Platinum Jubilee

I was recently awakened at the ungodly hour of noon by an anonymous 800 number caller. I never answer these auto-calls because it’s no business of Citibank’s how my day is going. Occasionally, however, I will take one on for sport.

A favorite tactic is to be cooperative yet confused. After the first hundred words of the script I beg their forgiveness. “I’m sorry, I really don’t understand, could you please repeat that?” Usually they will, maybe in an abbreviated format, to which I’ll again confess “I really don’t get what you’re saying, could you explain that one more time?” Two rounds is usually enough, though I have gone three. These calls end abruptly with their indignant “hanging up” and then a dial tone.

A couple of times I’ve gone phone sex on them. If I’m really irritated.

“You as horny as I am? You got it out? Playing with it?” These calls are over quickly with just a dial tone. In the old days I might have gotten a “you’re disgusting.” Maybe so, but it’s no more sickening than their wasting my time with aggressively obnoxious marketing techniques.

As they robotically infer in their preamble, I hope they’re recording me for training purposes. I can think of no better teacher.

That morning/early afternoon I answered pounce. But there was something about her tone that gave me pause. In a halting, uncomfortable cadence she introduced herself as an executive with the American Airlines Platinum Program. Whereas I never hold back on the hostility with sleuth marketers, I try not to be intentionally rude to real people. I shifted gears from subversive to gracious. Within seconds we were both laughing.

Achieving elite status with a frequent flyer program is such a non-accomplishment. So was getting a B.A. in Political Science. My new executive friend explained I’d crossed the lifetime Two Million Mile threshold and was forevermore vested on the platinum level. In addition to no more qualifying annually, new benefits included checking two bags for free, boarding with the second or third group, and automatic upgrades. In the rare instances where customer assistance is staffed with human beings, there’s the shorter, preferred line.

I’d been close to the milestone for some time but since they changed the rules it wasn’t exactly clear where I stood. A thousand mile trip to Denver was once worth 1000 miles. Now it might only be 500 or 700 miles depending on how deeply discounted the fare is. To stay in the program, however, required flying at least once per calendar year. As of December 1st I hadn’t been on an American flight all year.

To preserve my status I searched for cheap flights. I bought a one way ticket to LA for $99 then watched for a good return fare. Up at 4:30 a.m. for the 7:00 flight, I was on the ground in LAX at 8:30. Checking one last time for a decent price back home, they were still in the $200+ range. So I executed Plan B.

For a $1.50 the metro took me downtown to Union Station where I purchased a $51 ticket for the next train to the City. It would be a seven hour trip but then I’m retired. What the hell else do I have to do?

From the ages of five to ten my family lived in the San Fernando Valley. Being in the Spanish Colonial station brought back memories of greeting relatives during the holidays or embarking on our summer vacations. There were those funky square waiting chairs that belied how comfortable they really were. And the garden courtyard that served as the backdrop for family portraits.

Among the throngs of passengers back then I remembered porky, corn-fed women in blue wool coats and smug smiles. I thought they must be important with their big corsages that said “Iowa.” Granddad explained they were in town for the Rose Bowl.

The metro links to the old station via the subway tunnel leading to the track gates. Deserted these days, one can stop to marvel at the majestic simplicity of its art deco symmetry.

In my youth this passage was truly scary. It was teeming with chaos as arriving passengers cooped up for two days scrambled for fresh air and ambulatory freedom. They competed for space with those who just heard their gate called and only had minutes to board. It felt especially panicked the summer Mother, 27, traveled alone to Indiana with her four boys ages one, three, seven and nine.

On that vacation Dad met us for the last week and we all returned together on the Super Chief. With a longer than usual stop in Albuquerque we walked around the station. Dad left me to my own devices, counting my change to determine if I had enough to buy an Indian Woman souvenir. She wore a fringed buckskin outfit with a papoose strapped on her back. He probably watched from afar but I couldn’t see him so it felt like I was on my own.

When the transaction was complete Dad suddenly reappeared and we scurried back to the train. Mid-scurry he lectured me on the importance of watching the clock so as to not miss the departure. Images were planted in my mind of a seven year old stranded in the Chihuahuan desert, never to see his family again. (Dad’s tactics were harsher than Mother’s.) That episode created a lifelong phobia for missing trains.

