It's hard to say whether San Francisco's appeal lies more in its opportunities for participation or in its opportunities for observance. What I'm saying is, are you more the sort who lives in an urban area because you want to be part of it, dude, or are you like me, and you live here because you want to sit back and watch it? I love how there are so many amazing things happening here all at once, but I don't have to go to any of them. My favorite authors come here to read almost every week, and I have yet to actually show up to see them. And the food — the food! Gary Danko? Fabulous! But have I ever darkened Gary's doorway? Hell, no. (To quote Joe Walsh, "Ain't never been there/They tell me it's nice.")
I liken my attitude to that of Gertrude Stein — am I once again paraphrasing here? — who wrote, "I like to go to beautiful places and then turn my back on them."
I was in high-observance mode the other night, yet also ready to turn my back on something fabulous once it caught my eye. But really, if I must choose senses, this outing was all about my ears. I walked about two blocks from my friend's house to the Pilsner Inn on Church, near Market. On the way I passed a couple having a fight. The woman was near tears and the guy was exasperated. It was a scene that was probably being played out in various cities all over the world at that very same time.
"Why was your arm around her?" she asked him.
"It wasn't around her," he shot back. "It was like this," and then he showed her how his arm wasn't really around her, how it was like this.
I kept walking into the Pilsner. It's a pub with a subtle penguin theme (as opposed to the heavy-handed penguin-themed bars that keep cropping up around the city). The owner, according to the bartender, is "into them," hence the name of the bar's softball team, the Pilsner Penguins. The clientele is a mixture of gay 'n' straight, like most places on and around Church.
I perched at the end of the bar near the door, ordered a Jameson, and prepared to eavesdrop on a good conversation. I didn't have to wait long. A couple came in — this one in their mid-30s, strait-laced and bundled up. They sat smack-dab next to me, god bless 'em. They were all lovey-dovey, though, which was, of course, annoying.
"Do you have pink champagne?" the woman asked the bartender. Holy crap.
In the end, they ordered two beers. She took one sip and didn't like hers, so she ordered a different one. He thought this was totally adorable and planted a long kiss on her. I guessed that they were probably on their fifth date. I'm pretty sure they had already slept together. How do I know this? Because their conversation, carried out with their faces about an inch apart from one another, went something like this:
"So," he said, "tell me something that you've never told me about you."
She giggled. At this point, the Stones song on the stereo seemed to get louder, and I realized that I was going to have to scoot my chair over if I wanted to hear whatever no-doubt-amazing thing was going to come out of her mouth. But scooting would be too obvious. Shit! Where's Miracle Ear when you need it?
I decided to go outside for a smoke break. The street was pretty empty, and a Muni train slid by slowly and silently. The people on board all looked frozen, some peering out the window, some looking down, some asleep. Munis are moving Edward Hopper paintings. A guy walked past, talking on his cellphone. "Yeah, okay," he said, a shy smile on his face. "Well, like, just call me sometime, or something, cool?"
Okay, I thought, so he had been on one date with the person he was talking to, and was now having a follow-up conversation. He really liked the guy (I'm pretty sure he was gay), and he wasn't sure how the other guy felt. I realized that I had witnessed, in descending order, every stage of a relationship this evening: On the Outs, Mid-Lust, and Awkward New Beginnings.
I went back in and Depeche Mode was on the stereo. The couple was full-on kissing. I turned my back on them, finished my drink, and left.
On the way back to my car I passed more couples, most of whom were walking silently. In fact, the whole city seemed pretty quiet. There were banners hanging from the streetlights advertising the San Francisco Zoo's grizzly bear exhibit. In the wake of the current tiger-escape scandal, the banners looked especially depressing. I mean, talk about a place where you would rather be an observer than a participant.
Still, I felt good, having been a part of something without being a part of anything. That's why I live here, and why I will always live here. Bay Area, I like turning my back on you.