Fairytale of San Francisco

December 9 – December 17

‘Twas the season of wants: wanting presents, wanting reasons to wear (faux) fur coats, wanting more Irish Coffee– wanting that absolute feeling of the holiday season.

Especially during Christmas time I tend to favor Irish pubs. I think it’s the dimness, the wood fixtures and the booths that add to the closed in feeling that feels intimate to me. Add twinkle lights and a hot Irish Coffee and the magic is done. A cozy Christmas that makes you laugh and want to chug Guinness, or dance to “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. I first heard the song in New York, our last night in Manhattan with my oldest friend dancing with strangers in Joshua Tree just a few blocks away from the Chrysler Building. Other songs in the dive playlist of that night varied from Maria Carey’s Christmas anthem to LFO’s “Summer Girls” and “Come On Eileen.” I still listen to those songs when I want to think about nights in New York, but the Pogues’ tune I reserve for December alone.

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A night like tonight has me missing Manhattan the most. There are poinsettia garlands and a cedar tree candle that burns against the half-blown twinkle lights draped over my bed, curtains drawn and the passing of cars humming in the air like any big city– this might as well be Midtown, but it’s not. Let’s try to imagine though, shall we? That this studio isn’t on the corner of the outskirts of Lower Pac Heights; I’m the second floor snug apartment of a brownstone somewhere in the Upper West Side, and it’s snowing out and perhaps I live above a bodega that’s got fat trees tethered and lining the sidewalk against a chicken-wire fence where a Rockette passing through is picking herself one to take back home when she’s done dancing out at Radio City Music Hall. Just a thought, a silly daydream to really just make me feel the Christmas spirit when San Francisco is a little lacking. It’s sunny out by the Bay, only 8 days left to really soak in the festivities around but there’s a great deal of stress at work that doesn’t have me thinking of sugar plums or even my shopping list for friends and family. And I’m alone in this city, tonight at least. I debated calling up some friends from work to join in cheap wine and marzipan while we watch A Cinderella Christmas on cable TV, but it’s too late now.

I get a call. A missed call, followed by a voicemail. It goes, for a whole minute:

Hi, Paris, I was wondering if you could call me back because– I don’t know– it’s your boyfriend– and if you could call me back that would be wonderful! And, I don’t even know what I would do without you calling me back– because it makes me so upset– and I’m upset with you right now not calling me back while talking about you not calling me while I’m upset and I just get so sad while I’m so upset– OK babe, I’ll call you soon! And I’m not upset… I just wanna talk to you! And– ow– I kinda fucked up my knee tonight– but I won at Fantasy Football, so… that happened– I don’t know, I love you! I will talk to you soon, call me ’cause I’m leaving to go to the Rockefeller Tree right now– by myself– and…yeeeahhhh…OK, I’ll talk to you soon, goodbye babe!

I call him back before I even saw I had a voicemail, but I wait now on his promise to call me back once he’s reached Rockefeller Center so that we can Facetime and he can send me Snaps. A soft voice, filled with rye and shots and sincere lament about me not being there when he sees the tree all lit up. And as I wait for his face to light up my phone screen I put on the kettle for some Earl Grey, sit in front of the space heater, and listen to the Pogues again, singing about a night like this I imagine, somewhere out in the streets singing Galway Bay and throwing punches at the sky.

Almost an hour goes by and nothing. I call his phone twice and when it goes to his voicemail I don’t want to think the worst of anything but somehow I still do. Although, I’m not quite sure who’d want to pick on the lanky young white guy in a hoodie and Packers jersey– they did just lose earlier that day after all to the Panthers, and no one would want to fuck with a fan, not during Christmas. Too cruel, no?

But alas, a call back! Turns out, it was just a dead phone. 3 percent it was at when he hung up on me only two hours earlier. And the tree at Rockefeller Center wasn’t even lit up.

“I was confused,” he tells me. “There was only a hot dog vendor and he said they only keep it lit up in the early evening. I feel like an idiot.” I tell him he’s not; he kind of is, but for all the antics any wasted person could partake in, walking alone to Rockefeller Center with the promise to call one’s girlfriend is beyond one of the less stupid things. Instead, in our beds halfway across the country from each other, we sink into conversations about the night and what he’s been doing in New York, catching up with his college buds from St. John’s, the possibility of being stranded there if the power isn’t back up at the Atlanta airport where he’s supposed to fly into Tuesday for his family, and how we wish we could both be there where he is now.

So far, and yet, this is the closet I’ve felt with him this Christmas. Not when we drank from 11AM to midnight in ugly sweaters during SantaCon or danced like bosses in our suit and floor-length red gown on the balcony overlooking the Verso dance floor during my work holiday party with an Old Fashioned and Dirty Shirley in hands. He took off early that night– that was a punch to the gut of an already short night that was meant to be a magical moment for us to really be together. But the farther away we are now, we’re enjoying our company best.

I go to sleep now, with that song still fresh in my head, lights out, and turning my face away to keep on dreaming about a night in New York– at least a memorable night that felt so real, thanks to a fairytale sung tonight.

