San Francisco, the Harlot and my best friend, Marji

I met Marji when I was 13 and we have been best friends since, and I don’t bandy the word friend about lightly. I have lots of “gals I work with” and “gals I went to school with”. I am very picky about who I introduce as “my friend” since she is the kind of person I don;t mind being thought of together with. In my opinion, you pretty much can tell the kind of person a person is by the kinds of people they consider thier friends.

I was the maid of her honor at her wedding, loved her mother (Mama Serpa), know her family AND family history which is long, complicated and interesting. I remember the first time her daughter B, met my son Boy-o. He was maybe a year old. “Can he talk?” “No” Can he walk?” “No” “Then what good is he? “Well, he keeps me pretty amused.” “Hmmmm.” And that pretty much sums up B….she asks direct questions and makes her decisions based on them.

The advent of email has been nothing short of a miracle, since we can post anything that comes into our heads and not have to carry on a real conversation while we wait for something interesting to pop up.

Back story on San Francisco, which my children used to cal Pan-Pan-Prisco, so that is what I usually call it, too. My parents met there during WWII and lived there for several years, before my Da decided that he wanted to be a farmer, which surprised my mother, since she had been born “in town”. She quickly learned how to do farm stuff (of which there is a lot of to do and learn), to NEVER name animals (because you are going to eat them) and that spending $55 on a slip is silly when you need a new tractor.

Prior to becoming a farmer’s wife, she had a whole drawer filled with $55 slips and cashmere sweaters, since she was, what was known in the circles she frequented as a “peach”. Her hair and nails were always done and she was always exquisitely dressed in those great 40’s style suits. She managed to wear stockings thru the entire war, standing in line for hours. In heels. After she married, DAD would stand in line for hours to bring home stocking for her. THAT’S the kind of woman she was.

I am sure it was a hard life for her and in my heart of hearts, I don’t know that she ever got used to it. I remember her telling me that once upon a time she had ONE dress, since she only went to town once a week and that her suits and sweaters simply were not the kinds of things one wore to the market. She also had probably 45 pair of size 6 peep toes…again, not the kind of thing one would be wearing on a dairy farm.

So, when I was growing up, I envisioned myself moving to Pan-Pan-Prisco, living downtown and teaching. I would wear gorgeous clothes, very cute high heels and hats and go to the opera and ballet with my lifetime of season tickets. I never gave LA a thought, since I was going to THE CITY, since that was the center of all the culture in the county.

Well, I didn’t.

I taught in small towns and in the inner city of LA. In fact I was on Vermont ad Slausson when the Rodney King verdict came down and the city was on fire. I mean ON FIRE. Cars were on fire; buildings were on fire; stores were on fire. It was one scary time.

The Popeye’s Chicken across the street from my school WAS ON FIRE. Like in flames.
The Sears and Wards where I shopped? On fire.

I sat in my back yard on the river with the TV set on so I could figure out where the smoke was coming from. The sky was filled with helicopters. In Pan Pan Prisco, they might have earthquakes (LA did, too) but nobody BURNS the place down. Again, as a backstory, this just solidified the fact that THE CITY was far superior than LA.

So in the last 10 years I have been to THE CITY four times. Once on my honeymoon. I swore I would never go back–too many people. Then I went again, on business. Never again. Way too many people. (I stayed at the Fairmont and it was STILL not a good enough trade.) Then last spring, Boyo went with me (again on business).

We decided to drive downtown, in search of yarn shops. I had a yahoo map and everything. Unfortunately, it was quitting time and for every block of progress we made, about 50,000 people came pouring out of the buildings. I felt like Godzilla had attacked and we were the only ones who didn’t know. Boy-o spotted a bunch of guys in matching shirts and wondered out loud if that was a gang (yeah, if you think guys who work for FED EX constitute a gang. )

That was funny until we got lost. Then nothing was funny until I found Van Ness (and it was a real true accident…I had no idea where we were) and got back to our hotel. You would have thought we had spent the late afternoon slaying dragons. We were panting ,we were so exhauted. We found a Barnes and Noble and thought we had found Nirvana. Forget Pan Pan Prisco. I was never going back again; nobody could make me and that was that. It was beyond that…I. Was. Not. Going. Back.


Then last weekend, Marji, B, Girlie and I drive to Pan Pan Prisco to stay at the Hyatt on Union Square (we had lunch on the 36th floor…and that is REALLY high). A girls-only roadtrip to shop a little, talk a lot and see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

But before we actually arrived, we made a quick yarn stop at YARN! in Oakland. Armed only with a map that Marji had made out (left turn here, right turn there). When we found YARN! you would have thought it was 1960 and we had run into Paul McCartney.

Boy o boy! They have beautiful stuff there. Gor-jus colors and it feels like melted cream cheese. And the staff couldn’t be nicer.Girlie bought a handknitted, felted bag and promised to give it a good home. She bought yarn. I bought yarn. Marji and B of the sensitive to wool tribe found that VERY EXPENSIVE wool doesn’t itch. In fact, the more expensive it is, the less itchy it is. So just guess what they did.

Marji and I went to Britex for buttons (they look like I killed a mastadon and then used a chop saw to whack his leg bones),the girls left for where ever college age girls go and then we left for Los Altos to see the Yarn Harlot. It was WAY farther out from Union Square than it looked like on the map. So we are driving around this tiny downtown, looking for the yarn store and whilst driving down a side street see about 400 women sitting in chairs and deduced that THAT was where we were going.

I have to tell you that Stephanie is a tiny, petite little hothouse flower who is funny not because she is trying to be funny. She is funny because she says the things we all are thinking…but she says them out loud.

She does important things with her life…more than “just knitting”. She is able to bring those of us who knit together….and even if you are a knitter like I am (Team Flying Monkeys…I’m slow, and the rest of the Flying Monkeys are slower), you belong.

You speak the same language and make the same mistakes (some more than others), have the same mind set…”hmmm, how hard COULD it be? It’s either knit or purl. I can do this” with no real concept that something could possibly be too hard. That’s one of the things I like about knitters. We are fearless.

One of Stephanie’s deeply held beliefs is that anyone who “doesn’t like” knitting isn’t doing it right. Marji and I were milling about and spotted the gal who was knitting a pair of Pirate Arrrrgyl socks. Stephanie was signing books and chatting. Margie mentioned that B, her 22 year old daughter had thought that “knitting was just not for her”. Steph’s hand stopped in mid-signiture and her head popped up in disbelief while Marji continued “until she saw these Arrrgly socks and changed her mind”. You could actually see the Harlot take a breath and continue on, secure that life was as it should be.

All I really can say about this trip are four things.
1) If you can get to see the Harlot-go. We drove 5 hours THERE and it was worth every minute. 2) Marji and I can talk until we are hoarse. Not speechless, just hoarse.
3) I love the people that our daughters have become.
4) You can use exit 15 on the middle of the Bay Bridge to turn around and go back the other way. Just in case you find that you are on the wrong direction in the middle of the night. Just drive until you get to the Coast Guard place and turn around.


One thought on “San Francisco, the Harlot and my best friend, Marji

  1. Reading this left me as breathless and exhausted as Pan Pan left you! What a trip!
    I would like a friend like yours, but perhaps you have to be to be more open than I am prepared to be to share so much. Yet you are one of the strongest people I know…How does it work?!

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