To: frog report
From:From:Zelda Queen of the Night<email@example.com>
Subject: Saying Goodbye to San Francisco
Saturday, July 4, 1998
After two days in our luxury accommodations in downtown San Francisco we moved out to Berkeley to the house of "the Jeffs", Jeff Moakes and Jeff Ridell. They had been at a wedding out in Kansas over the weekend. It was wonderful to be in a real house again and Tuesday was spent mostly lying around on the couch, in fact we both took naps on the couch, which for Chris is practically unheard of. We did go down to the Vivarium which is a store a little ways away from the Jeffs house. It is a pet store that only sells reptiles; it is something of a reptile supermarket. Every imaginable type of reptile is sold, in all sizes. Chris fell in total love with a monitor lizard there. If you don't know what monitors are they are rather fierce lizards, I think they may be related to Komodo dragons. They have claws. They have teeth. They will rip your lungs out as soon as look at you, this one was about three feet long. Luckily there is no room in the car for a three foot lizard.
We stayed over an extra day to go to Alcatraz. We had gone out
on Monday morning after checking out of the hotel to go up to
Japantown to look for a kimono for Chris. For some reason a kimono
from San Francisco had assumed enormous importance to him.
It was hard to find one but finally we found a little store with boy's yakatas (as we had discovered everyday kimonos to be called). The kimono he chose is a tomato red with black Japanese characters on it, characters that the storekeeper assured us meant things like "ninja" and "high kick" I'm sure they mean no such thing. It was worth every penny of the $26.00, to see his face when he tried it on, it glowed as brightly as the kimono. He wore it all the next afternoon, climbing fences, practicing his ninja moves etc.
Then we made our way down to Fisherman's Wharf, we wanted to go out to Alcatraz. The first available tour was Wednesday. Chris looked so crestfallen. He sat down heavily on the wharf and gazed out towards the island. By now it had started to clear up (it had been cold and grey ever since we arrived in the city). Now Alcatraz had been one of the major things we wanted to do out here. I just could not see coming all the way out here and not going to Alcatraz just because we planned to leave Wednesday morning so I got tickets and on Wednesday we took the BART in from Berkeley and we went out to the island.
The tour of "the Rock" was much more moving than I expected and I am really glad we went. The audio tour is extremely well done. An audio tour means they give you a tape player and headset and you are directed around by what you hear on the tape (they had the same thing at Graceland but there Chris and I had turned off the tapes after about 10 minutes) This tour was narrated by several guards and inmates who had actually been there when Alcatraz was still a prison for the more incorrigible and dangerous felons in the prison system and they told what it was like to do time on "the Rock". They told about what they did to pass the time in "the Hole", special cells for bad boys where you spent your days in total darkness in a cement room with nothing in it. They told about watching the boats pass and the endless wind. One of the most moving moments in the tour came when one, "Lefty" Quillan, doing time for bank robbery ,told what New Years Eve was like on Alcatraz when the San Francisco Yacht Club held it's annual party and over the water, he said, you could hear the sounds of the party, music and women's laughter. Because of course these guys never saw women, women could not be declared incorrigible until the 1980's, long after Alcatraz closed. There were women and children on Alcatraz, the guards families, but these guys never saw them, they never left the cellhouse. At any rate if any of you are ever in San Francisco I highly recommend a trip out there.
As for San Francisco itself....
I felt very sad seeing the city again. San Francisco had always been one of my very favorite cities. I had told Chris over and over throughout the trip how beautiful it was, all blue and white, surrounded by sparkling water. It isn't that way any more. It is filthy, dirtier even than Boston. There are many, many homeless on the streets as well as beggars. By these I don't mean your garden variety panhandlers although there are plenty of those too. By beggars I mean people who don't even have the energy to ask, they just sit huddled up on the sidewalk with a cup in front of them and don't look up when you pass, they just stare at the ground hoping someone will throw something in there.
It may be, as Jeff Ridell said, that downtown is one of the worst areas, and it may also be, as he said, that the Upper Valley of Vermont is La-La land but seeing San Francisco was for me like seeing an old friend after a long time. This friend used to be a very pretty woman but then you see her 20 years later and she is suffering some terrible illness, an illness which causes her to forget the most basic hygiene, she doesn't wash or brush her hair, her teeth are rotten and there is dirt under her fingernails.
And of course San Francisco has and is suffering an illness, it is a city devastated by AIDS.
But there is something else there, something that all cities have. No one looks at each other, no one looks happy, they don't smile at each other as they pass.
Monday afternoon, when we got out to Berkeley I had a very strange
and upsetting experience. The Jeffs were still at work but they
had left the keys under the mat for us. Chris was exploring the
house and I was sitting on the front steps enjoying the sunshine
(the first we had seen since arriving on the West Coast)and eating
a bag of Doritos, because I go through a lot of Doritos since
I quit smoking. Anyhow I was soaking up the sun and munching away
when along the street came a group of teenage girls. One of them
called something out to me that I couldn't make out. "What?"
I said and she said something again, and again I didn't hear what
it was so I got up and went down the steps to the sidewalk. "I'm
sorry, I didn't hear what you said" I told her.
"Give me some food!" she said. I stared at her for a minute kind of stupidly, but I'm used to giving people what they ask for if I have it to spare, so I held out my hand with some chips in it. "I've got some chips" I said,"do you want some of those?"
"You think I want anything from your dirty-ass hand?" she yelled at me. "Well no, have some from the bag" I told her, waving my arm back towards the steps.
"You think I want anything from you, you fucking bitch!" she screamed in my face and then she started walking backwards along the street with her friends, still screaming at me, all sorts of nasty names.
I went back up the steps and sat down and when they were out of
sight I went into the house and locked the door and burst into
tears. I took a shower and calmed down some but then when Jeff
Moakes came home I started crying all over again. Because I've
never had such a thing happen to me before. I've never been attacked
just because I exist and for no other reason.
I've never been able to figure out why people want to live in cities and now I can figure it out less than ever. My mother keeps telling me I should come down to Boston where there is all sorts of "culture" and I can go to the movies all the time, well no amount of movies could ever make up for living in a dirty, noisy place where there is the possibility of such things happening in the course of one's normal day. I don't like going to the movies anyway.
The Upper Valley may well be La-La Land, it probably IS La-La Land, although bad things happen there just like anywhere else. Children are abducted and murdered in the Upper Valley, robberies happen in the Upper Valley, all those things happen where we live too. But at least when someone yells at you they've usually got a good reason for it.
I'm writing this from the home of my old friend Mickey and his ladyfriend Heidi in Portland, Oregon. We spent the night here after going first to Julia and Gary's where I met my beautiful 3 week old niece, Ella Marie. Today is the 4th of July. Tomorrow Mick is having a barbeque and I'll get to see all my old friends, which will be wonderful, and I'd like to spend a few days, maybe drive back out to the coast so Chris can play in the Pacific (it was too foggy and rainy to even SEE the Pacific when we drove up). But I'm beginning to feel it's time to get back to La-La Land, it's time to go home.