This is the seventh in a series of posts chronicling my recent trip to NOIR CITY 16 in San Francisco. I base these posts on 102 pages of notes in my little black Moleskine notebook, 254 photographs and my memory (supplemented as necessary). In this post, I visit the Golden Gate Bridge, do laundry and spin through a dizzying San Francisco night. You may read the first six posts here, here, here, here, here and here (and a related, more analytic, post here).
On the morning of Wednesday, January 31, 2018, as I struggled to wake, two things were true.
- The festival was half over (12 films screened, 12 to go).
- It would have been my mother’s 80th birthday; as I type this, it is the 14th anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer.
With my high school friend “FF” picking me up at 11:45 am (all times PST) for some hardcore sightseeing, I just had time to purchase a slice of banana bread and a 16 ounce cup of black coffee from Café La Taza.
By 4:00 pm, I was back at the Hotel Rex to dress for the evening screenings of The Unsuspected and High Tide at the iconic Castro Theatre.
In the interim (respecting private conversations), here are some of the 51 photographs I took that afternoon.
First: on my seventh visit to San Francisco, I FINALLY saw the Golden Gate Bridge.
One San Francisco landmark seen from another:
Fort Point, which figures prominently in a film screened the following Saturday evening:
This ominous sign greets bridge pedestrians.
Which would explain this:
Fort Point from the bridge itself:
Lest we forget why I was in San Francisco:
Noir shadows in broad daylight:
More shadows at Lands End:
San Francisco landmark viewed from another landmark, round two:
I visited Cliff House on my first visit to NOIR CITY:
Another ominous sign did not deter us:
Inside the tunnel at cliff’s base:
Cliff House from the beach:
The weather was much better today than four years earlier (photographs 2014):
Next stop: Golden Gate Park—and the North (Dutch) Windmill
Who knew bison roamed San Francisco?
Driving to the Rex, we passed some of San Francisco’s iconic “painted ladies;” I took this photograph while touring nearby Haight-Ashbury with my friend PH in 2014:
Once in my room, I had FaceTime with Nell and our daughters, having missed the opportunity to do so three days earlier.
In my previous post, I wrote that on the evening of Tuesday, January 30, 2018, I had worn a “black suit jacket, white shirt, gray slacks and vintage red-white-and gray palm-tree-patterned silk tie.”
Re-examining my notes—and interrogating my memory—I realized I had worn this outfit Wednesday night. On Tuesday night, I donned what I wore to defend my epidemiology doctorate (Boston University School of Public Health; December 2014):
Record corrected, we return to the Castro.
My notes for this evening are uncharacteristically sparse, but here are some highlights:
- Film Noir Foundation (FNF) Promotional Director/Associate Producer Daryl Sparks’ husband introduced me to the Yiddish term “landsman.” Surprising, given all the Yiddish I heard as a child.
- Sparks decided I would sell merchandise the following evening, preparing me to do so at NOIR CITY Boston (June 8-10, 2018; Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA).
- Czar of Noir Eddie Muller thanked me for “playing dumb” during Monday night’s game of Name That Noir (to which I responded, “well, I’ve had 51 years experience”) and for his holiday card, noting I had a lovely family.
- I enjoyed another delicious lamb gyro from Gyro Xpress. While eating it, I chatted with fellow NOIR CITY veteran Amy Sullivan in the Passport-holders line, shedding bits of lettuce onto the sidewalk. Sullivan joked that I would walk away, and she would be blamed for the mess. (This did not actually happen).
FF arrived in time to enjoy a drink on the Mezzanine. I ordered a Corpse Reviver from a representative of Stookey’s Club Moderne.
This ended poorly, but not for the reason you might suspect.
While sipping my drink, I held both it and my plastic water bottle in my right hand (not sure what, if anything, was in my left hand). Then, in an act of idiocy I thought only occurred on television shows like Get Smart, I took a drink of water—momentarily forgetting my Corpse Reviver.
I dabbed the mess on my jacket with cold water as best I could in the men’s room, but I probably smelled like a distillery the rest of the night.
The evening’s first film was directed by Michael Curtiz. FNF Treasurer Alan Rode—author of a new biography of the renowned director—introduced it.
