Armistead Maupin •
Tales of the City •
If you were fortunate enough to live in San Francisco during the 1970s, Tales of the City is likely to unleash a flood of memories—cruising for dates at the Marina Safeway, watching the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence roller-skate past, furnishing your apartment from Cost Plus. Above all there’s the impossibility of explaining to outsiders just why this city has such a hold on you—why you can’t imagine living anywhere else once you’ve fallen under its spell.
The action centers around 28 Barbary Lane, a mythical spot in the shadow of Coit Tower, where a transgender landlady tapes joints to her tenants’ doors by way of welcome. The address is pure fiction, but the spiderweb of social connections has a basis in fact. The gynecologist treats the socialite who is married to the son of the businessman whose secretary lives next door to the lover of the gynecologist. Each subsequent book in the series adds circles to the pattern.
Michael Tolliver’s coming-out letter to his parents (More Tales of the City) always makes me tear up. Maupin later said that page took him only five minutes to write, because he’d been writing it mentally for years; it was his letter to his own parents. “Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility . . . It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here.”
When that volume was published, Maupin’s father sent him a message saying he had read the book—and would shortly be moving to Zanzibar.
Apparently the twinkly sense of humor runs in the family.