My bona fides.
I walked to North Beach to check the address where Vince Young asked us to mail our rent checks. One neighbor thought it might just be a mailbox and he was right, it was a UPS store. Seemed a little fishy.
After doing my detective work, I walked up Columbus and stumbled across Bimbo’s. I was somewhat surprised it was still there given most neighborhood icons of its era were gone. I remembered Harry Fireside’s birthday party there, Brian Fedorow’s fashion show, and the book signing for Ming Vase’s Warhol book. And the music through the years: Wanda Jackson, James Brown, and my favorite, Iggy Pop.
In 1974 Iggy was touring to promote his Raw Power album. It had met with almost universal disdain and he was completely underappreciated at the time. The spiritual status he would attain with the punks was still a few years away. He was operating on the periphery of pop but I loved the album and the stories of his performances.
The tale that burned deepest was of him at Max’s, belly sliding across a stage that was covered with shards of glass. He then jumped up and did the whole set with blood streaming down his torso. To me it was ultimate show business, suffering for your audience. He spit it up and chewed it out and did it his way.
The night I saw him we were loaded on qualudes. Plus whatever the trendy cocktail of the month was. The opening act was the Tubes whose simulated outrageousness included fake blood that got all over everything. Including my thin white duke, double pleated, cream-colored linen pants. After their staged theatrics, the real outrage took the stage. 60 minutes of non-stop three chord pounding.
Iggy was mercurial and provocatively dressed in army boots and tiny gold lame briefs. Tiny. Amply filled lame briefs. At one point he came to the side of the stage I was clinging to and started his pelvic thrusts right in front of me. I thought, “this is Iggy Pop, anything goes” so I reached up to grab his briefs and pull them down. In an instant I felt a fist in my cheek. Iggy bent down and yelled in my face, “DON’T DO THAT!”
I was a little disappointed that I’d discovered he had limits but medicated enough that I didn’t really suffer. Afterwards someone told me that he was probably afraid of the whole Jim Morrison indecent exposure thing. The cops would love nothing more than to bust him on some trumped-up charge. So I let it go, it didn’t really matter. He hit me and it felt like a kiss.
A year or so later we were at the Haven on Polk and California where everyone went for breakfast after the bars. We found a place close to the back and as we were seated I noticed the table behind us. It was this business student preppy guy with mousey brown hair and a very straight looking couple (as in bourgeois, not sexuality. But probably that too.)
The guy looked so familiar, I kept mulling it over until I realized it was Iggy. Obsessed, I wouldn’t shut up about it at our table. He was a far cry from his bleached blonde, naked street fighter stage persona but I was positive it was him in disguise. Finally my friend asked me, “what’s his real name?”
He got up, walked over and asked “Excuse me, are you James Osterberg? “ Iggy smiled and said yes. They motioned for me to come over and I told him the Bimbo’s story. He was immediately apologetic and very gracious. He pulled out a napkin from the dispenser to write on. Instead of an autograph he did a drawing. It was a heart/face with the words “I love you,” and at the bottom “don’t ever forget me.”
St. Joan died today. She has been a favorite of mine since The Ed Sullivan Show. At least she went out doing what she loved most, being under the knife.
I had breakfast with Gary at Mission Beach this morning. Afterwards I walked back up Market and saw the remnants of a collision between a lorry truck and a bicycle. It happens all the time in San Francisco. Since the bike lane is to the far right, a vehicle turning right has to check both sides and behind them AND hope there’s nothing in their blind spot as they execute the turn. The green paint on the pavement isn’t effective in stopping two ton vehicles. Nor does it protect cyclists.
The problem isn’t bikes it’s the half-assed execution of a bike policy in the City. The Board of Supervisors hastily instituted it a couple of years ago so they could get out the press releases branding this the greenest city ever. Trendiness attracts tourists. A truer measure of how green we are can be seen in those huge double-decker sightseeing buses rolling around town with 3 people on them.
But gloss over substance is the M.O. for this Board and it’s how they’ve handled the eviction crisis as well. With the exception of the Campos amendment to make landlords pay eviction rates that reflect the market, there have been no bold initiatives or leadership coming out of Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.