For my most recent train trip there was an hour between purchasing the ticket and departure. I relaxed and was spared the phobic curse. Although a seven hour train sounds like a huge waste, when you factor in the chaos and delays of air travel, or freeway traffic jams, it’s a wash in terms of time. And far less stressful.

The train doesn’t terminate in San Francisco. The last stop is Oakland. San Francisco passengers transfer to a coach in Emeryville for the 20 minute ride to the City.

As I was deboarding I heard a woman asking an Amtrak attendant for help. She had expected to end up in San Francisco. The conductor was not very forthcoming which made the situation a lot more confusing than it needed to be.

I turned to say I was headed to the City. If she wanted to walk with me about 100 feet I’d show her.

On the bus over the bridge she asked if I knew where the Tenderloin was. I said yes but was surprised. That’s not a destination point for most visitors. I asked if she had an address. She said no. Some friends of her son had called to tell her he was homeless and living in a tent in some alley.

They also said his girlfriend had overdosed on fentanyl recently. He was deeply despondent and using too. She hadn’t talked to her son in several weeks because he changed phones frequently and did not keep her up to date on numbers. She wanted to find him quickly to get him into rehab.

Her urgency was warranted. Fentanyl has killed so many lately. It appears to be highly addictive, batches vary wildly in strength, and there’s no antidote. Even if the EMS does arrive in time there’s not much they can do.

In San Francisco I offered to walk with her up Market Street. My route home would be close to the Loin, I could point her in the right direction. She was grateful and we proceeded together.

She’d only been here once before, very briefly. She did not know the City at all. I stressed she was headed to a rough neighborhood, that it might be better to wait for morning and daylight. She brushed me off, certain she would find her son.

She talked about him with such pride, how good looking he was. He had once modeled for major designers in the U.S. and Europe. He made good money but he hated the artificiality of the scene, the manufactured stress of it all. He quit and his slide into drugs began.

Because of his looks he’d been taken under the wings of a group of transexuals who lived near his tent. He loved the attention but insisted he was not into them sexually. They were the ones who called her to inform her of his circumstances.

Throughout our conversation I waited for the other penny to drop. Strangers with dramatic stories usually means there’s a scam involved. She was going to ask me to do something out of the ordinary or hit me up for money. But the more we talked, the more her credibility grew.

She resembled Meaghan Markle’s mother, Doria, both in appearance and demeanor. Although she found herself in an unnerving situation she was full of determination and kept her cool.

At Powell Street we exchanged phone numbers and prepared to part ways. I offered to help find a cheap room to use as a base. She couldn’t stay out in the cold all night. She demurred saying she’d deal with it later. She wanted to dive right in to find her boy. Then, for the second time that day, I invoked the retiree’s credo: what the hell else did I have to do? It was only 8:00, I would help her get her bearings.

It’s only one block from the cable car turnaround to the Tenderloin. The Union Square area with it’s big chain hotels forms the eastern boundary of the neighborhood. Miraculously, the populations of out-of-town tourists and the inner-city impoverished rarely mix. There’s a perverse thrill in thinking of white-bread Sioux City couples making a wrong turn out of the Hilton to search for a $50 Alcatraz t-shirt in the city’s barrio.

As we traversed the filth and squalor of Eddy Street I shared my method for dealing with potential danger. Maintain an unaffected and spaced out look while working the peripheral vision overtime. If someone greets you, make a casual reply but keep moving. Do not make eye contact, do not engage.

Shoulder bag purses make you a sitting duck for a snatch and run in any neighborhood. My friend said her shopping bag only contained fruit and reading material for the train. She was wearing one of those zipped up puffer coats and her valuables were secured in an interlined pocket.

The puzzling thing about her information was he camped in an alley. Even in the 19th Century when the grid was first laid out, space was at a premium downtown. There aren’t many alleys. When we got to Polk, the commercial street that bounds the Loin on the west, I thought of one.

We walked up to O’Farrell then over to Hyde. There’s a cul de sac that cuts about a third of the way into the block where it abuts the backside of an apartment building. It has a Gothic, picturesque quality because of the growth of older trees. Alas, that night there were no squatters. We continued on.

