San Francisco: A Piece of Short Anecdotes
Elizabeth wrote this piece in Aug. 2014, A Writing and Thinking workshop while attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington, MA
San Francisco is where I saw the color red. It appears, slowly but surely, standing upright and unshaken behind the obscurity of blanketed clouds. It is a metal structure that appears solid, concrete, more real than the mysterious fog floating about. Stretching 8,980 feet long and standing 220 feet tall, the bridge extends its fast-paced body into the heart of the metropolis. The red is still bold and beats out the transparent white of the misty fog that swarms it. I sit quietly in the car, staring at the sides of the bridge as it blurs past, mixing with the deep blue of the ocean water and the thin lines of red of the rails. The car pulls further and as we leave the bridge behind, I can swear I see the fog begin to clear.
San Francisco is where I tasted a well-earned parking spot. Ice cream was too cold for the weather, but not for me. Even though my hands were like ice as I sat in the toasty car and none of the temperatures in each part of my body matched up (my butt was really warm, but my feet were freezing), I needed ice cream. There was this one ice cream place my friend Eileen had told me about that sold a basil flavored one and had all these interesting kinds I needed to try. My brother drives us past Geary Blvd, opting for the one of two locations of the creamery on Divisadero instead of 18th Street where there is bound to be no parking since it’s Sunday and everyone wants ice cream on Sunday, even when it’s cold. But it turns out, there isn’t much parking on Divisadero either, because 5 minutes turns into 10 minutes turns into 20 minutes of driving up and down streets before spotting one shining space. The air is so cold as we walk it crawls through my jacket and settles in my sleeves, making me wonder if this journey for ice cream was even worth it at all. But as I order lavender honey and green tea ice cream, my doubts slip away. The delicacy hits my tongue and the sweet creamy texture melts into a perfectly captured flavor, telling me this is the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
San Francisco is where I heard acceptance. Walking the dimly-lit corridors, I finally understand my violin teacher’s complaints about the poor quality of the backstage of Davies Symphony Hall, the grand concert hall where some of the best and the finest musicians have put forth their art. I walk by the practice rooms, hearing excerpts of Strauss or Mahler, each excerpt clearly well-practiced and well-polished. I grip the handle of my own violin case and try to regulate my nervous breathing as I step into my own practice room. I am at the seating audition where my spot in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra will be determined. I have already been accepted with a preliminary audition, but now I must be placed. My hands must have been shaking because as I pull out my sleek bow, a staff member walks by and says, “Don’t worry too much about this one. You’ve already been accepted.”
San Francisco is where I touched a rocky cliff. Crashing against the jagged rock face, white frothy water tendrils leave parts of their hydrogen-oxygen bonded remains behind. Further out into the rippling waves, the foam turns to a deep dark indigo, continually moving and continually ominous. I stare down into the abyss, trying to ignore the fact that one slip from my position could send me plummeting into the water below. My brother climbs up and around each of the rocks like they are familiar and I don’t dare step anywhere he doesn’t. As we reach one of the highest points, I revel in the mist that surrounds me. I look down once more at the frightening drop, but this time, I am not as scared. I listen to the sound of the waves as they crash less violently now, or at least, they sound less violent before. I feel the rough surface of the rock I stand on, letting my fingertips skim the abrasiveness and wondering how nature shaped them.
San Francisco is where I felt adrenaline. It wasn’t exactly a safe part of San Francisco, considering how my best friend, Alex, had just whispered in my ear, “That man’s dealing drugs across the street.” The line stretched all the way around the block and a bit beyond, each person in line an Asian teenager or Asian parent. My caucasian father, standing 6 feet tall, looked awkward and out of place. Alex and I on the other hand, couldn’t get into the Warfield Theatre fast enough, both of us still in disbelief that we were really here and about to see a real live Korean pop concert.
“The website won’t crash.” I told Alex the morning we were to get our tickets.
“Yeah that’s what they said last year,” She replied indignantly, “Because the stupid box office people have never even heard of Korean pop music. They have no idea how crazed it is.”
