May 17, 2015

Tales of the City: Gay Guys, San Francisco, Who Cares?

Year after year, people tell me "The Tales of the City books are stupendous!  Amazing!  Wonderful!  The best thing every written!"

"And they're historically vital!  Gay author Armistead Maupin originally published them in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle, back when gay characters were unheard-of in mainstream literature!"

"And you lived in San Francisco! They will resonate strongly with your experiences!"

"And they're hilarious!  You've never laughed so much in your life!  You'll love them!"

So, again and again, I pick up the first volume, Tales of the City (1978).  Midwesterner Mary Anne Singleton comes to San Francisco on vacation, converses with her old college friend Mona Ramsey, and decides to stay.

This is not the least bit humorous.  It's dull, dull, dull!

She moves into 28 Barbary Lane, where her free-spirit landlady, Anna Madrigal, tells her, "My dear, I'm not opposed to anything," and gives her a marijuana joint as a housewarming gift.  Mary Anne is determined not to be shocked.

My life in San Francisco was nothing like this!

She goes shopping, sees two guys, and wonders if they might be gay.  She's determined not to be shocked, if they are.

Maupin eases into the revelation of their gayness.   I guess he had to be very, very careful, writing for heterosexuals in the 1970s.

I can't go on.  I'm so very, very, very bored.

But sooner or later someone will start praising the books again, and I'll try again.

I already know what happens next: Mary Ann befriends a gay man named Mouse.  He starts dating A-gay gynecologist Jon Fielding, who is dying, Mona Ramsey dates D'Orothea Wilson, and Mary Anne has an affair with Beauchamp Day. Anna Madrigal turns out to be a MTF transwoman, who has an affair with Beauchamp's father-in-law, who is dying.

Got all that?

 Through eight books and thirty years, Mary Ann, Mouse, and their huge group of friends encounter angst and tragedy as life hits them with unemployment, failed romances, homophobia, transphobia, death -- lots of death -- and AIDS -- lots of AIDS.

Sounds terribly depressing.

The tv miniseries (1993, 1998, 2001) were a bit more palatable, maybe because they were not so episodic, and they got into the gay characters right away, instead of hinting around for weeks and weeks.

Besides, there were naked guys. (Pictured: Thomas Gibson as Beauchamp Day.)

I can't think of any other reason to care about Tales of the City