At Leavenworth we descended the hill to the street’s base in the UN Plaza on Market. The sidewalk was packed with street people selling goods spread out on blankets. It was now 9:00. I was tired and cold and told my companion I was going to head back to my place. She looked me squarely in the eyes and thanked me sincerely.

At home I contacted a community activist friend. He gave me the names of two agencies that might help. He also mentioned a bar called 800 Larkin. It’s a gathering spot for the transexual community and, if she was up for it, she was bound to learn something there. I forwarded this info on and went to bed.

The next morning there were no messages so I accepted the experience as just one of life’s unresolved mysteries.. Mid-morning another text from my activist friend said that, from what I had described, the guy was probably in one of the tent encampments on the short alley-like streets between Polk and Van Ness. They are named for indigenous ground cover like Fern, Ivy and Myrtle. I forwarded this too..

About 1:00 in the afternoon I heard from her. She had not found her son and got a room for the night, She was heading back out to search that afternoon..

At 7:00 there was another message saying she was on the train back to Modesto. Her daughter had insisted she return home but she planned to resume her quest early the following week.

A few days later over the weekend she texted again. Her son had called her. She had spoken to enough people that word eventually filtered back she’d been there. After talking to her he said at one point she’d been just a few feet from his tent on one of the ground cover streets. He said much of what she heard was grossly exaggerated. He wasn’t as bad off as she feared. But he admitted he needed help so was cooperating with her to find a facility. She was thrilled.

When I was 19 and in Fort Wayne for the summer, Jim and I struggled to find places to hang out. We were underage so couldn’t get into bars. If Marilyn was in town, though, she knew enough bouncers to sneak us in somewhere. Otherwise our choices were a coffee house that closed at 10 or the all night burger and breakfast joint, Azars.

Jim also liked to go to the Switchboard. It was a 24 hour hippie hotline staffed by volunteers and housed in an old Victorian church rectory. They offered advice on birth control, drugs, police issues, housing, then made referrals to more professional resources.

Calls could be few and far between so the volunteers didn’t mind friends hanging out. The room was outfitted with ratty used furniture to lounge in. You could get stoned there.

One night around midnight, someone offered to drop Jim off at his parents house on the north side. I lived south of the city and intended to leave soon too.

The next thing I knew it was 6:00 a.m. I was awakened by Mother’s voice, a firm “Chris.” She had not heard me come home. When the car wasn’t in the drive that morning she borrowed my brother’s GTO to look for me. After driving around downtown she finally spotted her Karmann Ghia parked in front of St. Mary’s.

As I pulled myself together on the beat up old sofa she asked if I was okay. I answered “yes.” Before I could say more she turned quietly and left.

I arrived home a few minutes after her. There were no histrionics, no scolding. We didn’t discuss the matter at all She just wanted to make sure I was safe. The rest would have to sort itself out.

Will the circle of concerned mothers with wayward children be unbroken?

Them-Thar Is At It Again

Highly Coveted Political Art from the 2020 Campaign

Not sure what Lindsey Faye’s preferred pronouns are but the banks of the River Moon have not been this high since the 2020 South Carolina Senatorial Campaign.

Miss Thang took to the airwaves to defend that stalwart of Republican values, Herschel “Abortion Tab’s On Me, Babe” Walker, then begged, pleaded and cajoled for donations to the potential solon’s cause. The mascara ran freely.

The spirit of Tammy Faye Bakker lives on. Her tactics continue to be a seductive, persuasive influence on the in-bred yahoos who control the nation’s electorate. Lindsey Faye’s waterworks have become such a tradition in Dixie, they almost rival Paula Deen’s much-loved mayo, cream and lard masterpiece, Heart Clogger Pie.

Hotline to History–A Fourth of July Special Edition

As right-wing religious fanatics work to update the texts in our nations schools, their history focus is based on a three-pronged attack: 1) Slavery never existed; 2) Trump was the best President ever; and, 3) There is no place for Jews, Muslims or Buddhists in Jesus’ America.

Since my double major was history, I’d like to share a couple stories that have been missing from the national dialog for too long. And what better time than on the day we celebrate old glory holes.

