Monday, December 31, 2007

a paean to year's end

I’ve thrown away 3 prospective year-end blog posts.

Three of them! That’s enough words to fill up the phone book of a small town in the Upper Midwest. At least it would be if the people in that town had names like Celexa Campanile, Farallon Velveeta, or Tinsel Bidet. It’s a lot of discarded words: enough words to feed a family of five. It scares me to just toss them out like so many reverse-fit jeans.

As Mark would say, “What IS your problem?”

I don’t know. What IS my problem?

Why can’t I get the sentences to stop jostling one another off the page? Surely there must be something to say about 2007, a year that at the very least left me with a scar that ruined my modeling career. In 2007, I had many new experiences: I ate raw pork; I had several chance encounters with Josh Kornbluth; and I participated in my first meme. It was the year that an inexplicably angry former manager of mine came clean about his (now her) struggle with Gender Identity Disorder. It was a landmark year in another way too: 2007 was the year that I abandoned my LA roots and did not spend Xmas vacation at the Sea Sprite Motel.

Surely there must be something punchy to say at year’s end. It was one heck of a year, Brownie, one heck of a year.

Could my year-end writer’s block be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder? You know, Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD. The condition that Parade Magazine popularized during the 1990s: it’s winter; there’s not enough light; and you feel like heaving your Signature Gourmet coffee maker off the balcony five stories down onto Castro Street.

That is, if only you could summon the energy to get out of bed.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is even less sexy than ordinary year-around depression; depression will at least get you sympathy and a prescription for something anti-depressive. Seasonal Affective Disorder is like insomnia; it’ll just get you the obvious advice.

I’ve noticed that anything that’s called seasonal is uglier than its year-around counterpart and invariably in worse taste. Consider if you will: seasonal recipes, seasonal headwear, and seasonal allergies. The fact that this disorder is seasonal is a bad sign. A Seasonal Disorder probably has reindeer appliqués on it or is made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup.

Nobody will even get upset about it on your behalf, since it’s destined to go away of its own accord once the so-called Season is over. There’ll be no telethons, no call-in donations, no SAD walks.

In other words, if you put your mind to it, you could probably cure yourself by taking that clip-on LED book light that some misguided friend got you (“oh, I know you love to read in bed!”) and applying it directly to your forehead. Or you could drink Aqua-Velva—a seasonal sale item at Rite-Aid—to banish the seasonal heaviness from your heart.

You know how I know that SAD is an undesirable neurosis? If you look up SAD in Wikipedia, you’ll learn that your fellow SAD-sufferers are singer Natalie Imbruglia and science fiction-fantasy author Barbara Hambly.

That’s all anyone could come up with: Natalie Imbruglia and Barbara Hambly. Now, I have nothing against either one of them. No doubt they’re fine and talented people. But they are not full-fledged celebrities. No paparazzi lurk outside their villas, waiting to snap photos of the cellulite on their upper thighs.

You aren’t going to brag, "You know who else has Seasonal Affective Disorder? BARBARA HAMBLY. That’s who."

If, say, Angelina Jolie turns up with SAD—or even adopts an orphan with SAD—then you might be able to suffer with pride. But as it is, it’s just not a desirable condition.

I have no intention of attributing my perfectly good writer’s block to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Okay. If SAD isn’t good enough, how about the long-running writers’ strike? Many people have stopped writing in sympathy with that.

The problem is, the writers’ strike has been going on for so long that I’ve forgotten about the Colbert Report (just try to find any new Stephen material!). News of the strike no longer appears in my morning Crickler. There’s no writing to remind me that the writers' strike exists.

And while I’m entirely sympathetic with the writers who have walked out, you can’t blame a scapegoat that you’ve completely forgotten.

So, in the end, I’m tempted to lay the blame on San Francisco itself.

San Francisco is desolate this time of year. The tourists who throng to San Francisco in the summer—when the weather is arguably colder and nastier than it is right now—don’t come around here in the winter. Their numbers are few and they come from far afield. These are half-hearted tourists, the ones who took advantage of a special seasonal discount. These are the tourists who had to knit their own airplane seats and pack their own lunches.

Meanwhile the people who live here have all left. They’re gone. It’s almost like a college dorm: the inhabitants pack up and go to the place that they think of as their real home. Columbus, Ohio. Omaha, Nebraska. Decatur, Georgia.

Maybe they even all charter a plane together and go to the same place in the Midwest, the small town with the phone book I was talking about earlier. Or perhaps they skip the Midwest part of the story and go directly to Manhattan to ice skate in Central Park and stroll down Fifth Avenue, their arms laden with packages from FAO Schwarz.

For sure they don’t stay here.

My brother and I walked up to Twin Peaks just before Christmas. We stood up there, looking out to sea: at the Farallons, at the afternoon sun glinting off the water, at the tankers passing through the Golden Gate. It was beautiful and clear. The ocean was quiet and almost blue. For once it wasn’t windy and it most certainly wasn’t crowded.

Some tourists, a mom, dad, and almost grown-up daughter appeared at the top of the hill where we were standing and, after conferring briefly among themselves in Chinese, asked my brother to take their picture together.

My brother motioned them to move so the San Francisco skyline would be their backdrop.

He knelt and pointed their digital camera at them. The three of them didn’t all fit in the picture. My brother motioned to them again, this time signaling them to move closer together. They shuffled toward one another, a little awkward and stiff together like they weren’t used to these Disneyland-style photo ops.

"Say cheese," my brother said and clicked the shot. They all said cheese and smiled. The father had bad teeth; it looked like half of one of his front teeth was missing entirely.

Then my brother walked over to them and handed them back their camera.

