The Season of The Donald

Why reason when you can threaten?
Why reason when you can threaten?

Suburbia’s latest status symbol is the Armed Response placard in the flower bed. They look tacky and mar the landscape. Plus they reflect poorly on the property owner’s intelligence. A sophisticated burglar targeting a multi-million dollar estate can’t finesse a home alarm system? Potential violence must scare them straight.

This climate of fear seems unfounded. The streets of San Francisco are ten times more dangerous than in Palm Springs. Yet the fright level is directly inverse.

In the suburbs the fortifications of home and automobile keep you apart from everyone. Except for dealing with co-workers or the voice at the drive-thru, knowledge about people is invented not experienced. Ergo, Fox News.

Any person looking different or acting in a non-Stepford way is suspect. Interact with these druggies and you’re one step from death. When I told a friend, whose intelligence I respect, about my studio in the refurbished crack towers, her response shocked me: “get a gun.”

This communal trepidation gives police free reign to go after non-conformers. Gay men driving late at night are routinely pulled over for fabricated reasons. Like not coming to a full stop at deserted four way intersections. The cops interrogate them and search for any sign of alcohol, drugs, or paraphernalia. The slightest offense leads to jail.

Those copies of the Constitution waived at Trump rallies teach us about unreasonable search and seizure. An inalienable right as long as you have the money to prove the cop wrong in court.

Living with small town fear is a hard adjustment. It should be noted, though, that the founding fathers recognized this trait in the populace. They wisely decided to tap the national imagination with quadrennial presidential elections.

The K-hole that once was.
The K-hole that once was.

Within a block radius of my Jones Street apartment were about eight Ma & Pa groceries. Too expensive for regular shopping but perfect for last-minute necessities or impulses. In Palm Springs the closest onion is a mile away.

When I moved in I was encouraged by the Circle K across the street. I only knew them as interstate gas stations but hoped it would fill the gap left by Ma & Pa. It turned out to be a convenience store that was anything but. They had nothing I would buy.

It was a local institution, however, a place where riff-raff had congregated for 30 years. You could get a pack of Lucky’s there and, for local rebels, it was the first rite of passage.

I tried valiantly to support this questionable establishment. One day I was thirsty and bought a Minute Maid Lemonade. It tasted like Elmer’s Glue. Another time I was convinced I could easily find a bottle of tonic water. I scoured the saturated fat shelves and high fructose refrigerator cases for about five minutes. Finally I asked the cashier. She was nonplussed, “tonic water? what’s that?”

The only convenience they provided me was their ATM. I used it frequently. Getting to it meant negotiating the handful of street people on the steps. In a low-key manner they harangued you for money, which was annoying, but they were harmless if you didn’t engage. In a way they intrigued me: wondering how they got that way, how they survived, if the cute ones were good in bed.

On one of my ATM runs someone had pitched their crusty blanket and belongings inside the store next to the machine. Management didn’t seem to mind so I went about my business. Where most locals would have been in abject terror for their person and property, my only emotion was relief when my cash withdrawal was approved. I stepped over the nest and was on my way.

The Circle K was shut down as a public nuisance in July.

There are no street lights in most Palm Springs neighborhoods, supposedly to prevent urban glow from interfering with magical desert nights. And there is a serene feeling when you’re outdoors in temperatures way too warm, under skies that seem unnaturally dark. The community lies in calm. With an occasional hiccup from the hail of gunfire greeting yet another foolish intruder.

Donny does the Castro. Unacceptable. We've got to build that wall.
Donny does the Castro. Unacceptable. We’ve got to build that wall.

***

The Last Temptation of Me

Barstow Barista Boys

Watching them grab the steam spigot with their fist then milk it clean is a special moment.
Watching them grab the steam spigot with their fist then milk it clean is a special moment.

Since December I’ve made numerous trips between Palm Springs and San Francisco. It’s a grueling, 7 to 8 hour drive. With repetition though it has gotten easier.

To make it palatable some of my diversions have included: hitting the repeat button and listening to Phil Spector’s glorious “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” 15-20 times in a row; throwing tantrums when trapped in the left lane because traffic ahead was only doing 85; and, on my last trip, enjoying the staccato, neurotic, 8 hour yipping of Ozzie the spoiled Pomeranian.

The shortest route is to take the 5 to the congested 210. I only go that way in the middle of the night or daytime Sundays when there’s no traffic. The alternative is to cut over through Bakersfield to Barstow and catch the 15. It can take an hour longer but you move and avoid the stop-start, hyper-tense driving of the Valley.