One of them took place in the Lincoln White House. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s bad press for being a whack job has obscured her many other talents. Few know she was one of the finest Constitutional scholars of the 19th Century.

Of the many insane voices competing for airtime in her frazzled mind, none were stronger than The Framers of the Constitution. Her personal hotline to the Philadelphia Convention made her an early proponent, and some say the founder, of the Strict Constructionist School of Thought.

These hallowed communications would often come to her in the middle of the night. She didn’t mind. What else did she have to do? It’s not like the rail splitter still came to bed bringing quality wood.

Lincoln recognized her gift and would often have her write his speeches. They turned out so well, rarely did he have to amend them. If he did, he proceeded with great trepidation. She did not welcome others tampering with her work.

It was on one such occaision a major row occured between them. Abe honestly didn’t know how to handle her anger. He tended to cut to the chase and get these exchanges over as quickly as possible.

“Now Bessie,” he said using a common, condescending nickname for women of the era, “what we have here is an excellent first draft. With possibly one small change. ‘Of the corporations and people, by the corporations and people and for the corporations and people’ just does not scan. It lacks the poetic timbre I’m going for. How about we drop corporations and just say people?”

Mary instinctively attacked. “Oh I see, it’s a matter of timbre. Is that one of the topics you discuss on your Body Electric retreats with that fruit, Walt Whitman? And is your mouth usually full when you have these discussions?”

There is no mention of business entities having the same rights as citizens in the Constitution, The Federalists Papers or in any of the debates of that period. Still the Strict Constructionists on the Roberts Court granted them such status. They have all the rights without any of the pesky burdens like serving in the military or paying taxes. Plus they have de facto immunity to any criminal prosecutions It’s true they can’t vote but they are free to spend as much money as they want to buy any election.

Mary championed this idea over a century ago and was not about to let her husband edit it out.. Her position was well known. Every White House guest received one of her needle point pillows that read Corporations Are People Too.

The President remained impassive, waiting the incident out. Mary tried to emulate him by quietly weighing her options. She maintained her composure for as long as she could, About three seconds. Then her fury erupted.

“You know what? Write your own damn Gettysberg Address you fucking loser.” With that she slammed her quill on the table splattering ink all over the President’s face. It was a tactic they often employed to cut down on his Just For Men Beard Dye expenses. This was the first time, however, the method had been serendipitously applied.

Mary turned and stormed out of the room. But not before getting in one last salvo. She stopped abruptly and shouted over her shoulder, “I hope you get shot!”

Another tale that has been erased from our books happened earlier that same century. It was a warm sunny afternoon at Monticello when Jefferson’s niece returned from Richmond’s farmers market. She was in an awful state. (Virginia.)

With a dazed, glassy eyed look she stood frozen in the foyer. She appeared as if she’d been through a dust storm, her hair was severely mussed and she was covered in blood. Jefferson rushed to her side and asked what had happened.

She exclaimed, “Oh Papa, it was terrible. I was bartering for some rutabagas when suddenly this crazed man pulled out a rifle and started shooting randomly. Anyone he saw. He just kept shooting and reloading,, shooting and reloading. It went on for half an hour. There must have been 40 killed, mostly women and children. It was horrid, Papa! Just horrid!”

After the former president ascertained that everyone in her party was safe and that they had, indeed, procured the rutabagas, his look of concern melted into one of slight bemusement. He pulled her close to comfort her.

“There, there Polly” he cooed, using a common, condescending nickname for women of that time. “It’s too complex to explain to a feeble woman’s mind like yours. You just have to trust me that we knew what we were doing when we drafted our Constitution. Suffice it to say that mass murders are a key and necessary component of our form of democracy.

“As Strict Constructionists, or SC’s as I like to call them–god, does my inventive mind never quit, ha! ha!–we’ve written a document that is airtight and more infallible than the Vicar of Christ. If it is followed to the letter, it is so specific and all encompassing it will last a thousand years.

“As to what you witnessed today it just reinforces what I’ve already so beautiully expressed: the tree of capitalism must be fed from time to time with the blood of the working class.

