Monday, March 20, 2006

Living in the City

And then, finally, some sun.

This past weekend brought with it a break from our recent Old Testament weather. Sadly, or perhaps appropriately, the work week signaled a return to gloom. Oddly, as I write this, it is brilliantly sunny outside. And raining.

Until the sun came out, I had forgotten the kind of show San Francisco can put on, given the right weather. Right now I have a client who has just moved up here from San Diego, and every time I've taken him out to look at open houses it has rained. Each week I could see him getting a little more uneasy. Finally, last week, he asked, "Is this what the weather is like here all the time?"

"No, no," I assured him. Though my father once said that no matter what the weather, and what time of year, a Californian will always insist that this is "strange weather for this time of year," we do have stats to back up my claim. It has been 10 degrees colder than normal, and our rainfall totals far exceed the usual. So yes, I told him, this is strange.

Fast-forward to this weekend: 62 degrees and dazzlingly sunny. True San Francisco weather.

Saturday morning I took the Jawa to get his hair cut. It had been 8 weeks since it had last been cut, and he was starting to resemble a member of Duran Duran, circa 1985. We get his hair cut in North Beach, across from Washington Square in a place whose window advertises "Tony is Here!" Tony is "Here!" for the Jawa, former Brooklyn Dodger Gino Cimoli and a long roster of old Italian guys, some of whom drive in from as far away as Napa for their hair cuts.

Also "Here!" are a bunch of old Italian ladies, who walk around with plastic bags over their hair and try to talk up the Jawa while he's in the chair. The shop was owned by Joe for many years, but recently was purchased by Christina, whose va-va-voomness still shines brightly, despite the fact that she has a 5-year-old grandson.

This is my gift my child. He gets to grow up in a city, instead of the suburbs. Actually, what I wanted was for him to grow up in the city, circa 1964. In the absence of a time machine, the barber shop is as close as we can get.

Though we live within the city limits, I sometimes feel that, like humans, who only use 10% of their brains, we only use 10% of San Francisco. Sitting in North Beach on a sunny day reminds me of that sad fact. To a civilian, our neighborhood probably seems dense and bustling. Compared to North Beach, Russian Hill, Nob Hill or any of the core city neighborhoods, it seems like the suburbs.

I was considering this while the Jawa made insane faces at himself in the mirror and Tony cut his hair. The barber shop has big windows that look out onto Washington Square. When he's not busy, Tony sits and watches the human parade go by. A preturnaturally tan, silver-moustached sharpie named Sal used to to cut hair alongside Tony. Sal made sure Tony didn't miss any young babe waltzing by the windows. Now Tony is on his own.

What I see when I look out the barber shop windows is old Chinese people (plus the inevitable ridiculous-looking hippie) doing Tai Chi; a huge line of identical young white people in baseball caps waiting to have breakfast at Mama's on the Square. Is it really that good? We've never waited in the line. We have baseball caps, but we are not young. We don't have the time to stand in line for an hour on Saturday morning anymore, not even for the best breakfast in the city.

A few old Italian guys still sit on the benches around the park, but mostly it's homeless guys, dirty, threatening, probably just tired and sad. The pink bag brigade -- little Chinese ladies who only shop at stores that provide pink plastic bags -- looking like wind-up toys, shuffe off in haphazard directions. And the sun.

When we lived in North Beach, I quickly got tired of all the people invading the neighborhood. To me, it became a place where people from outside the city drove in, took up all the parking spots, got roaring drunk, and then walked by our bedroom window at 2 a.m., singing Bob Dylan songs off-key.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. I drove the newly-shorn Jawa over Russian Hill and noticed a couple sitting on their front steps, drinking coffee. My first thought was, "Man, it would be great to be them," quickly followed by, "But wait, we probably were them at one time, only instead of sitting on the steps on Russian Hill, we were sitting on the steps in Seattle." We had our coffee, and our likewise young, childless friends. I realized that, given a few years, this morning of sitting on the steps would be a fond memory for this couple, something they took for granted at the time and would love to have a chance to do, just one more time.

The Jawa and I continued through the city. I took the long way, trying in vain to convince him to put down his Bionicle book and drink in the scenery. Living in a city -- even in one of the uncool neighborhoods -- is harder than living in the suburbs. Our house is tiny, and each month the mortgage payment puts us in bad moods for two weeks. Tuition at the Jawa's grade school costs three times as much as my (private) college did. One of the reasons we only use 10% of San Francisco is because that's all we can afford.

That couple on the steps will likely not opt to try and make a life in San Francisco. Most people push it all the way until their first child is ready for school. Then the siren song of free schools and a backyard becomes too irresistable. I see their houses every week and try to guess which town they're moving to -- Mill Valley, Burlingame, Walnut Creek?

But here we are still. My gift to the Jawa was city life, and he's got it. We don't live in the Rice-a-Roni fantasy San Francisco, but we're trying. It's a lifestyle choice.


Anonymous KT said...

That makes me miss the city even more than I already do. And, no, Mama's isn't that good- suckers.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Ken Dunque said...

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8:35 PM  
Anonymous flush puppy said...

Every time I've been to SF, it's been gorgeous. Wait - one time we stayed at Lisa's it rained. And I hate to break it to you (again) but your house ain't tiny. At least you have steps to drink coffee on if you want to!

And true Seattlites don't whine about the rain - it's the imported Californians (and others) who do that for us...;)

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Mar said...

You know people still love San Francisco when they intentionally fail to remove their "A" district parking permits from the bumpers of their 20-year-old heaps.

And, I'll bet Tony was taking some action on college hoops that day.

3:28 PM  
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