In March one of my neighbors wrote to our supervisor David Chiu to complain about our Ellis evictions. Chiu responded that he supported Mark Leno’s bill to amend the Ellis Act in the Legislature. (It was later defeated.) “Backing the Leno bill” was the cover a lot of local politicians took while they accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers. Their contacts in Sacramento probably told them they had the votes to kill it so it was safe to take a stance that pleased the electorate without biting the hand that feeds.
I wrote to Supervisor Chiu after that and mentioned his Leno stance calling it a “stock answer.” He took umbrage at that but did get his assistant to contact the Tenderloin Housing Clinic to smooth the way for me to get help, something I’d had so much trouble doing. I was grateful for that. But the rental crisis needs bigger answers than just my personal one-off.
One of Chiu’s recent initiatives involved in-law units, the converted garages, basements and stand alone cottages that have existed here for decades. They are illegal but the City has done such a piss poor job of enforcement they don’t even know how many there are. His legislation creates a fast track for owners to register their units to make them legal and bypass the permits process. To placate those who don’t want to register, which is most, he has made it optional. So nothing will really change. But the spin that was put on this was “30-40 thousand new units added to the market!”
Chiu is a tool of San Francisco’s Koch Brothers rolled into one, Ron Conway. The City’s great tech revival has conveniently dovetailed with Conway’s investments. The tax giveaways to Twitter and Zygna and the reluctance to regulate Airbnb have all benefited his holdings. Along with Mayor Ed Lee, Chiu quietly shepherds Conway’s efforts to destroy the City’s progressive agenda which includes rent control.
When I first lived here the energy of the City came from the street up. The Haight, the Castro, the Fillmore, and the Mission were neighborhoods invigorated by people insisting on living life the way they wanted to live it. Today it’s a top down corporate town motivated by greed.
Chiu is running for the Assembly this fall and will most likely land there in January. Right where the money wants him.
The Eviction Story
I wore the suit five times: Halloween in Bloomington, 1972; the 10th Anniversary Tea in Bloomington, 1973; Chicken Little’s Halloween Party in San Francisco, 1975; the reenactment in Golden Gate Park, 1976; and when Brian and I won the Outrageous Beauty Contest at the Fab Mab, 1978.
I’d like to wear it again someday but the 26″ waist might be problematic.
The Jackie Obsession
The Bay Area Reporter ran a story about me today. Ostensibly the interview was about my Jackie collection but the conversation turned into a mash-up of Jackie, eviction, and drag. I was fine with that and pleased with the article except I look so old. But then so does Mick. It’s always fun to talk about Mrs. Onassis.
It all started in a Chinese Political Systems class back in the fall of 1972. As I leafed through my Warhol book I happened on his Jackie series. Inspiration struck. I turned to my friend and said “this is it!”
He was actually paying attention to the lecture and gave me a perturbed, “what’s it?”
I pointed to her and said “my Halloween costume.” We both started laughing. I knew I had a winner.
The Gay Halloween Dance at the Student Union was one of the biggest events of the year on campus. The pressure was on to be outlandish, everyone tried to outdo each other.
I thought my idea was the perfect antidote to glitzy, traditional drag. My idea contained the essential elements of Halloween: ghoulish, glamorous, sickening, sexy and instantly recognizable. Not to mention controversial and potentially in very bad taste.
I found a pink suit at the Goodwill and proceeded to alter it to resemble her Chez Ninon boucle. Food coloring mixed with ketchup served as the blood and brain matter. There was nothing haute about the reconstruction since I didn’t know how to sew. But as long as it produced the right effect, bas couture would have to do.
It did. People were stunned. I walked into the hall on Gary’s arm as he shouted “the President’s been shot!” Half the room was fascinated by it, the other half repulsed. The latter thought it cruel and callous making fun of America’s sainted widow (cum Greek shipping magnate courtesan). I was dealing with imagery not people.
It would have been one thing if I was mocking my next door neighbor who was killed in a hunting accident. But I was in the public domain here. This was a person I would never meet or ever know, an image that would be used for years to gain political advantage.
