I moved to San Francisco in 1991. At the time, I was freelancing in theater, doing sets and props. The work was sparse, and the pay was abysmal, but San Francisco was a different city then. It was moderately affordable, and artists could still squeak by if they were lucky.
I paid $400 a month for a room in a flat with two roommates, which crushed me financially at the time. On a good month, I could net about $500 in theater work, and filled in the rest with temp office gigs. It didn’t leave much room for anything else, and I didn’t know many people in the city in any event. If I could scrape enough spare change together, I would occasionally treat myself with a six-pack of craft beer. That was more or less the extent of fun in my life.
The following year, my dear friend Christine came for a visit. She had graduated the year before, and was working as a graphic designer in Manhattan, making a proper living wage. During her visit over a long weekend, we hung out, ate sushi, drove to wine country in my rickety truck, laughed a lot. For the first time in a long time, I was human again. When she returned home, I was left with an aching awareness of the gap in my life. Lacking any other means to network, I placed a personals ad in the San Francisco Bay Times, a small indie print newspaper still in existence today. My goal was simply to meet new people, make some friends, and if it should turn into something more, then so much the better.
Things were pretty different then. There were no smart phones, no apps, no swiping—heck, no internet for most people outside academic settings. A personals ad was no quick process. You had to write the ad, limited to a number of words that would fit within the amount of column inches each ad was allowed. You would then send it via physical mail to the paper, which ran it a week or two later. Each ad had a voice mail box to dial into, where respondents would leave messages for you. You would in turn call them, and then, maybe, you’d meet up. This process could take days, or longer.
Calling in to retrieve the voice mails was something of a cross of Christmas morning and finals week, full of anticipation and apprehension. My first surprise was that I got any response at all. That I got several was beyond unexpected.
Some were older men, which neither surprised nor interested me. One was what sounded like a young Latino man who was so nervous his voice shook, and he hung up before getting around to leaving his contact information. Ultimately, I met up with one guy, just a couple years older than me, and we saw each other casually through the summer.
But voice mails kept coming in. One I responded to was a man named Paul, about my age, who was currently living with his parents in Marin County. In a typical ice-breaking way, I asked what he did, and he responded that he was studying sign language. “Oh,” I said, “I know a signer,” and mentioned his name. Paul made a low grumble. They had just broken up.
From that point, we quickly ascertained that we knew other people in common—remarkable as I knew so few people—and when we finally met face-to-face, I realized we had met several times before.
I was still seeing the other guy, and Paul was also having something of a summer fling, so we initially just became friends—which was, after all, the objective of my ad. Over the next few months, we hung out, and I became more integrated into his circle of friends. We grew close, but there was a barrier.
By the end of the summer, though, Paul’s fling was heading back to college, and my other relationship wasn’t going anywhere. We gravitated to each other. We let our relationship move to the next level.
In October, I had an opportunity to fly to Washington D.C. with The Names Project, where I had been volunteering. Excited, I called Paul, and he promptly contacted them to see about volunteering as an ASL interpreter. We spent an emotionally charged three-day weekend together in the capital. Seeing the quilt in its entirety, marching on the White House, chanting “Shame! Shame!” at an administration that still appeared not to care about a community in crisis.
Ah, but we traveled together. We spent 72 hours in each other’s company, and did not want it to end. I knew, then, this was a relationship I wanted to pursue for the long haul.
Fast forward 25 years. We’re still together, married three times, in our second home together and with our second dog. Paul is now dpaul, though that’s a story for another day. The story of the personals ad has always been in our narrative, but it hadn’t occurred to me until this year, the 25th anniversary, to actually see it again.
At first I contacted the Bay Times directly, but they did not keep archives that far back; however, the San Francisco Public Library does. And so I found myself at a microfilm station speeding through the first six months of issues of the San Francisco Bay Times for 1992. (For the record, there are few things that will make you feel older than researching your own personal history on microfilm.)
