Annie

Inside the Climbing Tree
Julius Kahn Playgroud, The Presidio
Friday morning

***

For most of my life, my world has been bound on one side by Laurel Village and on the other by the Presidio. I was born in Children’s Hospital, and was brought to my first home at Laurel and Clay, followed a few years later by a house in Jordan Park. College, a year in Paris, and a few Spartan years on Potrero Hill were the only times I haven’t lived over here. Sometimes I think this is freakishly strange, like an urban legend about “the girl who never left”. People are aghast when I confess that I’m a fourth-generation San Franciscan, and that yes, I have spent most of my life in the same neighborhood.

Even in my own family I’m the only one left. My sister departed for New York so long ago I can’t even remember, while my parents departed for the heat of the Napa Valley a few years after that. I’m the only one who’s stayed on. Sometimes I worry about this, that I’m missing out on things by staying put. But who is to say that these same things must be found elsewhere, rather than find them when they come and knock on your own door?

One definition of home is “a place where something began and flourished.” I began here, and I’m just starting to flourish here too. I suppose I’ve never understood why people always think they need to leave in order to find what they’re looking for. What could compare with being here?

Other places swelter, freeze, suck you dry, or bore you with the monotony of flat landscapes. In New York the buildings come in, block your sight, bury you in their canyons so much that I get nervous, dizzy even. Here, there are hilltops and vistas, trees and dirt, sea and sky, and all just minutes from my home. When I’m away I crave this – the perspective, the space, the breathability. No one has air the way that we have air, nor quiet spaces.

There is an unmarked path between Presidio boulevard and Lover’s Lane that cuts into a cathedral of eucalyptus trees. Lush and primeval, it gets bright yellow sassafras in the spring, and a ground cover of pinkish-brown curving eucalyptus leaves in the fall. Sometimes it’s so quiet that I wonder if anyone else knows about it. The sun comes slanted through the trees and with a breeze you can smell the ocean.

When I walk by Julius Khan Playground I always have to smile at the Climbing Tree – the second cypress nearest the playground. We used to climb it as kids, all the way up to the top branches where us girls would tell stories and did who knows what. This was where we grew up: over the wall, up the tree, across the field. We tripped through sheets of eucalyptus bark and filled our lungs with misty air, listening for foghorns and the impending 5 o’clock canon that marked the end of the day for the military of the Presidio.

I returned to Laurel Heights because the apartment I’d found was bigger yet affordable, and far more safe. The bus routes were consistent and fast, the grocery stores were closer, and within a few years I realized I no longer needed a car to do whatever I needed to do around town. Everything is familiar to me here, but even my memories get a little lost sometimes. The canon has gone now, there’s hurricane fencing all around the playground, and kids are never left unattended in a park any more. The Laurel Village shops I know so well are changing all the time too – from bakeries to beauty shops, Zim burgers gourmet delis – even Miz Brown’s famous Mickey Mouse pancakes have given way to a fancy health food store. I don’t like being nostalgic about a place because that’s what everything is meant to do: change. But I do miss some of the things I used to know in this little pocket of the city.

Maybe some day everything in my life will change and I won’t live here any more – Laurel Heights, or San Francisco at all. Maybe this is just my time to call this place home. Any true San Franciscan knows how lucky they are to live here at all; I’m lucky enough to be able to measure my own life against the life of my neighborhood. It’s small and sweet, but for now it’s a place to begin and flourish.

***

You can see the rest of Annie’s photo shoot here.

Annie’s blog is Poetic & Chic (http://www.poeticandchic.com)

Her online design store is Sourdough (http://www.sourdoughsf.com)

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Steve

In Osage Street
The Mission
Wednesday morning

***

My San Francisco story includes at least two distinct chapters so far.

In chapter one, for the first sixteen years of my life here, I sat in a room in the middle of the night, pushed buttons and listened to public radio programs. Five nights a week, I worked as an announcer at the venerable KQED-FM. While most people slept, I delivered the news and weather and ran a control board. It sure didn’t do wonders for my social life, but in one key way I loved it: my days were free. So, while most people worked, I played. I was into nature and photography and countless weekday afternoons, I headed out to explore the city and the beautiful Bay Area. I walked and I hiked and shot photos. I roamed the city’s beaches and cliffs, all the lovely parks, the quirky staircases and the obscure lookout points. Just as often, I ventured beyond the city into the Marin Headlands, the redwood forests of the Peninsula, and throughout the East Bay hills.

