How Can I Tell You About San Francisco by Siamak Vossoughi
How Can I Tell You About San Francisco?
It’s very funny to even imagine it, Trudie. You ever laugh just from the size of something? I mean, you ever stand back and look at something, and from nothing else but the way you can’t put your arms around it, you ever just laugh? That’s how it is with San Francisco. I almost wish you could come to San Francisco by yourself. I mean like as if I wasn’t already here. Because your own San Francisco is holy. That doesn’t mean that everything I dreamed about San Francisco when I first came was true. But it does mean that those dreams have gotten into everything I’ve been and done since then. If a man can walk down Jackson Street from Pacific Heights all the way to North Beach and look around and see everything as new and old at the same time—ships, seagulls, tourists, flowers, women, hills, Chinatown, the blue sky coming in late in the day in summer—then he has to face the foreboding reality that those dreams have survived. After seventeen years, those dreams have survived and even grown and even found some things to do with themselves. And if his little sister happens to be moving to San Francisco after having finished her studies, he’ll think that he ought to either tell her everything or nothing, and it can’t be everything because that would take days and even then he couldn’t get at it. How can you get at a city where you’ve known children? That’s what I mean about it being so big that it’s funny, Trudie. I can walk down city blocks and know a kid who’s dreamed about this street. It’s enough to make you pack up and leave San Francisco just to leave the memories whole. But you can’t. You can’t be afraid that tomorrow won’t match up to today’s dreams just to be on the safe side. San Francisco’s the best place I know for reminding you that in such an event you would be being a fool. I’m telling you, Trudie, its beauty laughs at you sometimes. Its beauty laughs at you with the assurance of somebody who knows they are going to be here long after you, and the only thing you can do is laugh off its laughter, and show it that you’re made of the same stuff it’s made of, that you’re made of people on the ground trying to do something to match the sky too, just like an apartment building painted the color of a sunset. I’m made of everybody I’ve seen in San Francisco, Trudie, I just want you to know so that when you come here and see them, you’ll know you’re looking at me. And I don’t know if that’s any consolation for everything that’s happened, for the way Mom and Pop have been worried about me, for the way you’ve been worried about me too, and the beauty of San Francisco is nothing I can give you or give them to make anybody feel better, but I still wish you could see the way Jackson Street looks to me after seventeen years away from home. I grow just walking from Pacific Heights to North Beach, I swear to God that I grow just walking there, and if Mom or Pop were to say, what kind of growth is it when you still live in a very small apartment and you’re still scraping by, teaching poetry to kids, I would say, “Fair enough.” I would say, “Fair enough. I love you.” That’s all it would be, Trudie. And now you’re coming and you’ll see what I mean at least. You’ll see what I mean about a city that feeds you memories faster than you can swallow them. There’s always a handful I’m carrying on the outside, the two or three that I think I’m going to be able to tell the person I’m on my way to see. But even those I don’t know how to tell anybody. I guess the closest I’ve come is with kids, because they’re interested in everything no matter how small. At least I’ve known they wouldn’t laugh at me for it. It’s the smallest things, Trudie. It’s the smallest things that contain universes inside them. And I catch those things left and right in San Francisco. That’s really all it is. They may be everywhere, but San Francisco just admits it more than most. That’s the only reason I didn’t come home for a long time, Trudie. I didn’t know I could be admitting like that too. But I learned from the city. You should’ve seen me when I first came. I walked around admitting everything. And then I went for a long time thinking that when I did that, I was giving something away for nothing. But I walked down Jackson Street last week and I knew for certain that it wasn’t for nothing. And I wanted to give so much away that I had to tell myself, all right, all right, take it easy, there’ll be a time and place for it, so just stay alert to it. It’s a hell of a thing when you and a city are giving as much as you can. It’s almost like you’re competing and on the same team at the same time. And the city asks me if I’m going to rise to its beauty without falling before its ugliness, I mean it asks me if I’m going to rise and fall as it does, and if I’m going to have something that stays the same. I’m honored just to be asked, Trudie. This is a world-famous city asking me as ordinary as it would for a cup of coffee. And I play it cool, even though the city knows me through and through. I play it cool as a joke, like “Okay, I think I can arrange that.” Because the other option is to be a little kid myself, and that’s all right, it would just be forgetting that all this stuff between me and San Francisco is the result of effort. But that’s the only difference, Trudie. That’s the only difference between a boy and a man, is effort. That’s the only difference between the San Francisco I saw first and the one I saw on Jackson Street last week. And I used to always want to tell you about that first one when I did come home, and I would always wonder why I couldn’t do it, why it didn’t seem like there was a place for it there, but I realized that I would just be telling you about me, and if I was going to be doing that, I might as well be me back home. I might as well be me today. We’re today people, Trudie, and in their own way, Mom and Pop are too, and why I didn’t come home for a long time is that San Francisco is a today city. But I discovered that it is a yesterday city for me too, that I have roots here now, because Lord knows I don’t have roots back home, and anyway with you coming it’s like we’ll have roots and leaves, which is going to be wonderful. I just want to stay out of your way, because what I would like very much is for you to have a city like I first did, something where you’ll be walking down a street seventeen years later and you’ll see a line between yesterday and today in the faces of people, and it’ll be the cleanest, straightest line you could imagine, like a spider’s thread, strong like that though it may look delicate. Your first San Francisco is the true San Francisco, Trudie, and I can’t believe it myself, I can’t believe that I can talk to those old dreams and be introduced to new ones at the same time, it almost seems like more than one man has a right to do, but you need a beautiful city to know that there’s more that a man has a right to do than he might think, he has the right to take that first San Francisco and hold it as tightly as he wants to, there’ll always be some part of it that’s squeezed out from between his fingers, and if he is smart, he will be thankful for that, he will be thankful that he can’t ever hold the city in his hands, because holding it like that is not the job of the living, it might be somebody’s job, but it’s not the job of the living, so I won’t try to do it. I won’t try to tell you about San Francisco because it would take days, and I just would rather you did it on your own. I’d rather you tell yourself, Trudie, as much as I would like to tell it. I have to be happy just to have roots, and to grow in whichever direction I can do the best growing from there. But the main reason I’d rather you tell yourself is that your first San Francisco is the true San Francisco, and the best thing I can do to keep that true for me is to listen when you get here. So I’m just letting you know now so that you’ll know ahead of time that maybe even on the first day, I’m going to expect you to tell me all about San Francisco.
© Siamak Vossoughi
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in London, Orange County, and Seattle. He lives in San Francisco, where he writes and works as a tutor. Some of his stories have appeared in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, River and Sound Review, Black Heart Magazine, and Washington Square Review. He is also the recipient of the 2013 Very Short Fiction Prize from Glimmer Train.
Join the Community
Support the Mission
Get the Book
Writing That Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream
The anthology that started it all. Available in trade paperback and ebook from most online retailers, including: