Tracy says it’s like a treasure hunt. We go off into the world, sometimes with a sketchy plan, sometimes not, and we see what the world has waiting for us. And the world never disappoints.
This time, we decided to go to Fort Mason to see “Motet,” which was in its final weekend. Tracy had gotten us tickets (reservations, really — the event was free) to go earlier, but I had been too busy staring at my feet so she didn’t go, and then everyone in my friendship circle were all “oh my God this is best thing ever,” so we went.
We didn’t have reservations this time, but there were same-day walk up tickets, so we decided to try that. We brought books in case there was a wait. It was a mirror-clear winter day, tucked into that eerie 12-hour period between rainstorms when the world seems newly invented. Shiny streets, boats on the water, Alcatraz looking like Alcatraz, the whole deal. We can’t help but be beautiful; don’t hate us, other cities.
(I’m delighted to see that the kerfuffle over New York values has ripped the spotlight away from former whipping boy San Francisco values. As we know, “San Francisco values” is code for “gay,” whereas “New York values” is code for “Jewish”).
We got there right when it opened, noon, and were told that there was a three-hour wait. Also, that there was no waiting room. So how long could be stroll around Fort Mason, we wondered. We decided: Not long enough. So we declined the three hour wait and decided to go for the Wave Organ.
Which, when you think about it: Why is the Wave Organ a civic pariah? There are no signs announcing its presence or providing a handy trail marker, and no useful plaques to tell you what it is. I admire the resourceful tourists who find the damn thing; they must be approaching San Francisco in the “let’s poke around and see what’s there” method, much preferred over the “let’s go where the map says” strategy. I’m not sure even locals remember to take their visiting relatives out to that jetty.
We clambered down to the pipes and sat on the carved granite and marble, taken from the leavings of an old graveyard that had been used to shore up the breakwater. It was a calm day, so we had to open our ears and minds and listen to the soft sound of the waves lapping and whooshing. Across the harbor were the white hills of the city.
We held hands. We don’t really like to, but we know it grosses the young people out.
So then we went home, but I forgot to tell you about the part in the middle. We strolled around Fort Mason before we went to the Wave Organ. We sat on the bench near the Cowell Theater and stared at the bay and the gulls. It was heart-breakingly familiar, all of it, and we silently rejoiced that we were there and not some other place.
After 20 minutes of that, I required caffeine. We went to the Interval, which is a surprising steampunky but mellow old-time coffee house, with fabulous machines scattered about and Brian Eno on the speakers. I began looking at the stuff on the walls. There was something intensely familiar about the whole thing, and the general vibe was beginning to seem familiar, so I stepped back to get a larger picture.
Why, it’s the Long Now foundation.
I know something about them, because I know Stewart Brand. I even went on a rollicking three-day adventure with him in Ely (pronounced E-lee), Nevada. At that time the clock of the Long Now (“It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium”) was to be located inside a mountain above the scrub land 30 miles east of town. We spent the better part of the day looking for the property.
Long Now is a glorious pie-in-the-sky outfit started by dreamers. Skilled real world dreamers, dreamers who know how to make a living and behave acceptably around other human beings, but still…people with horizons a lot further than mine. Their theories contain a lot of unproved assumptions, but they’re trying to predict the future, which is often a fool’s game. I cut them slack because I admire their ambition.
Along one two-story wall was a revolving library, the kind of take-one, leave-one arrangement one finds occasionally in B&Bs, except in the B&B the books are all by Clive Kussler or Danielle Steel. Next to the bookshelves was a rack for larger publications, and on the rack was the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog. Cover torn off, pages a little bent and creased, but the real deal.
Oh, boy, I thought. I used to love the Whole Earth Catalog. Read it cover to cover, even the parts about hydroponic gardening and rewiring your toaster so it warms your goats. I picked it up and started reading. Always curious about who wrote what, I turned the contributors page. Oh yes, it’s him, it’s her, it’s…me.
I have no memory of writing for the Catalog. I once guest-edited the Whole Earth Review, which I tend to forget about because I didn’t do good work there. But this other thing…I’ve written just a shitload of stuff, so it’s not uncommon to come across strange material with my name on it.
So I went to read it, preparing to cringe — most of my writing makes me cringe, which may be why I keep trying to get it right — and checking around to see if anyone’s noticed my journey into my own brain. Nope. I read. A hush fell over the coffee house. Paragraph, paragraph, paragraph…
I like it. I think I got some good sentences in there. A little imitating of the Whole Earth house style, but not bad. In places actively good. Kid can knock off a paragraph. I bet he had a good time putting that together.
(And, I discover later, it’s on-line! Judge for yourself! Bask in the wonder of me! Or, of course, the other thing.)
Other writers may be different. Other writers may come across unexpected chunks of their own work and not read them. But I doubt it. Have you ever found a photo album and gone through looking for pictures of yourself? And why not? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
I’d have liked to stay there forever, drinking lattes and re-reading particularly fine sentences, but the sun was bright and the breeze was mild and the day was saying, “come to me, come to me.” So, reluctantly, I said goodbye to my little shot of self-regard and trundled out into the big mechanical universe.
Photography by Tracy Johnston
Answers to panicky questions by Michelle Mizera