This time last year, I was in Spain riding a horse on a beach. I went to Spain with the express purpose of riding a horse on a beach. To fulfill some ideal of romance, because I had been told that I wasn’t romantic. I wore a white linen shirt. I wanted to be the kind of person who rode a horse on a beach in Spain while wearing a white linen shirt. Because I knew that I was romantic.

***

In the fall of 1984, I tried out for the school musical. I got the lead role as Charlie Brown. When they posted the results of the audition, handwritten in marker on a sheet of white paper outside the chorus room, I was terrified. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t really act, either. I showed up and wanted to be considered.

***

An audition is a sadomasochistic ritual by which we subject ourselves to another’s judgment about our own worth. Even if we get the part, it is the permission granted by someone else that tells us who we are.

***

I moved to San Francisco on August 15 in the mid-1990s, when the first dotcom was almost swinging full. By September 1, I had argued or fought with nearly everyone with whom I’d come in contact. I imagined myself as someone who was adaptable to change. As it turned out, being new, uninformed and stupid just made me mad.

***

Charles Schulz said about Charlie Brown: “[He] must be the one who suffers because he is a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than winning.”

***

Is suffering the opposite of winning?

***

During my first September in San Francisco, I often wondered, “How does one ‘win’ at ‘San Francisco’? Is it a game?” Sometimes, I felt like going home. The thought tormented me.

***

I lived in a shithole apartment, for 300 bucks a month, and I ate three burritos and two plates of chow mein a week. My total intake. I turned my packing boxes over, covered them with tapestries, and called them “end tables.” I slept on a bed that I rescued from the street. With linens, there was little chance of being accosted by vermin. Little. I had my own room. With boxes and vermin.

***

Bruno, the lead horse trainer, told me, “Of course, you can go for a beach ride. We just need to see how well you ride. If you show us you can ride in the wetlands, you can ride on the beach tomorrow.” He didn’t use the word “audition”, but it was.

***

What if I came all the way to fucking Spain to ride horses, and I failed my audition?

***

During my first one-on-one rehearsal with the musical director, I came clean and said, “I can’t really sing.” He laughed and said, “That’s okay. Nobody expects Charlie Brown to be able to sing. He’s Charlie Brown. People would be confused if he were an amazing singer. That’s not who he is.”

***

I arrived at my apartment in San Francisco, sight unseen. It was the best deal I could get. I hoped that my new roommates would like me. One of my roommates in San Francisco was a butch lesbian named Sandra. She was an alcoholic with a mercurial temperament. When she was drunk, she was very friendly and liked to kiss me on the mouth. When she was hung over, she was unpleasant. Actually, she was mean and yelled a lot.

***

Bruno gave me a horse named Obligado. A beautiful Andalusian. He had a mercurial temperament. The audition was not just about whether or not I could ride. It was about seeing if I could manage my horse.

***

What if I came all the way to fucking San Francisco, and I failed my audition?

***

There is a scene in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” where Charlie is flying a kite and singing about it. He thinks he is going to fail at this, too. But…

Wait a minute,
What’s it doing?
It isn’t on the ground.
It isn’t in a tree.
It’s in the air!
Look at at that.
It’s caught the breeze now,
It’s past the trees now
With room to spare…

***

My boyfriend from Minneapolis came to visit me in San Francisco in mid-September. I hoped that we were going to try to do the long-distance thing. I wasn’t ready to sever my past. We had a romantic weekend at the Mark Hopkins. His visit buoyed my spirits. When he left, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he came to say goodbye.

***

I called him a week or so later because I hadn’t heard from him since the visit. He answered, and I asked how he was. He responded by saying, “I sent you a letter…”

***

Relationships are auditions. Over and over again.

***

Is suffering the opposite of winning? Is freedom the opposite of living? Is crying the opposite of happy?

***

At the end of the “Kite Song”, Charlie Brown watches his kite plunge into the ground. Just like he expected. Charlie must be the one who suffers because he is an average person accustomed to losing.

***

In the wetlands, on the coast near Alicante, the mosquitoes were horrendous. I was eaten alive. There were raised welts on my wrists and neck. Obligado bucked, shuddered, and flinched because of the mosquitoes. I pleaded with him and begged, in Spanish, “Por favor. Ayúdeme.” I assumed he understood Spanish.

***

In that first September, there was a strike by Bay Area Regional Transit, the subway system in San Francisco and the Bay Area. The buses were all full. I didn’t know the bus system that well, anyway. I decided to walk to work. To get to know the city, I had spent the last half of August walking almost every square block of San Francisco. I walked a new portion every day. The city was no longer strange to me. When I was walking by myself, there was no one to be mad at anymore. I knew where I was going.

