Monday, November 30, 2009

Technical writing

When I moved back to San Francisco at the end of 2000, I went to a Chanukkah party. At this point I didn’t generally go to parties, even though I keep writing about them, but a Chanukkah party sounded innocuous enough. It was at the house of one of JoAnne’s former lovers, who lived less than a block from where we used to live. Actually, their house was kind of like our house, in the way that it became kind of like a destination. It was the house where I stayed when I went to San Francisco after JoAnne died, in Laurie’s room -- that room kind of looked like the middle room in our old apartment, only one window facing an air shaft, so when I first thought about that time I kept thinking about that other room: did Laurie really move back in? That didn’t make sense. No, it was down the street, and Andee was staying there too but I didn’t remember that until he mentioned it. The building was falling apart, but they’d painted the walls so many gorgeous clashing colors that it welcomed you with mania.

At the Chanukkah party, I thought we would sit around a table spinning dreidels and eating latkes, but when I got there it was packed and the rooms were dim, all those clashing colors jumping in shadows. Everyone was working the rocker junkie look -- trucker caps and eyeliner, fake fur coats so ratty they looked like they had skins, and maybe they did. It was like the worst New York high-fashion disaster, except cheaper clothes and harder drugs. So many glazed eyes it was hard to keep track -- heroin here, crystal there, some acid in the hallway and there’s the doorbell -- cocaine!

This was the new San Francisco: peer around any corner in the Mission Or South of Market and you’d see enormous luxury lofts that looked like they were made of particle board and aluminum. Drunk yuppies crowded the sidewalks in front of posh bars in practically every neighborhood they were afraid of: a new discovery! Hummers sped down side streets like they were doing reconnaissance: they were looking for parking. One famously-cited driver admitted he ran over someone’s grandmother to avoid spilling his cappuccino, inspiring a bus shelter ad.

My closest friends had warned me, but they had also convinced me to move back -- we’re you’re family, that’s what they said. The two people who said that the most left San Francisco within a few months -- I guess that’s what family does. Most people I knew had moved to Oakland and they said I should live by Lake Merritt, I would like the buildings, but Oakland wasn’t like Brooklyn -- you couldn’t get around after midnight. I needed to live in New York without New York, I knew that meant the Tenderloin. The dot-com frenzy was in full swing, so I found myself entering buildings without front doors, walking down bare hallways lit by exposed bulbs, to enter moldy thousand-dollar studio apartments facing other people’s fire escapes. Often I didn’t even have enough time to wonder if it was possible to live in these dumps, because they were already taken -- or, there would be a dozen people with computer jobs, checkbooks in hand, all vying for the manager or realtor’s attention: Is the neighborhood safe? Is there anything nearby? How far is Union Square?

On my application, I became a technical writer who made a preposterous amount of money -- everything except my name and social security number was fake. I got lucky, and ended up with an apartment on the top floor, set back from the street because of a burned-down building next door, facing Polk Street and the sun. Or, okay, maybe I didn’t get that lucky -- I had to outbid someone to get the lease, but it was the nicest place I’d seen. I didn’t know about the roaches or the rats or the pigeons yet, but the kitchen was big enough that I could put my bed in the dining area with a screen between sleep and vegetables, which felt luxurious. Certain people thought it was a strange set up -- why did they put the bedroom over there? No, darling -- I did.

Of course, my technical writing consisted of giving blow jobs in plush off-white hotel beds while the TV flashed stock prices behind me. I remember one Tuesday night, after my third trick and on my way to a fourth, stepping into the W and finding so many people in the lobby that they spilled into the elevators to make deals on their cellphones, cocktails in hand. Outside the Ritz-Carlton, there was a couple who looked like they couldn’t be older than 25, stepping out of a Rolls. The guy was wearing a waistcoat and holding a cigar in one hand and an attaché in the other; the woman was wearing a full-length fur and gold slip-on heels. At least I was making cash. In fact, I was making more than the outlandish figure on my rental application: no longer would I take the bus to save money, or turn down tricks who called when I was hanging out with a friend -- I would show up within a half-hour, in full preppy drag. The tricks loved it.

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