Thursday, February 19, 2009
I'm in rainy San Francisco, in Haight-Ashbury where the Flower Power movement started in 1967.
When I walk down Haight Street I'm reminded of the Summer of Love, of the Grateful Dead, of spaced out hippies looking for joints on the sidewalk. I was only eleven years old back then. If I'd been older, I would've loved the orgies. I can just picture myself at the bottom of a human pile introducing myself to strangers ... (Well, come to think of it, there are a lot of genitals I wouldn't want in my mouth).
Actually, I don't like orgies at all. They're so impersonal, people take liberties with your balls, and I'm an intensely private person. However, I did love the music that came out of the era, The Flower Power Men's Let's Go To San Francisco and hey, I can still hum Scott McKenzie's San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).
Yes, those were the days. No AIDS, no Starbucks. The world was uncomplicated: People in suits were pigs and everybody else was groovy. But I was born five years too late. I'm more a child of the early Seventies, of Deep Purple and bad hair days.
But today I find myself in Haight-Ashbury for the best of reasons. I'm here for my reading at The Booksmith, San Francisco's best book store. They have to be the best because they invited me. Oh yes, the people at The Book Smith are wonderfully weird. I mean, who in their right mind would invite a Danish novelist who resides in Oregon? That's a deadly, almost kinky combination.
Actually, the reading goes well. My readings usually do because no one, absolutely no one, understands what I'm saying. I have a Danish accent, I swallow everything in sight, verbs, nouns, poetry. My mouth is a sewer and people watch in horror when I read aloud from The Tsar's Dwarf. I should know by now, I've done 22 readings and people walk out in droves.
"I'm surprised this country gave you a visa," an angry man shouted. A second later he walked away with the new John Grisham novel ... or am I making this up? I don't know. I'm a fiction writer and I've always had a hard time relating to this thing called reality. Actually, I'm not sure it exists.
San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world.
I have fond memories of the place. I was almost killed here in 1980. I did something stupid, I went roller skating in Golden Gate Park. I went with my mother and a few friends. Everybody was good at it but me. I had a slight problem, I couldn't figure out how to brake. At one point, I got to a hill. Since I'm from Denmark I had no idea what a hill was, but to my surprise I discovered it went down. And I couldn't stop. I went faster and faster passing some gay boy scouts. "Help," I shouted, "help'" and then I continued out on a highway. Cars stopped dead in their tracks, everybody honked, but I continued downhill, through the Castro, down Market Street, up through Chinatown till I reached Fisherman's Wharf.
Luckily, I wasn't traumatized by this. I've been back to San Francisco eight times since. And I'm in love with the Bay area, the pretty Victorian houses, and the sea lions at Pier 42 that only smell slightly better than most people I know.
But Haight-Ashbury is the greatest area of San Francisco. and this time I had the fortunate of having a local guide with me, Ashley. Ashley is one of my ex-students from Portland State University. She's the last woman on earth I would mess with. She got the black belt when she was twelve. That's right, twelve. She could have me for lunch. She could throw me around the room as if I was tossed salad.
Ashley couldn't make it to my reading, so she sent her delightful family and a gentleman you might have heard of. When he walked in I did a double take. No, could it be ... really? I'd heard he was a big fan of mine, but I actually thought it was a rumor. But no, believe it or not, it was Barack Obama.
Barack wanted a signed copy of The Tsar's Dwarf. We hung out for a while, just the two of us and after a couple of drinks Barack promised he would do a campaign called Books We Can Believe In.
On the picture below you can see his first choice.
Now throw away that reefer, Barack, and start reading, you hear?
Barack Obama starting his campaign for Great Literature: Books We Can Believe In. I hope he passes my book on to Michelle and the guys in the Secret Service. They look so bored behind those cool shades, any way.