When You’re a Boy

The low spark of high heeled boys. My red platforms, 1972.
The low spark of high heeled boys. My red platforms.

I miss Joan. I was in Chicago today and saw the Bowie Is  show. My life flashed before me in the form of red grease paint over shaved eyebrows. If Miss Rivers was still doing Fashion Police I’m sure she’d feature me on “Who Wore it Best?” Or at the very least “Bitch Stole My Look.”

I loved seeing the costumes up close, especially the shoes. One pair of platforms were very similar to ones I’d had,  4″ high navy and white with pierced pinpoints. They resembled spectator pumps.

I liked his plain black flamenco boots. They had not been restored and you could see flaked leather around the bottoms. It reminded my of how hard platforms were to maintain. They were always scuffed up from being kicked in bars. Or in my case, being drug through gutters.

Life is a pop of the cherry. At the St. Regis trying to crash Mick's Birthday, July 1972.
Life is a pop of the cherry. At the St. Regis trying to crash Mick’s Birthday, July 1972.

There were a few too many handwritten notes and lyric sketches for my taste in the exhibit, things you can see in a book and don’t need to visit a museum for. But the audio grounded the whole thing.

I’m used to typical museum technology of typing “21” into the headset when you were at exhibit 21. “Bowie Is” had wifi earphones. You’d be listening to Changes then take a few steps and you’d hear Heroes.  Back and forth, the music kept up with you.

The song that surprised me most was Boys Keep Swinging. I had forgotten about it but have always loved it. And Bowie nailed the drag in the video, so disaffected with a hint of manliness.

Of the many things I walked away with from the museum, including Terryworld from the gift shop, I kept thinking of the short BBC clip when he was 17. He was group spokesman leading a rebellion of the long hairs. Apparently things had gotten so bad for these boys they’d even been referred to as “darling.”  Davey Jones’ hubris was impressive. Such conviction for something so silly.

Keith Richards always said that Bowie was just posing. Which I thought too except that his music has always affected me. Therein lies the rub.

 

Bowie Is

B ‘R

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Previous: Life of Outrage, Life of Beauty
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Life of Outrage, Life of Beauty

The evil genius
The evil genius

Brian was a co-owner of Hot Stuff on Polk Street, a vintage clothing store. He was also an aspiring women’s designer.

In the Fall of 1979 someone came into the store to post a flyer for the Outrageous Beauty Contest to be held at the Fab Mab. Brian loved money more than anything and immediately set his eyes on the prize. That’s when our mutual friend Kathy told him to call me.

For ten days straight we got together evenings to hash out our routines. The night before the competition we met with the producer/director to preview our outfits and skits.

The guy lived in a Berkeley, commune-like setting and looked like Stephen Hawking. He was in a wheel chair and communicated with a pointer attached to his forehead he used with a letter board on his tray. His acolytes were so attuned to what he wanted, they usually knew what he meant after just a few letters.

The women he lived with were absolutely devoted to him and there was a heavy sexual vibe to it all. Some worked in the strip clubs on Broadway next to the Fab Mab. Most of the other entrants in the beauty contest worked in those clubs too. Brian and I were the only men competing..

I don’t remember all the areas of competition but one involved Brian doing a Julia Child impression assembling ingredients and preparing a sauce. He finally called for his assistant and I appeared layered in spaghetti. I was supposed to be completely covered in the pasta but in our haste to assemble it backstage it wouldn’t all stick.  The crowd loved it anyway, especially when Julia dumped the Putanesca all over me.

In another segment we appeared in Brian’s original designs made from Hefty trash bags. I played the Hallelujah Chorus on a little toy piano while wearing a Bishop’s mitre. He improvised singing God knows what.

For the finale we used nasty tripe from Safeway that had been doctored with food coloring to look like brain matter. We attached it to his forehead then he laid on a catafalque as JFK. I appeared as Jackie in the pink suit and recited poignant passages from the Inaugural Address. We won the contest and our triumph was documented in the Examiner.

We had so much fun working together I was a little surprised in the days immediately following when he became distant. He wasn’t rude about it, he just wasn’t sentimental. He was ready to move on to the next money-making opportunity, whatever that might be.

I wasn’t about to let him get away with that shit. I forced myself on him and within a couple of weeks we were inseparable. We remained close friends until he died in 1991.

 

 

***

The Jackie Obsession

Pride Before the Fall

Pushing Mr. Sarah in the '79 Parade a month after he was beaten in the White Night Police Riot. After several brain surgeries, 4 weeks in General and my skilled handling of the chair, he started to recover.
Pushing Mr. Sarah in the ’79 Parade a month after he was beaten in the White Night Police Riot. After several brain surgeries, 4 weeks in General and my skilled handling of his chair, he slowly started to recover.

