Graceless Lady

Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore
Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore

After we left Bloomington, Jim immersed himself in Zine culture. He was most influenced by VILE and Egozine. And by the Dadaists through his correspondence with people like Anna Banana, Ray Johnson and Lazy Nickles. He decided he wanted his own magazine.

He called it White Arms. The title represented the sheaths of paper that made up the magazine and the unpredictable reach they would have around the world.

His first edition combined local Fort Wayne art, poetry and prose. He also published my journal of a cross country trip I’d taken in a Lincoln Mark IV. Future editions evolved from including me to being solely about me.

One of the high points of  life in my early San Francisco days was the mail. Every couple of weeks I would get a package from Jim containing long letters, stories, magazines, cassette tapes or photos. I sent the same back to him. He said he waited for the mail “like some wait for god.”

White Arms was primitive and raw. Our primary pre-computer age tool was the xerox machine which we used whenever we could scrounge up enough dimes. If we had a really good idea and could come up with more money, we’d do something on a high speed press. Otherwise it was pretty low grade.

When we were together in Fort Wayne, we used the time to strategize at Henry’s, do photos, or make guerilla theatre appearances that could be turned into material for the magazine. Our stories were based on truths, half-truths, and untruths. If it fit the image we printed it.

The November 22, 1976 Edition
The November 22, 1976 Edition

My drag name was B. I was so famous they named the second letter of the alphabet after me.

Whenever I made an appearance or was photographed I could come across as soigne or remote. But get me involved in a conversation and the crude mannerisms mixed with the mouth of a Longshoreman quickly destroyed the image. I loved to keep people guessing.

Unlike some drag queens I had no desire to be a woman. I just wanted to capitalize on the fact that I could look like one. I was young, androgynous, skinny but fine boned, and had good skin. It did not take much in those days to get me looking good. But I had no falsetto and no act. A friend’s six year old daughter once told her, “when guys get in drag they start acting funny and silly. But when B gets in drag he doesn’t change.”

It took a couple years of coaxing but I finally convinced Jim to visit me in San Francisco. Rather than a brief vacation he turned it into a major expedition. Greyhound offered a 30 day Kennel Club Pass that allowed unlimited bus travel. He took his time traveling via Austin, Taos, and Santa Barbara, stopping to see his new Zine friends who he hoped to interview.

When he got to San Francisco we did all the sightseeing basics. Things you only needed to do once in your life, like Fisherman’s Wharf, and those you had to do habitually like Castro Street

Hanging at the Hound with Tacky Jackie
Hanging at the Hound with Tacky Jackie

The night we went to North Beach we drank French 75s at the Savoy Tivoli. Afterwards we walked the flatter streets back to the Financial District. Muni was on strike, there were no buses and I wasn’t going to climb that hill.

At the base of California Street I stuck out my thumb. A black stretch limo pulled up and asked where we were headed. “Just to the top of the hill.” They said hop in.

Our host was Mayor Alioto.  He talked about all the headaches he was having with Muni and the fits the dig on Market Street was causing him. I was usually confrontational with authority in those days but Jim said I remained the model of decorum telling him, “these things take time. It will all work out in the end.” In my own humble, megalomaniac way I may have saved BART.

Jim stayed with me a couple of weeks then headed off to Guerneville and Santa Cruz. He returned to the City then it was time to go home to Indiana. He bought another Kennel Pass and made plans to travel via Oregon, Boulder, and Iowa.

On the day he left we had an awkward face off. We stood for a moment struggling to say goodbye. Then KSAN played Wild Horses. We looked at each other and laughed. He took off.


The Story of Jim

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