Chapter two began in 2004. I lost the radio job. What to do next? Well, I did what I love: grabbed my camera and headed out to the streets to shoot and explore. But this time there was a new twist. I gradually began to notice something that, for whatever reason, had never caught my eye in the many years I’d lived in the city: its prolific graffiti. At first, the vibrant colors and funky shapes grabbed me. Then, the mystery. What did the controversial art mean? Who was creating it and why? How were they getting away with it? I became obsessed and devoted myself to looking for answers and documenting the scene. Over the last six years, sometimes alone and often with friends, I’ve hunted all over the Bay Area to find and photograph as much graffiti as possible. It’s been a fascinating and totally unexpected adventure. I’ve crawled into abandoned buildings and tunnels packed with huge “galleries” of illegal art, searched behind highway barriers, hiked along train tracks through gritty industrial areas, and scoured San Francisco’s neighborhoods street by street, alley by alley to find artistic hidden treasures. It’s been the most involving, energizing and challenging photography of my life.

In the middle of it all I decided to compile my photos into a book. Then I made another.

Now, it’s on to chapter three…

***

You can see the rest of Steve’s photo shoot here.

There is another photo entry about Steve on CALIBER.

***

Find Steve on flickr here: www.flickr.com/photos/phunk

Also, here are the links to both of his books on Amazon.

Bay Area Graffiti:

http://www.amazon.com/Bay-Area-Graffiti-Steve-Rotman/dp/0979966604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263780207&sr=8-1

and San Francisco Street Art:

http://www.amazon.com/San-Francisco-Street-Steve-Rotman/dp/3791340735/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263780266&sr=1-1

Gregory and Xeno


On the corner of 16th and Valencia
The Mission
Monday afternoon

***

Xeno, Baby.

Xeno was born in December, on the darkest day of the year. The air had that cold, damp, satiny gray brume that lets you know the North Pacific will be there far, far longer than any of us. Everything was still.

When I started to take him out in public, especially once he was a little older and I could wear him facing out – where he can look into people’s faces – I noticed that everywhere I went, everyone was looking at me. All the people in the street. Passing motorists. People working in stores. Shoppers and meter maids. N’er do wells on the corner and the proprietors of the suspicious shop down the block.

And they were all smiling. All of them. I had stepped into a dream, a perfect city where everyone looks at me with a deep, radiant smile of simple purity. It’s a beautiful way to walk around the city, around my own neighborhood as though I were seeing it for the first time. Which he was. And so, I learned, was I.

It makes you giddy. Imagine it: everywhere you go, everyone is happy to see you. Everyone beams when you enter a room. One afternoon I walked into Tartine to buy a loaf of bread, and everyone looked up and stopped talking, like in an old Western. They all smiled as though they had been waiting for me all day, just killing time with flaky croissants and cafés aux lait.

I was never a stroller, and to the extent that I considered myself a flaneûr, it was just that I didn’t mind walking a couple of miles to get somewhere. But the baby likes to stroll; there’s something about little babies that just makes you want to walk around carrying them. They grow calm, then fall fast asleep. You are one. I never had to think about how warm he was, or how cold; if he was comfortable or if something was bugging him. I just knew, the way I know how I feel. It’s got to be evolutionary.

I really learned to walk. I’ve walked every street in the Mission by now. I roamed, and poked into shops just for the hell of it; to chat with the people there and complement them on their tortillas or their just-so crafty earrings. I learned that I can talk to anyone, at least as long as Xeno is strapped to my chest to break the ice. Which is pretty much always.

I talk to everyone I see, which is completely new for me. A lot of it is just pleasantries, but even that is a big deal for me. I’ve learned the names of a half a dozen neighbors I have seen for more than a decade and had never spoken to: Troy, Liz, Tingo, Rose, Kerry, Dora. They were there all along, but Xeno wasn’t.

The baby makes me feel approachable. Maybe I wasn’t before? I don’t know – I certainly always wanted to be approached, but really didn’t want to initiate it, always afraid I’d be encroaching. With women especially, I’ve been maybe too sensitive, maybe too in control, maybe too afraid. But with Xeno as my figurehead, doors open.

