People In San Francisco

Wyatt Williams


In San Francisco, people are tired of sharing. They say, “Our generation is post-sharing,” and “Don’t you realize that our epoch is just now burgeoning from the shadow of the last?” When you respond with a blank face – a face that is blank because you are tired and this is way too much bullshit to listen to before coffee – they interpret your lack of expression as skepticism. “No, but you don’t understand,” people say. “We’ve done butter-noodles-at-the-commune-dinner.  We’ve stuffed ourselves on orange-slop-at-the-Krishna-lunch. We want something new! We want micro-green-and-endive-bisque-with-a-glass-of-rosé. Can’t you understand?” Then, despite the fact that you only planned to speak with people in San Francisco while waiting for your latte, they say, “We want to explain. Oh! It must have seemed so selfish just saying it like that. Flippant! We-people-in-San-Francisco are not flippant. We are well considered! We want to tell you about growing up so you can understand us.”

You wish you could remember people in San Francisco’s names. These three people, three men that talk and sound so much like one another that you can’t tell them apart, are following you now on the sidewalk of Valencia St. and you have no choice – at least you don’t have enough energy to make a choice – about listening to them. You must have interviewed them. Yes, it was the trend piece for the Chronicle. Or was it for the profile job for the 7×7? You cannot remember who exactly these people are except that you called them “The New Generation of San Francisco” or some other hyperbolic cliché about being “cutting edge” and “turning the tide.”

If you tried, yes, you could tell them apart maybe by the slight variations in their angular haircuts or by identifying who is wearing which pastel colored shirt, but that would involve trying or caring, neither of which interests you this morning. You have a hangover and they might as well be the same person, anyway. They’re all wearing Ray Bans and they won’t take them off. They were wearing them right there in the coffee shop and, if you remember correctly, they wore them in the photo shoot for the newspaper (or was it the magazine?) and now you can’t help but wonder if they wear them in bed, too. Still, their incessant chatter is drowning out your own thoughts.

“We didn’t even use our real names then,” they’re saying. “We called ourselves Spazz or Barn Yard or Garbage Can because it was like, well, we can’t even remember why we went by those names, but it felt really important at the time to choose our own names and we did.  We just did it. When we had to fill out forms, we even changed our signatures and, well, who are we kidding? We didn’t really even sign anything back then.  It was crazy like that.”

There is a slow pounding beat in your hangover, a beat that you can feel like the beat of a song, perhaps the song with the Donna Summer sample that you remember dancing to last night. Your body is the speaker for the song and someone has turned the volume up into the red and you can feel, for sure, that the bass line is going to crack the fragile speaker that is your body. But you cannot turn down the volume on your hangover. These people are yelling over the hangover song and you’re sitting here helpless and watching yourself suffer. The coffee has not helped. You feel terribly bad for you.

“We’d just given up owning anything for a time, even our names. Maybe that was why it seemed important then, because we said we didn’t even own our names anymore – not even our names! – and just gave them to the ether like that and reached back into the ether for whatever shitty name landed in our hands. That’s what sharing was like back then. It meant everything you had.”

You remember last night like it may have been any other night, but that Donna Summer sample is still ringing in your ear which is proof enough that it actually happened. In Lazlo’s back room, the sound of the dance floor was a muffled bass line. You remember being bent over a mirror for half the night, but you don’t remember ever seeing your reflection. Lazlo’s manager had convinced you to write a profile of their club months ago, a profile that portrayed the current reemergence of disco, rather than the one prior and the one before that, as an authentically subversive art form or, as your editor had put it, “edgy, urban nightlife.” You are still uncertain about the veracity of those arguments, though you have never been uncertain about the quality of Lazlo’s manager’s cocaine.

But why did you write about these people? There are certain physical traits they all share that would constitute great reasons for a photograph. They have great jaw lines, just fantastic jaw lines that look somewhere between a carved sacred object and a piece of expensive furniture. Below that, their necks are just distinctly great necks, too, with no lines or rolls or any of that bloat that inevitably shows up in the mid-twenties. You think, “Maybe I wrote about these people because they’re in their mid-to-late-twenties and magically still look like early-twenty-somethings.” There is a possibility that you wrote about these people so there would be something next to their photographs. And you think, “That is the worst reason you have ever had to write anything.”

They are still talking. “So after we gave up our names, we all moved into the same place and gave up our privacy. The math was genius. Divide the rent on a four bedroom Victorian twelve ways and you’ll see what we mean. You just keep dividing the rent – just share the rent with more and more people – and eventually the rent just disappears. It turns into dust. So, at the first of the month, we’d each sweep up a little pile of dust, throw all of our little piles into a shared envelope, and mail it to the real estate office. It worked for a while.”

You recorded the interview with these people but only played back a few seconds of the conversation, unable or unwilling to tell the difference between their muffled intonations. Rather than doing your job and quoting verbatim like a real journalist, you made up their quotes, paraphrased from your vague recollections of the least banal things they had said.

“When we got kicked out of the Victorian, it was heavy. We tried to stay positive and share the park because you don’t even have to mail an envelope of dust to anyone to share the park. But people never understood that we were sharing the park with them. When we tried to build a camp in the thick bushes, people wouldn’t understand that the camp was our part and the other parts were their parts to share. It’s hard to try to tell any of this story and make sense, because we had given up sense and logic. So, we only had sense or logic sometimes. It got tiring, really.”

You’ve finished the latte and now you produce a pack of cigarettes from your pocket that you offer to share with a gesture of your hand and they accept with gestures of their shoulders, causing a momentary lapse in their speech as you produce a lighter, as well. A little cloud of smoke gathers around you and the sun burns in the morning air.

“We were all sitting around the share fire in the park one night and talking about sharing when someone, some individual said, ‘Wait, didn’t our parents talk about sharing? I heard they called it mau-mauing. Or they called something mau-mauing and it wasn’t that different than sharing. Or maybe it was different, but it had something to do with sharing. Aren’t we making a mistake if we share their sharing?’ It blew our collective minds. Our sharing had been misguided, because it wasn’t a proper rejection of the generation before ours, which you obviously understand is the only newsworthy sort of rebellion. That’s when we started buying hand-framed MBA diplomas and walking into big sky scrapers explaining that we were the new generation and needed jobs. They loved that. The business people just gave us briefcases of cash for being the new generation.”

There is an image in your mind of a forest and a number of individual trees in that forest. The trees are being cut down and loaded onto big semi-trucks burping up black clouds of diesel. From the truck, those trees are unloaded at a warehouse where they are chewed by a machine that makes them look like giant hunks of tree-made chewing gum. The tree-made chewing gum is flattened out into thousands and thousands of feet of thin, off-white paper. Then, the faces of these people in San Francisco and their made-up quotes are printed thousands and thousands of times. You imagine thousands and thousands of trees. You think about forests, and you decide that even your guilt is an overwrought, boring cliché.

Your stomach is burning with the coffee. The cigarettes are making your eyes water. You want to know who you are. You want to run into you in a dark alley and kick your ass. You want to leave yourself spitting teeth behind a dumpster.

“Thanks again for the article,” they say. “It looked really great. We got bonuses from the business people in the skyscrapers. They said it was great publicity.”

Their smoke keeps blowing your face. You don’t know how to respond.

They say, “What are you working on next?”

You have this big drag of smoke in your lungs and, for a second, you think about using it to some effect. But all of you are smoking and it would make no difference, would have no effect, to blow it back in their face.