I nodded in agreement because she was right and we would be ready. Our plan was perfect. Two laptops open to the ticket website (in case one of them crashed), Alex’s dad’s credit card number copied to the computer clipboard so we wouldn’t have to tediously enter every number (in order to maximize time and get better tickets), and two fuzzy blankets with glasses of cranberry juice set the stage. When the ticket portal opened two hours early by mistake, Alex fought to get our tickets. I began to lose hope when the middle section tickets sold out, but Alex wasn’t giving up. I had never seen her so determined before, her eyes wide and her mouth set firm. “We’ve been waiting for hours.” She growled, “We’re gonna get our damn tickets.” And we did. Standing in the line that stretches around the block in the ghetto part of the city, Alex is even more intense and even more excitable. As we approach the door, Alex pulls out a manila folder containing our precious tickets; tickets of patience, sacrifice, and dedication. The man at the door scans our tickets and we step over the threshold into the maze of wild fans.
San Francisco is where I smelled goodbye. I hold onto my brother’s shirt, noting how his scent is now different from mine. His clothing is now washed with different detergent in a different place and now I smell like home and he smells like a stranger. I straggle behind as my parents walk my brother to his dorm room on the San Francisco campus. His room, already messy with clothes and miscellaneous personal items, smells nothing like home. Home smells like a new house, but not overwhelmingly so. It smells like the warm air in California and the dry soft smell of our furniture, each one worn with the feeling of people living in the space. My brother hands me a panda pillow pet from the top of his typical dorm bed saying I can have it. A smile lights up my face and I bury my nose into the panda, but then pull my head back, offended, almost hurt, that it doesn’t smell like home either. Years later, when I fill my suitcase with the entirety of my room and pick up the pillow pet from my bed, I breathe in home one last time. I take a full breath, trying to memorize the scent and mentally attempting to put the indescribable aroma into describable words, realizing that I, too, will soon smell like a stranger.
The idea for my Polished Piece of Prose came from the Focused Free Write we did on formulated questions for the author Lysley Tenorio who wrote Monstress. One of the questions I wrote was “Do each of the locations in your book have special meaning?”. The story Save the I-Hotel takes place in San Francisco, which is close to my hometown and where I have had many experiences. My original piece started out with a description of the Golden Gate Bridge and small observations I have made about the city. My original piece also included a third person narration with a little girl and her big brother (I was the little girl and the brother was my brother) as they go into San Francisco and try to decide what to do.
After writing the original piece, I was pleased with the feeling I felt it evoked. It reminded me a lot of the culture of San Francisco and made me realize how many memories I have created there. I wanted to write something about home because I feel it is important to record memories and experiences. When I began working on my PPP, I realized that it would be difficult to expand my original piece mostly because the structure of it was created specifically to be short. I decided to restructure my piece by creating a new beginning, but still using some of the same description and keeping the relationship with my brother in there.
I first listed all the memories I remembered having in San Francisco. I had a long list of experiences ranging from my first time going to the mall in San Francisco to the Gay Pride Parade like I had wrote about. I decided to structure the piece around the five senses with a little extra (i.e. San Francisco is where I felt…). “San Francisco is where I saw the color red.” is the opening sentence that I rewrote from my original piece to describe the bridge instead. I originally had “San Francisco is where I said goodbye.” at the beginning since it was one of the first things I thought of when writing. My brother lives in San Francisco and went to college there so he is prevalent in a few of the short anecdotes throughout this piece. I put the “San Francisco is where I said goodbye.” at the end eventually and changed “said” to “smelled”. I particularly like that short anecdote because I think it really captures an interesting angle as well as the way I look at things.
I tried to develop each of the short anecdotes with a small message in each. The goodbye one actually represents many things in my life. The scent of home and my refusal to smell the scent of a stranger represents my fear of change and my fear of my life being different. When I smell my house at the end, I am trying to capture the life I have had so far and then accepting the change by telling myself I will smell like a stranger, too.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece. It was an amazing experience being able to turn my memories into stories and derive truth and meaning from them. This was the first time I ever structured a piece like this without a particular purpose except just compiling San Francisco stories into an inclusive piece. I am hopeful for the things I will get to write in the future, and I am glad that I was able to better my writing skills with this piece.