And it’s not like the Kennedy’s haven’t milked martyrdom. Every time one of Bobby’s kids takes the stand it begins with a litany of the family tragedies.
My connection to Jackie was sealed after that night. When I moved into my second San Francisco apartment on 14th Street, a friend brought me a house-warming gift. He had just moved into a flat on Page Street where someone left behind Jack and Jackie salt and pepper shakers. He re-gifted them to me.
I had no idea this kind of kitsch existed. I could only think how appalled such a refined woman like Jackie must have felt seeing herself represented in such tacky gewgaws. It made me love them even more.
Once the pattern was identified, the collection was off. I found a plate to match, then small pitchers, then another pattern, and on and on. Friends gave me Jackie ephemera they found like books, magazines, autographs, letters, head vases, and pictures. The collection grew exponentially.
The first couple decades it was a challenge to collect since I only wanted items that included her. Kennedy’s campaign teams considered Jackie too effete for the masses so her image was rarely used. The scarcity of propaganda using her meant I could go months without finding a thing.
Then eBay came along and it was like fish in a barrel. Many items I’d accumulated as unique were really rather commonplace. Though I had a lot that were not. I continued to search but the sport went out of it. I slowly just stopped collecting.
One morning back in the 1980’s I was having coffee with an overnight guest. We sat quietly in my dining room under Jackie’s serene gaze. Out of the blue he said, “it’s like being surrounded by death.” I hoped he was commenting on the shrine and not the night before.
The Jackie Obsession
In January I started looking through the various increase notices my landlords had left over the last four decades. I threw them in a box every year without much scrutiny. They came around the same time in the Fall and the rate usually looked right.
As I looked at them more closely, however, I noticed a few times they had not waited a full 12 months before issuing the next increase. The Tenants Union counselor said it may not amount too much money but it wouldn’t hurt to file my claim with the Rent Board. I did and four months later the hearing was scheduled.
I was told I did not need counsel since this was an informal procedure. So I was surprised when Vince Young showed up with his. I sat down in the waiting area and a woman came over and introduced herself as Denise Leadbetter, attorney for my landlord.
When we were called into the hearing room, we walked past various clerks in the office. Ms. Leadbetter was obviously familiar to them, she greeted one by name and told another that she would check in after the hearing about papers in another matter. They were all players who knew each other. A seasonal muffin basket or a bottle of bubbly on a special occasion might be enough to lift Justice’s blindfold, even if only slightly. The deck was probably stacked against me.
We were given the oath by the Judge. Vince Young and I answered “I do” while Ms. Leadbetter added dramatic flourish with something like “I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
I was asked if I was the tenant of the unit in question. I answered yes. Vince Young was asked if he was the landlord. This caused a moment of confusion for he and his counsel. Ms. Leadbetter looked like she was wrestling with a fine translation of Beowulf as she huddled with her client to get the precise term for his role. They decided that he was there as the “spokesman” for the LLC that owned my building. That would not have been my characterization.
So in his role as LLC spokesman and me in mine as tenant’s spokesperson, the hearing began. I was thrown for a loop when the Judge opened by asking me to present my case. I was under the impression that there were no arguments, that the proceeding was to discuss the rent increases I had submitted copies of.
She agreed but added we had to establish a complete history of my rent. That was like going back to the beginning of time, I did not have notices for all 38 years. After a stilted silence I asked “can we use cancelled checks?” She said yes.
I pulled up my ‘Be Organic’ canvas shopping bag and came up with checks, money orders and bank statements that connected most of the dots. I was told I had a week to submit documentation for the two small gaps that remained. The hearing was adjourned, a written decision would be forthcoming in about a month.
During the course of the proceeding, Ms. Leadbetter never missed an opportunity to call the Judge “your honor.” As she laid it on pretty thick I wondered if that was appropriate. Is an Administrative Judge addressed the same as a State or Federal one? It seemed a little over the top for something that was billed as informal. But then civility is the oil that greases the wheels (and egos) of our justice system.
Because of my uncertainty I did not honor the your honor system. I politely answered yes or no. As I left I thanked her high holiness. She responded with a chilling “good luck to you.”
The Eviction Story