A gaggle of Mexican grandmothers on the corner, interrupting their morning chat to swarm the boy “¡Ay que bonito!” Tired commuters trudging home from the BART, hunched over in dark coats, brighten and break into smiles, and stride more happily.

One man, glancing sidelong at Xeno, stumbles on the sidewalk, and nearly falls down. Another stops us to tell the baby he is ninety-seven years old.

The hot, hot women— erect and bright—come straight over and lean in close, and say the things I’ve always wanted to hear them say: “Hello beautiful! You’re so adorable! I wish I could take you home with me.”  They’re aiming their gaze at my chest, at my boy, so I can look back openly, longingly. I can smell their hair.

A homeless woman tells me the story of a child she saved. A man on a bicycle stops to tell me about how much he loves his four year old. Middle School students look him right in the eye and smiling, say “Hi, baby!” People on the sidewalk walk along with me—“Oh! He’s so beautiful!” – and describe their own babies. Babies now 23, or 42.

Young guys have no reaction. Young guys are the only people who have other things to do. Of the rest, a few people look away, or stonefaced, show me nothing, and I feel sad for them.

At its peak, when Xeno was about six or eight months old, and fit folded into the sling like a little baby Buddha, cars would slow on the street. Fixie kids would look up almost sheepishly, their girlfriends beaming. I could lock eyes with anyone, and we could see each other, instantly, for who we really are.

A ratty homeless man, drunk and stinking of urine, looks up from where he’s slumped against a wall in the morning sun, smiles and says “Baby!” through the stumps of his teeth. Whatever else has brought us to that moment no longer exists, and we revel in it.

On 23rd street, we walked into a gang fight; some kind of beatdown under a leafy magnolia wherein a bunch of guys in red danced around a guy in black. “Beat that nigga!” one of them cried, and they did, landing sloppy kicks and messy punches, and we just walked on through with a free pass. I wondered how many of them are fathers.

In the Pirate Store, everyone is talking about us, and I stand there, dumbfounded until the ruddy, bearded hipster pirate, his eyes alive like Young Saint Nick says “Yes, it’s you! Did you know you have a baby on your chest?!”

We went into the theater there, to watch the fish. Xeno fell asleep on my lap and I listened to tinny 1920s love songs and watched the fish make their rounds before the Soviet-era map of Siberia. I missed Karl a bit, and I shed salty tears for no reason at all—and for every reason at once. They ran down my cheeks and made the boy’s hair damp.

Sometimes I have to stop walking and hug the babe to me on the street, and put my lips to his warm hair, and whisper in his ear: “Xeno, baby!”

***

You can see the rest of Gregory and Xeno’s photo shoot here.

Gregory’s website is http://www.dicum.com/

Casi

On the ruins of the Sutro Baths
Outer Richmond
Thursday morning

***

I’m originally from Northridge, CA: a hot and dry valley just a few miles outside Los Angeles. Some people may call me a valley girl, cause I totally say totally like all the time. But, now I Live Here: SF! No longer the valley girl, I am now a San Francisco Noob.

I fell in love with San Francisco after only one visit for a family member’s wedding. Seeing everyone walking and riding through the steep hills filled with family owned shops was like seeing a whole other world. Everyone is different here in San Francisco. I think this is because of the amount of freedom people feel when they live in a city where it’s acceptable to be whoever you want and not get mocked for it. Such an amazing feeling.

I graduated college in Northridge, CA in May 2009. By June I had already started my exit out of The Valley and into The Bay Area. After a couple visits for apartment hunting purposes my high school sweet heart and I packed up a U-Haul and made our way to our new home.

We chose the Outer Richmond District because of its beauty. As beach people our entire lives it seemed less shocking to go from Malibu to Ocean Beach rather than to the heart of Downtown. (Price had a little bit to do with it too.) I have to say, we really lucked out on this one. With Sutro Heights Park, Lands End Trail, Sutro Baths, and Ocean Beach in our backyard I immediately fell in love with my new city.