I had watched The Unsuspected for the first time at home a few months earlier, but I enjoyed it far more (as did FF, seeing it for the first time) that Wednesday night at the Castro—projected onto a giant screen amid a crowd of like-minded enthusiasts.
Forget drinks on the Mezzanine, merchandise tables, stylish patrons, old-fashioned concessions stand or even the vintage beauty of the auditorium itself.
This communal viewing is the single greatest aspect of NOIR CITY. As a group, noir aficionados cheer and applaud favorite performers, directors, screenwriters and cinematographers as they (or their names) appear on screen. We relish the “inside scoop” introductions and on-stage banter. We discuss films in lines inside and outside the theatre: Thursday night, one of three patrons with whom I was kibitzing in the Passport-holders line remarked how “dreamy” he had found High Tide’s Don Castle’s eyes, adding sadly that he was only 47 when he died.
It only gets better when new-to-noir friends like PH, ES and FF join you.
Ken Duffy was scheduled to play Name That Noir that evening until a mix-up prevented it. The replacement contestant (someone Annabelle Zakaluk—Ms. NOIR CITY 2018—knew) did not know the film being queried (Kiss of Death), though she did perform (if memory serves) a quality tap dance. Her prize package included a DVD of the distinctly non-noir The Littlest Hobo.
In his introduction to High Tide, Muller remarked on the film’s peculiar framing device (two car crash survivors on a beach recall the events leading up to the crash, as the tide rises inexorably) and observed that co-star Lee Tracy pioneered the iconic fast-talking city reporter of 1930s cinema.
I had wanted to see High Tide since it appeared on the cover of the Summer 2014 edition of the FNF quarterly e-magazine NOIR CITY; it was worth the wait.
Afterward, I ran into Greer Sinclair, Ms. NOIR CITY 2017. I had last seen Sinclair Monday afternoon in the lobby of the Rex, when she stored a travel bag before an appointment at a theatre across the street.
Needing to return to the same theatre that night, she asked if I would ride to the Rex with her. Of course, I said.
As we exited the Castro, however, Muller asked if we wanted to join him, Zakaluk and a few others in Twin Peaks for drinks.
During the short walk north on Castro, Sinclair received a phone call and wandered off by herself. So, besides me, the group that set up camp at the end of the bar was Muller, Zakaluk, official NOIR CITY photographer Dennis Hearne, blogger Odie Henderson and Jello Biafra, former Dead Kennedys lead singer and mayoral candidate; Henderson and Biafra regularly attend NOIR CITY.
After a string of top-notch cocktails, I reverted to form. My order—“Johnny Walker Black, light rocks, club soda on the side”—prompted Muller to quip that there was “at least one real man here.”
We chatted…OK, they chatted, and I absorbed, as I often do. At some point, Sinclair concluded her phone call and joined us.
By the time we left Twin Peaks, the Castro MUNI station had closed. I flagged down a cab. Arriving 10 or 15 minutes later at the Rex, I walked Sinclair across the street to the theatre before ascending to my room to shower and change.
Before walking east on Sutter the half-block to Lori’s Diner, I left my stained suit jacket at the front desk for dry cleaning.
While eating something I neglected to record, Sinclair entered and sat next to me. She ordered a Cobb salad (no cheese or bacon; THAT I recorded) to take to her mother’s place in Burlingame. We chatted sleepily while she waited, including about the two nights I spent in a Burlingame hotel after being “snowed out” of Boston after NOIR CITY 13.
That was the last I saw of Sinclair at NOIR CITY 16.
I got to sleep just after 3 am. After a full bladder woke me two (?) hours later, I had a hard time returning to sleep.
Nonetheless, I awoke 12 minutes before my alarm would ring on Thursday, February 1, 2018.
Following another delicious bowl of seven-grain oatmeal with bananas and berries, plus orange juice and black coffee at Café La Taza, I proved how glamorous a sojourn in NOIR CITY really is.
I did my laundry.
Dirty laundry stuffed into my rolling black suitcase, I walked the short distance west to Mason, right one block to Bush and right the short distance to the coin-operated laundromat situated directly behind the Rex.
