I’m not from around here: A Southerner in San Francisco


I’m not from around here. I come from a far off place. The extreme distance between my former home and my new home, San Francisco, is not just geographic in nature, but also in weather, personality, and societal norms. You see, I am from a far off land called South Carolina. You may know it for our politicians who either “walk the Appalachian Trail (Sanford),” call Obama a liar (Wilson), or are unabashed racists (Thermond… ok, all of them). You also may know it for our terrible school systems, our fantastic food, beautiful women, repulsive bigotry, top-notch beaches, rebel flags, and long history. If you can’t tell, I have a bit of a love hate relationship that ebbs and flows from that perfect Publix fried chicken and mashed sweat potatoes to annoying pastel Oxfords and gratuitous use of the pronoun “Bo.”

The differences between my past and current home are innumerable. There are some subtle differences. For instance, that musky smell from marsh pluff mud in Charleston is actually just weed in San Francisco. But there are also some not so subtle differences. A few weeks ago, drunk on the freedom of a Sunday afternoon and bottomless mimosas at The Sycamore, my friends and I were convinced by a local to visit a block party by Folsom. As it was explained to us, it is a very San Francisco thing to do, there would be plenty of food trucks and an abundance of scantily clad women. Brains on bubbly, we heard food and “scantily clad women” and our hazed minds were made up. That’s the thing about alcohol; it sheds all your modern day needs and whittles you down to a living, breathing, slurring representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We tipped the waitress for her impressive adherence to the spirit of “bottomless,” and made our way towards the Folsom Street Fair.

Now, if you have been, you can probably imagine the red glow that shown through the beard of your gentle Charlestonian when he realized that this isn’t a funnel cake and balloons kind of fair. And if you haven’t been to the Folsom Street Fair, allow me to explain. The best way to describe this festival is to use the phrase that kept wheezing from my friends’ pursed lips, “Lotta dicks. Lotta dicks.” You see, this is a fetish festival. But not just any fetish festival. A San Francisco fetish festival. For a Charleston man, a fetish is letting your two black labs watch while you masturbate to Garden and Gun magazine. For a Charleston woman, I don’t know, maybe missionary with your tennis instructor on a Lilly Pulitzer down comforter. This San Francisco fetish festival trended toward a more risqué side. Well, more accurately, this fetish festival took risqué from behind with a feathered apparatus. And if that sentence puts you on edge, you have never been, nor should you ever go to the Folsom Street Fair.

Lotta dicks. I’m a heterosexual man, but through gyms, porn, and drunken shenanigans, I have seen plenty of male genitalia. But this was different. In the gym, you don’t turn the corner and see the junk of the guy you just checked in hoops propped up by an elaborate lime green string pulley system. You don’t see a man’s South Pole wrapped in red ribbon to look like the North Pole. You also don’t see a man stroll by with his Jerry’s jerry curls shaved to look like a skull and crossbones. These are just a few of the disturbing but quite creative situations we found packages mixed up in. Each gave me the same reaction I have when I see a dog in a sweater. “Come on, man. He doesn’t want to be wearing that. You are torturing him.”

As those far too bottomless mimosas began to loosen their hold on our decision making processes, we realized that our completely unpainted, undecorated, unpropped pickles didn’t quite jive with the general theme of debauchery and exploration that surrounded us. It was time to leave. We hustled by the dog show (not quite Westminster, but with the same amount of hair), and the full latex body suits (do you have that in seersucker?), and the whipping booth (maybe we lingered). Everywhere we turned, costumes and fetish booths looked like a Tim Burton wet dream. We made a quick right down an alley off the main street and b-lined for an exit. And that’s when it happened. A group of fashionably late (and nude) gentlemen poured through the gate and started walking down the narrow alley. So much flesh. So much hair. So many dicks. Our group of five tried to make itself as small as possible as the other group approached. Like the Sharks versus the naked Jets, our groups slowly approached each other. With nowhere to hide, no doorway to slip through, no side alley for shelter, we had no choice but to try and squeeze through the fog of man that rolled towards us.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and turned sideways to minimize contact. As they passed, I felt their muggy warmth slide past me. A horribly placed trashcan to my right made for a bottleneck that brought each dude’s bare belly sliding across the forearms crossed over my bellybutton. I quickly rolled down my long sleeves and put my hands in my pocket. In hindsight, that was not the best hand/arm placement. The patch of bare skin between the end of my long sleeve and the lip of my pocket will never be the same. Once a strip of innocent skin, protected from the fouls of the world by watches and concert bands, became the scratching post of everything foul and indecent in that steamy, muggy, sweaty alleyway. When we finally passed through the dick diaspora, no one made eye contact, no one spoke, and no one took their hands out of their pockets.

I’m not from around here. I’m from a place where block party doesn’t mean cock party. I’m from a place where sexual urges are repressed and confessed on Sundays not voiced and practiced on that same holy day. I’m from a place where a fair means fried Twinkies, teen moms, and skeeball, not, well… lotta dicks.

Folsom Street Fair photo courtesy of Shockingly Tasty, Flickr.