Sutro Heights park is practically my backyard, so I consider myself pretty lucky! This park is filled with lush fields, giant trees (even one I like to call ‘the elephant tree’), and the best views of Ocean Beach and the Outer Richmond/Sunset. Bringing our house dog Stella to play fetch, ride bikes, a game of bocce ball, and lunch on top of Sutro’s old lookout tower are some of the best times I’ve had in San Francisco, all thanks to this beautiful park.

Just a quick walk down a dirt path and across Point Lobos Ave. lies my favorite spot in San Francisco: Sutro Baths. It has become the go-to spot to watch the sun set on a clear day with my love. Hiking down to the ruins was a bit scary at first, but now it’s a must whenever guests are in town. My favorite time of them all was watching the Leonid meteor shower. It was a clear night at 1a.m. and Sutro Baths was filled with everyone in San Francisco. Bundled up in blankets, everyone joined together in the beauty and pointed and WooHoo’d for every passing meteor over the Sutro Bath ruins.

I wouldn’t trade the time I have spent over here in the gorgeous Outer Richmond for anything!

***

You can see the rest of Casi’s photo shoot here.
SanFranciscoNoobs.com – http://www.sanfrancisconoobs.com
SFNoobs on Twitter – http://twitter.com/SFNoobs

Jay

In front of Congregation Adath Israel
Outer Sunset
Sunday afternoon

***

Places don’t mean much. “Home is where the heart is,” right? Well, my heart is in my chest, and home is where I am. I’m happy here; I’m happy there. Don’t get me wrong; there are places I dislike. It’s taken me over a decade to warm up to the idea of going back to Central America. I still don’t think I’ll ever go back to the “Former Yugoslavia.” My best memories of early 1996 involve those rare and delicious nights I had a truck to sleep under.

I came here for work. I live in the Sunset because I’m within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue. Practical. Utilitarian. The place meets my needs so the place is fine. I tell my friends I live in the Long Island of San Francisco. It’s affordable and plain and well-suited for a family of three. The commute isn’t great, but it’s not like I’m one of the B&T crowd. My geographic cachet is inversely proportional to how much someone knows about San Francisco.

There’s this serendipity that got under my skin, though. San Francisco is the largest neighborhood in the world. Walking around the corner, I see a friend. My daughter’s teacher walks into the restaurant. I go to the same small store and share my same small stories with the proprietor. That girl that just started in the office? I lived two floors directly below her when I moved here. That guy? It turns out that he lives at the end of the hallway in my old apartment. Everyone knows the same places; everyone has been everywhere. San Francisco is a shared experience where we’re all on the inside.

***


You can follow Jay on twitter at http://twitter.com/meangrape

Armand

Orange Alley
The Mission
Friday afternoon

***

Somehow, after writing about this city on a daily basis, I find writing about my own life here oddly challenging. There’s no point in writing about how much I love the city, I obviously do, even since I was a little kid, watching 49ers and Giants games on TV (the Saints and LSU sucked, so I had to root for someone, right?)

So then what?

There’s nothing more intimidating than that blank page staring back at you.

I suppose that’s kind of how I felt coming here, jumping on a train in New Orleans. That ride was my intermission, a four-day interlude with nothing to do except stare out the window and think about what lie ahead.

My experience of the city has been one of visiting in the years before I lived here, when the city was my periodic refuge from LA and the rest of southern California. Hours of anticipation in a car riding up I-5, waiting for that first glimpse of the financial district and the city skyline as we crossed the Bay Bridge.

Actually, I guess I’ve spent a lot of time in the city just sitting, watching, waiting, finding the little hidden gems of stories in a McDonald’s, or on a bus, or just walking around for hours at a time day or night snapping pictures with an old Nikon or Hasselblad.

I’d fallen in love with photography before San Francisco, but this is really the place where I decided to spend the rest of my life with it. Now, going outside without a camera is like not wearing pants. And I always wear pants.

Every neighborhood has such a different feel, with endless potential to capture the streets and the people who live there, that I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. What other city can have so many photographers, and no two images looking the same? Of all the shooters I know, each captures the city in a different way.

As long as I’ve waited to live here, with the crappiness of the journalism field these days, I really don’t know where I’ll be in another year. Life’s been punctuated with a series of intermissions and staring out windows – Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Ramallah, DC and finally, San Francisco. So there’s always the feeling of what’s next. And for the first time, I’m kinda not looking forward to it.