When did Santa leave these?
One drawback to this facility is its lack of rest rooms. Rather than abandon my clothes, I held it together until I had folded and re-packed my laundry.
The lobby men’s room of the Rex is a red-and-black thing of beauty.
The rest of the afternoon passed quietly. I had FaceTime with our eldest daughter, who had a cold (forcing the sad cancellation of a planned sleepover).
That night, I wore my navy suit jacket, blue shirt, olive slacks and my late father-in-law’s yellow-and-blue tartan bow tie. I sweated “like a pig” in my hotel room trying to tie it, never quite getting it right; I finally “nailed” it in the men’s room at the Castro.
As if I was not sweating enough, I rode a packed L car to Castro station, arriving just after 5 pm. Draping my long gray coat and souvenir program across my favorite aisle seat (left side, five rows from the lobby doors) and its neighbor, I walked across Castro to Rossi’s Deli for a sandwich (tuna salad on whole wheat with everything except mustard).
At 6 pm, I successfully began to sell merchandise.
Less than an hour later, right before meeting FF (elegant in blue dress, matching hat and pearl necklace) in front of the Castro, I hustled to a nearby ATM to replenish my cash.
It was not until I pulled out my Discover card in a Chinatown store the following afternoon that I realized I had left my ATM card in the machine. No harm, no foul (I had sufficient cash and credit, plus no suspicious transactions)—but it was the second time in two months I needed to replace my ATM card.
FF had not yet eaten, so I sat with her while she ate two slices in Marcello’s.
Following I Walk Alone (another film I enjoyed more on the Castro screen), we walked outside for some fresh air. FF was cold, though, so she went back in and up to the Mezzanine. After chatting with a few other NOIR CITY volunteers, I joined her. At some point, I purchased a rye Manhattan, because my notes tell me that I had not yet finished it after the second film, eventually dumping out the dregs.
While someone (likely Ken Duffy) took photographs of us using our iPhones by the NOIR ALLEY display, Melissa (the consistently dressed-to-the-nines woman I had met on the Castro MUNI platform Monday night) joined us.
Melissa asked if FF was my wife.
No, we responded in comic unison.
FF took some photos of Melissa and me, and we all returned to our seats for Bodyguard.
Before the film began, however, Muller and Zakaluk played a magical version of Name That Noir.
The 81-years-young Linda Martinez—always first in line, her “#1” Passport secured in “the vault”—was that evening’s contestant. While she dazzled in a gold sequined flapper dress, the dress was a bit large for Martinez’s slender frame; Muller had to be vigilant with her shoulder straps to prevent a “wardrobe malfunction.”
It hardly mattered that she did not know the film being queried was The Naked City. She was there to be honored by NOIR CITY. The applause and cheers were long and heartfelt.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bodyguard (FF needed to leave 10 minutes into the film). Lawrence Tierney, for once not playing a psychopath, was surprisingly believable as a righteous lawman. I could even swallow that perky Priscilla Lane would date him.
After its conclusion, Melissa sought me out in the auditorium. We chatted briefly about how much I missed my family, before she went up to the Mezzanine to look at the movie posters. I made one last sweep of the Mezzanine before heading to the subway.
I head a page of notes in my little black Moleskine notebook thus:
URBAN NOCTURNAL ECOSYSTEM.
I have obliquely remarked that a place like Lori’s—a brightly-lit 24-hour haven from the urban darkness, directly descended from every all-night diner, coffee shop and corner drug store (complete with rest room and glass-doored phone booth) in film noir—serves as a kind of Grand Central Station for night-dwellers.
For me personally, Lori’s is one point in a NOIR CITY “home away from home” triangle, along with the Rex and the Castro. It is a place to decompress after the social intensity of NOIR CITY, even if the incessant late 50s-60s-early 70s soundtrack wears thin quickly (Classics IV still play in my head). The food is surprisingly good, even if the coffee is a mite bitter. The wait staff is friendly and efficient, even at 1 am.
This Thursday night, however, was especially revealing.
[Ed. Note: I briefly set aside my self-imposed stricture on reporting conversations. In each instance below, I maintain that making these comments to a relative stranger in a public place mitigates any expectation of privacy. If that is an incorrect assumption, I apologize.]