***

The girl who played Lucy couldn’t sing, either. She screeched. It was funny because she sang just how you would imagine Lucy would sing. It was the best worst musical ever. Sometimes, we play exactly who we are.

***

Toward the end of September, I blew up at Sandra for eating all of my food — for the third time. “I can’t afford to feed both of us! Stop eating my goddamned food! Sometimes, I buy a burrito and make it last for three days. When you eat it all, I have nothing to eat!”

***

Obligado and I did much better when I let him canter and gallop. The mosquitoes couldn’t keep up with us. Bruno wasn’t happy. “You’re the lead horse. When you run, the other horses want to run. Some of the riders aren’t used to that. Slow down.”

***

Bruno saw that I could ride. Obligado and I went ahead, at a canter, then a gallop, and we waited for the rest of them at the river. I figured that I could always apologize later.

***

Obligado and I made our peace. We had an understanding.

***

I spent a fair amount of my income keeping Sandra drunk that first year. It worked out better that way. For both of us.

***

I fell into a regime in San Francisco. I went to bed at 10 pm, despite the clomping of the high-heeled shoes on the hardwood floors overhead. Such clatter didn’t bother me back then. Sandra continued to get wasted, and she poured beer on passersby from the heights of our stoop. I live alone now, on a hill, with no one above me.

***

When you can’t sing, and you can’t act, you just need to inhabit the character and act “as if.” Maybe it is an audition. Maybe it is always an audition.

***

The finale of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is about happiness

Happiness is being alone every now and then
And happiness is coming home again
Happiness is morning and evening
Daytime and nighttime too
For happiness is anyone and anything at all
That’s loved by you

***

A little over a year after I arrived in San Francisco, on Labor Day weekend, I went on a hiking and camping trip in the Sierras with a group of gay guys. I made out with a short but muscular guy named Jim. I had my own tent, but we ended up sleeping in his. I got sick from the altitude in the middle of the night. He took care of me while I puked, and then he asked me out for a date. He picked me up at my house. Sandra kissed him on the mouth.

***

I had a job offer in New York at the end of the summer. I almost took it. When I flew back to San Francisco, I looked out the window as we were descending. I saw the Marin Headlands and the bay, and I decided that I didn’t want to leave. Although I have always loved New York, I knew that I needed to give San Francisco a chance. I would be in San Francisco for another September, at least. We were auditioning each other. This was the call back.

***

We set out from the equestrian center in Oliva before 7 am. I saddled Obligado. We made eye contact. He was calm. There were no mosquitoes. Bruno was alert, efficient, and ready, as always. He was married to Ileana, and they had two young children. I wondered how they figured into his life, given that his obvious true love was training and riding horses. Nigel joined us, too. He was a gay expat from Britain living in Spain. His much-younger husband had no use for horses. He liked to sleep in and then spend the day at the beach.

***

When you are on the stage performing, time seems to stand still. No, maybe it doesn’t really stand still. Perhaps you just feel more in command of it. You set the rhythm. It doesn’t set the pace for you. You tell the story, and you offer it like a flower by the stem.

***

I loved Oliva. Valencia. Madrid. It’s not that I didn’t like San Francisco. I just wanted to be somewhere else for a while.

***

It’s smoky here. Because of the pandemic and the wildfires, I’d love to be somewhere else for awhile. It’s not that I don’t like San Francisco.

***

Bruno, Nigel, and I arrived at the beach. When Bruno gave the word, we took off. I galloped on the sand, in my white linen shirt. It was still early, so there weren’t many beachwalkers. We had the beach to ourselves.

***

When you have a place to yourself, do you ever ask “Why?”

***

I still can’t sing. I make up silly songs. I sing them to myself. I can’t act, either, though I enjoy it. I write stories and tell them aloud sometimes. Those are the best kind. I know exactly how they should be told and when to add the right inflection and drama. After all, I lived it. No one else can tell that story. A great storyteller, though, tells stories in which others can find themselves.

***

After a run on the beach, Bruno directed us to the water. We went in far enough where the water covered my boots. I gave them up as ruined, but I didn’t mind. This is what I came for. I auditioned, and I made it. Obligado lived up to his name. He obliged and understood me. I wasn’t average. I hadn’t lost. I loved him for taking me on the ride.

Anthony Weeks and Obligado, Oliva, Spain, 2019