I like it here, can I stay?

***

You can see the rest of Armand’s photo shoot here.

Another favorite photo of Armand at work is posted here.

An interview I did with Armand about photography is here on CALIBER.

Armand’s blog is www.emamdphoto.com/blog
He writes for www.missionlocal.org
Armand on flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/users/emamd

Brent

Somewhere on Page Street
Lower Haight
Thursday afternoon

***

I Live Here, S.F.

~Brent Jordan

As I close my eyes to breathe deep the cool morning air, I smile…I live here, S.F. Taking in oxygen which my body then transforms into inspiration that is pumped to every cell of my being leads me to take out the small tattered and taped notebook that is constantly with me and is filled with scribblings and ideas, and I write…every day. The crows curiously peer into my day to day life perched high upon the cables and wires that so artfully criss-cross our historic streets…Never before have i lived in a place so rich and full of color: The playful paint-schemes of the old Victorians that allow us to play, live and love in their bellies…the brightly colored personalities of neighbors, strangers, and friends who have led and are leading equally colorful lives. Sometimes I up and exclaim “I can’t believe we live here!” My wife will smile and say “I know, honey,” like a knowledgeable soul to a youthful one.

You see, I write songs and writing songs in this place is easy…they are to be found everywhere. In the rolling hills, which seen from night from the highest point in the city favors a ethereal blanket of stars God laid out on a billowy bed…In the motorcycle rides through Golden Gate Park towards the Great Highway which opens up like a dream to an endless sea and sky scene of the wide-eyed Pacific (sometimes i swear i can still hear the carnival ghost sounds left as a footprint in time from Playland at the Beach)…In the neighborhoods that differ so vastly in feel and personality, yet exist so close to one another like brothers and sisters of the same wonderful family…In the many different cultures represented here, delightful in the intricacies of their cuisines and music and dances…In the mystical fog that rolls in and enchants us all…

I live here, S.F… I love here, S.F…I am constantly inspired here, S.F. Now we are blessed to have a little precious girl here S.F… And when she grows old enough, she will be able to confidently say that she was born in the greatest city on earth…San Francisco!

***

You can see the rest of Brent’s photo shoot here.

Brent Jordan’s music is available and he plays live in San Francisco in several venues. You can hear his music and check his schedule on the following sites:
www.myspace.com/brentjordanmusic
www.cdbaby.com/Artist/BrentJordan

Brent Jordan’s two CDs are also available on iTunes.

Meli

The Lyon Street Steps
Pacific Heights
Sunday morning

***

I bike here.

My daily life without my bicycle and my coffee would be like a Martin Scorsese film without the music of the Rolling Stones.

Riding a bicycle has done a tremendous therapy to the soul and moved my eyes through a myriad of wonderful evolving events. Roaming around every single neighborhood in this beautiful city, this machine has been attached to my hip in the last many years and has built many bike lane memories and great respect for the steep street grades.

My bicycle is a French frame made by Motobecane. A local Italian family of four generations from Cow Hollow (yes, there are a ton of old school Italians in the Marina) purchased the bicycle here in San Francisco in the 70s. I am very lucky that this was passed on to me a few years ago to become the second owner. I came across the bicycle in pristine shape, considering that it had been stored in the garage of the grandpa’s house for about 15 years. I was honored and beyond excited to ride. I’m sure the Frenchie (my bike’s name) has seen plenty of time go by in the neighborhoods of this charming city and is excited to see a new generation out there, riding and challenging those damn hills.

One of my favorite streets to wake up and shake every single one of my five senses is Polk Street. There is always something happening between Market Street and North Point. It’s always nice to see when the City Hall dome changes colors — my favorite was last year when the rainbow colors across the street at the War Memorial, displayed support against Prop 8. The steam from BART underneath around McAllister could make your bicycle feel like the horse in Sleepy Hollow galloping the dark winter night away. Late nights and being hungry are good combined reasons to ride northbound on Polk street. A cheesy slice of pizza at midnight, early mornings at the bagelry and Bob’s Donuts are there when you want them, Thai food at every other corner, Indian food, garlic smells dancing around you, then the smell of drunk jocks approaching Green Street are always there to greet you anytime. Nevermind the evolving smells of the Tenderloin, fenders on my bicycle are appreciated everyday…

Speaking of senses, it wouldn’t make sense to ride my bicycle without making various fuel pit stops. This bicycle machine and its qualified 14-speed pilot function on caffeine. Planning outings with friends depending on the coffee shop near by happens by default. Tell me any intersection in the city, and I’ll let you know which coffee shop is near you and what beans. Yup, it’s like that.

