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Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Desire In Alamo Square

 Last week, I noticed that my blog has reached over 1,100 views. That excited me. Knowing that the majority of those views have not been from me makes it an even greater feeling. It thrills me to know my blog has a life of its own out there. It’s nice knowing that I seem to have an audience, and I hope my posts are truly speaking to people. With that said, if you are constantly checking back to see if I’ve written anything, thank you for doing so. I’m grateful for you.

If memory serves me correctly, I believe it was Stephen King who once penned the immortal words: “Some things are the hardest things to say…” within his small but authoritative novella The Body which can be found in his collection of short stories Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

I want to write a book, but not just any book.  My aspiration is to write a coming-of-age novel set within the San Francisco Bay Area that not only encompasses the interesting history of the region, but also entails specific landmarks, people, cultures, sub-cultures, neighborhoods, street names, and the events that are held here year round that are not just festivals, oh no, they are tradition. Set in stone. I’m talking magnum opus scale. San Francisco would be my stage and its populace would be my beautiful characters. I would also like to encompass the South and East Bay regions.

I want to write about:

Cinema and torch songs, the Castro Theater, the Castro District, the North Beach District along with the Beat writers and it’s delightfully wicked neon flashing titty bars- Carol Doda’s Condor Club (her nipples flash in red pulses)  and the Hungry-I. I want to write about City Lights Books which is the Vatican of independent bookstores. I want to discuss Folsom Street and the infamous “Land of Leather” within SoMa. Then there’s the Haight-Asbury and all its tie-dye reefer madness, and the music, I can’t forget the music. I want to encompass the media sensation of the Summer of Love along with the psychedelic underground drag troupe The Cockettes who performed complete and utter insanity upon the stage of the Palace Theater. Debauchery, drugs, and drag at its glittering best with shows like Hell’s Harlots, Hollywood Babylon, Gone with the Showboat to Oklahoma!, The Heartbreak of Psoriasis, and Pearls over Shang-Hai.  I want to feverishly engrave upon paper the midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Vegas in Space (With San Francisco’s own Doris Fish) at The Strand. I want to write with erotic intrigue about the Mitchell Brother’s sleazy O’Farrel Theater in the Tenderloin which housed their porno empire that started the career of Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door. But perhaps the most bizarre part of the Mitchell Brother’s story is that they were like Cain and Abel. One flew into a rage and killed the other with a gun. There’s also renegade journalist Hunter S. Thompson and his shenanigans with the Oakland based Hell’s Angels. And comedian Lenny Bruce’s drunken nude fall out of the 2nd floor window of his single occupancy hotel on Broadway Street. He landed on his feet, injuring his ankles. There’s also the noirsh side of San Francisco that encompasses the Pinkerton Detective Agency from the novel The Maltese Falcon. Then there’s the cold, haunting fog that drifts in from the Pacific. Then there are the garish porch lights and illuminated windows of the bright and drably Victorians.  

I want to write about San Francisco’s loveable and eccentric Emperor Norton (who carried a sword at all times) who envisioned an underwater transportation system that linked the East Bay with San Francisco. His dream finally became BART-Bay Area Rapid Transit which turned 40 years old this year. Then there’s Lilly Hitchcock Coit. She was a firefighter during the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire. She’s responsible for erecting Coit Tower upon the pinnacle of Telegraph Hill. I would love to mention Reverend Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid drinkers of The People’s Temple which was located on Geary Boulevard. There’s also Dan White’s sneaky, wrathful burst into San Francisco City Hall where he assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk (the first openly gay man in office) and Mayor George Mascone. Afterwards, the Gay Community marched through the Castro and down Market Street holding candles. They trudged down to Civic Center where their sadness twisted into a malevolent boil of hate overflowing with rage. The evening went on to be called The White Night Riots. San Francisco City Hall was devastated and crippled. Many people were injured and taken to jail. 

I’d also like to write about the Oakland shipyard cranes in the port that inspired George Lucas’s vision for the Imperial Galactic Empire within his Star Wars universe. Then there’s San Leandro which is home to Russ Meyer, the self-proclaimed “King of the Nudies” who directed the cult classics Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Super Vixens, and a few others. (Tura Satana forever!)

