People talk about how hard it is dealing with death, and breakups, and losing a limb on the train tracks, and stuff like that. But there is one biggie life-change that is almost as hard: moving.
Every time a friend of mine gets a bug up their butt to move far away, I wish them well. I also make sure they know that they'll be depressed for at least a year once they arrive, and that it will probably take at least five years to make the right friends and finally feel like they fit in. (This is why I don't get invited to many going-away parties.) I'm not trying to discourage them, because I think moving away — especially from where you grew up — is really important. I just think it's best to be prepared ahead of time for the crushing loneliness and despair that will go along with it. If you know that's part of the deal, it's easier to accept.
San Francisco is one of the hardest places to move to. We are famous for being the dullest audiences for visiting bands to play to, with crowds of people just standing there all cool and barely clapping. But this is the same reception that most newcomers to the area also experience. You make your grand entrance, and no one seems to notice. The detached coolness of S.F. carries over into dating and making friends, and it's a bitch to overcome.
I hadn't really remembered all this until I met my new co-worker Tim, who just moved up here from L.A. He relocated here with his boyfriend and they promptly broke up, which is the same thing that happened to me 15 years ago when I moved out here from Illinois. (Actually, most of us know someone with a similar story.) Tim is now living in Union City with three lipstick lesbians who work at a high-end makeup store. He commutes to the city for work and is already over it. But that, too, is one of the traits of the newly relocated: You must arbitrarily choose the worst possible place to live because you don't know any better, and you must share a living space with folks with whom you really have nothing in common (my first living situation out here was in a "clothing optional" co-op in the Berkeley Hills). All of these factors add to the rich tapestry of forlornness you will experience.
Despite his newbie status, Tim had already sussed out the $6 bottomless mimosas that Barracuda serves during Saturday brunch, and he asked me to join him. (Newly relocated people will often latch on to any dubious character in order to have company.) Barracuda is a sushi place in the Castro with a bar in the front and so-so food. But, as we had discussed earlier, there really is no such thing as "bad" sushi, just like there is no such thing as "bad" pizza; you can dump a bunch of condiments on either and make the food taste good.
The decor at Barracuda is unremarkable, but it was inviting enough to get Tim's attention during his many jaunts to the Castro to try to make friends. Tim is 23, and his favorite music is by the Pussycat Dolls. So, yeah, we don't have much in common, but he has a wicked sense of humor and a kindness that I gravitate to in a pal.
Our bartender was super nice. He reminded me of the newly dismissed Onch from the Paris Hilton's My New BFF reality show on MTV, all flopsy and flamboyant. Tim kept ordering more pitchers of mimosas, a cocktail I can't drink more than a glass of, so he had the lion's share while I moved on to beer.
One thing that Tim has going for him, besides the bud of youth, is that he is really cute. We barely made it through our sushi before random dudes came up to us to flirt. Here's the deal, though: All of the guys who approached Tim were folks in whom he wasn't interested. Instead, he saw groups of guys walking down the street and stopping to chat out front, all of whom looked like people he wanted to meet. "Wow," I remarked. "I had forgotten about that feeling."
I remembered when I first moved here, I saw all sorts of interesting people everywhere. They all seemed to have friends and to be a part of something. They were a community, and I was an outsider. This is how Tim is seeing the world. He's different from me, though, in that he isn't depressed, just a little bit frustrated. He hasn't met anyone to whom he can relate.
"I want to meet a guy with like those big hoops in his earlobes that stretch the earlobes out, you know?" he said, as if this were like finding a four-leaf clover. I stared at him.
"Are you kidding?" I asked. "This place is swimming in gay white boys trying to be tribal. You just aren't looking in the right places!"
I made a promise to take him to the Eagle, for starters. He had never heard of the bar. Every weekend he had been trying out all the different bars in the Castro, getting hit on by oldsters and even porn stars, but never making friends.
I really like Tim. But I couldn't help but see him five years down the line. He'll be remembering when he first moved here and how he used to hang out with his older co-worker who didn't own any Beyoncé records, and how he spent his weekends drinking mimosas and trying to convince himself that he was attracted to the persistent dude in the pink Izod, or the aging Internet pornographer who acted like his friend but really wanted to use him. "And can you believe that I used to live in Union City?!" he'll ask. "What was I thinking?"
Instead he asked, "Do you want to go to Badlands?" I don't know much, but I know that Badlands is one of those Castro bars that everyone goes to when they first move here.
"Sure," I said. "Any place named after a Bruce Springsteen song is all right by me."
"Who?" he responded.
Oh lord. I put my arm around his shoulder and said to forget it.
"Lead the way," I added, and we set off down the street, deeper into the Castro.