It’s nice to be recognized at a distance.
In your own home town, which in a City such as San Francisco (as if there is another city such as this!), is really just your neighborhood, being known is being alive.
I was speeding down Bernal Hill on the Vespa—a sky-blue and battle-scarred old goat of a machine. My helmet is bright red, a full-head model (and that’s saying something for me!), both qualities chosen for safety and nothing else. As I stopped at the modified traffic light at Virginia & Mission, I looked to my left and saw two familiar people pushing a familiar stroller. I suppose they heard something familiar in the sound of the two-stroke engine, or they just happened to turn around at the right time (though I won’t call it coincidental: San Francisco blows right past coincidence and into some syncretic sensitivity), but turn they did. Together. And they smiled, and waved. S. & I. are two warm and magnetic personalities. I used to work with S. at a company in downtown San Francisco that was dot-bomb before dot-bomb was cool.
S.’s wife I met through S., long before they were even married, long before they became parents. Parenthood suits them; there’s a lucky, lucky kid in that stroller over there, I remember thinking.
Now, when you’re waiting for a traffic light, and there’s the loud, choked and choking rumble of a two-stroke engine underneath you, and the world’s sounds are dulled through Kevlar® and padding, there’s no chance for nuance and little time for chatter. Dialog is reduced to stabbing at the basic nature of a friendship and letting history and implication do the heavy lifting.
“Jeff! What have you been up to?” S. yells.
“I’m at Apple now!” I respond with a big, big smile.
“I heard! You are a happy man!”
I nodded my even bigger, even brighter-red head and the light changed.
It’s good to have a place in the world; it’s good because you know you have the privilege of complete freedom in choosing that place. It’s even better when you’ve chosen well.
In that hometown I grew up in I was, in retrospect, a bit of a paradox: I was fairly popular—popular enough to have become President of my Class—but I lacked, I think, so many of those qualities that both make someone popular and reinforce for the popular person the necessities and values of remaining popular. More simply put (someone write down the date!), I knew that none of the trappings of it were for me. Somewhere Else called.
I discovered a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter some years ago, and there are some lyrics in it I go back to often:
Now I knew girls when I was sixteen
Could make a smart boy stutter, turn a nice boy mean
And the boys made the girls into homecoming queens
Married each other instead of their dreams
Knowing that I was not intending to do as others intended for me with respect to marrying a woman (that would have been like forcing a left-hander to use his right hand) and settling down in a house in that little town, in that little state, surrounded by so many little thoughts, I didn’t put the same value on things that others expected me to have. I appreciated the fact that so many people elevated me, but I was more proud of having elevated myself with my own genetic gifts.
I was expected to be beholden for things, but I wasn’t. Gifts freely given, and all that stuff. I did not, in retrospect, let them attach strings.
But now? Here? In San Francisco? Home. The Home of my Heart and my Mindshare. Happiness for me is here not because of any laundry list, not because of any empirical for’s-and-against’s. I am reduced to admitting that I am, that my feelings are, and that’s the end of it.
That evening where I was recognized, I was on my way to the other Hood, to the Castro, for a lovely dinner with my ex-boyfriend, Jerry, whom I adore as much as I’ve adored anyone. Yet another situation for which others would have intended an outcome different from what I chose and what Jerry and I earned.
I wonder how many of the friends I grew up with feel at all trapped by the trappings of lives that their parents and other friends intended for them. Sometimes I wonder how I would have deal with the same. And other times, the sun shines in the sky, the rainbow’s end is just around the corner from any street in this City, and I know that I chose this. And I know that it chose me.