Sheer Delight

I’m sure my mother warned me about shears. They are dangerous, after all. But was she really warning me about sheers? If she was, it’s too late.

They are now part of my daily life and lingo, sheers are. Turns out they are those gauzy curtains that block out the neighbors’ view without interfering with most of your own. Maybe you thought they were called gauze curtains? You were wrong. Sheers. That’s what our decorator calls them, and that’s what Restoration Hardware calls them too.

Restoration Hardware, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with 18th-century Britain. Nothing. You may think you like Restoration Comedy, but you won’t find any at Restoration Hardware. There are things are very serious. We are not only looking for sheers, but sheers of a certain color. And here your novice homeowner and interior-decorator guy is revealed to be utterly incompetent. Some sheers are white. Some sheers are snowy white. Some sheers are off-white…but just how far off, well, that varies, doesn’t it? Beige white, well that’s a whole other thing. Not to mention gray white. In fact don’t mention that at all, because it probably takes a special consultant, and a day’s trip to some design center, to get the right shade.

Did you know about design centers? San Francisco has a whole district devoted to them. It’s a part of town with streets named after states. Kansas. Rhode Island. Tennessee. This gives the area a down-to-earth feel. That, along with remnant rail lines on side streets, makes the area seem downright industrial. It is, or was, industrial, and that is the thing. What happens when a waterfront storage depot gives way to people shopping for sheers? Walls of grimy brick turn into distressed brick. What does San Francisco turn into?

Me, I am turning into a home-owning, interior-design-conscious guy. Okay, maybe all these gauzy curtains look more or less the same. I know they are not. That I can discern the difference between them, well, that is enough. Some are darker, some lighter, and it’s difficult to have any strong feeling about the distinction. The real distinction is that I am here, engaged in a dialogue with my wife about sheers and, relatively, engaged. I know what’s happening. You won’t bump into William Congreve or Alexander Pope at Restoration Hardware, because those guys didn’t know a curtain rod from a tankard. I’m not sure what underwent restoration in this particular hardware chain. If Addison and Steele were around, they’d tell you.

They were into coffee, though, and that’s something that you can find throughout San Francisco, particularly if you are discerning about your origin. Same with chocolate. You think you’d like a little cappuccino and, if you’re feeling calorically naughty, a brownie? Splendid, but you’ve got to think a little harder. If you’ve got Honduran beans in your cup and Costa Rican beans on your plate, you probably haven’t thought about the consequences. In fact, just down the street there is probably a café that does just the opposite, Costa Rican coffee with Honduran chocolate. Do the two countries share a contiguous border? If so, are you stoking cross-border tensions in your afternoon break?

I’ll be driving back to the warehouse district soon. There’s no particular date, and there’s no exact need…but these needs don’t have to be exact. Something has to be matched, I am certain. And it’s probably something I specified. What color mortar did I want between the bricks outside our front door? Gray, I distinctly remember…but I probably remember inaccurately. It was probably gray-taupe. Which probably doesn’t go with something. Maybe our street. Or even the weather. So, I’ll be back, darting in and out of chic warehouses, while thinking mostly about coffee and whether about next time I’ll take the bus.

Thing is, parking in this erstwhile industrial zone is both limited and irregular. My disabled van likes level, even parking places. And in a neighborhood that was originally geared to railway boxcars and trucks, neither the streets nor the curbs are predictable. But the Muni buses are, I swear it. Complain all you want about the city transit, I think it’s pretty great. That there are buses at all is pretty great. That I keep seeing them sail by…is wonderful. I’m not sure what else unites the city, except its transit system. That, and the endless quest for sheers.

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