Armistead Maupin announced this week that he's leaving San Francisco for good.
Somewhere in the thicket of Macondray Lane, a fairy lost its wings.
Mr. Maupin is, to me, our original literary hero. His iconic Tales of the City series, a magical romp through 1970s SF, transcends the generations of readers he's inspired and entertained and taught to love San Francisco as much as he does.
It was through his stories that I, too, came to love San Francisco as much as he does.
Now, after more than 40 years here, he's packing up his Labradoodle and moving to Santa Fe with his husband. (Naturally, they're spending the summer in Provincetown and making a stop at Burning Man before settling down in their new home.)
And I'm staying in town, left with nothing but a stack of his dusty books from the Chinatown library, five years' worth of late fees, and dozens of unanswered interview requests to both his agent and his personal email address.
When my best friend and I moved here in 2007, fresh out of college and wide-eyed at our alien, enchanting surroundings, we decided to book-club all six of his original novels.
From our shoebox apartment above Golden Boy Pizza, we devoured his writing, discussed it obsessively, retraced the steps of the main characters from the Searchlight Market to Club Fugazi to that endless line that still snakes around the corner of Mama's and all the way out to the Sutro ruins.
Our favorite place to perch and stare idly down at the Bay became the top of the rickety staircase where Leavenworth meets Macondray, Mr. Maupin's inspiration for Barbary Lane, where his heroes lived in a ramshackle house run by the prolific Anna Madrigal.
I was Mary Ann Singleton, the wayward and yet surprisingly resilient protagonist, chasing a career at all costs. He was Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, my loyal sidekick. We'd breathlessly reference scenes from the stories in our everyday life.
"Should we eat these sandwiches at that spot in Washington Square where Anna first met Edgar?"
"Stay out of the Broadway Tunnel. That's where Beauchamp Day met his fate!"
"Don't sleep with him, Mary Ann. Didn't you learn anything? He's probably gay."
Tales of the City unlocked San Francisco for me before I could unlock it for myself.
Mouse eventually lost Mary Ann to a career in Manhattan, just like I lost my own Mouse to law school in Brooklyn, and San Francisco is losing a legend to Santa Fe.
But our friendship, like Mary Ann and Mouse's, is far greater than the distance between us. Hopefully so is Maupin's San Francisco -- he already has a new Tales book in the works.
In the mean time, fellow fans can appease themselves by clicking through our ultimate Tales of the City tour of SF below.
And if you haven't read the series yet, get the eff over to your nearest library immediately. (Just not the one in Chinatown. To the really nice librarian who helped me out that day: I promise to return them eventually. I'm really sorry. Really.)
Good luck on your next chapter, Mr. Maupin. Your city misses you already.
"The house was on Barbary Lane, a narrow, wooded walk-way off Leavenworth between Union and Filbert. It was a well-weathered, three-story structure made of brown shingles. It made Mary Ann think of an old bear with bits of foliage caught in its fur. She liked it instantly." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"There were no chimney pots or eucalyptus branches blocking their vision, no unsightly back stairwells or rocky rises framing some half-assed little chunk of water. What they had at The Summit was a goddamn view--as slick and umblemished as a photomural." -<em>Significant Others</em>
"When they reached Huntington Park, they sat on a bench near the fountain, their backs to the PU Club, their eyes fixed on the mammoth rose window of Grace Cathedral." -<em>More Tales of the City</em>
"'I, Michael Mouse Tolliver, am going to enter the jockey shorts dance contest at The Endup.' 'Oh, please!' 'I'm serious, Mona.' And he was." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"He sat down on a bench in Washington Square. Next to him was a woman who was roughly his age. She was wearing wool slacks and a paisley smock. She was reading the Bhagavad Gita. She smiled. Is that the answer?' asked Edgar, nodding at the book. 'What's the question?' asked the woman. -<em>Tales of the City</em> Fun Fact: A time capsule was buried underneath Benjamin Franklin in 1979. It contains a copy of <em>Tales of the City</em>.
"Mona gulped her sherry, avoiding Mrs. Madrigal's eyes. 'Is that your answer for everything?' The landlady chuckled. 'It isn't my answer for everything. It's the answer for everything...C'mon, Calamity Jane, get your coat. I've got two tickets to Beach Blanket Babylon.'" -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"Prue heaved a weary sigh. 'In the tree ferns. Across from the conservatory.'" -<em>Further Tales of the City</em>
"A dozen cardboard disks dangled from the ceiling of the Marina Safeway, coaxing the customers with a double-edged message: 'Since we're neighbors, let's be friends.' And friends were being made." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"'Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?' 'Not yet.' 'Well, don't you dare miss that! You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars, so we could dance to 'Moonlight Serenade,' and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful white Navy...'" -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"Elated, Mary Ann walked to the corner of Hyde and Union and phoned Connie from the Searchlight Market. 'Hi. Guess what?'" -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"Promptly at noon, Mary Ann headed for the Royal Exchange with Mona." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"The black woman ate Sunday dinner alone in the back room at Perry's. She was an image of grace and sophistication, dark and sleek as a patent-leather dancing slipper. She was avoiding her french fries, Brian noticed, and her eyes seldom wandered from her plate." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"The beach at Point Bonita was almost empty. At the north end, a group of teen-agers was flying a huge Mylar kite with a shimmering tail." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"She sat down at her escritoire and began to disembowel windowed envelopes. The latest tally from Wilkes Bashford was $1,748. Daddy would be livid. She had already got three advances on her allowance that month." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"The landlady nodded. 'Don't you remember how we met?' 'At the Savoy-Tivoli.' 'Three years ago this week.' Mona shrugged. 'I still don't get it.' 'It wasn't an accident, Mona.'" -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"On Sunday morning, Mona went to church. In the old days--post-Woodstock and pre-Watergate--she had gone to church a lot. Not just any church, she was quick to point out, but a People's church, a church that was Relevant." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"The line at Mama's snaked out of the building and up Stockton Street. Mary Ann was considering alternative brunch spots when a familiar figure in the crows signaled her sheepishly." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"He specializes in being rude. It's a joke. War lord-turned-waiter. People come here for it." -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"The sight of Caffe Sport gave Mona an instant shiver of nostalgia. Mrs. Madrigal had planned it that way. 'God,' said Mona, grinning at the restaurant's Neapolitan bric-a-brac. 'I'd almost forgotten what a trip this place is!'" -<em>Tales of the City</em>
"Dropping the groceries in the kitchen -- three new cheeses from Molinari's, light bulbs, focaccia, Tender Vittles for Boris -- Anna Madrigal hurried into the parlor to build a fire. And why not? In San Francisco, a fire felt good at any time of year." -<em>Further Tales of the City</em>
This blog post is dedicated to Collin Hessney.
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