First are these observations from a disapproving young Latino busser, as I watched the parade of humanity:
“You see these women who come in here showing everything? They’re prostitutes. They stand on the corner out there.”
He expressed his displeasure some more, in a way I failed to record, to which I lamely responded, “They are just trying to make a living.”
Pointing to the stool to my right, he continued.
“The other night I was here. Three in the morning.
“Sitting there. No bra, no underwear, showing everything. There was no one else here.
“They stand [out] there. When the police come, they run away. When the police leave, they come out again.
“You can get arrested,” he concluded.
A short time later, there was a scuffle at the front door. A short round white woman with a child who had been screaming about not getting her check was attempting to leave. I heard her say something about her sister (did she think she had paid the bills?).
My favorite waitress and the young busser, after barring their exit, chased the woman as she pushed her way onto Sutter.
My waitress friend (we had previously bonded over our “girls with heart” daughters) later showed me the bills in question, which totaled $82.59 (San Francisco ain’t cheap).
Soon after, a man with a little boy tried to leave without paying a check. This time, though, he returned immediately to pay; the experience seemed to disorient him.
Next thing I know (again I did not record what I ate—probably their nachos with vegetarian chili), I was talking to the bearded regular in a black cap sitting a few empty stools to my right. He told me he had lost badly on Bitcoin that day, ending with:
“What did you do today?”
My innocuous response led him to express his anger at what had happened to his San Francisco, driving him from liberal concern to reactionary loathing. He openly discussed shooting homeless citizens.
By now, things had settled down enough that my waitress friend could pour herself a cup of coffee and talk to me.
She described how Mexicans (she was raised in our southern neighbor) used to ask her age, and how her daughter (a hair older than our eldest daughter) cleverly ascertained the truth. I then watched a video of her daughter singing and dancing; the video’s volume further perturbed the bearded regular.
As a parent, I found the video charming.
This was when the 20-something blonde-haired woman at the far end of the counter caught my eye; I freely admit she was stunning. Her single-minded focus, however, was on the good-looking young busser; he did not share her enthusiasm. Nevertheless, she tenaciously peppered him with questions like “What are your goals?”
I doubt she was a sex worker; she did not share their furtive defiance. Rather, to this happily-married middle-aged man from somewhere else, she only seemed lonely (or drunk or high, or some combination) and a bit desperate.
Concluding the drama, a bearded panhandler in a dirty red jacket and blue-tinted sunglasses walked into Lori’s. After swiping bacon from the not-yet-bussed plate to my right, he asked “Can you help me out to get some food?”
He was not the first, or the last, panhandler I would see shooed firmly but kindly out of Lori’s, though he was the only one I saw brazenly eat food off an abandoned plate.
When I finally left Lori’s (sometime after 1 am–and after my favorite waitress politely refused an excessive tip to help cover the cost of the unpaid checks), I opted to walk a few blocks.
As I climbed back up Mason to Sutter, an attractive dark-haired Asian woman in a black SUV was turning left onto Mason. Spotting me, she rolled down her window and asked if she could give me a ride home.
I politely demurred.
Only later did I realize I should have said, “Sure…I live just outside of Boston. How much gas do you have?”
To be continued…
 “Our eldest daughter answered when I called our landline; she liked the photos I had texted her. If she sounded tired, it was because she had fallen in her rollerblading debut and hurt her wrist (NOT the one she had broken the previous spring).
She also told me our youngest daughter “really wants to FaceTime with you.” While I waited (and waited—I later learned they tried calling me for 30 minutes, though my iPhone never rang) I chatted about John Denver (“Annie’s Song” had been playing on the outdoor speakers) with the couple at the next table.”
 As I understand it, whatever Turner Classic Movies provides is what they can disseminate.
 I noted “not wearing underwear,” though I am uncertain if that refers to that night or to her reminiscences about her time as an actress and “muse” for underground filmmaker George Kuchar (“not George Cukor,” she once clarified to me).
 While he was not the first San Franciscan I heard express displeasure with changes to their city, he was the only one to advocate homicidal violence.