Don't Drop Your Wallet in San Francisco
I don't understand the meaning, but I feel that it has something to do with me. There is an aroma of relevance yet to be revealed. My dad smiles when he says it. I understand that is a joke, but I don’t know why it is funny. I do not laugh, but I crack a fake smile because I am a child and adults are always saying things that make them smile and with everyone smiling, I try to smile too. Without my consent, the words left his mouth and moved into my brain, lodged, planted, to be visited another time.
Years later, I remember watching the sunset over the Castro for the first time. I did not drop my wallet in San Francisco. Before that visit, the city was a place I’d only visited, a neighborhood in a corner in my imagination.
A cityscape foundation informed by Full House reruns, John Stamos in a leather jacket and tight blue jeans. A magnet on the fridge, a painted ceramic piece of four whitewashed pastel colored houses clutched together on a hill. The fridge is a Diaspora Mosaic, alongside coupons and reminders when the trash is due, the Virgin Mary and Santo Nino guard our leftovers. I’d spend hours in the kitchen rearranging the magnets, building a skyline out of the Space Needle, Sears Tower, Berlin Bear, Sydney Opera House, a faceless bullfighter from Spain. Filipinos are well-travelled because our country is corrupt and poor, too few jobs and too many smiling people needing to money to eat. We are exported all over the world, to change bedpans save lives and wipe ass, become the last memory of a grandparents dementia, get to know children better than their actual parents. We pump oil in the deserts and pick fruit in the valleys, and we collect magnets along the way. Between the plastic fruit magnets and the distant monuments, I rearrange a world on the surface of a fridge door. I can’t read, but those 4 little houses clenched together on a hill meant San Francisco. Those 4 little houses that look just like the one on Full House where John Stamos lives.
I did not know why I should not drop my wallet in San Francisco, but I remember the first time I went and successfully did not drop my wallet. A weekend road trip escape to the cool Bay over a hot summer break in LA; in a van sat my auntie, uncle, brother and cousins. Our trip: Fisherman’s wharf, Ghirardelli square. We ate soup out of sourdough. We awed at the Golden Gate Bridge on a misty ferry ride across the Bay. My auntie bought a magnet of the Bridge, so we would always remember.
If it is possible to avoid gay people in San Francisco, we must have taken every possible consideration. I didn’t see rainbow flags or couples holding hands. Any attempt to go beyond the tourist stops would reveal questions safer unasked. Instead, I read comic books, exploring my growing crush on Gambit from the X-Men. I gave him John Stamos’ face. He was from Louisiana and spoke creole, which I had never heard but decided was mysterious and sexy, almost as much as his tight black pants that had begun to poke at my imagination.
Imagination that would grow into experience.
My first sexual experience involved many people, strangers, men in uniform.
In a bathroom stall I had sex with them all; in a bathroom stall I had sex wit no one
The bathrooms are in the bowling alley, the center of life on any American Army base isolated in rural Germany, home to thousands of soldiers and little else. Designated recreation facility. On every base across the American empire they are the same. In the daytime, families celebrate birthday parties, cake, bowling, soda! The smell of worn-out bowling shoes and greasy pizza in the evening is joined by a hanging cloud of spilt beer and cheap cologne, songs boom out of the jukebox. Single soldiers with no wives or children or rent come to blow off steam, blow off money and maybe get blown. Local German girls look for American husbands and passports. They find many men, men that spend the rest of their nights in the barracks, sharing rooms and showers, or out in the field where they sleep on cots in erected tents. Men with men. I want to be with them. On payday Friday, they look for sex.
I find sex all over the bathroom walls, like Indiana Jones in an Egyptian tomb, my eyes decipher. Hieroglyphs and Drawings: penis, ass, vagina. Phone numbers and one-word names, scribbled. Needs and offerings. Prices and Deals. Boasts and Guarantees. Time and addresses. Dim-lit yellow stalls and grey-gay bathroom walls covered in sharpie and pen. In this small cubicle I attach sex to words to pictures pinned up in my world that grew more colorful and asked more questions with every snippet of knowledge gained. Not a fridge but dirty walls and arousing mural of text and sex and scribbles. Every few weeks they’d paint over the mural, but the smart ones wrote in the white lines that outlined the ceramic wall tiles that were never painted over. The artists seemed not discouraged but inspired by the fresh canvas.
I don’t spend time arranging magnets on the fridge anymore. Instead I feed the Bay in my head with words and text and image and legend. My San Francisco is always altering with every fragment of imagery, morphing over the years: gay folklore, oral tradition, books: literary tradition. I’d visited the city at night, as a male hooker, picking up tricks watching drag shows in North Beach, taking in the view after fucking a 30 year old professor in his apartment on Russian Hill, the city John Rechy calls “an escape in that coffin-shaped state, from the restless neon forest of Los Angeles.” I’ve visited in the day time, bright optimistic mornings outside Mayor of Castro Street Harvey Milk’s camera shop on Market Street; I visited the vigils and marches after he was assassinated. I visited the house where Gloria Andazula and Cherie Moraga worked a Bridge Called My Back, the cozy home of lesbians who drank beer, ate pan dulce and wrote wrote wrote it all back to the world.
One day I finally watched the sunset over the real Castro for the first time. I climbed up a hill in a neighborhood of ornate houses, and below me, it lay dormant, then alive. The golden hour gave way to the warm-lit streets, the rainbow flags hung patient to evenings arrival, hinting at the direction of the breeze. The afternoon glow golden-washed over the street. I watched the sun make way for moon and the little lights from the bars look up to the stars, waiting for night. With the passing shadows to the indigo darkness, lights announced themselves and adorned the walkways. San Francisco emerged, gradually in little light clusters.
I find myself in a bathroom in a bar with a man in the Castro. My pants dropped and so did my wallet. I followed him pulled away from a dark dance floor: the beat of humanity, beating to the ferocity of lust, dusted in the magic of midnight. And I don’t remember the rest.
Memories lost not because I had forsaken them, buried them deep as if to never see them. Not seeing their seedlings latch into fertile memory soil. But because I drank too much. Because I was freed a little too hard. Because liberation became intoxication. Because if not tonight then when again would the night again become so beautiful.
Billy writes and lives in Los Angeles. He is a student and a teacher. Insta: @b.lapu