Tales of the City, May 24, 1976
Sunday, May 22, 2011
This is the first installment of the original "Tales of the City" series. It appeared in The Chronicle on May 24, 1976.
Mary Ann Singleton was 25 years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.
She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.
"Hi, Mom, it's me."
"Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on 'McMillan and Wife' who was strangling all these nice young secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking ..."
"I know, it's just your silly old mother, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. I mean, look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with those awful ... "
"Mom, this is long distance."
"I'm sorry, sugar, I'm such an old worry-wart. You must be having a grand time!"
"Oh, Mom, you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly. I feel like I've ..."
"Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?"
"Not yet, but ..."
"Well, don't you miss that. You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars, so we could dance to 'Moonlight Serenade' and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful, white Navy ..."
"Mom, I called to tell you something."
"Of course, dear. Just listen to me rambling on. Oh, one thing, before I forget it. I ran into Mr. Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mall, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers."
"Mom, that's sort of why I called."
"What do you mean, honey?"
"I want you to call Mr. Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning."
"Oh, Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation."
"It's not an extension, Mom."
"What? I don't ..."
"I'm not coming home, Mom."
For a moment, the line seemed to go dead. Then, dimly in the distance, a television announcer began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Now you're being silly, darling."
Mary Ann tried to stay calm. "I'm not being silly, Mom. I really feel comfortable here. I mean, it seems like home to me already."
"Mom, I've thought about this for a long time."
"You've only been out there five days."
"I know, Mom, but I'm really sure about this. It's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life, have my own apartment ..."
"Oh, that. Well, of course you can, darling. As a matter of fact, your daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and one of those sauna things, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you ..."
Mary Ann's voice was gentle but firm. "Mom, you aren't listening to me. It isn't the privacy or living with you and Daddy or ... any of that. It's just me. I love it here. I'm grown up now and ..."
"Well, you certainly aren't acting like it! I've never heard such a thing! You can't just run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!"
"Oh, Mom, that's just a lot of TV crap!"
Her mother lowered her voice reproachfully. "Don't you talk nasty to your mother, Mary Ann ... and it's not a lot of TV ... stuff. What about those Giraffe Killers?"
"Well, whatever. And what about those earthquakes? Your daddy took me to see that awful movie, and I nearly had a heart attack when Ava Gardner ..."
"Mom. I've made up my mind about this. Will you just call Mr. Lassiter for me?"
Her mother began to cry. "Something terrible is going to happen to you. I know it."
"Now who's being silly? What could possibly happen to me, Mom? San Francisco is a lot safer than Cleveland, and the people are so mellow."
Her mother stopped sobbing for a moment. "What does that mean?" she asked suspiciously.
When it was over, Mary Ann left the Buena Vista and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. For several minutes, she stared at the Alcatraz beacon, drunk with the prospect of an undefined future.
"What could possible happen to me, Mom?" The words came back to her on a chill wind, nibbling uncertainly on a corner of her mind.
Back at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn, she looked up Connie Bradshaw's phone number. Connie was the only person she knew in San Francisco. Mary Ann had heard that she was a stewardess for United but hadn't spoken to her old high school friend since 1968.
"Oh, God, I can't believe it!" squealed Connie, when Mary Ann identified herself. "How long are you here for?"
"For good, " said Mary Ann, savoring the words.
"Oh, super! Have you found an apartment yet?"
Mary Ann decided to be direct. "Not yet. I was wondering if I might be able to crash at your place for a couple of days. My savings account isn't holding out too well."
"Sure, " said Connie, without hesitation. "No sweat. That is, if you don't mind an occasional sleep-in."
Mary Ann was thrown for a moment. "Oh ... you mean guys?"
Connie uttered a throaty laugh. "Do I ever, honey!"