Then there’s San Lorenzo Village which was one of America’s first planned communities. It was constructed in the 1940’s and 50’s when families were moving into the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the shipyards. There were not enough houses constructed, so David D. Bohannon purchased several hundred acres of farmland and strategically worked with the Government to construct a township filled with durable and affordable two and three bedroom googlie tract houses. It’s a gorgeous suburbia that has a charming neighborhood nicknamed “The Vias” which is located off Bockman Road and up Hesperian Boulevard. I’m a sucker for romanticizing, but it sure does remind me of The Wonder Years as I walk through it with my camera. 

Truthfully, the only honest way I know how to write a novel is use my own life. I don’t want it to be 100% autobiographical per se, but I wish to use certain elements of my own life to propel the characters motives, dialogue, and feelings. Of course this goes for the plot and setting as well. I want the main character to be loved, championed, and sympathetic. I want the readers to feel and see everything he experiences through his eyes. I also want this book to be a page turner. I dream of it being well received and becoming a financial success, I want it to become a household name, and I want people to carry it inside of their hearts. 

My first attempt at writing such a story was during my college days back home in Batesville, Arkansas. (I should mention that this blockbuster novel would get my name on the marquee coming into Batesville…it’s about damn time Mark Martin be knocked off his high horse) I immensely enjoyed my creative writing course. That semester I was engulfed in an idea while taking a shower. I was cleaning myself as the hot water burst and streamed out of the shower head and onto my soft, pale, nude body. I remember thinking of the opening credits of Brian DePalma’s Carrie, but without all that crimson leaking menstrual blood. (Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!)  I was longing to be back in my city by the bay, and at a complete dead end in my life. I was lost. I remember the bathroom being filled with steam and I was questioning myself in silence: How can I talk about San Francisco, yet make it scary and believable, yet give it the respect and adoration it deserves? I want to do something that has never been done before. It has to stick with people if they read it, and if they go there in person, I want it to manifest it’s self in their psyche.

The proverbial lightening flashed violently across my mind. It was a lovely chemical reaction produced in thought that made the dopamine within my head rush enthusiastically. It was as if the electricity of Dr. Frankenstein’s electrical storm high on the craggy mountain top of his crumbling laboratory hit my brain. I swear I could hear him gleefully yelling in ecstasy, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” 

Here was the idea: 
My favorite place in all of San Francisco is and will always be Alamo Square Park which is located in the Western Edition. Many of you will recognize it because it was used in the opening credits of Full House. I knew I wanted to pay homage to the city I’ve had a heated love affair with since childhood. I wanted an Outsider for the main character. San Francisco is littered with people who did not belong where they came from. The challenge of the story also gave me a chance to mentally unearth all the previous memories I had of walking the streets. This involved the smells, sounds, the way people dressed, street life, and the beautiful descriptions of the Victorian and Edwardian architecture. I wanted a character that was easily loved, but mentally troubled and confused, seemingly happy, but unstable. I wanted the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square to drive him insane. To the point of suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge since it is the #1 suicide destination in the world.  Yeah, it’s melodramatic, but I knew if I gave it enough love and craft it would work. I also wanted to give the story a creepy ambiguous ending.

So one night after getting off work from Pizza Hut, I came home, showered, and started composing sentences on an old laptop that used a cast-off keyboard because the one that was part of the computer was destroyed. (The laptop is now demolished and buried in a landfill somewhere in Arkansas) I wrote a story called A Desire in Alamo Square which flowed out of me like a river of melted butter. Once I started writing it, I couldn’t stop. It was as if the story possessed me and everything that ever mattered to me was used. It became the most serious piece of writing I ever fashioned. I was proud that I produced something powerful. Something lasting.

The time came in creative writing class to share an excerpt of what we were each working on. It was finally my turn to read. I took them into the journey of Jeremy Rohrer’s San Francisco and the others were speechless. They each said that they couldn’t believe I had written something so striking. I was flooded with positive feedback, and disbelief. My professor liked what I had produced, but she didn’t like the homosexual undertones. (You have to remember this was written in a small town community college in the South) It was something defiantly different that pushed the limits. My piece of literature transcended into dangerous territory but I was not afraid, nor was I ashamed. I knew it was dissimilar and profoundly provocative, and I stood by every word that was written because it was all conceived in a longing to be back where my heart truly was. I read it to another professor friend of mine and it brought her to tears. She absolutely got it.

