Tuesday, November 28, 2006

If You're Going to San Francisco, You're Gonna Meet Some Gentle People There

Here are some trees in that park on the corner of S. Dodge and Walnut St. Do you know that park?

Originally, last week I was going to write an entry on the worst Thanksgiving I ever had, but then I got all those old photos, and it was so much easier to post them than to write a longer memory piece. Then I read this post, by I Love You in the Face, and it made me wish I had taken the time to write the post I had originally intended. So, even though it's almost a week late, I think I'll write my shitty Thanksgiving entry anyway.

For much of my late teens and early twenties, I was depressed and totally lost and damaged. At the time, I was too young to realize I was all those things - I just thought I was restless. I lived in San Francisco in 1986 when I was twenty-one. The Thanksgiving before, Neal and I had lived in Big Bear and spent our holiday holed up in our friend's cabin eating egg rolls and watching a Twilight Zone marathon on TV. That year I planned to work in a soup kitchen earlier in the day, and then meet Neal at his mom's house for his family dinner.

The soup kitchen was so much worse than I had pictured. I thought it would be good for me since I was close to being homeless myself anyway, and working there would also give me an excuse to spend less time with Neal's family. When I got there, one of the church preachers paired me with some pompous asshole guy who thought I would be impressed by all his nice things. He spent close to half an hour bitching about what a drag it was that San Francisco didn't get cold enough for him to be able to wear his fur coats. He spoke negatively of all the "bums" that were lined up and ready to eat. My first thought was, "what the hell are you doing here?" But then I figured it was probably some part of his community service after a coke bust. I was really tempted to ask him if the feds repossessed his DeLorean too, but I was twenty-one and still worried that he might think I was a bitch.

My shift lasted about two hours. One of the last men that came through the line before I left said, "It sure is nice of you rich white folks to come and feed us." It sounded more like a dig than a thank you. The pompous man puffed up even more, but I felt the need to explain myself to him.

"Oh, I'm not rich. In fact, I could just as easily be standing on that side of the line as this one."

The man laughed and said, "Sure you could, honey. Sure you could, " and walked away.

When I got to Neal's mom's house, I was already depressed. His family didn't approve of me. They thought I was nice and all, but they also pegged me for poor white trash and thought that Neal could do much, much better. I don't remember a lot about the dinner except that there was some variety show on TV with Pia Zadora and watching it was probably the best part of the day.

Even at dinner, Neal's mother and one of his sister's ignored me and would only speak directly to Neal. If I hadn't been so cowed, I probably would have wasted a lot of energy trying to explain myself to Neal's family too. Now that I'm old and crusty and happily so, it's hard for me to remember why I felt it so necessary to defend myself to a bunch of people who weren't worth it anyway. I'm pretty sure it was because I wasn't really sure who the hell I was, and I still had to be careful not to let other people define me by their words or actions.

I guess the good thing about that holiday was that I learned a valuable lesson. For years after, I hosted an orphan's Thanksgiving at my place where all my friends who were away from home or stuck without a pleasant family could come and drink and eat and hang out. I discovered it was so much better to make people come and live in my world, than for me to try and live in theirs.


Mone said...

I lived in San Francisco a couple of years and i just love this city. That city wouldnt be the same without the homeless people. If I had the money; I would move back there without thinking twice.

Mr Atrocity said...

And when you host your own faux-family get-togethers it's friends not relatives, or relatives of friends, who turn up which reduces the pressure to behave "properly" and "acceptably" since your friends like you for who you actually are rather than who they'd like you to be.

I shall be doing my yearly pre-Christmas Sunday roast in a few weeks and I'm so excited about cooking for my friends and having them come over to my home for the day. These are what socially festive times should be all about.

Anonymous said...

"Now that I'm old and crusty and happily so"... it's good to know one's self so well.

Anonymous said...

we all have these struggles to be able to live up to other people's expectations...when in fact..we really don't have to...we are what we are...other people might want to somethings to change you for their own designs...but alas...it doesn't work that way...

Churlita said...


If I had the money, I would wait until my kids were grown and then move back there. I can't imagine raising kids in San Francisco.

Mr. Atrocity,

Exactly. The friend get-togethers are so much more rlaxed. You always come up with such festive ideas for gatherings. Your friends are so lucky.


You know I meant crusty as in, I've developed a thick emotional crust and don't take other people's problems personally anymore and not that I have some physical problem that requires a special cream, right?

Major E Flat,

Being able to recognize that is one of the best things about being older.

Brando said...

I never met more aggressive homeless people than in San Francisco.

We usually have Thanksgiving with my family, but we've had a couple with friends that were a nice change of pace.

Churlita said...

I love the idea of homeless people with entitlement issues. I haven't done an orphan Christmas for many years...I really miss them.