“Events like the farmer’s market are necessary to destabilize the lower echelons. I mean if you constantly worry whether your child will return home alive from elementary school, do you really care who’s running for Congress in your district? Or what Prop 17 means? Hopefully you’ll be so distracted and scared you won’t even vote.

“Suppressing votes is how a minority maintains control in an Oligarchy/Democracy. You know that was going to be our party’s name until Pinckney put a stop to it. He said in 200 years “OD” was going to take on a completely different meaning and that we’d be unmarketable. Not sure what he was talking about but I never question clairvoyance.

“SC’s see no point in extending the franchise to women and their garbanzo sized intellects. Nor do they want to interfere with the happy lives of the n-words toiling in the fields singing their lovely spirituals.”

TJ smugly paused for a moment hoping his niece would take notice of his modern jargon. She was too distraught to process anything he said. So he patted himself on the back by blurting out, “Did you hear that Polly? I said “n-word” and not that other word. That means I’m not a racist anymore. Ginni Thomas taught me that.”

Polly was almost as stunned by her uncle’s tone-deaf response as she had been by the massacre itself. But at least he was taking time to reason with her. Usually in a national crisis he’d just pack the family up and they’d head to Cancun. This day the old goat had another personal agenda item in his sights.

“Just put today’s events out of your mind, lambie-pie, they’re of no consequence. Scurry along now and get ready for this evening, the Bushes and Walkers will be joining us for dinner.

“They just wrapped up a sweetheart million dollar deal with the Canadian government for some Revolutionary War canons and a shitload of semi-automatic muskets. And I get my 15% cut for setting it all up. We’ll be in a joyous mood so the last thing we need is your namby-pamby whining about gun control.”

With a flick of his hand he dismissed her and told her to change her frock. Then he added:

“How about the blue calico? It brings out your eyes. And for Christ’s sake wash that blood off of you. Who do you think you are, Jackie Kennedy?”

Und Wir Sind Dann Helden

From the distance of being just a fan, my reading between the lines leads me to believe Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich may have been good friends. The kind who make disparaging remarks about the other that sound bitchy. But that, in reality, reflect an irony they share and a confidence they hold that it’s not mean-spirited.

Judy told about running into Marlene in England in the early 1960’s. This was in the waning years of their careers when they were reduced to cabaret acts, As they semi-circled the demi-monde performing for Cafe Society, occasionally they’d be in the same city at the same time.

The Blue Angel invited Dorothy to her London suite. Over cocktails Marlene put on her latest live concert album. She was so pleased with it she stood by the stereo lifting and dropping the needle to play only the highlights.

Judy said the weird thing was she never heard the orchestra or any singing. It was just the thunderous applause at the end of one number then the needle was moved to the end of the next track. She went through the entire album that way then started over again.

With a roaring ovation as constant backdrop, Marlene kept turning and asking incredulously, “Do you hear that? Can you believe it?”

I thought of that story because there was a clip of her in my morning Youtube wake-up feed. She was performing at The Grand Gala du Disque in 1963 and it confirmed the applause addiction Judy had observed.

Marlene only did three numbers (that included an incongruous tribute to folk singer Pete Seeger) and left the stage. Then she came back three separate times for encores.

I’d recently read Dietrich’s sex goddess persona did not resemble the way she lived. She was most comfortable being a house frau whipping up sauerbraten and butterkuchen for friends and family. In place of the Swansdown White Fox Coat she flung on stage, at home she preferred capri pants and a tee shirt with her hair in a babushka.

My Youtube surf had begun with a link to The Rolling Stones in Munich two weeks ago. There are thousands of Stones songs on Youtube that I never click because I know them so well. But this one seemed odd.

Out of Time was a lovely 1966 song with a plaintive melody and a jaunty vibraphone part. It was one of their tier 3 hits whose claim to fame was being on Jane Fonda’s Coming Home soundtrack.

Every tour since 1969 has been rumored to be their last one. The Stones never encouraged sentimentality with “message songs” in the set list hinting they might be done.

Neither were these rumors ever addressed head on because scarcity helps fuel demand. And they didn’t know themselves what they would be doing. They plugged away through the decades ending up as one of the most regularly touring bands ever.