Towards the end of the semester, we were assigned to do a public reading for our final. Of course I chose A Desire in Alamo Square and it brought down the house. People were touched, others were made to feel uncomfortable, and some were speechless. It was amusing reading something controversial, nevertheless devastatingly gorgeous about life on the West Coast within those conservative halls of a satellite branch of the University of Arkansas contained in a small town of just over 10,000 people. I received an A in my creative writing class.

When I came back to visit California in 2010 (for the first time in three years) my dear friends took me back to Alamo Square Park and I presented them each with a copy of my short story in a protective case. I dedicated it to my friend Justin since he had given me so much love over the years. He’s one of the greatest friends I have. They assembled in front of the Painted Ladies in the park and had a group picture made. It’s one of my favorites.

 It’s now 2012. At the time, I was living in the thick of the East Bay within Hayward (I’m now residing in a dump in the San Leandro avenues with a roach infested kitchen thanks to housemates who LEAVE a lot of their food out at night) I’m working in downtown San Francisco. During my extensive stay in Hayward the world of Jeremy Rohrer came to me again, this time haunting me. I had become closer friends with Erik. (he and two other people walked into my life when I needed friends the most) We had spent the past months going to dinner, an occasional lunch, talking back and forth on Facebook Messenger, exploring The City on our San Francisco Bizarro tour (which consisted of places like Charles Manson’s former house on Clayton Street and Hunter S. Thompson’s prior pad on Parnassus Avenue) We shared some of our writing projects, and he even introduced me to Charles Bukowski who is considered the “Poet Laureate of Low-Life.” He wrote a masterful autobiography called Ham on Rye which is phenomenal. Read it. In fact, read anything by him. He kicks ass. Bukowski’s alter ego is Henry Chinaski. Erik is also responsible for taking me to the Castro Theater for the first time. He asked me to go with a couple of his close friends-David and Liz. We watched The Mill & the Cross starring Rutger Hauer and Charlotte Rampling. Needless to say, that night was amazing. I felt like a true San Franciscan. There is nothing like watching a flick at The Castro, then stopping by Hot Cookie next door to indulge in some decadent confections afterwards.

Earlier, I had shared A Desire in Alamo Square with him. He got it word for word, found it very dark, bizarre, and wonderful. He thought it had great potential and even asked if I considered trying to get it published. I was proud to share it with him, I trust him. Weeks later, I went back and completely revised it. I added more to Jeremy’s back ground and included a lot of what I had recently observed and discovered on Market Street, as well as on my own lonely walks through San Francisco trying to get a feel for it, a greater sense how it all worked. I even talked about some of the things I mentioned earlier about cinema, pop-culture, etc...

 In 2011, I met Erik for the first time. You can go back and read how we met, but I was unemployed at the time and frankly scared shitless. Anyways, he once told, “You’ll move nicely through the world.” I’ve never forgotten that. There are times where that simple phrase almost brings me to tears when I’m feeling rather low and shallow. Not for a second do I believe he was bullshitting me. I believe he was genuinely sincere.

I surprised him one afternoon while having lunch at Applebee’s with the revised copy of A Desire in Alamo Square and the dedication read:

 For Erik Who Once Told Me, “I’ll Move Nicely Through The World.” In A Coffee Shop In San Lorenzo, Ca.

 A few days ago he invited me to his house and I asked to his personal library. You can learn so much more about a person this way. I should add that it’s quite impressive. It’s got something for everybody. It was then that I noticed the copy of A Desire in Alamo Square within his collection of novels. I cannot tell you how cool it was seeing something I had written in someone else’s library. It was a terrific feeling. I’m glad it’s there, safely tucked away with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burrows, Cormac McCarthy, William Gibson, Brett Easton Ellis, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and many others who wrote without indignity with what they were consumed with.                

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