On facebook recently there has been a lot of excitement and discussion in a group called "You know you grew up in San Francisco when ..." The group members — 11,629 at this precise moment — talk about shared experiences and memories, such as visiting Playland at the Beach, San Francisco's long-gone amusement park that has been extinct exactly 39 years this weekend, Labor Day weekend, but is still fondly remembered by many of the facebook reminiscers. Interestingly, quite a few recall being scared by the six-foot-tall, mechanical Laffing Sal that beckoned kids — of all ages, as they say — into Playland's Fun House. Like other native San Franciscans in the group, I too distinctly remember being petrified of Laffing Sal and her maniacal cackle that could be heard all across Playland. Jeez. Shiver.
Other San Francisco memories: Surfing homemade coasters — planks with cannibalized roller-skate wheels — down steep concrete hills. The one and only Mitchell's Ice Cream shop with its trademark Filipino flavors: ube, macapuno, langka, halo-halo. The San Francisco restaurant chain Doggie Diner with the huge sign: a 3D dog's head wearing a chef's hat and a bowtie. The Mission District's Tik Tok drive-in, where Carlos Santana as a teenager washed dishes for his after-school job. Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse where the rock band I was in played the summer after the Summer of Love; two of us went to high school at SI &mdash St. Ignatius &mdash another to Riordan High School, the fourth to the gifted-and-talented magnet Lowell High School. Oh yeah, then there were those two guys who sang and played guitar on the sidewalk below Ghirardelli Square with a handwritten sign, "Help us get to Europe"
My short story "Manny's Climb" draws from such specifically San Francisco memories, focusing especially on boyhood in "the City," as all San Franciscans call their home. Need I say it? Don't call it "Frisco." There was even once a tourist-trap restaurant called that: Don't Call it Frisco. We mean it. Really.
"Manny's Climb" was first published in Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, edited by Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Cheng Lok Chua and published by New Rivers Press in 2000. This book was a landmark publication, the first literary anthology by Southeast Asian Americans
Later, I had the good fortune to have the story reprinted in Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and published in 2003 by PALH (Philippine American Literary House). Since this anthology explores the topic of Filipino childhood across the globe, editor Cecilia Brainard asked the contributors for short introductions to our story, which appeared as headnotes in front of each piece. Here's my brief intro.
Before we get to "Manny's Climb," let me clarify a couple of things.
First, the transmitter tower on top of Mt. Sutro in the story is NOT the gigantic three-pronged transmitter that now looms above Clarendon Heights, even though that's called the Sutro Tower. An inaccurate name, I've always thought, because it's not on Mt. Sutro itself but rather between Sutro proper and Twin Peaks. Before that humongous tower was built, there was a much smaller transmitter atop Mt. Sutro that is no longer there now. That smaller older tower is where my story takes place.
Second, to my grade school classmates at St. Agnes ("grammar school," as we called it)
Usually when I post one of my own poems in the blog, I say something about its craft or its history. I think all I will say here is that all of the stunts from the story are drawn from real life. Kids did ride the outside of streetcars through tunnels. We did walk in tightrope fashion the wall around the N Judah tunnel entrance. There's now a fence on that wall to keep daredevils off. Sometimes I marvel that any of us survived. Bob Boynton, the drummer in my band that played in the Music Concourse, was the person who showed me how a fly could survive long immersion; neither of us ate the fly, though. And so on.
I hadn't thought about this before, but I'm teaching a Beginning Fiction Writing class at the University of Northern Iowa this semester, and perhaps my students who might happen to read this could take away a lesson about how to use "real" facts: when to be journalistic (of a sort), when to fictionalize. As I said above, when you base your characters on people you actually know, "mix and merge and alter."
Okay, 'nuff said. Check out these pictures (click to see them larger).
Please write me a comment below. I'd love to hear what you think. Especially if you were raised in San Francisco.
Hope you're having a great weekend. Take care. Ingat. Don't go tightrope-walking on any tunnel-portal curtain walls.
PHOTO CREDITS: (1) The Laffing Sal photo above was taken by Wikipedia user Schmiteye, who has released it into public domain. (2) The Doggie Diner photo was taken by Wikipedia user Atlant; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. (3) The Sutro Tower photo was taken by Justin Beck; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. (4) The Ghirardelli Square photo was taken by Wikipedia user Infratec, who has released it into public domain. (5) The tunnel-entrance photo was taken by Wikipedia user Senor_k [Kneiphof], who has released it into public domain. (6) The band photo was taken by my late father Martin Gotera; I own the rights.
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