Even with losing their essential element Charlie Watts on the eve of the current tour, when they probably just wanted to throw it all in, they soldiered on. With a billion dollars in worldwide ticket sales you can’t just walk away.

They’ve never performed Out of Time live until this tour. And seeing Mick on stage in Munich you can almost feel the arthritis in his hips.

It was the hip that did Marlene in when she fell off the stage in Sydney and broke hers. Her career ended at 75. At 79. Mick is now the new record holder for oldest Grande Dame on Stage.

Throughout their career The Stones have had novel solutions to age-old show biz cliches. I’d hoped they’d do something equally inventive when it was their time to quit.. Like maybe strip down to an acoustic ensemble and become in-resident artists at the Carlyle. I would be there to cheer them on and throw my Depends on stage. (Hopefully a clean pair though one never knows these days does one._)

My love for the Stones began with indifference. Granddad was taking me for a ride in his new pickup when the WOWO DJ came on the radio saying he had the first release from England’s hottest new band. The British Invasion in early 1964 had included The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, and The Animals. I couldn’t wait to hear what was next.

Their was a cautionary tone in the DJ’s voice, however, as he described this new group. The photo in their press packet showed an unkempt lot with messy hair and holes in their socks. I questioned how he could tell “they smelled” just by looking at a picture but I still believed only the truth was spoken over the air.

I was unmoved by Not Fade Away. It was okay but certainly not the best number on the charts at the time. I dismissed the group as also-rans.

The thaw began three months later with the release of It’s All Over Now. It had such a big sound that rolled over the airwaves. It just sucked you in. The ice break was taken to a low simmer in late winter with The Last Time. The song capitalized on the nihilism of youth with a riff you couldn’t get out of your head.

Finally, nine months after the fateful pickup ride, they soared past the boiling point and quickly hit hard ball stage with Satisfaction. The gestation complete, my life-long affection was sealed.

In addition to their music, in my youth I looked to them for clues on how to live my life (not being content with those I was getting in the corn belt.) Both for fashion and style. As a gawky teenager trying to decide how to act my choice was simple: just emulate Mick.

In high school Mother told me a coworker had noticed me walking downtown one afternoon. His comment was, “he’s awfully cocky isn’t he?” We laughed.

Fast forward 50 years to Palm Springs. Before I met my friend Roy he said he’d seen me around and was intrigued. He said I seemed so confident and unaffected by things.

And just a couple of weeks ago I was walking home from the store. A derelict sitting on the curb waiting for the 22 yelled at me as I passed, “hey, Mick Jagger!” Do you hear that? Can you believe it?

The one thing that bothers me about dying is that I won’t be able to have sex anymore. I’ve struggled mightily with this issue. I’ve sought the counsel of priests, rabbis and clergymen to see if there’s anything in the scriptures that would elucidate. They just stared at me as if I was from Mars.

Like the customer service departments of modern corporations, they’re only available to answer the easy questions. Anything more involved increases staffing that reduces profits which, in turn, robs shareholders. And nobody wants that.

It’s not everyday you encounter an ambitious 72-year-old. Ambition has driven me all of my life even though the goal of that drive has never been sufficiently defined. Whatever it is it’s probably going to continue for a while.

I can’t help it.

Happy Gay Pride you horny motherfuckers.

Post Script for Stones’ Devotees Only: In researching this post I happened on this live performance of Around and Around from 1964. At 1:40 and 1:53 watch how excited Keith gets, letting go of his guitar and egging Jagger on. So cool.

Ready Girls?

If the four had met, an artist’s rendering. Queen Elizabeth often comes across as distant, aloof.

In an interview conducted 50 years after Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, one of her ladies-in-waiting shared her memories of the day. She along with her fellow bitches-who-hang were rather blase about the whole affair as they anticipated the Queen’s arrival on the steps of Westminster Abbey.

They’d been through numerous rehearsals and knew exactly what to do. Now it was a matter of execution. As members of Britain’s Aristocracy they were not that impressed. They were aware the real power was with their families who propped up the monarchy. These exercises in grandeur were annoying necessities to maintain the status quo

Their nonchalance changed dramatically when the crowd noise crescendoed to a deafening roar. Then the golden coach came into view as it turned into the street. Suddenly they were sucked into it all, collectively gobsmacked.

