This is a parable of San Francisco and freak nation.
Once upon a time, I was keeping company with a lady who had just migrated north from Los Angeles. She was a cacophanist and burner and so forth — a citizen of freak nation. Like many women of the nation, she owned a pair of costume cat ears, and was very fond of wearing them. They are a silly but flattering accessory for almost anyone, and this particular pair was as subtle and elegant as cat ears can be, plus something about them happened to suit her especially well.
When we would make plans, she would ask of the venue, “can I wear my kitty ears there?” I would shrug and say “sure,” and she would sometimes get quite exercised about my failure to take the question seriously. At the time, I presumed that she thought she looked sillier in them than she actually did, not understanding that there was some alchemy to this particular pair on her that worked especially well.
Looking back, I have a different explanation.
See, I'm writing this because last night, a neighbor rang me up, saying “I hear that zombies are massing in Union Square.” I was disappointed to have missed the downtown zombie attack last summer, so we went to check it out, singing “The Time of the Season” as we made our way down Geary Street.
Disappointingly, it turned out that there were only about a dozen zombies, doing a little zombie dance, rather than a terrifying horde marauding through town moaning for b-r-a-i-n-s. But hey, I love living in a town where I can afford to be disappointed when an unplanned fifteen minute foray out of my apartment for random guerilla street theatre only nets a dozen dancing zombies.
So, returning to the cat ears: I had forgotten that in most of America, you can't wear cat ears anywhere you want. Having recently come from Los Angeles, this lady was still accustomed to thinking before wearing too much whimsical costumery, because she had undoubtedly encountered some disapproving looks. But here in San Francisco, if you turn up at a shmancy blow-the-rent restaurant wearing cat ears with your elegant cocktail dress — or a tailcoat and top hat, or a well-made zoot suit, or a little understated face paint — the maître d’ will smile warmly and show you to a good table. There are limits, mind you; you probably couldn't get away with a pirate costume at a fancy restaraunt. But cat ears? In San Francisco, you could wear cat ears to the opera and even the society matrons with the scary facelifts will smile.
It's easy to forget how extraordinary that is. Oh, I love my town.