I have a friend who identifies herself first and foremost as a writer. All her other identities--mother, wife, teacher, friend--elaborate this central self. Her declaration set me wondering: What am I? A dozen answers popped into my head.
One thing I am is recently relocated. After 21 years living in Burlingame, and another five in Brisbane--after raising three kids in the suburbs--my husband and I recently moved back to San Francisco, the city where we met (at SF State), and married (on a boat on the Bay), when we were young.
Getting back here wasn't easy. First he had to convince me. "If we don't move back to the City," he said, "our lives are over."
I couldn't quite see the lip of the grave he was invoking, I consider myself young! but I saw how much he wanted to move, so I agreed to give it a try--for a year.
Next we had to pack up our three-bedroom house (let's not go there), and find a suitable tenant. Our 21-year-old son agreed to manage it and rent out rooms. His plans included putting an enormous pool table in the living room. Still, we liked that idea better than renting to strangers. We figured he'd be easier to evict if things went horribly wrong.
Finding an apartment was a learning experience. Since we still work on the Peninsula, and dislike traveling in the BART-sponsored box of aural pain, we wanted a place within an easy bike ride of CalTrain. We also wanted a neighborhood where we might fit in.
The first place I liked was in the Castro, but when we went into Twin Peaks Tavern on the corner of Castro and Market, I was the only woman in the crowded room. We saw a place in the Mission which seemed livable, but as we drove through congested streets looking for a parking space, we couldn't spot one person with silver hair. North Beach, by contrast, had both women and old people. Paradise!
Then we found out that rental units in North Beach are rare. Aside from the 552 postings of the same picture on Craigslist for units in a huge apartment complex on the wrong side of Telegraph Hill (thank you Trinity Management!), there was maybe one posting a week, and you had to be the first to show up with a check in hand to have any chance of landing it.
So we were, and we did. And here we are.
Now the question is, what does all this have to do with my quest for identity? Well, I don't know.
But when I sat in Washington Square one morning and looked around, this is what I saw: a half dozen Chinese women exercising together, a shirtless man performing a dance with a floppy frisbee, a group of long-haired young people sitting in a circle singing to a guitar, a voluptuous girl in a bathing suit lying on a towel and working on her tan, an old man shuffling by on his cane, a family of tourists consulting over a map in a foreign language, a natty dresser with a shiny watch hurrying to an appointment, a bevy of bums laughing and drinking on a bench, a woman walking two identical tiny dogs with jeweled collars, a mother helping her child out of his stroller so he could run in the grass, lovers cuddling under a tree, two office workers eating their lunches out of paper bags, and Stormin' Norman, a Tennessee refuge in a brown three-piece suit serenading us all with a saxophone.
And this is what I thought: if I'm going to define myself anywhere, I will do it here.