I had a rough idea when the ad was, so I zoomed to May, then a couple issues in, and no sooner did I hit the personals section, scrolling past old installments of The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green and Dykes to Watch Out For, and boom, there it was, staring me in the face.
Or rather, there I was, younger me, staring myself in the face. At once I recognized him, with the long hair, the black porkpie hat, the thrifted wardrobe and record collection. (Yes, Big Audio Dynamite. It was 1992, yo.) I remembered this person, more clearly and more fondly than I imagined. I remembered then-Paul, too, our early years, our struggles and triumphs. Did these two young men have any idea that they would build a life, a lifetime, together? I don’t think so, but I’m very glad they got beyond that first voice mail exchange.
On this day 23 years ago, we went to City Hall. It was a Wednesday. Did we take the day off from work? I don’t remember, but we must have. It was a different time. There was no Uber or Lyft, and Muni was barely functional.
In a room scarred with a huge seismic crack in the wall, we signed a piece of paper that afforded us a handful of protections as a couple within the confines of the city of San Francisco. It was, then, the most we could have. As we burst out the doors, though, we were, in our minds, married.
We had just moved in together into a largeish one-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood that at the time was fairly sketchy and would later blossom into a cultural and culinary hotspot. We were young, and had little more to our names than a few pieces of furniture and some lingering student debt. We had each other.
The time was raw and fragile. The city still staggered from the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The specter of AIDS still loomed over the community. Yet the city pushed ever forward, becoming the first major city to enact Domestic Partnership protections for same-sex couples in the country. What we did, we did out of love and commitment, but also as a political act.
As our relationship cemented, so too did our rights. In 2004, we signed yet another piece of paper, extending our protections to the entire state of California, at Mailboxes, Etc., followed by a light lunch at Café Claude before going back to work. It was a day both special and mundane. In 2008, we made honest men of each other in a full-on wedding and a legal marriage. That, too, would turn out to be tenuous in the pursuant years under Prop 8.
Through it all, no matter the definition, we remained one thing: Married. Maybe not in the eyes of the law, or in the eyes of strangers, but that’s never mattered. Our commitment to supporting each other remained constant. We are better together.
Today is our 23rd, 12th and eighth anniversary. We’re taking most of the day off. We’re driving up to the Wine Country, followed by a very romantic stop to pick up 100 pounds of tomatoes to process this weekend. Tonight, we’re being treated to a tasting menu at a very nice restaurant by a very dear friend. The day is both special and mundane.
The news of this week’s 6.2 quake in Central Italy shook me, halfway around the world. The epicenter is close to the town where my great-grandfather came from, Salle, which itself was destroyed in a quake in 1933. In this case, the hardest hit was the town of Amatrice, whence comes one of Italy’s most iconic dishes. The historic center of the town has been essentially obliterated, as well as in two other towns, with hundreds of casualties.
Sadly, this weekend was meant to be the 50th annual festival in that town celebrating that dish, the Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Needless to say, that isn’t going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tuck into a plate of pasta. Indeed, quite the opposite.
Restaurants around the country are rallying, serving the dish and donating proceeds, including newly opened Barzotto on Valencia Street at 24th. Though they do not invoke the name of the dish, the menu simply outlines the classic combination of bucatini, pancetta, tomatoes, and chili flakes. Barzotto makes their fresh and dry pastas in house in plain view in their open kitchen. While there, sample the porchetta, too. Trust.
Update 9/16: Two upcoming events are set to raise even more funds for the cause.
- SF AMAtrice on September 25 will serve antipasti, pinsa, pasta all’amatriciana, vino, Negronis, Aperol Spritzes, Americanos, dolci, and gelato from several of the city’s finest Italian restaurants. Four seatings are available between 12-8 pm at 54 Mint, $75. Tickets available here.
- An Evening in Amatrice on October 1 features 18 Reasons’ resident Italians, instructor Viola Buitoni and Baia Pasta founder Dario Barbone, as they showcase the culinary traditions of Central Italy to raise funds for the reconstruction effort. $50 members, $60 non-members. Tickets available here.
