Book Review: The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Really, I’ve only read one book since August 15th? Kind of tragic, considering it only took a couple days to read. What was I doing, starting a new school semester and having a life or something?
August 16th was my ten-year anniversary in San Francisco. After stalking the place over the period of a few years in a number of ill-planned (but exhilarating) teenage trips here, I finally arrived with a couple suitcases, $300 of student loan money, and a chunk of credit card debt at age 20. When I arrived the air was thinner and colder that where I came from but I felt like I could fully breathe for the first time in my life.
Back then, in 2003, we didn’t have as much of an internet yet. You learned about a place through visits, hearsay, and literature– not the google. Shortly after arriving I used fake ID to go to a $10 benefit at 12 Galaxies I think for Tom Ammiano who was running for Mayor at the time. I learned about it on the Queer Things To Do In San Francisco website, which I leaned about from the Kill Rock Stars site (which if I recall, was purple and hella 1990’s at the time). I took Muni for like an hour and stood alone up on the balcony and watched all these people who I’d been reading books and articles by and about, listening to their cds for years. So much of the obscure stuff that I’d loved as a teenager came together on that stage that night (and apparently all the time around the city, I was thrilled to gradually learn). It wasn’t the sea lions and the golden gate bridge– it was this kind of energy, what these people (artists/queers) were doing and saying– the possibility and energy and politix that their work/art was creating that drew me in.
Compared to San Francisco’s present day circumstance of a jockish yuppie invasion, laughably high rents (fingers crossed my rent control continues), and so many wonderful memories getting replaced with high-end restaurants (that “gentrification” has reached such a point of ubiquity that it seems trite to complain about)– such magic/art/possibility was in the air then. I could feel it.
But, see, recently I read works by by ex/San Franciscans maybe 10 or 12 years my senior, and it turns out that 10 years ago (when I was all full of wonder) they felt the exact same way as I do now. For them, even then, it had gotten too gentrified and fake and yuppie compared to what they started off with. So I think a big part of it is perception. So many of us come to San Francisco to save ourselves. I did. And maybe after we’ve done the basic work of resuscitating, learning to breathe again, making memories in the process– we have time to look around and realize that things are actually fucked up? I’m not sure yet, I guess I’m still figuring it out.
What I’ve gotten so far is that it’s important to support the things that you think are important, if you can (book stores, independent businesses, arts). What I’m starting to get is that new things can be amazing, too. Not the bourgie yuppie crap that’s implanting itself on every corner these days– but new arts spaces, new writers, new organizations, new events. It’s so easy to get caught in a cycle of dwelling on how all the good things in the past are gone. Sure, lots of them are– but awesome things remain and are being born every day– and also, you can make them too.
I guess this was supposed to be a book review for The End of San Francisco. Maybe in some kind of slanted way, it is. I bought this book at Modern Times (which has moved into a smaller space on 24th street, and is currently contemplating whether it has a future or not). It’s a stream of conscious-y memoir about activism, abuse, queer family, San Francisco. It flows back and forth through time, sometimes on the same page without warning, which is fine. People and places are given their real names, and those with pseudonyms are easy to decipher. The book ends but I’m not sure that the story’s over.