Would You Buy a Used Car from This Man?

Rolling back odometers one clunker at a time
Rolling back odometers one clunker at a time

I’ve been watching the Roosevelts on PBS and learned how TR’s pledge not to seek reelection compromised his second term agenda. He regretted it later but he did the honorable thing and kept his word. That we should have been so lucky with our mayor.

Ed Lee was an unknown City Administrator named to finish Mayor Newsom’s term when he was elected Lieutenant Governor. Lee made it clear he was just a placeholder.He solemnly swore he would not be a candidate in the next election. Until the filing deadline approached and he declared he was a candidate.

His reasoning was that, in a town where most people didn’t even know his name, there was a groundswell that could not be ignored. “Run Ed Run!” became the battle cry of the hundred paid volunteers who made themselves available for every possible photo op. The City was swept with the fervor of organized spontaneity that only machine politics and docile local reporting can produce.

Other than sitting by passively and watching diversity in San Francisco vanish, he’s had a rather unnoteworthy reign. In the City’s blood feud with the 49ers he was able to persuade Paul McCartney to have his concert at Candlestick and not at the new Santa Clara stadium. It turned out to be a huge fiasco because of inadequate staffing.

Friends told me it took  3 1/2 hours to get in and reportedly two to five thousand ticket holders missed the whole concert because they couldn’t park. The Mayor responded by adamantly standing behind a no refunds policy. It’s what he does best, take the money and Run Ed Run!

As Mayor, real estate developers are walking all over him as old landmarks are torn down on every block and new luxury condos go up in their place. In a nod to the people, about 10% of the new units are earmarked to be affordable, i.e., $600K instead of a million. In his dollars and cents administration, there’s a lot more revenue in property taxes on condos than there is in rentals.

Meanwhile entire apartment buildings are being vacated in record numbers by Ellis Act speculators. They find it more profitable to take units off the market for five years than to allow current renters to stay. With people losing their apartments, the number of available units dwindling rapidly, and the lack of any new apartment construction, no one has stepped forward to lead us out of the mess. The Mayor’s bold position has been to wait for the State Legislature to pass something, if not this year then maybe next.

The symbol for the crisis is the Google buses that ferry workers back and forth to the peninsula. They stop at several Muni bus stops around the City which probably isn’t legal. Whether the riders are the source of the apartment problem is debatable but they do represent a class of people with a lot of money to burn on housing.

To quell the uproar the Mayor is charging the tech companies a token dollar a day for use of the stops. He cites an old state law that prohibits him from charging private companies for use of public infrastructure. Funny, as an individual I can be fined $200 and towed if I park in a bus stop. But when it comes to our fellow citizens the corporations, Run-Ed-Run’s hands are tied.

For aesthetic purposes alone the buses should be banned. They are ugly, generic cereal boxes on wheels that don’t fit the City’s quaint streets. But San Francisco loves its transportation history and my theory is that someday tourists will have a new option to add to climbing cable cars and sentimental trolleys. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be selling tickets for the Goog-Mobile at the Wharf.

Inevitably they'll be winding down Lombard
Inevitably they’ll be winding down Lombard

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The Eviction Story

Life as a Blonde, Every Known Shade

Through the years…..

 

 

Next: Would You Buy a Used Car from This Man?

Previous: Life on Pretty Lake

The complete saga, From the Beginning

 

Life on Pretty Lake

Jim and me on Pretty Lake one summer in the early 70’s. Or maybe it was Center Lake. Or possibly it could have been Big Crooked or Little Crooked, Big Long or Little Long. At any rate, it was one of northeastern Indiana’s picturesque but ineptly named lakes.

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The Story of Jim

Sensitivity Training

 

Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.
Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.

In my Margaret Mead mode I remained obsessed with the queenie old school claque. I even moved in with them for about a month. Then, one day I realized “it’s not a game, they really believe this shit.” As funny as they were, they were really quite offensive. There was a heavy strain of misogyny in their humor, like the buffoonery of breasts, that I didn’t like.  So I backed off but remained friendly with them.  I needed good turn-outs for my parties, after all.

What intrigued me more than their acts were the superficial accoutrements they thought made you a woman: hair, makeup, fabric selection. It made no sense that genitalia dictated whether you could wear eyeliner or not. It either looked good or it didn’t. Being young and androgynous, I made a spectacle of myself. Everyone loved it. And once I had an audience there was no stopping me.