As last year’s U-Haul odyssey taught me, when traversing the hinterlands one of the few sports is to find a Starbucks. There aren’t any on the stretch of 5 except at the end near the Grapevine. And I won’t get off the 210 to deal with local LA traffic just for coffee. If I take the high desert route there are a few franchises that are easily accessible.

One pops up immediately in Bakersfield on Merle Haggard Drive. A little later there’s another by the outlets in Barstow, followed by one on Roy Rogers Drive in Apple Valley (which is just this side of the Dale Evans Parkway. Sadly, nothing named for Trigger, Buttermilk or Bullet.)

A friend who accompanied me in February lectured me on the area’s significance in Joe Gage’s filmography. Gage is the master of the working class, grease monkey, cowhand, gay porn genre. His titles include Back to Barstow and Men’s Room – Bakersfield Station. Barstow in particular provides a perfect setting for his gritty plots. With so many desert prisons in close proximity, the large population of sex-starved male inmates looms as a constant threat. Just imagine if one were to escape.

Gage’s actors are such manly men they defy their very being when, caught unaware, they end up having wild, passionate sex with another man. In real life their uber-masculine facades never crack. Except if the topic is Britney or Madonna, at which point they dissolve into eighth graders on the bus to Cheerleader Camp.

Extra whip, please
Extra whip, please

Before learning about the porn connection I had felt a high sexual temperature traveling through the region. It was more innocent than the “fuck yea!” attitudes of Titanmen Studios. It came from the hot, young men working at Starbucks.

They are so fresh-faced, bright-eyed, and friendly. They smile and make direct eye contact when asking how they may help. My forty jaded years in San Francisco led me to believe this meant one thing. I’ve recently had to reevaluate that belief.

Over the last decade I’ve taken many long vacations to see my family in Indiana. Like the baristas, the cute Hoosier boys are always solicitous and upbeat. When I was their age guys there were guarded, hostility abounded. The locals had never heard the word gay and didn’t have a clue what it meant. My Dad’s hill-country second wife told me she didn’t like a store clerk because “he talked kind of sissy-fied.”

Today it is so much easier to come out, there’s an openness that these kids benefit from. But I couldn’t figure out why Fort Wayne would have such a disproportionate number of homos. Finally it dawned on me: they’re not gay, they’re Christians. They’re taught to be polite and cheerful with everyone and especially to be respectful of their elders. It puts a positive spin on the brand.

The Barista Boys may be Christians too, but it doesn’t matter. They provide delightful entertainment to certain road weary customers.

The Barstow-Bakersfield back-door passage has given me a new appreciation for the lower Central Valley. I do think they need to recognize the contributions of a favorite son and put Joe Gage’s name on something. Boulevard, drive or avenue don’t really capture the spirit of his oeuvre. Maybe there’s an on ramp, service road or loading zone that would.

Amen
Amen

***

The Last Temptation of Me

Up On Housing Project Hill

Number 11 with a bullet.
Number 11 with a bullet.

It seems I’ve won the lottery as a prospective tenant in the new 55 Laguna Street apartment complex. I may soon have my own place in San Francisco again.

Last week I received a call with a San Mateo area code. Numbers I don’t recognize are usually ignored but if I do answer it’s with the “don’t fuck with me fellas” tone reserved for telemarketers and collection agencies. A voice in my head told me to be nice this time.

The woman spoke rather haltingly as she ascertained whether she had reached the party to whom she was speaking. She then explained that the application I’d submitted for a below market rate apartment was being considered. They want to interview me to verify that I qualify financially.

With all the new construction over the last several years there was always talk that a certain portion was being set aside as affordable housing. The numbers I remember reading, however, were like 15 out of 500 new units. Rather meaningless.

Apparently the City has gotten more aggressive about this. There are many more units being held off the market and they are giving preferences to certain groups, like seniors and those who have been Ellis Act victims. I was number 1215 in this drawing, number 11 after the preferences factored in. Being old, decrepit, gay and Ellis Act-ed has its privileges.

Prior to last week I’d considered my chances of winning rather remote. I was shocked I was picked on my first try. Whether it’s attributable to fortune or fame I have no idea. Deep down I have a feeling it’s karma. Payback for all the nice things I’ve had to say about Mayor Lee 

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The Eviction Story