Individuals are putting their pasta where their mouth is, too. Mike Madaio proposed an event, where you donate to the cause (Domenica Marchetti has a great list of ways to donate), eat Amatriciana with a glass of wine from Central Italy this weekend, and share a picture with the hastag #VirtualSagra to make it go viral. So why not have some friends over Saturday or Sunday, serve up a big bowl of pasta, and contribute to the greater good?
Guanciale, cured pork jowl, is preferable if you can get it; sometimes Fatted Calf has it. Pancetta will do in a pinch. Purists will tell you that onions are never to be included. Contrarians will say onions are essential. I’m pro-onion, but to each their own. Bucatini is a more popular choice, but spaghetti is what’s served in Amatrice. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure pasta. I posted a recipe a few years back, when I cured guanciale for the first time.
Whether you serve it or order it, please donate, and please help spread the word.
After losing Reese in January, we took a break. We needed time to grieve, and to live our lives dog-free for just a little bit. We had some travel planned, first a week in Mexico with friends, and then a trip to LA and Orange County to visit family and attend a conference at the beginning of April. So, we agreed not to rush into getting another dog until after that was over.
While visiting my mother, one evening dpaul and I were walking her dog. “I miss walking a dog,” he said, to which I replied, “yes, but I don’t miss having to walk a dog.” Still, I knew it was not long before we’d bring a new companion into our lives. It certainly wasn’t.
The entire time from Reese’s passing through our travels, dpaul was actively window shopping, combing the rescues from as far south as the Peninsula and north into Sonoma. We knew we wanted another terrier, generally of the same size and temperament. dpaul kept gravitating back toward black and tans, but I was less enthusiastic about trying to duplicate Reese. I didn’t want a dog that would remind us of her, to keep that wound raw and fresh.
While still in Orange County, he found one on Rocket Dog. Spinner, as he was called, was listed as a Jack Russell terrier and just 18 months old, so we braced ourselves for a frenetic, high-maintenance dog. Even before meeting him we began to fall in love with his picture, wild-eyed, with a tongue lolling out of a wide-mouth grin. dpaul put in the application even before we came home.
On a sunny April morning, we met him and the foster parents in a park in Corte Madera. They had come down from Ukiah. The implication was that, barring anything unexpected, it was a one-way trip for Spinner. An hour later, he came home with us.
I’ve been freelance for six years now. It’s not a life for everyone. If you crave stability, regular pay, or the social environment of the office, don’t quit your day job. However, these have been some of the most fulfilling years of my life.
As an independent professional, you have the opportunity to forge your own career path, unlike working in the corporate world, where jobs are defined. In order to know what opportunities to pursue, you must know your purpose. This will guide you toward opportunities that you’ll find fulfilling — and at least as importantly, away from those that will not.
This Venn diagram is adapted from my friend Sarah Dopp’s. I use it as a sort of moral compass when considering my path. To find your purpose, consider three factors: What you’re good at, what brings you joy, and what you can actually get paid for. At the center of that intersection is fulfillment; at the periphery is misery.
For years I was in product management. I was good at it, and it paid handsomely, but it didn’t really spark joy. This ultimately led to burnout. Consequently I always turn back to writing. I am good at it. I am only truly at peace when I am actively writing. And when I can get paid for it, everything falls into place.
When assessing specific opportunities, I use a slightly different lens, courtesy of another friend of mine, who once sagely told me the three reasons we are compelled to work: To make money (obviously), to do cool things, and to work with good people. When all three things are in place, work is fun, and you feel satisfied. The more of those elements are missing, work becomes tedious, and you are resentful.
Another way I use this chart is as a set of levers. Establishing a pay rate as an independent professional is always a negotiation. If I am angling for a project that involves creating something that compels me and people I want to work with, I may be more flexible on the pay scale. If it is a project that does not speak to my heart, or I have concerns about the work environment, I am far more likely to stick to my guns on pay rate.