 

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December Comes for Fillmore Street

December 1- December 3

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December is the one month that makes itself known. All other seasons and months creep into each other, seemingly like the last week before it and then you’ll start seeing flowers bloom early, leaves turning brown and falling one leaf at a time, and maybe the temperature drops or rises a few degrees beneath fog that never goes away. December is an entity on its own, the diva that makes her hurrah and appearance at the 11th hour of the year. I read on Facebook from a pretty-font picture shared that “December you’re last, so be the best” or something to that sentiment. And doesn’t that ring true, and pretty literally, as bells high and low around this town and the world ring with merry and cheer and to signal that Christmas and Hannukah and the lights of the city and coming home for the Holidays amidst the dark days and cold is here. You just know.

Every year I know when it’s December, you just see it. And I saw it for the first time in the way it should matter, frankly. My neighborhood, the very streets within proximity to the very air I breathe in the mornings and before I go to bed at night. The neighborhood you live within is how you make your bones in this city, the place that gets you up in the morning and motivates you to taste everything San Francisco throws at you. The steep hills lined in paint-chipping Victorians leading from Van Ness and through Japantown up to Fillmore Street. I live here, and it’s only right that I feel the most alive when walking around these streets whose unique stories I help create and feel obligated to tell. It’s a good thing San Francisco is a tiny space of 7×7; it’s big enough where I easily neglect to hang around my own neighborhood in search of other exciting ventures beyond its borders like the Mission or Hayes Valley. But tonight, here I remain, and here I see the month makeover the neighborhood at the arrival of the diva I proclaimed December.

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Fillmore Street is the hub of Jazz on the West Coast, or it was where it fermented into the phenomenon that brought life and  bohemia and inclusion beyond the Mississippi. In one of these shacks Allen Ginsburg first exposed the words of his infamous Howl to the literary likes of Beatniks before they knew what the hell they were (and reveled in the namelessness), and it wasn’t called the Harlem of the West without the endless nightclubs lining the street that I now call home, and jazzed up in a different way from that of the 40’s. The music being sung tonight is a typical hum of classics being crooed from beyond the doors of the storefronts lit up in warm white, a glow familiarly cast throughout the year, but spectacular when heightened by the strung lights between the bushy trees that pave the sidewalks. Saturdays the rivaling cafes Peet’s and Starbucks cater to the crowds out and shopping and wandering up and down in and out of these stores, but as we pass Starbucks we see in its quiet facade it is not the victor of this evening. The cup of hot peppermint cocoa cupped in my hands is bubbling and perfect and from Peet’s anyhow, with its pristine corner spot and spacious seating that always spares a few open chairs no matter the crowd size. Too bad theirs doesn’t smother my cocoa in whipped cream on top.

I’m walking besides my boyfriend as we meander up Fillmore towards Pacific Street, a dark peak overlooking the shadow of the bay amidst the buildings frosted in cold and more twinkle lights. We stop at an Antiques store with its door closed to the red walls where shelves house spoons and painted jewelry boxes and fine china that make me nervous sitting close to the edge of the shelves. Outside is a bargain table, all entertaining just the same, especially with a silk top hat, a bit shabby, sitting atop some of the goods and ready for my boyfriend to try on. He smiles at me, and politely declines my offer.

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Turning around at the new Blue Bottle that’s taken over the old vacancies of Tully’s Coffee and the relocated magazine shop Juicy News, we occasionally stop and inspect the new restaurants that cross our path, examine the menus, and mutually agree that we don’t come out to eat here often. It’s mostly me going to his in the Outer Sunset. A corner restaurant is long and dim inside and there’s nothing on the gray walls, but it’s crowded, the new restaurant that I later find is The Snug– it sadly looks anything but.

The Room’s monthly midnight showing is tonight at The Clay theater, 12AM on the dot. It’s a special month though, one that sees The Room more in the spotlight as usual thanks to James Franco’s tell all new film The Disaster Artist. We tried seeing that earlier today, but $15 is still too much for a ticket in the wake of all the Christmas shopping and deposit-saving that looms in the back of our minds. If we had money, we wouldn’t be wandering here, anyhow.

Lastly, disgusted by the $50 mini trees at Mollie Stone’s, we circle back to the narrow shop of the Paper Source, dear to my heart and a monument to my past. Only three years ago I spent a bustling holiday inside, name-tagged and running around helping new faces to the tiny paper craft and stationery store where I ran workshops on gift-wrapping and card-making and quoting invitations for hopeful brides and realized that I was meant for behind the scenes, creating and not catering to. But the store looks nice as it ever did, the new seasonal kits on display to show how easy they are to make, the quirky wreath-shaped tinsel sunglasses or the calendar art pasted against the walls where the punny cards collect dust. A Fillmore Street exclusive delicacy to the store is the Peppermint Crunch Junior Mints– I wonder if they still damage the boxes to mark them out for the employees to snack on behind the counters.

Talk about magic. It’s a beautiful night in the neighborhood this first week of December and it’s not as glamorous of a stroll as Christmastime in the city is sung about. We didn’t hear silver bells, the sidewalks aren’t crowded, and there is a slight chance you can step on dog poop in this dark. All the more charming and unique to the way I start this year’s festivities, and unique, as I sit down on the steps of an apartment building I don’t even live at, to the scene before my eyes where a new home comes to life in a way that only you can see, and know, that a most wonderful time is upon you.