The sense of majesty was heightened as the coach came to a halt in front of them. The Queen cooly alighted then calmly mounted the steps. No cheesy smiles, no winks, no small talk acknowledgment of anyone. This was serious business.

After her climb she paused at the Abbey’s arched entrance to await her cue. The curtain was about to go up on the greatest Burlesque Revue of the Twentieth Century. She took the moment to turn and address her attendants. In her only royal directive to them that day she deflated the pomposity of it all with a casual, two-word aside.

Her Majesty has been a part of my consciousness since the days I started toddling. My childhood misconception was that she and Aunt Betty were the same person. I was still developing my personal myth making skills but I was convinced my Grandmother’s youngest sister was the Queen. It was only when I got to be much older, a first grader, that I straightened it out.

Aunt Betty was born in 1920, the same decade as the Queen, my Mother and Jackie Onassis. Their adolescent reading would have included the empowering values of Scarlett O’Hara which they tempered with traditional female socialization. That generation of women’s greatest conundrum was how to use their brains while remaining flirtatiously dependent on men.

Whereas Mother and Jackie were inclined to challenge norms, Aunt Betty was not. Like them, she was attractive and intelligent. Unlike them, Aunt Betty was not modern thinking. Neither was the Queen.

When swinging London stirred the 60’s worldwide youthquake, Queen Elizabeth was still doing the fox trot. Her unique position, however, required that she adapt non-traditional feminine skills in order to preserve the family business.

The Queen’s image has been digested by the world continuously for seven decades. As with any public figure, a skilled imager like Elizabeth puts out enough hints to manipulate the public into thinking they know them as a friend. The reality is nobody’s got a clue. That worldwide population of imagees has been left to process her into one personality. With billions of facets.

There’s no harm in playing along if we accept the limitations of the game: our imaginations. In scouring through millions of photographs, videos and published narratives we’ve endeavored to solve the enigma.

Queen Elizabeth II’s most striking attribute has been in how she openly courted leaders of African nations. Granted it was motivated by the underpinnings of capitalism and keeping business ties strong. It was part of her valiant attempt to shore up her father’s rather wobbly concept of Commonwealth. But it was not an act.

The Queen always seemed comfortable showing black leaders respect and currying their favor. She was genuine. Not just another mid-20th Century liberal inventing legislative gimmicks to paper over the Grand Canyon of racism. One can just imagine what the Architect of the Great Society, that Good Ol’ Boy Lyndon Baines Johnson, called these men behind their backs.

If there was any condescension in her attitude during these exchanges it was not because of skin color. It was because she more than most realized the transient effectiveness of politicians.

Another example of her example is how she succeeded in an all-male world without authoring a “how to” best seller on her secrets of doing it. Her training began at home in the way she handled the number one, all-time, super-alpha male husband of hers. She drew a line: you can rule the family but not the state. Then she never waivered.

When I came out and was first exposed to gay politics I had already been steeped in the writings of leading feminist authors. I was convinced of the validity of the Women’s Movement and immediately saw that, although our goals may have been different, we shared a common enemy: the concept of pater familias and the artificiality of a male dominated society.

For centuries sex was the reward gained for participating in a legally sanctioned union called family. With the identification of new sexual groupings and a better understanding of the difference between male and female sex drives, the time was right in the early 1970’s to define new kinds of behavior paradigms. Including one for some gay males that allowed for multiple sex partners. Therein is where I tried to lead by example.

Alas, my generation never got past the love and marriage goes together like a horse and carriage school of thought. Like all movements, the extreme elements identified an agenda with ideas that were impossible to attain. With the fear of radicalism implanted in their souls, the middle ground was prepared to accept softer solutions. Once the coast was clear, the bourgeois shopkeepers timidly emerged to get the city ordinances passed.

It takes all kinds to fuel progress. And failed ideals of youth are not necessarily a loss. They may be seedlings that achieve maturity in subsequent lifetimes.

Although Queen Elizabeth would never identify as a feminist (or any kind of -ist for that matter) her reign speaks volumes. In retrospect, her “Ready Girls?” on the Abbey steps was a broadside to half the world that it was time to make their move.