It’s called San Fran now but it used to be called San Francisco Bath House and of course my friend from the Bay Area, when he visited years ago, thought it was Wellington’s gay bar.
“It’s not,” I said. “I mean they are gay people there but to, like, see shows. It’s not a gay bar in the traditional sense.”
“It is called. San Francisco. Bath. House,” he said, shaking his head. “And it has a paisley sign. You don’t know anything.” He had a very full-on flowing luxurious beard at the time and later, when we went out to another bar to dance, a bunch of drunk boys kept yelling ‘Beard guy! Beard guy!’ at him, not knowing that nine years later it would pretty much be a criminal offence not to have a beard in Wellington.
I kept telling him it wasn’t, he kept insisting it was, and we never even agreed to disagree. I’ve been there more times than I can count, to see all sorts of bands with all sorts of people. I go there with a friend who lives around the corner from me to see several friends’ bands and we meet up with several more friends there. It’s been more social than usual, my first week as a forty-year-old, and my Friday-night predilections lean more in the direction of cups of tea on the couch, but you have to go see your friends’ bands. Not to do so is also a criminal offence in Wellington, I’m almost a hundred percent sure.
The bands play and sing and I clap and laugh and sing along with them. I drink a lemon-lime-and-bitters and steal my friend’s fries and tell various people, when they apologize for not coming to my birthday drinks, that I plan to have many more birthdays and many more drinks, and they may celebrate with me whensoever they choose. We’re all a little tired, it’s been a long week for everyone. I’m acquainted with about half the room.
They’ve changed it quite a bit, the old Bath House, and now it’s got plywood paneled walls and a shelf full of old National Geographics and a ladies’ room that is clean and inviting, with a full length mirror and a distinct lack of graffiti in the toilets. There are gig posters to shows I never went to on the walls and they no longer have the total nonsense tiny coat check room that would take forever to give you back your coat. The smokers are still out on the balcony; not many of them, tonight.
I stay out for about two hours. My friend leaves a bit before me but I walk out with two others, and we talk about the bands and about what else we’re doing tonight and if tomorrow’s CubaDupa festival will be any good. They go one way, I go another.
Live anywhere for any decent length of time and the memories will layer up under your feet, into the city’s every nook and cranny and into your heart’s every crevice. There’s the bar where I had my five year Wellyversary, and where I also used to go, like, every week to hear Jez play before we were even in a band together. There’s the park across the street where I told a crying friend that her community would hold onto her even if she could not hold on to us. Up the road is an old office of mine, across the street from good old Fidel’s. Squint your eyes and tilt your head and there I am at one of the small tables inside, with a chai latte or a hot chocolate: my first year in Wellington and not drinking flat whites yet, looking carefully at all the shops not believing I was really here. Squint harder and you can see me in Seattle, going to my university job in my baggy clothes and putting on my long skirts for bellydance class. Tilt your head and there I am in college in California, braiding my hair down my back to go to work or to class, thinking that on the other side of the continent was the furthest I would ever be from my home island, not understanding hemispheres in any practical way.
You would think that these memories are the siftings of dipping my toes into this new decade but trust me: I was nostalgic for fifth grade when I was in sixth. At twenty-three I pined for twenty-two.
I put in my headphones and walk down Vivian Street in my comfortable shoes. One day I’ll have to move to the suburbs like everyone else but for five years I’ve been able to walk home from gigs in ten minutes. I think about singing, about writing. I think about friends and their bands. I think about scenes from a play. No moon tonight but the Southern Cross is bright and bold. There’s the bar where we had our first real date. There’s the block of new townhouses, under construction—I don’t remember what was there before: a big shambly old house, maybe? Kids are walking down Pirie Street into town as I turn the corner and go up my street.
I will turn fifty here, and sixty. If I live longer than the age my mom was when she left us, I will turn sixty-seven here one day too.
In the meantime, I turn the corner: into middle age.