Jim and I hooked up daily, usually in the evening in Dunn Meadow with a bottle of Boones Farm.  He tried to nurture my appreciation for poetry but it was like jazz, I just didn’t get it. So he brought me along slowly with things like Bird on a Wire. I got that.

In turn I offered up the Stone’s latest single Wild Horses. He agreed that it was a beautiful song and reluctantly conceded it had “a certain” poetry to it. The Stones were more commercial than Leonard Cohen so we would hear Wild Horses on jukeboxes, on the radio, wafting from stereos out of open windows. It became the backdrop for the summer.

There was a sexual tension in our relationship that both of us were too naive and too shy to act upon. It was strange having such a strong infatuation that was never consummated. He later had an affair with a kid he fell for on the first night. What sealed the deal was when they woke up in the morning and he saw my name tattooed on the guy’s arm. Our relationship was kind of sick. And not in the fun way the kids use that word today.

He was working on a novella about me called “Image of Veta.” He insisted that I was going to become a star. I asked, “doing what?” I couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, I didn’t think I had any talent.

He replied, “your talent is being yourself. Become famous and the rest will follow.”  It was a formula used successfully by Madonna 10 years later.

Where Fort Wayne's elite meet
Where Fort Wayne’s elite meet

Jim left Bloomington for Fort Wayne. I moved to San Francisco. We hadn’t known each other growing up but Fort Wayne was my home too. We would see each other whenever I was there.

When he needed money Jim would tap into his local funeral home connection. The director loved his poems so Jim would dumb it down and churn out pap like  “autumn’s road to winter’s stillness.” Even I knew it was bad. We would take his earnings and the latest edition of Funeral Memories down to our favorite bar, Henrys. Sitting in the mahogany booth we drank and laughed as we read the poems to each other.

Jim was feeling the limitations of poetry. We both wanted more.

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The Story of Jim

 

Childhood Living

Still life with guzzlers, 1971
Still life with guzzlers, 1971

Jim and I met in Bloomington, Indiana in the spring of 1971. We were both 20 and in the early stages of coming out. He a year before, me just that April. Jim watched the semester long drama of his friend stalking me until he snared me. And then the theater that followed. He later told me mine wasn’t so much a coming out as an explosion.

Jim had a brief stint at a St. Louis art school but hated it. After a suicide attempt his first month there he returned home to Fort Wayne where his parents sought psychiatric help for him. When they discovered he was homosexual the experts, with his parents consent, subjected him to electric shock treatments.  It didn’t change anything, Jim never back downed from being gay. He decided to move on and check things out in Bloomington.

He was pathologically shy and extremely awkward in social situations. If you were patient enough, however, there was an intelligent and kind person underneath. With a scathing sense of humor. He was a poet and had been published in a couple of magazines. The first booklet of his poetry “Red Sky and Blue Airplane” had just come out. While everyone around us talked of doing things, he had actually accomplished something.

Before I came out I was a known quantity around campus. My fixation with the Rolling Stones had me doing everything Mick did:  shoulder length hair, scooped neck jersey tops, skin-tight bell bottoms, and big black motorcycle belts. I even bought moccasins because Time said he wore them on stage “for easier leaping about.” What the Stones were doing was fresh and challenging and there was nothing like it in Indiana. Except me. In 1969 men just didn’t have pierced ears. When I saw Keith’s I copied it down to the petrified sharks tooth.

I didn’t have many friends so my self-expression was mainly for my own pleasure. I wanted to make an impression but it never occurred to me what others actually might be thinking about me. I didn’t know anyone in the gay community or that it even existed.  After I emerged,  however, I would discover that many had known me.

In Bloomington’s version of People’s Park, a vacant corner lot occupied by hippies, the tribes people thrived on being weirder than the next person. I had them baffled, they had no clue what to make of me. They called me “Crazy Chris.”

The conservative older queens who hung out in the Commons cafeteria were fixated on my suede book bag. I’d ordered it out of the LA Free Press, it was kind of hip, kind of Laurel Canyon. But its utilitarianism was lost on this bitter claque. Their name for me was “Miss Purse.”  (Six months later they would all have one.)

Summer treat, Hoosier style
Summer treat, Hoosier style

As I made gay friends I learned about camp and gender-fuck. It helped explain Jagger’s influences and opened new possibilities for me.  My persona project became a collective one as new friends became fashion advisers as well. Indian Chandelier earrings from the head shop, thrift store dresses worn over jeans and combat boots, 5 inch cork wedgies and red denim hot pants. Eventually my hair would be bleached every known shade of blonde. If someone had a good idea I would probably try it.

