Noe Valley Voice March 2003

Hanging Together by a Hair

a personal essay by Lisa Ryers

I think few people, while in Paris, find themselves thinking of Noe Valley. But I've always been an odd duck, a Zen guru's nightmare, never fully in my immediate Where.

This particular night, I am thinking of Noe Valley while I stand in front of the Paris club the Loco--short for Locomotion. I don't like standing here, next to the decrepit Moulin Rouge. A fight has broken out between an Algerian guy and a British bloke. Everyone standing in line is pretending that they don't see the fight. If we can get through the gauntlet set down by the captain of the fashion police, we will find what we have read about in an Italian guidebook--three dance floors pulsating independently, where no one is fighting.

If we don't get in, it will be my fault. My dancemates, two Italians from my French class, tell me the management won't let two men inside the Loco alone. Like Mars, the Loco needs women. I compare myself with the others in line and hope that I can do the job. My style is tomboy-rockabilly. Most days you will find me in a cardigan, T-shirt, jeans, and Jack Purcells, accented with barrettes and a burgundy lipstick. The other women in line are wearing high heels, mesh tops, and heavy black eyeliner.

I tie my cardigan around my waist so the bouncer will see my T-shirt (purchased on 24th Street) stretched across my breasts. My T-shirt features a modified highway sign which says San Francisco, Interstate 415. The bouncer looks at it and waves us through.

Gianluca surveys the scene and reports that only two of the three floors are operational. We have the choice between techno and disco. I used to like techno until it was adopted by every spin instructor in San Francisco. Another vote against the techno floor: Gianluca sees few ladies afoot, only men waving their hands above their heads in small circles. We take the stairs and deal with those who prefer dancing to "Billie Jean."

At first, we three try to dance as if at a fraternity party, swaying and holding invisible cups. I watch a woman dancing with a guy at least a foot taller than herself, wrenching his head down for a kiss. Some of the guys from the subway station have resigned themselves to 10-euro rum and cokes. They were "green-carded in," adopted by women in line who have since abandoned them.

No trio dancing ever lasts the entire night. Someone decides. Someone gets ejected. I put my arms around Michele's neck to see if it will be me. He smiles. He has a shaved head, but no, he doesn't. His scalp betrays no black patches, no stubble. He is not a San Francisco trendbaby. Looking at him straight on, I realize he doesn't have eyebrows either. Again I think of 24th Street and the concrete passage leading to the European salon where I go to get my moustache tamped down. Where I lie on a padded table, tense, waiting for the wax to melt. The beautician sets strips on a white towel and apologizes for her tardiness. Her previous client takes more time, she says. His girlfriend won't sleep with him unless he has the hair on his back regularly removed.

I am now entwined with a man on a Paris dance floor who cannot, for the life of him, grow a single hair. Then my thoughts cycle ahead. Do the curtains match the carpet?

Gianluca shoulders his way through the crowd, looking for someone unattached. He's having trouble finding solo flyers. It is late, and I lean against Michele and sleep in verticality.

Then Michele says, "It is cinq." Time to leave. We can't find Gianluca. We don't try very hard to find Gianluca. We step into the mist, and I actually feel like the transit photo on my Orange Card: a pensive face behind thick eyebrows. I feel uneasy, like when the security guard follows me at the supermarché. He is more disconcerting than American security guards at Safeway because he wears a black blazer, turtleneck, and slacks instead of a uniform and resembles a comparative literature professor at an Ivy League university.

The subway is open again. We are the only whites on the train, yet everyone gets off at Blanche station except us. We ride to the end to transfer to Daumesnil. It is still too early for an almond croissant.

There is a sign on the elevator door of my building. It says "Do Not Use" in English. Someone is using it now because it creaks as if a dead cat has been caught in a pulley. Obviously, the French residents are telling the British and American idiots not to use the damn elevator, but someone doesn't want to be told what to do. We take the stairs five flights.

In my room, his legs are like a cyclist's. He is not self-conscious. He is happy. I am self-conscious. My legs are not smooth. When she asked me about them on 24th Street, I told her to leave them alone.

Lisa Ryers studies photography at UC Berkeley. Her book reviews can be found on Her maternal grandfather grew up on 27th Street in Noe Valley.

Let Bylines Be Bylines

The Noe Valley Voice would like to publish your first-person essays. Mail manuscripts to Bylines, Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; or e-mail your essay to Please include your name, address, and phone number. Thank you.