The 40 In 40 Days Project.
 

24. The “Tales of the City” House (1993)

Main Index

The Au Pairs
The Step-stepfather
The Simulated Wank
The Toy Store
The First Single
The Queeny Put-Down
The First Hissy Fit
The First Gay Club
The Rent Boy
The Heterosexual Phase
The Lifestyle Switch
The Empty Floor
The First Poem
The Amsterdam Weekend
The First Time
The Perfect Moment
The Year In Berlin
The Trade Years
The First Memory
The Anniversary Party
The Incompetencies
The Pricking Of The Bubble
The Club Residencies
The "Tales of the City" House
The Musical Epiphany
The Worst Thing I Ever Did To Anyone
The Royal Procession
The Parental Disclosure
The Concept Albums
The Romantic Obsession
The Failure
The Apotheosis of Queer
The Shove From Above
The Interrogation
The Professional Rut
The Rebirthday
The First Boyfriend
The "Catharsis Of Joy"
The Funeral Address
The Falling In Love

Chronological Index

troubled diva

Ah, the Jet Set Years. What fun they were…

For seven years (1989-1996), K worked as an international product manager for a Finnish biotechnology company. A major part of his role entailed creating and maintaining a global distribution network for his company’s products. Naturally, this meant a hefty amount of foreign travel. In fact, this meant a colossal amount of foreign travel. We calculated that over the seven years, on average, K was away from home for about one third of the time. Of course, this put a huge strain on him, and on us. It was a difficult and testing time, in many respects. However, it did give K the experience he needed to set up his own company, and to make it a success. And there were, of course, certain distinct benefits along the way.

Not least of those benefits – at least from my point of view, stuck back in Nottingham while K gadded about the globe – were the enormous number of Air Miles which K clocked up, and which we eagerly converted to free flights and posh hotel rooms. We would also tack our holidays onto the end of K’s business trips – that way, the company would pay for his flight and we could split the cost of my flight between us. As a result, we were averaging around four foreign jaunts a year.

One of the best of these jaunts came in Spring 1993. We started off in Banff, staying at the Banff Springs Hotel, where K was attending a conference. This place struck me as the real life equivalent of the hotel in The Shining - it was easy to picture Jack Nicholson stalking the empty corridors during the off-peak season. We then flew down to San Francisco, staying there for a week or so, with a night away at Yosemite. Then on to Boston, and a brief stop in Toronto before flying home.

So, there we were in San Francisco, on a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon, looking for the real life Barbary Lane (as featured in Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series). Our Rough Guide told us that Barbary Lane was based on a street on Russian Hill called…well, I forget what it was called now, and in any case, it could probably do without any more publicity. This was a good year or so before the “Tales” TV series put the place firmly on the map.


We find the street sign without too much trouble. Look, those must be the famous wooden steps leading up to the lane! We clamber up the steps and into the narrow, quiet lane, with houses on either side. Wow – this looks just as we had always imagined it. Unreal.


As we approach one house on the right hand side, about halfway along, a smallish grey-haired lady is fussing about with the wisteria growing up on its frontage. “Oh dear,” she remarks to us as we draw level, “I just can’t seem to be able to tie this back properly – it looks so untidy.” We fall into conversation – the weather, where we’re from. She has a kindly, slightly scatty manner and a lively twinkle in her eye.

After a while, she asks us a question. “Would you like to come inside and see a dirty…”

She pauses. Comparing notes later, we discover that we both had the same thought: is she going to say “dirty movie”?

“…a dirty old typical American house? You’d be very welcome.”

Well, how could we refuse a visit inside a house on Barbary Lane? Besides which, this sweet little old lady does rather remind us of someone. So we step inside her house.

The house is larger than it looked from the outside. It has an eccentric layout, with odd corners, passageways and staircases here and there. It has a lovely, weathered, Bohemian charm to it. LOL tells us that she rents various rooms out to people. One of her lodgers, for instance, worked as a designer on Star Wars, and she shows us some of the original props. In her basement, she has set up a studio, where she does her paintings. There are quotes from Rilke poems pinned up on the walls, which her husband has supplied for inspiration. Upstairs, we stumble across a small enclosed outside area, tucked away and invisible from the street, where she is growing potted geraniums – apparently, it’s quite a sun trap. We climb up onto the flat roof, which boasts a perfect view out over the bay – there’s Alcatraz, there’s the Golden Gate bridge, there’s Sausalito over in the distance. We come back down and meet some of LOL’s family, who have come over for a visit – they are all bright, charming, welcoming people.


LOL asks us, with a vague tone in her voice, whether we’ve ever read any of the books that have been written about XYZ Lane. She hasn’t yet, but she really must get round to it. She only moved in last year. Before her, a gay couple had lived here for about 18 years. I’m calculating mentally – that would be 1974 to 1992, then. The first “Tales” book came out in 1976, and the final book in 1992. That fits rather neatly, doesn’t it? LOL then points out of the window, down the lane, towards a much smaller looking house with a clapboard frontage. Apparently, an elderly lady lives there, who was actually born a man – she had the operation many years ago. LOL has heard that she features quite a lot in the books – is that right? Oh yes, it most certainly is.

We eventually take our leave. But it’s a wrench. There’s something about this house which makes us feel like getting our things, bringing them over straight away, unpacking, and never leaving again. It’s that kind of house. And it’s just what we always thought Anna Madrigal’s house would look like. Our theory, for what it’s worth: Armistead Maupin took the Anna Madrigal character from down the lane, placed her in his friends’ house a few doors up, and spun his fiction from that starting point. We like this theory, as it would mean we had just – briefly – stepped out of reality and into one of our favourite works of fiction. And just how magical and wonderful is that?

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