No self-respecting gay San Franciscan participates in the City’s vast grab for tourist dollars called the Pride Parade. Fortunately for the Visitors Bureau there are still enough self loathers left to lend it a somewhat local feel.

Back in the day it was a street party where you’d run into lots of people you knew being silly and stupid.  You would do bad things like get drunk on a Sunday afternoon and eat those awful barbecued turkey legs because it was the only food around. Once fortified you could go on to do other bad things.

Then the parade became a destination vacation for millions of gays from around the world. It got to the point where you’d be lucky to run into one person you knew.

The parade started going downhill for locals in the late 70’s. My favorite all time float was a truck towing a Mercury Cougar. On top of the car were punks with sledge hammers completely demolishing it during the course of the parade. On the side they’d spray painted “No Assimilation!” I doubt if their entry would pass muster with today’s Committee.  The folks from Omaha just wouldn’t understand.

This year on Pride day I made plans to go with my friend Leigh. I love hanging with her because she has zero tolerance for the banal. I’ve been at the theatre with her where we’ve realized after 15 minutes the play was a dud and she’s turned on a dime, “we’re out of here.” None of this “respect the artist” or “we paid good money for these seats” crap. That Sunday we decided to go down to the Civic Center to check out the scene.

After a late start we hooked up on Polk at 3:00 and walked towards the action. I was astonished that the event which was huge years ago had gotten even bigger. It used to be a stretch to say that a million people attended, million might now be plural. It was claustrophobic but fascinating. So many young people in their underwear, so many old people in items they should not be wearing in public. We watched the dancers a bit, goofed on the odd balls, but basically just tried to stay in visual contact as we fought through the crowd on our way to Zuni.

Some questioned the extent of Mr. Sarah's recovery when he painted his living room fuschia. Eve Ning called it "hematosis red."
Some questioned the extent of Mr. Sarah’s recovery when he painted his living room fuschia. Eve Ning called it “hematosis red.”

The last time I went to Zuni on Pride we sat down and had a late lunch. Not a chance this year. Apparently a decade or two ago it turned into a (mostly) Lesbian hangout on the day of days. It was one huge bar scene spilling out into the street and side alley. Cars detoured into the center of Market to bypass the people but Muni had to sit there and lay on the horns  so they could turn right on to Haight.

Getting up to the bar was impossible but Leigh, in her inimitable way, had our Margaritas in no time. They were so potent we decided to have a second. After a couple sips it was time to leave, we walked up Franklin Street drinks in hand. I did 60’s poses on how to hold a cocktail while she worried we were going to be busted. The fates were with us and the cops otherwise occupied. We avoided the drunk tank.

The carnival spirit of the day made me rethink my animosity towards Pride. I would never begrudge anyone for having such a good time. Still, something about it just doesn’t smell right.

As Mayor Ed Lee, Ron Conway and the real estate developers destroy the fabric of gay life in San Francisco, the City still puts on a good party. But that party benefits City coffers not the gays and lesbians who live here and who are being forced out in droves.

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The complete saga, From the Beginning

C’mon Ride that Booty

With the booty-meister, my favorite Bay Area performer. On stage, anyway.
With the booty-meister, my favorite Bay Area performer. On stage, anyway.

Friday night of Gay Pride weekend this year I saw Planet Booty at The Great American Music Hall, my neighborhood music hall. I didn’t get much sleep the night before so I was tired and had to be content just observing and head banging on the sidelines. Usually I prefer to be in the middle of the mosh.

Planet Booty was laying down a solid groove but no one in the hall seemed to be able to break at the waist. The pelvic block in the room was palpable. It dawned on me that millenials may not know how to dance. A lifetime of looking at apps in their laps had left them with no feel for the rhythm of life.

There was a kindergarten sense to it what they did, which may also have been the last time they were encouraged to use their bodies. We’re jumping! And we’re jumping! And we’re jumping! Sloshed childishness.

To their credit there was some creativity like the violent one shoulder twitch. Or the fire hydrant, bending the leg at the knee and doing repeated lifts. One heavy guy kept trying a drunken double dutch, elaborate cross over steps that he could sustain for about 4 seconds then would stop and start over again.

What was happening on the floor was in sad contrast to what was happening on the stage.

I stood there watching and let my mind drift off to Zimbabwe. The only time I’ve ever been white water rafting was on the Zambezi River in 1993.  On one of the rapids I was thrown from the boat. Immediately I felt the serenity of floating backwards at high-speed in warm water. I was digging it until I heard the screams: “The rocks!” “Grab it!” I began flailing to catch the buoy on a rope so they could pull me back in.

