Stretched out on
a sofa next to his Australian shepherd, Sophie,
Armistead Maupin says he never intended to write another
installment of his popular Tales of the City
series. But thankfully for fans, Maupin's newest book,
Michael Tolliver Lives, revisits many of
the same larger-than-life characters that propelled
Tales from a weekly San Francisco Chronicle
column to six books and a Showtime mini-soap
The book debuts
Tuesday, when Maupin kicks off a tour and Mayor Gavin
Newsom declares ''Michael Tolliver Day'' in San Francisco.
Instead of randy
hippies who smoke joints, as they did when the series
began in 1976, the aging lefties of Michael
Tolliver Lives pop joint and arthritis pills.
Instead of plotting nightly sexual conquests, as they
did as 20-something singles, many profess shock at the
level of promiscuousness practiced by today's youth.
book--which would certainly earn the literary
equivalent of an R rating--centers on Michael
Tolliver, the endearing Southern gay man who came to
San Francisco in 1971 and lived at 28 Barbary Lane. Now
Michael is in his mid 50s, a mildly arthritic and
HIV-positive landscape architect married to Ben, a
handsome furniture designer and yogi 21 years younger.
spots Ben on an Internet dating site, and a chance meeting
in a coffee shop results in romance. They get hitched over
Valentine's Day weekend in 2004, when the city began
granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Except
for Ben's weekly forays to bathhouses in Berkeley,
they're homebodies who watch sappy movies and tease each
other about their lack of cooking skills.
''I wanted to
tell the story of a gay man getting older--especially
one who thought death was imminent and is now
confronting normal mortality,'' Maupin, 63, said in
the living room of his 1907 Craftsman overlooking the
San Francisco Bay. ''I didn't want to say it was a
Tales sequel because I didn't want to disappoint
looking for updates on Tales characters, Maupin
delivers. Mary Ann, the straight-laced girl from
Cleveland who moved to San Francisco to find a husband, is
now a wealthy wife in Connecticut. Brian, once a
sex-crazed heterosexual who relished his bachelor
status, is a single father uncertain whether to embrace or
stifle his precocious daughter's bisexuality.
difference between Michael Tolliver and earlier
installments is Maupin's emphasis on politics. Several
chapters take place near Orlando, Fla., where Michael visits
his dying mother and introduces Ben to his born-again
at Dick Cheney, the "war on terror," the radical
right's influence in Washington. His
relatives--racists and homophobes who live in a
mansion and drive SUVs and a gas-guzzling boat--pray
that he'll pick a straight ''lifestyle'' and repent
before he goes to hell.
Maupin, who grew
up in North Carolina and later served in the Vietnam
War, came to San Francisco in 1971 as a reporter for the
Associated Press. The novel's political edge, he said,
mirrors the polarization between red and blue America.
It's also the logical result of Michael's maturity.
''By the time
you've reached my age, you're a lot less tolerant of bull
from your family, even though the bonds still connect you
and you still want to please,'' Maupin said. ''We've
made progress from utter invisibility 30 years ago to
prominence in the cultural scene, but with that
prominence has come a more rampant form of homophobia. My
hope is that we're close to the time that homophobia
takes on the status of racism today--normal,
mainstream people don't accept it.''
create Michael Tolliver in his own image; the author's
relatives welcomed his spouse, Christopher Turner, into the
family. But other parallels are obvious.
Maupin first saw
Turner three years ago on an Internet site for older gay
men, which Turner founded and runs. Maupin refused to
solicit a date online and figured he'd never see
Turner in real life.
Weeks later, he
spotted Turner walking in the Castro, the city's gay
enclave. Maupin stopped him, they exchanged numbers, dated,
moved in together, and married in Vancouver in
February. Turner is about 28 years younger than
''I'm blessed to
have found a man who loves me for who I am,'' said
Maupin, who has bright but watery eyes and ruddy cheeks. ''I
am trying to be the best 63 I can--and I'm happy
that I don't have to try to impersonate a man of 35. I
want the novel to convey the fact that love, sex, and
connection are still there for us as we get older, just like
it has been for me.'' (Rachel Konrad, AP)