Night Work (2000)

Tuesdays during the Twenty Weeks of Buzz are given over to a look at each of my twenty books, a week at a time, giving some tidbit of information or background about the writing process.

I am a San Francisco native, more or less. My mother was born there, and her mother before her; although I have never lived within its boundaries, I have spent most of my life in the suburban communities circling its Bay, and I therefore claim matrilineal descent as a San Franciscan.

California is famously the place where, when the country was tipped, all the loose bits came a-rolling. Certainly we have our share of eccentrics: Emperor Norton was by no means the only San Franciscan to claim dual citizenship with a parallel universe.

Along with its eccentrics, San Francisco lives and breathes political activism. Something about the place stirs pride, passion, and a commitment to achieve perfection. The United Nations was born here, and gay rights came of age, and there is no civic element too minor for a demonstration in front of City Hall.

And at times, eccentrics and politics become enthusiastic bedfellows. The Sisters of Perpetual Disgruntlement are a fictionalization of the real-life (or as real as San Francisco life gets) Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Those “Sisters” express their politics through colorful demonstrations of an alternative lifestyle; my fictional ones have a harder edge.

One thing outsiders often miss, and even native San Franciscans may choose to put out of their mind, is that under all this wild show, hidden behind the parades of near-nude men and the Dykes on Bikes, drowned by the touristic siren calls of cable cars and Alcatraz and Chinatown and foghorns, in the edges of ten million photographs of street performers and twisty roads and breathtaking views, there exist the same pockets of physical and moral squalor to be found in any city.

Children go hungry, even in the City by the Bay. Men and women own what can only be termed slaves, who may live under the same roof. There are oppressed whose voices are too weak and timid to be heard.

And there are times when the outrage at these injustices wells up into the streets, when even a politically apathetic woman feels stirrings that bring to mind the bloody hand of the goddess Kali.

Night Work is a portrait of San Francisco seen through the eyes of a woman cop. Her city has a stratum of the wealthy and the liberal; it also has a layer of the downtrodden and invisible. She sees both, on a daily basis, and although her job is to be impartial, there are times when to focus on enforcing the law is to be blinkered to a wider injustice.

There are times when Kate understands rage.

(Photo thanks to bobster855.)

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