What it Meant to Grow up in San Francisco
I remember Turtle Hill somewhere off Funston and how we sat, fifteen years old, on green-painted benches at its peak, overlooking Marin and the bridge if the fog let; how we sat bundled in sweatshirts and NorthFaces and sipped ice-cold glass bottles of Mickey’s and Olde English, the size of our shins. How we used our hoodies as wind shields to light grape swishers stuffed with bud bought from kids with dreads on Haight St. Or from the drug dealers we befriended at school then defriended once guns and pills came into the mix. Or from the private school kids who somehow had med-cards and access to strains of pot with names like Blueberry Dream and labels on their ziplocs.
I remember Chino’s out on Balboa where we used to get burritos, out where the ocean air and fog were one in the same; how I thought Chino must’ve been the owner and imagined an old Mexican patriarch teaching his sons to dice onions and peppers; only learning later that ‘Chino’ meant Chinese in Spanish and having some beautiful sense of worlds and cultures collide in a way that produced the best grilled chicken in town.
I remember basketball tournaments on Page St. — we had team shoes, red and white reeboks with the pumps on the tongue — where black moms and white moms and Asian moms sat together on the pop-out bleachers and, in perfect harmony, cussed out unwitting referees for whistled injustices aimed at their baby boys.
I remember sitting in my pop’s lap, he in a foldout beach chair, during the races, watching the strides of grown-men-bumblebees and flocks of rainbow women; how we watched wrinkled penises flop between the wrinkled white legs of hard-running and stern-faced old men as they moved westward through Golden Gate Park, soon to expose themselves to the salt air of Ocean Beach.
I remember pride parades and my mom in a tutu. And eating mushrooms with all my friends and hiking through the federal land in the Presidio only to pop out unaware at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge where helicopters and dragons were flying, where tourists with melting faces asked us for directions, where we agreed — halfway to Marin — never again to mix bridges and hallucinogens.
I remember services at Emanu-El, stealing sips of Manischewitz, sneaking into the dome room and feeling invaded, protected and confused while strolling through metal detectors at twelve years of age. And I remember attending a Greek Orthodox funeral at the tall, towering church over on Geary, how I feigned conformity and air-kissed the cold body of my nextdoor neighbor in his casket.
I remember numb fingers catching foul balls at the Stick and warmer ones dropping pop-ups at Pac Bell. I remember the Pro-Am at Kezar where Matt Barnes slapped the other team’s coach. I remember another when Gilbert Arenas promised he’d never leave. I remember cracking eggs on our heads during summer camp performances in Glen Park.
I remember other shit too. Having, at eleven, a teammate from HP over to my house, how he drooled aloud over the size of our TV, the two-and-a-half floors of our house. And I remember doing the same at the homes of Town School friends in Sea Cliff and down Divis where indoor pools and home theatres happened.
I remember walking through the TL at seventeen and being chased by pillow-tossing addicts. I remember seeing a dude shoot-up at the Forest Hill Station at a time when other people were at home, eating dinner with their families.
I remember running laps around Lake Merced and sprinting up sand dunes at Fort Funston to prove to coaches that we had what it took, whatever ‘it’ might’ve been. I remember football games where white kids on metal bleachers thought it cool to wear headdresses and mimic cultures near-eradicated in the name of school spirit.
I remember when a teammate showed me videos on his phone of gunfights in his neighborhood and later flashed me his own pistol in the locker room, saying: “Ay, Holden check this out.” I remember smoking a blunt with him before school on one Friday with a late start.
I remember the hot-off-the-press chocolate chip cookies for 75 cents that were held in regard somewhere between high-grade cocaine and much-needed sustenance. And the security guards we loved until they confiscated our kickballs and our kegs. I remember suspensions for this and other things and drinking cranberry and vodka in the courtyard through our camelbaks during school festivals.
I remember going on dates to Mel’s and ice skating at Yerba Buena. I remember midnight parties in the arboretum, smoke-filled Zion I concerts at the Fillmore, free Gift of Gab shows in Stern Grove.
I remember Little Darling’s and lapdances from strippers twice my age and twice my size and I remember the fried chicken at the Gold Club as the best noontime deal in town. I remember sitting in GGP with a book and not reading a word as I watched the bison stand still and stoic and never really move but for a slow flip of the tail.
I remember the smells of dead duck on Clement St. and how the stale paperbacks of Green Apple played its only refuge. I remember day trips to Yosemite to see some stars that turned into weeklong stays in the near- cosmos.
I remember when Slider’s on 9th and Irving served burgers with hard boiled eggs on the side, when Misdirections Magic Shop was Houdini’s; how Andronico’s had the coldest water fountain in town. I remember the taco truck under the highway near Best Buy and what we thought to be the original Bushman down by the wharf.
I remember a city and a town that now exists in my mind like a snowglobe, blurry and always shaking. I remember a city that isn’t there now and probably never was, its true creases and crevices blurred by kid-like nostalgia.
But I remember a city and its peoples and places that shipped and shaped me and I remember it, regardless of what’s now, like a kid might remember his older brother and his older sister and also his mom and dad.
Holden Taylor is a writer born in San Francisco, now living in Savannah, GA. More of his writing can be found here.
Toby Silverman is a San Francisco-based photographer and product designer. His work can be found here.