However, she's a friend so I don't want her to feel badly...why don't you cozy up to Red while I discreetly look for a tissue and quietly sob my heart out?
Recently, I wrote a short story about a mysterious wizard who, through a series of magical events, ends up sweating to the oldies in an exercise studio adjacent the the not-so-mean, but oh-so-fabulous streets of San Francisco. It's called The Wizard Takes a Fitness Class, and it is the sequel to The Wizard Takes a Holiday. I'm not sure what the Wizard is going to “take” next. Perhaps a chance. Hopefully not a trip to the bathroom. Could be a lover. You just never know with this guy.
I threw out some ideas for guest post topics related to The Wizard to our beloved Ash, and she stuck her hand into the hat and pulled out the strip that said “Chinatown.” You gotta respect a lady who ignores “fitness” and “zombies” completely in favor of great shopping and exotic foods. I know I do!
So let's talk about Chinatown, San Francisco Edition, shall we? I've visited more than one “big city” Asian neighborhood, but whenever I hear “Chinatown,” I think of San Fran. I also think of the classic Jack Nicholson flick, and thanks to that highbrow serving of cinematic fare Meet the Parents, I now hear Robert DeNiro's voice in my head vaguely threatening to take the eponymous Focker “down to Chinatown.”
My most memorable trip to Chinatown had nothing to do with anyone's parents, though. It was way before we met the Fockers, no one solved any seedy murders, and I was still too cool to dig a sweaty Kurt Russell in a wife-beater (although, come to think of it, Big Trouble in Little China is probably the same universe in which our Wizard lives).
As I walked street after street, hill after hill, discoveries continued to delight me. San Francisco is like that. Did I mention hills? They've got little parks on the tops of them. Victorian houses called “Painted ladies.” Beautiful men painted like ladies who call themelves Victoria. All-in-all, breathtaking.
If you're not careful, you can wander from Pacific Heights to the Haight, through the Castro, to the Wharf, and end up in Chinatown while you're looking for the famous beat poet mecca, City Lights Bookstore. Along the way, you will be followed for a bit by young Latino men with basketballs, but although you are a lone white girl in the big city, you're not afraid. You're a Hoosier. Your español may be rusty, but you speak fluent basketball.
In typical Midwestern behavior, I wore an “I love you” shirt that matched my pink shoes that day. In the exact opposite scenario my racist mother had always admonished me against, I was left alone by the allegedly dangerous roving hordes of inner-city minorities, and, instead, verbally assaulted by rainbow-mohawked white punks at the Wharf. When they brought me to tears with their taunts, I was too shell-shocked to point to my shirt and say “...but...I love you” in the weak pitiful voice of my inner child, but as I crept away in shame, I realized I'd just had the San Francisco equivalent of a wild animal meet & greet on safari. I took a photo of them with my Hello Kitty Polaroid iZone and was on my merry way.
This time, instead of showy punks posing for photos, I found myself buffeted between short people arguing over the prices of cantalopes and fish. Oh, man, there were fish everywhere. And did I mention everyone was shorter than me? I'm only about 5'5”, myself, so when I say “short,” I mean it.
I couldn't help but smile. It was like stepping off the placid banks of a country stream and discovering a cold, thrilling current waiting to sweep you off your feet. I flowed through the crowded street market of Chinatown until I recognized a grocery, and popped inside.
I'd been admiring the variety of Hello Kitty-themed cookies and snacks for a few minutes, when I realized I was being watched. A senior citizen, perhaps the “Pop” of this particular Mom & Pop was watching me like I was going to steal something. Wow! Mom sure never warned me that this could happen. It was certainly shaping up to be quite a day. I bought my Hello Kitty snacks, my Strawberry Pocky, my Kiwi-flavored gummies, and left the store to rejoin the madness in the streets.
And you know what? I never did see the Chinatown of that video above. I'm sure it exists. I see it on television and in movies, but I've never been there. My San Francisco Chinatown is all fish markets and Asian apothecaries. And that's okay.
If I'd had more time, maybe I would have found some cheesy souvenir for my mother or the man I called my “un-boyfriend” back home, but after all that walking and exploring, it was time to meet up with my friend. Over awesome Italian food, I let her clue me in on all the places I'd been that day. “That sounds like the Haight!” she'd said. “Oh, that was the Castro, for sure!” “Did you like The Mission?” “Oh, yes, the financial district downtown is always cold—the sun never shines there.”
She apologized profusely for not having the time off to work to have gone with me that day, but I still feel now the way I did then—it was no big deal. I had fun. I didn't then and I don't now require company to have a good time. The world is a fascinating place, and there is nothing like traveling to a new place alone to really highlight how much each of us stands to learn about the world around us, and the vast sea of unique individuals that inhabit it.
Like our mysterious Wizard, I never feel truly alone, no matter where I go. Maybe I take demons with me, like his magicalness, himself. Maybe it's the fluent basketballese, or the “I love you” shirt-wearing girl in me. Maybe it was the echo of Allen Ginsberg, snapping fingers in time to my roving poet's heart. Or maybe it was just those crazy talking parrots, chittering at me from atop Telegraph Hill. I don't know and who cares?
Mayhap these shoes were not made for walking, but if ever a city was made to be walked, it was San Francisco.
In the Wizard Takes a Fitness Class, our Wizard walks those streets. He intends to leave The City a better place than how he found it, but something from his past draws him in like a magnet. Spells can only repair so much damage, after all. When it comes to facing the past, sometimes its easier to exercise one's demons, than it is to actually exorcise them.
The Wizard Takes a Fitness Class is currently a Hot New Release in Dark Fantasy, on the Amazon charts. I'd love for you to check it out, and share with me your own San Francisco walking story. (I also recommend you read the almost-flash fiction piece that came first, The Wizard Takes a Holiday. It's free.)
Thanks again to Ash for having me today on my Wizard mini-tour!
Red Tash is a journalist-turned-novelist, the author of The Wizard Tales, This Brilliant Darkness, and coming later this year, Troll Or Derby. Her website is at http://RedTash.com, and in addition to short updates about her dark fantasy projects, she posts artwork that she finds inspiring. Some of it is pretty scary, but she is really a nice person once you get to know her. She is also on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest, oh my! There is another Red Tash, but he is a pro wrestler in Australia, so if you have to choose between the two, oh hell--just friend them both.