June 22, 2012

Pure Joy: Armistead Maupin And A True Tale In My City

Armistead Maupin.
Revered and celebrated San Francisco icon - the novelist Armistead Maupin.


By Roy Steele

Just the other day, down on Mission Street, an aging stranger in a white cardigan and plaid bermuda shorts, gave me a loaded and squinting glance, as we passed each other in the lobby of a South of Market building. He wasn’t bad looking - in a Mark Harmon-y sort of way - so I waited a second before turning around, to see if he’d turn around too, for a second look. He knew this old do-si-do just like I did, and he hit the mark perfectly.

Armistead Maupin
Michael Tolliver Lives
(he didn’t write the above words exactly - though he wrote some of them)*


There was a very small line of 3 people waiting to speak to the busy receptionist, in the small lobby of the South of Market building where I had to go on Wednesday afternoon. I waited a few minutes, and the security guard walked over to the queue, to see if he could help anyone. I asked him my question, which he was able to answer, and I was glad that I could go on my way.

I turned on my heel and saw a handsome and distinguished looking man sitting alone in the rear of the lobby. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and he looked vaguely familiar to me, so I tried to nonchalantly walk in his direction, to get a better look. The lobby isn’t very large, and now that I think about it - I’m sure that I was squinting my eyes to see better, as my prescription sunglasses were in my hand - instead of on my head.

When I get excited about something I occasionally blurt out something inappropriate, and the inappropriate words were on the tip of my tongue. I started to say excitedly “It’s you..... and I’m so sad about what I read.” I caught myself and only said “It’s you.” I was determined to act like an adult in front of a man that I greatly admired, so I politely introduced myself. The erudite man stood up and shook my hand, while his well behaved Labradoodle said “what about me.” I said hello to the pretty pooch, and the iconic San Francisco writer was so polite and such a gentlemen --- that I immediately felt at ease.

I told this amazingly talented man that I was a huge fan, and that I owned every one of his novels (which is true). I related that I was so sad to read in the San Francisco Chronicle two days before, that he was moving, and leaving our beautiful city. I also explained how much joy he spread with his writing, and I shared that his novels influenced my decision to move to San Francisco.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for years and I had never bumped into him before, and the day before he was set to move away, I was lucky enough to finally meet Armistead Maupin.  He’s an icon here in San Francisco, he will be sorely missed, and I was grateful that I could tell him that in person.

The Tales of the City author and his husband Christopher Turner, are moving to New Mexico at the end of the summer. They plan on traveling across the country and back again, before settling down in their new adopted hometown of Santa Fe.

Leah Garchik wrote in the Chronicle:
Maupin came to the city in 1971. Five years later, his "Tales of the City," which ran briefly as a series in the Pacific Sun, took root in The Chronicle.

The series became a book, a twisting tale of gays, Bohemians, newcomers and society folk that described an era of long hair, mini-dresses, mustaches and dope-smoking. San Franciscans were basking in their quirkiness and Maupin held up an affectionate mirror that enabled them to see - and laugh at - themselves. Thirty-six years later, the book has been the basis of three TV miniseries, then a series of novels that followed the characters, then a musical performed at ACT.

Maupin grew up in Raleigh, N.C., served in Vietnam and came to San Francisco to work for the Associated Press. He's a celebrated character around San Francisco, and, in fact, on Thursday, the day before the couple are scheduled to leave, Maupin will receive a Silver Cable Car award from San Francisco Travel, in gratitude for all he has contributed to the city.

After years in the spotlight, he and Turner, 40, are "both craving a little more space and some nature," he said, and the move is "giving us new dreams. There's nothing wrong with that." 
As to his iconic status in the gay community, "I read somewhere that Santa Fe has the second-highest percentage of same-sex couples, next to San Francisco. I need a few homos, I like brothers and sisters around me. And I don't think I'll be hurting."
I met Armistead’s handsome husband Christopher too. They were both so unpretentious and lovely, that I could have chatted with them for hours. We probably talked for nearly half an hour, and I was thrilled. I wanted to chat about “Michael Tolliver Lives” and “Maryann In Autumn,” and wished I’d told him how excited I was that he resumed writing the "Tales of the City" novels.

Regardless - it was a thrill for me and it made my day.

Thanks for all you’ve done for this glorious city Armistead, thanks for taking the time to chat, and thanks for enriching my life with your prose.

We’ll miss having you both in San Francisco Armistead and Christopher! I hope to bump into you sometime soon - in Santa Fe.

Conduire en toute sécurité et avoir un bon voyage! À bientôt!



* Liberally paraphrasing and copying the first paragraph of “Michael Tolliver Lives,” in a tribute to Armistead - injecting myself into the story, as I'm the aging stranger in a white cardigan. I'm describing our meeting in a fictional way (aside from the cardigan and shorts - it wasn’t like that at all).


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