Coffee has brought many good things to my life. I begin the day with coffee and often finalize my dinner with a shot of espresso. Often times I plan my routes according to coffee stops, then hills, then a second coffee stop before I eventually get to point B. I do drink plenty of coffee and I’m the first one to admit it, so it isn’t really a problem, right?

The city is very small and there are huge hills, but there is always a way around them. Go get lost outside your neighborhood, visit streets you have not been to in years, and do it often. Wanderluster by nature, I often times decide to intentionally take the longest route, if time permits it. One of my favorite random coffee outings was back in the summer. One afternoon, my friend and decided to meet up in Hayes Valley for coffee. I was in North Beach, she was in Glen Park. Linden Street was our midpoint. We then rode around and got sandwiches in my favorite sub place in the whole city at the corner of Union and Steiner. This guy, a one-man show, makes the avocado in the veggie sub look like perfectly cut sushi art. You can’t go there in a rush, and it’s worth it. Anyways, we then grabbed our food and rode to Crissy Field to eat our lunch. After we finished, we decided that it was time for more coffee and we continued our venture up to Pac Heights, rode through Laurel Heights and headed to ride through Golden Gate Park, leading to coffee stop number two, this time in the Inner Sunset. I had recently discovered a coffee shop near 17th and we sat for some more good doses of caffeine and some more chatter. Eventually we made it out to the Outer Sunset to pick up her kid from preschool and we rode back around to the Panhandle, we then split up and went opposite ways. By the time we each had reached our destinations, we had ridden about 25 miles without even thinking about it.

As I’ve said before: My bike is my shrink, best friend, conversation starter, mood enhancer, and gym. All in one, every day.

XOXO.meligrosa

***

You can see the rest of Meli’s photo shoot here.

Meli’s blog is ♥Bikes And The City: http://bikesandthecity.blogspot.com/

Sonia

Off 20th Street
In Dogpatch
Monday afternoon

***

Three big things happened to me when I moved to San Francisco: I found myself; I met the love of my life; and I got breast cancer.

I find that my life is constantly changing since I moved to San Francisco. The story I’m writing today is completely different than the story I would have written six months ago, which is completely different than the story I would have written a year ago, which is completely different than the story I would have written two years ago when I first moved here.

Two years ago, I packed up my little wiener dog Homer and moved to San Francisco. I grew up exactly 35.2 miles away from San Francisco, and even though Concord is just on the other side of the Bay Bridge it can feel like the other side of the country.

Eventually, I adjusted.

I learned to handle the crazies. I got used to the noise. I took yoga classes. I learned to cook. I got social. I made new friends and got closer to the ones I already had. I learned to wear layers because one minute it’s warm and the next minute it’s damn cold in this town. I started walking everywhere. If I couldn’t walk there, I rode Muni (trust me, no one takes public transportation in the East Bay), and when I got to my destination, I would proudly proclaim to my friends, “I rode the bus here,” like it was a major accomplishment.

Like a lot of people who move here, I found myself in San Francisco.

One year ago, I went on my last first date.

When a friend told me she had someone she wanted to set me up with, I had no idea that I would be meeting Mr. Right. Since moving to San Francisco, I had gone out on a series of first dates with nice guys that I didn’t click with. David was different.

We Facebooked. We emailed. We IM’d. We LOL’d. Finally, we made a date to meet at Broken Record in the Excelsior district.

We went into the bar and sat down and next thing we knew it was last call! We had spent six hours trying to out nerd each other. (I won by admitting I had seen the One-Man Star Wars Trilogy … twice.)

When the bartender kicked us out, David walked me to my car.

David: “I want to see you again.”

Me: “OK, when?”

David: “Tomorrow.”

I met the love of my life in San Francisco.

