My 30 year love affair

So, let me start by stating that I have been in a long term monogamous relationship, married to my amazing husband, Alex since 2003 when we got married.

This man is my EVERYTHING

That being said, I need to make a confession: I have been carrying on a torrid love affair with Mouse, Mary Ann, Brian, Anna Madrigal, Shauna, Jake, Ben, DeeDee, the Twins, Wren, Harrison and a host of others for DECADES.

In case you have NO idea who I am talking about, I am referring to the cast of characters from Armistad Maupin’s “Tales of the City”.

It was 1987, and I had been in Vancouver for just over a year. One of my soon-to-be best friends in the whole world, Elaine took me on an adventure to downtown Vancouver to a little hole-in-wall bookstore called “Little Sisters” on the top floor of a converted house on Thurlow Street.

It was one of my first steps out in the world as a gay man. Until that point, I was, shall we say, “semi-Closeted”. I wasn’t really out but, I was taking those first steps out in the world.

We got to Little Sisters and we climbed the rickety stairs to the top floor. I walked in and found Nirvana! Books about people like ME were EVERYWHERE! I was giddy with excitement. So, I started wandering the aisles checking out a variety of books, magazines and the like.

I was fairly poor at this time, so I automatically gravitated over to the “discount” bin. There, sitting regally at the top of the pile was this book:

My first exposure to the world of Barbary Lane

I had never hear of Armistead Maupin, but, the clerk behind the counter looked at me and smiled. He told me that the book in my hands would change my world. So, I paid the $1.95 for it and stuffed it in a brown paper bag the clerk handed me.

The very next day was my day off and so I made a big mug of tea, settled on the sofa and proceeded to tear through the store of Mary Ann Singleton meeting Anna Madrigal, Michael Tolliver, Mona Ramsay, Brian Hawkins and a host of new found friends. This story captivated me like no other book had before or since.

It was a contemporary story. It was taking place in San Francisco (a city I would eventually get to visit- I was DEVASTATED when I learned that Barbary Lane didn’t exist).

But, I fell in love that day. I fell in love with all of these characters and more. Upon finishing the story, I called Little Sisters to see if they had any other novels by Mr. Maupin. He had written his first novel in 1978 and so, there were not one, two but THREE additional books and they had them in stock! I was elated!

I BEGGED the clerk to hold them for me until I could get down there. The next chance was not until my next day off which was 5 days away. The clerk, whose name, I should remember but don’t, agreed to put them aside for me.

My next day off, I was down there and gathered up my three newest companions and headed for home. This time, rather than devouring the stories in an afternoon, I forced myself to ration the tales. Two chapters a day! That was it! It was HELL but, I was able savour the stories for much longer.

The stories filled me with delight, joy, fear, anger and love. What more can you ask from books?

Then, subsequently, two more chapters which kept me going for a while. I wanted MORE.

It wasn’t until 1993 that PBS embarked on a brave experiment and created the TV Series that made me fall in love all over again. The people from the books were made flesh and I was overjoyed.

The cast were EXACTLY who I pictured in my mind as I read the stories. Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and the rest shone as they were meant to.

After the series had finished its run, I RAN back to the books and re-read them voraciously. I needed more.

Then, in 1998, BBC ran the second series: More Tales of the City. They reunited most of the cast from the original series and it made my year

Subsequently in the 2000’s, Armistead wrote three more novels about the crew from Barbary Lane.

When I finished the final story, I thought that I could go on happily knowing that everyone was still alive and well.

Fast forward to this year: Netflix had produced a new chapter in the Tales of the City! The cast were reassembled with new and fascinating characters brought to life.

It was the culmination of everything that helped me become who I am today.

I didn’t binge watch the series. I was sorely tempted but, made myself watch them one episode a week just to make everything last. I was not disappointed. And as much as I want to give you all the details, you will just need to watch it yourself.

There were scenes of great joy, scenes of great anxiety, scenes of abject sadness and scenes of introspection.

I am thrilled to have been allowed to journey with these wonderful characters.

Thank you Armistead Maupin! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You made my own journey a lot more bearable having you along for the ride.

Published by Al Zylstra

a somewhat erudite wannabe writer with aspirations of not putting people to sleep with my prose....

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