“Are there any rich guys in the crowd who want to buy me shit?”
Popstar Kim Petras is talking to the audience between songs. She is wearing a black leather miniskirt and an off-the-shoulder gold top. The sunlight is reflecting off her long blond extensions and her white teeth are sparkling. Her backup dancers are dressed for a Sexy Mad Max party. She stomps across the stage and blows kisses to the tall person in the Lucille Ball wig in the front row who is pushed up against the metal railing.
“It’s a really hard time in the world,” she adds. “Especially for trans girls.” The crowd hollers in solidarity. One tall man next to me in a maroon t-shirt wipes his eyes as Kim launches into her next song, Hillside Boys. I start jumping up and down to the beat. I quickly memorize the chorus, “Hillside Boys you call my name. You make my heart sparkle like champagne.” I pretend I’ve been listening to Kim Petras for years, when in fact I only learned of her a few days ago, in preparation for this weekend.
I am at Outside Lands, an annual music festival in Golden Gate Park. I am forty-eight which means I paid extra for shade seating and access to upscale porta potties. I am wearing practical sneakers, sunscreen, and a neon fanny pack containing lip balm, Advil, and Band-Aids. Eighty-thousand people are here. There are various stages and dozens of vendors selling acai bowls and dried flower crowns. When I eat my Korean loaded waffle fries at a picnic table across from the Monster Energy Drink booth, I overhear a girl in crocheted pants say to her friend, “Matthew is the king of going to music festivals for the music.”
Like Matthew, I go for the music. I also love the people-watching and the overhearing of comments like, “Oh my god your parasol is everything.” When Pussy Riot plays the Ukrainian national anthem, a dad with his toddler on his shoulders turns to me and says, “These girls are amazing.” He hadn’t heard of Pussy Riot until his Russian coworker suggested he “go pay tribute.”
Pussy Riot is amazing. Apparently so is Wet Leg, the band my husband is seeing on the other side of the park. He texts, this show is incredible. Thank god women can now lead bands. I know what he means. It is no longer unusual to see female-led acts, or in the case of Pussy Riot and Wet Leg, all female bands. I text him back, First bands, next the country.
Later, swaying back and forth during Mitzki’s set, I am transfixed. She sings about the strange discomfort happiness can bring when you are conditioned to constantly wait for bad things to happen. And her dancing is more like theater. At one point she death-stares the audience and then mimics slowly slicing her neck with the microphone. Between songs, I can hear Post Malone across the park screaming, “I fucking love San Francisco.” I whisper into my friend Sarah’s ear, “The patriarchy is always in the background.”
Most women I know feel like we have a lot to be angry about. When Phoebe Bridgers leans into the mic and says, “The world is burning,” thousands of high-pitched “Yeahs” travel across the grassy field like an electric current.
Kim Petras is right. It is a really hard time in the world. Music won’t save us. We will save us. And when we do, music will be blasting.
The Salesforce Tower is the tallest building in San Francisco. It wasn’t there when I moved away in 2015, but when I returned three years later, my city had gotten a mohawk. It’s visible from the beach, the park, the grocery store.
Like a new loud family member, at first it was embarrassing, but over time, I’ve gotten used to it. It’s just who we are now.
A month ago, I was downtown, ordering an iced coffee from a place with too many milk choices. Leaving the café, I looked up at the office buildings. I couldn’t see the Salesforce Tower. I walked a few blocks and kept searching for it. It had vanished. Then it occurred to me. The tower is not visible when you’re right next to it.
I had forgotten about that until yesterday. My daughter and I took a long walk down a path surrounded by weeds and wildflowers. We talked a little, about boyfriends and pancakes, but were generally quiet. “Can we walk a little slower?” she said at one point. “It’s so pretty.”
Our footsteps on the gravel sounded like popcorn crunching. We stopped to watch a brown bunny chew on a leaf. And then my daughter said, “Mom. Look. A fish.” At first, I thought the shimmering skin on the ground was the flesh of a bird but I was wrong. There were dead fish strewn on the path. Some whole with eyeballs intact, others in pieces. “My friend told me about this,” she said. “Anchovies fell from the sky.” She said this with the nonchalance of a teen who has lived through a global pandemic.
“How the hell did anchovies fall from the sky?”
She shrugged and said there was an article about it. I told her we should watch Magnolia later that night. We continued to walk in silence. Crunch, crunch.
We were over a mile from the ocean. How did anchovies fall from the sky? I concocted various scenarios in my head, but was too ashamed to share them with my analytical child.
Later, at home, my daughter looked it up. “Overpopulation of anchovies,” she announced, sprawled out on the couch with her phone. “Sea birds tried to get them all to their young but carried too many, so they fell on the ground.” She took a sip of her banana smoothie.
There was no mysterious fish tsunami. The explanation was perfectly logical. Birds were responsible for the fish on the ground. This had not occurred to me. I was ready to believe in fish clouds. Then I remembered the Salesforce Tower, the thing you can’t see when it’s right in front of you. And then I started thinking about what else I’m not seeing. The thing that later, when it reveals itself, will make me say, “Of course. How obvious.”