garnish that it almost requires a knife and fork to consume.

With new found vigor we climb up the hill to Lafayette Park, only gasping a little at it's summit, to watch the white caps break on the bay. San Francisco is in full bloom, and I stop every three minutes to inspect flora such as I have never seen before. I'm never going there without a guide again (this one will do quite nicely, if you're of a mind!). Tim is very patient with me, and indeed, enjoys pointing out the houseplants gone mad that we see all around us. We can't look at the towering Jade trees without thinking of those poor dessicated plants in dusty McCoy cachepots that we both remember from our varied childhoods. After a brief rest, we walk the rest of the way back to the Castro, through Japantown, haunting the edges of the Fillmore and collapsing in our room.

The evening is spent having pre-dinner cocktails at 440 Castro, where the boys are amusing themselves by reciting the dialog along with Mommy Dearest, which is being broadcast on half a dozen monitors. This movie has always made me itchy. It's so poorly done, and by one of my-then favorite directors, Frank Perry. It looks cheap. It destroyed Faye Dunaway's career. The child who plays Christina is frightening, as is the adult that follows her, and who did the wigs in this movie? Mostly, it's a bunch of mean-ass one liners strung together with some frighteningly violent scenes. My friend Eric always refers to the wire hanger sequence as Kabuki Joan. Needless to say, we don't stay long, but wander the area, dropping into various bars at our whim until it's time for dinner. The weather turns very cold very fast and my teeth chatter as they haven't since I was a child. We think we'll have a night cap at the Twin Peaks, but the bar has been commandeered by a gentleman who is clearly under the influence of something that has made him a desperate dervish. He bounces from lap to lap, begging people to come home with him. It's our turn to head home, instead.

The following morning, we rise early and cross the street for a quiet and lovely breakfast at 2223. We're among the first people to be seated, and it's a pleasure to watch the dim, coppery room fill up with handsome people. I'm so relaxed I almost hate to leave. Instead, we board the Divisadero line on Castro and hop off at Haight, where Tim walks me past the men and the mansions of Buena Vista Park and all the way to Amoeba Records. In the past, I've been so in awe of this temple, I walk out empty handed. Not so this time. I filled a basket with things I had to have, and two hours later paid just under $60.00 for a pile of music I'm still exploring. Tim loses himself in the extensive jazz and vocalist section, and even lucks out with a bargain priced sinister-looking Johnny Cash box set. Sated, we decide to take Stanyan Street back. Astute Tim points out the huge and handsome Victorian house that appeared for years on all of Rod McKuen's Stanyan Street records, and I could just hug him. We head up into the hills, admiring the groves of eucalyptus trees towering over our heads and the beautiful houses we pass. At 17th Street, we climb until the City and points beyond are completely laid out at our feet. Better than church, I tell you. We check out all the little staircases that abound in this area, stopping to admire the prehistoric plants that grow everywhere. I point out the turn, where just a year or so ago, Tim and I spent a morning dreamily exploring the Vulcan Steps and Saturn Street Stairs. We mosey downhill towards the Castro again, stopping at Medium Rare for some "good soul choices", as the proprietor once said of my selections. This time, I'm studying the galvanized box that contains Jerry Bonham's "Remember The Party". The shopkeeper asks if I'd like to see a copy of the play list, and I have to admit that I own the set, courtesy of a great friend, and listen to it frequently. He seems impressed.

We work our way down to the Eagle later, to continue our Sunday worship services. My old pal Doug is at the bar, and the patio is filled with friends: Stephen (the Dugout), Noah (ditto), and many others. We don't stay long at the Eagle these days; the collision of so many diverse tribes makes for a sometimes uneasy afternoon. This afternoon it's a group of gentlemen who seem to have engaged in either a riotous powdered paint pigment war or some arcane occult ceremony. Dreading the messy and inevitable contact, we head instead over to Bear Central and immediately find Guy (the Dugout) and his partner, Mark, and Chris (the Dugout) and so many others. Much hugging, drinking and general merriment ensues. At some point, Tim tells me that he's got to stop kissing guys who are standing around the peanut barrel. His allergy is kicking in and his lips are tingling. In the midst of all the fun, I am noticing the condos that tower over both patios at the Lone Star and the Eagle and know that there will be trouble ahead with both due to newest group of marauding Yunnies (Young Urban Narcissists, don'tcha know) that are invading our once crumbling turf again. We kiss all our friends, old and new, one last time, and bundle into a taxi and home.

The following day, we hike through Chinatown to North Beach, past the Italian restaurants, pausing only to watch the birds and the Tai Chi people in Washington Square. As Tim explains the meaning of the barnyard animals and angels that solemnly protect St. Peter & Paul's, we climb, climb, climb up Filbert Street to the top of Telegraph Hill, only to catch our breath before we trot down the Greenwich Stairs to the Embarcadero. We share a sandwich with some seagulls, leaning on a railing over the Bay.

Our last day is always sad. Both of us would like to be here permanently. But it would be very hard to extricate ourselves from our middle-aged lives here and re-settle. I have an elderly parent. We both have great long-standing real estate deals here, unmatchable in San Francisco today. It's like spending a week in the paradise of your choice, knowing that time grows short, the meter's ticking. We love the pace of this city; it's decidedly unflashy demeanor. We long to be a permanent part of it's citizenry, knowing that it most likely will never come to pass.

I can see us growing old here.

So we dream.

And return every year.

Next year, if the Gods allow, we'll go twice!