My brother does not let the city’s Christmas stillness nor the cold get to him. He can muster enthusiasm for scenes like this; out of thin air, he can tell awkward strangers to "say cheese!" and mean it. And they did say cheese like they meant it. I hope the photo came out well.

A few minutes later, two gay guys, obviously a couple, one man black and the other man Asian, had him take a shot of them. He framed them with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. He was about to snap the picture when the black guy said "Wait!" and took off his sunglasses and knit cap so you'd be able to see his whole face and his eyes in the photo.

Their smiles were dazzling.

Then a larger Asian family asked him if he would mind—he did not—and a few minutes later a European couple on a motorcycle, looking sophisticated and tousled, had him snap them by the 50-cents per view telescopes.

The small groups of tourists materialized, had their photo taken, and left, happy. It was as if they were checking off San Francisco things to do from a Lonely Planet list.

I don’t think very many people come to San Francisco to celebrate the holidays. San Francisco isn’t the right place for Christmas. They come here for Halloween. They come for Pride Weekend. Perhaps they surface for the Folsom Street Fair. Out of habit, they come here in the summer. And they cruise around Chinatown, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf. They don’t drive out to Twin Peaks, have their photo taken by a stranger, and then drive off. And most of all, they don’t come to San Francisco for Christmas.

We tried to spot landmarks in the far distance. Jon picked out Fairfield first.

"How do you know that's Fairfield?" I asked him.

"That's just probably where Fairfield would be."

"I mean, do you see any landmarks or anything?"

"No. But see—there’s Emeryville, and there's Berkeley. There's the Campanile. You can just see what's what," he told me.

"I guess so." But I wasn't sure where one East Bay city left off and another one began. He was taking Fairfield on faith.

In the near distance, I could pick out 22nd Street, General Hospital, our redwood tree, and the hairpin turn where Collingwood meets 22nd.

San Francisco looked completely uninhabited.

I fished two quarters out of my pocket as if to put them in the telescope. But really, my brother is right, and I do know what's where. Who actually uses the telescopes mounted at the edge of the Twin Peaks observation area? There's Market Street. There's Rincon Tower. There's the Transamerica Pyramid. You’d probably use the telescopes to look in peoples’ windows. I put the quarters back in my pocket.

We walked down the hill toward a Market Street overpass we'd spotted from the top of the observation area. We’d walked up on the north overpass and we were walking back on the south one. We saw two friendly black-and-white cats on 23rd Street on the way home.

I felt like a neutron bomb had gone off in San Francisco and these were the two cats that had been spared.

Where were all the people?

They probably went to LA, where it’s warm. They went to LA, where by tradition Santa wears a wetsuit rather than that tacky red-and-white Santa suit. Santa not only wears a wetsuit; Santa surfs. They went to LA, where we used to go every Christmas. They probably all stay at the Sea Sprite—“Stay on the beach, play on the beach”—despite all warnings to the contrary (including my own).

Look out for that pier, Santa. Look out!

Look out for the Sea Sprite, homies. Look out! Rumor has it that they charge you for cleaning up the vomit.

In spite of myself and all of my vows to have no regrets, I think momentarily of the dolphins playing in the waves and the mild days that remind me of why I never lasted beyond February in a climate where there’s ice and snow.

It only takes one visit in December for me to remind myself that Ocean Beach is nothing like Hermosa Beach.

If I’d gone to LA, I’d have something to write about.

I thought about that as Jeff (not his real name) and I watched X take the stage at Slim’s last Saturday. Wouldn’t you know it? They played Los Angeles. They played Johnny Hit and Run Pauline. They played We’re Desperate (Get Used to It). Was that two encores? We were far enough away from the stage that the band looked just like they did in 1979. In Los Angeles. Except now they have 26411 friends.

This isn’t Seasonal Affective Disorder; I’m just blue and nostalgic for something that doesn’t exist anymore. It happens every year.

The only thing that can dispel glumness and writers’ blocks is time. As I write this, the local airports are crowded with people returning. Repopulating San Francisco.

Traitors. I know I’ll regret hating the quiet the minute they’re back.

But I also know from past years’ experience that even the most elaborate Christmas decorations—say, the tableau worthy of Martha Stewart on Castro Street around 14th Street—will disappear by next week and things will be back to normal. There’ll be a few Christmas trees shedding tinsel on the curbs, waiting for the Sunset Scavenger post-holiday pick-up.

Can I convince all the rest of you that this Christmas thing is a bad idea?

People tell me that this is a holiday for kids. Not for me. But even as a kid, it seemed like a bad idea.

Here’s what I remember: “You want to come over and look at our tree?” Cheryl would ask on a slow day between Christmas and New Year. “I’ll plug in the lights for you. You want to see my presents?”

She wanted to give me the frisson of Christmas joy via proximity to her loot.

It wouldn’t work and I didn’t much care about the highly flammable dead trees in peoples’ living rooms anyway. Not unless you gave me a match.

It’s still early in January, but in a few weeks everything will be okay again.

All of the seasonal effects and affects, disorders and maladaptations, sweaters and mufflers, and decorations and fruitcakes will sublimate, not to be reconstituted until after Thanksgiving, 2008. The days will get longer. I will forget my New Year’s resolutions (to write shorter and more frequent blog posts; to floss regularly; to exfoliate; and not to let Lumpy and Mark boss me around so much).

But now I’ve got to go get some black-eyed peas lest I pass up an easy opportunity for good luck.

If 2008 is anything like 2007, I’m going to need it.


Anonymous davew said...


3:41 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

As least one person remembers the provenance of the term meef (besides, of course, Blue).

Next thing you know, someone'll add a HARF! and a tender boof and we'll have entered a time machine.

1:37 PM  

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