I even befriended the “Miss Purse” gang. They were hardcore, closeted queens who loved to do old school drag. They spoke the lost language of Girl-ene where every other word was ‘she,’ ‘her, ‘girl’ or ‘bitch.’ The rest of their vocabulary was made up or inexplicable. And they would not stop to bring you up to speed. You either caught on or were kicked to the curb.  Fortunately, I was a quick study.

 

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The Story of Jim

Life as a Godfather

I’ve known Marilyn since the Bloomington days. She was Jim’s best friend. She had a nomadic quality about her, we would often hitchhike back and forth to Fort Wayne together.

Always on the go, wherever she placed her hat was her home. Through the decades that has included: Alaska, Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Bedford, Waco, Singapore, New Zealand, Townsend, Louisville, and Providence. She’s  had a lot of hats.

After she moved to Australia in the early 80’s she would make semi-annual pilgrimages to Indiana where her Mother lived. To break up the journey she would stop and stay with me in San Francisco.

In 1983 her son Jordan was born. Because it was his last name, Jim thought the child was named for him. It gave him a certain complacency. Even though Marilyn later told me that was not the reason, I did not have the heart to tell Jim. In his waning years he deserved comfort wherever he could find it.

Namesake or not, Jim was horrible with the baby. He was always bad with children. Nervous, tense, and overly animated, little ones could sense the uneasiness.

I, on the other hand, have gotten along famously with children all my life. The secret to my success is probably because, in terms of emotional development at least, we function on the same level.

When it came time for Marilyn to pick godparents, my lack of moral character and complete disregard for traditional values made me an obvious choice. Here are some early shots of my godson’s tutelage as we worked on…

 

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The Story of Jim

The Happiest Days

The happiest days are the days babies come.
The happiest days are the days babies come.

Like Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious, I tend to chew and spit life my way. In the 1980s, not many gay men had a lot of straight friends but I did. Most of my gay brethren didn’t really like children. I loved them. And you didn’t hear of many gays throwing baby showers. I had a couple legendary ones in my apartment on Jones Street.

In 1988 I held one for my friends Teresa and Gary. Teresa and I shared a fascination for Gone With the Wind. She brought a Miss Melly gone awry level of energy to our friendship while mine was more Belle Watling, the sadder but wiser aging whore. Beyond the invitations I didn’t take the GWTW theme too far. I did add my own touches like the 1/2” cupie doll babies frozen in pink and blue ice cubes. And the male stripper from the Campus Theatre who I dressed in a diaper to serve drinks. He was a big hit and obviously enjoyed his work.

When his shift was over he went into the bedroom to get dressed. I followed to thank him and give him his money. He wanted to get frisky and told me “it comes with the rate.” Although I try to live by Gore Vidal’s dictum that you should never turn down an opportunity to be on television or to have sex, I just couldn’t ignore the 20 guests in the other rooms. I smiled, said sorry and sent him on his way. Despite that, it was a memorable evening.

The memories began 20 minutes before the party started with a call from Garden Sullivan Hospital telling me that my friend Jim had just died.  He had lingered for months in hospice care and far exceeded the doctors original prediction that he would only be there a few weeks. In a moment of panic I called our mutual friend Marilyn in Australia to ask if she could notify the sister.

The family had remained at arms length and of little support during his illness but still they needed to be the first ones to know. I told her what was happening with my party. Marilyn told me to focus on the task at hand, she would make the call and we would talk again in the morning.

As the guests arrived I realized a couple of them knew Jim, some knew of him, but most didn’t know him at all. With so many AIDS deaths there was actually a protocol developing that I’d experienced a few times. If you were at some function and able to maintain your composure through the evening, you would carry on normally then quietly tell others who knew the person as you all left. So that’s what I did.

Jim
Jim

In the days following the baby shower I felt guilty for partying down after such devastating news and for not having a more emotional reaction.  I’ve since learned that there is no right way to grieve, each time is different and, despite what made for TV movies teach us, there is no precise continuum for mourning. Even humor, alcohol or sex can work to get through the first awful days.

Two years before Jim died I visited him during a stay in San Francisco General. As I left he gave me an envelope of documents that he wanted me to read and keep for him. On the bus ride back downtown I opened it up. The first one I pulled out was his Will.  As I started to read all I could think was what it must have been like for him to write the words that seemed to accept what was happening to him. And at only 35. There was nothing I could do about it. I rode home a sobbing mess on the 19 Polk.

 

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The Story of Jim