That Friday night at Great American there was a woman dancing who honored me with arm movements I’d not seen since Victoria Falls.

Walking home in the 2 a.m. summer fog I thought maybe I was being too harsh on the kids. I was inventing excuses to dislike the techies just to rationalize leaving the City. I should play nice and accept that it was time to go.  Fuck that.

Checking out the ancient trunk.
Checking out the ancient trunk.

Saturday I spent a beautiful summer day on the couch conserving senior citizen energy for Gay Pride Sunday. I had participated in one of the first Chicago Pride marches in 1971 but it had been 25 years since I’d been to one out here. That day in Chicago there was a real sense of relief for being able to walk 20 blocks without getting beaten up. Today’s pageantry does a much better job of capturing the essence of gay life with the drag, the bulges, and Gloria Gaynor for the trillionth time.

Still, 25 years was too long. I needed to check in and take the local temperature, preferably rectally. If nothing else I thought I might get the opportunity to throw a tomato at the Mayor.

Riding the Rapid the Natives Called the Devil’s Toilet

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Previous: The Curse
The complete saga, From the Beginning

 

The Curse

My vintage midriff tee. Unofficial and unlicensed by the NFL. The best kind.
My vintage midriff tee. Unofficial and unlicensed, the best kind.

I was back east and couldn’t attend the World Series parade on Friday. I’m extremely bummed I missed my shot at a pair of Mad Bum jockeys.

These championship celebrations always remind me of the best one: the first Super Bowl win. What helped make that one so great was, after years of mediocrity or worse, it was so unexpected.

I watched halfheartedly the first part of that season since the Niners always fizzled out in the end. As they kept winning I started talking them up to David on our Sunday evening trips to the Midnight Sun. He didn’t care about sports but as momentum built he sensed a moment in history and became a fan.

After the Clark catch we wondered where we would watch the Super Bowl. We wanted to be out in public but the only gay venue with large screen television was the Sun. Gay men were apathetic sports fans at the time, we weren’t sure they’d even show it.  We took our chances and went over to the Castro at halftime. It was on and there was a decent crowd.

We drank Cape Cods because the color matched the Niner’s uniforms. After the thrilling victory David and I went out into the street. The crowd of 50 began to grow exponentially. We went into the package liquor store for a pint of Hennessy, then into the Star Pharmacy for all the value packs of toilet paper we could carry. We started tp-ing the intersection. Soon the mob caught on and every available roll in the Castro was hanging on the cross-wires at 18th.

The crowd was now thousands deep. Cars couldn’t get through and Muni, though a little more persistent, gave up too. The driver on the last bus just stopped. He emptied everyone off, locked the doors and abandoned the vehicle.

The vacated bus was a challenge I couldn’t resist.  I squeezed through the pneumatic doors and started dancing alone up and down the aisle. The crowd rocked it back and forth. I sat at the controls and got the wipers going. Then the lights flashing and plenty of horn. I realized it was electric and didn’t need a key so I started it and put it in gear. It lunged about 2 feet. I thought “danger zone: drunk, thousands of people, heavy equipment–not good.” I shut it off, opened the doors and the masses streamed on.

David and I went on to other neighborhood celebrations like the bonfires in the Mission and the Broadway crowd in North Beach. It was such an odd feeling,  kids who would have beaten me up any other day of the year were high fiving and hugging me that night. The next morning we each woke up with one of those aluminum crowd control barricades in our apartments. We weren’t sure how they got there.

David. The best PR in town.
David. The best PR in town.

We told our friends about our wild night. David’s version, however, had more legs since he emphasized I “stole” a Muni bus. So effective was he that 20 years later people still asked me, “did you really steal that bus?” As if I’d taken it on the 49 mile scenic drive. I knew better than to trample on a good image, I would just shrug and smile.

Last year I finally asked David what he’d said. He replied sheepishly, “oh, that you drove it to the end of the block.”

***

I once told my friend Carl about my game day superstitions. Not watching a batter and the guy would get a clutch hit. Scrubbing the bathroom and the Niners would pull out a last-minute victory. He was skeptical, “you really think you have that much power?” Yes, I think I do.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for 42 years. Before I moved here neither the (San Francisco) Giants nor the 49ers had ever won a championship. In the past four decades we’ve won 5 Super Bowls and 3 World Series. If I lose my apartment in the City and am forced to move away, well………

Next: C’mon Ride That Booty

Previous: Life at Home, Alone

The complete saga, From the Beginning