Six months ago, I found a lump.

I had just moved into an apartment with David in Dogpatch when I found the lump in my left breast during a self exam. (Don’t listen to mysterious government task forces when it comes to breast cancer. Always check your boobs, ladies!)

Within a two-month period I saw multiple doctors who told me the same thing: “I’m sure it’s nothing. It’s probably just a cyst, but just to be safe you should [get a mammogram/get an ultrasound/get a MRI/get a biopsy].”

It wasn’t nothing. It wasn’t a cyst. It was cancer.

I was shocked. I am a healthy person (except for the whole cancer thing). I eat right. I go to yoga. I was so scared, but I tried to handle cancer the way I handle everything else: by making jokes about it. “I have DCIS, which is a good kind of cancer. It’s also a crime show on CBS,” I would tell people. David wasn’t too comfortable with the jokes at first, but I knew he was getting used to it when we walked past the Hooters on Fisherman’s Wharf a few days after the diagnosis:

Me: “Will you go in there and get me a T-shirt?”

David: “Sure, I will get you one that just says ‘Hooter.’”

Not long after the diagnosis I had a lumpectomy, and the doctors were confident that would be the end of that.

Yeah, not so much.

Turns out, the cancer was not “the good kind of cancer” and was more invasive than they thought. A mastectomy of the left breast was recommended along with a lymph node biopsy to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread.

Wait, spread?!? That’s when my brain crashed. I couldn’t process anything. I was so grateful that we caught it early. I was so thankful that it’s only one breast. But at the same time, I was so angry. I was so afraid. And when I finally wrapped my head around it, I kept thinking, “I’m going to be a freak show with one real boob and one fake boob. I’m damaged goods!” But then a friend gave me some helpful advice: “We are all damaged goods. Some of us know the damage, others have emotional baggage to the tune of a freight truck. Needy? Passive aggressive? Co-dependent? Crazy? Lazy? No job? No money? No ambition? Want to be rescued? So one boob will be firmer than the other – who cares – as long as the vag works …”

Well said, my friend.

A week before my mastectomy, David took me out to dinner for my birthday at Waterbar. After dinner, we walked along the Embarcadero, and eventually, we sat down, taking in the view of the Bay Bridge. It’s my favorite bridge. You can have the Golden Gate Bridge, folks; I love the Bay Bridge. It’s the bridge that brought me to San Francisco. And it was there, in front of my favorite bridge, that David pulled out a ring and asked me to be his wife. This man; this wonderful man. We had no idea what was going to happen a week later. Maybe the cancer had spread? Maybe I was in for a long fight; a long, ugly fight that a lot of women don’t win. He didn’t care. He wanted to marry me. He knew my answer before I said it. The tears were a giveaway.

The doctors wheeled me into surgery a week later. I would know when I woke up if the cancer had spread. I was scared, but I knew that no matter what happened, it was going to be OK because I had David, and we were going to fight this together.

When I woke up from the surgery, I kept asking the nurses, “Did the cancer spread? Did the cancer spread?” And they kept telling me they didn’t know. I thought, “They’re lying. They just don’t want to be the one to tell me.” Eventually, they wheeled me into a hospital room where David and my family were waiting.

“Did the cancer spread?” I asked David immediately.

“No,” he said. “It didn’t spread.” Then he kissed me, and I started sobbing.

Today,
I’m sitting in my Dogpatch apartment writing this story. Homer is sleeping in front of a fireplace. My fiance is designing our save the date cards for our wedding. And I’ve got one fake knocker, and I’m cancer free. I’m happy and healthy and me, but I can’t help but wonder what my San Francisco story will be six months from now.

***

You can see the rest of Sonia’s photo shoot here.

You can check out Sonia’s website The Sonia Show (www.thesoniashow.com)
Follow her on Twitter at @thesoniashow (http://twitter.com/TheSoniaShow)

Forrest

We met at the corner of Haight and Fillmore. I bought a Street Sheet from him. Around the corner on Fillmore, some young guys were painting a new mural on the wall, right next to where we stood. There were buckets of paint and tarps all around. “They’re painting my room,” he said. He pointed to the sidewalk. “That’s my living room.”

Wishing everyone a peaceful and compassionate holiday season. If you can give a little, give.