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The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: 2021 Edition #14 – ‘Touch Our Junk’

On Easter Sunday, I drove to San Francisco.I wanted to have an adventure. I rook my time driving to the city, dawdling along the freeway access road by the bay. The view of the skyline from the Bay bridge was spectacular. I exited the freeway at Fremont Street, drove the car to Union Square and parked. I thought I would wander about Union Square, and perhaps mosey down Powell Street to the Trolley terminal. It was a bizarre experience. Downtown San Francisco, as I have known it for decades, is gone. Stores are boarded. Favorite restaurants are gone. Window displays have vanished. I saw no street entertainers on a Sunday afternoon. The trolley cars were not running. Instead of crowds, there was only a moderate number of people, many of them apparently homeless. I walked down Geary Street past the A.C.T. theatre facade, at matinee time, but there were no theatregoers. It was eerie.

I tried to find romance and wonder where it had always been before, but it seemed like an abandoned movie set, the magic banished, just waiting for the wrecking ball to take it down.

Things improved, however, as I wandered down Eddy Street into the tenderloin. Here the people were as before, disoriented, broken, but strangely vibrant. Somehow the bell jar that had dropped upon Union Square and Powell Street had missed them. They were, as always, outsiders, existing in a sad, but persistent world of their own. Where there is little left to survive with or for, the tenderloin hangs on with an admirable tenacity.

San Franciso itself, I thought, is gone but not vanished. The City has taken off on a quest towards whatever new incarnation is to come. Perhaps, I think, it will be an improvement on The Invasion of the Techies, which does not seem to have worked out so well. Perhaps the artists will return like blossoms in the Spring.

It was with this thought that I found myself climbing Hyde Street to Nob Hill, and, reaching the top took in the always astonishing view of the slope to the Bay, the Hyde Street peer with its modern replica of a 17th century sailing ship, and the mysterious fortress of Alcatraz Island right in the center. A 17th century sailing ship, and a horrific 20th century prison, representing, somehow, the future. Yes, I thought, the Fairy Tale persists.

Well, it is a fractured fairy tale. My last stop on the walk back to my car was the marquee of the Nob Hill Theatre, proudly proclaiming “Touch Our Junk.” But the theatre is closed. In the glass case out front, instead of the traditional porn posters, is a museum-like educational display on gay history. The Nob Hill is quintessentially San Francisco, and it is the only sight I photographed on the day’s adventure.

The display case out front no longer flaunts posters with gay porn stars, but has, instead, a display noting the historical importance of the venue as an LGBTQ heritage site:

I had found my romance! Unlikely as it seems, for a young man in his 30s entering San Francisco for the first time in the early 1980s–just before the full manifestation of the horror of AIDS–“Touch Our Junk” had the heady aroma of liberation. Where else in the world could there be such celebratory joy in coming out? The sign might as well have read: “Welcome to Wonderland, Charles: You Have Arrived.”

I tell you: The Barbara Coast Will Rise Again!