Ghosts of Christmas Cards Past

Starting with the Choo Choo in 1955 when I had just two brothers, Mother put a lot of effort into selecting the family Christmas card. She was not about to let the world forget that in the span of eight years her tiny five foot, 100 pound frame churned out four boys.

I was never big on sending cards but made an effort in the eighties and nineties. They were usually of a “San Francisco Liberal,” or “Gay” theme. Oh hell, what I was trying to say was Christmas is for queers too.

Much to the chagrin of some who married into the family, there was no religion in Mother’s celebration of the holiday. It was a time to get the family together and have fun.

When the internecine politics of divorce and new spouses complicated the formula, there was so much rivalry for the Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning and Christmas Dinner prime-time slots. Mother did the non-obvious thing and laid claim to Supper on Christmas Day. A couple of years ago my nephew said that Mother and I did the best Christmases. When I asked him why he said, “because you gave the best gifts.”

Those in search of the meaning of the day need look no further.

In 1996 when Mother was undergoing chemo we tried to make her feel a little less conspicuous by doing what comes naturally: making fools of ourselves. It was a life-long dream of hers that we have our vision tested. That we would all select the same pair of designer frames was truly an astonishing coincidence.



Contact High

As I approach senility, I’ve managed to outgrow most of my childhood heroes.

Lucille Ball was the first and easiest one to get over. By the age of 10 I’d memorized every line of dialogue of I Love Lucy. Even though I knew what was going to happen when I watched an episode for the 100th time, how Lucy did it kept it in the now.

I was one of the last rats to leave the sinking ship in the post-Desi 1960’s. I willed myself to love her subsequent sitcoms but intense loyalty could not make them funny. When I learned about her John Wayne politics I soured on her.

As an adult, I watched her on talk shows and was surprised by the effort she had put into her craft. The diligence and intense concentration that created joy for millions of people did not provoke the same feelings in her. It was just a job to Miss Ball which, in the end, made her seem like a very sad person.

My Jackie worship started as transference through my Mother. As documented in this blog, it began as pure idolatry that moved on to a fascination for her perverse imagery. Then the tackiness of her as a collectible commodity gave me a hobby. I ended up liking her but with some reservations.

As for Mick, I think I’m over him but I’m never quite sure. It helped last summer when I was in Bloomington and was reunited with Susan after 40 years. She seemed annoyed when she remembered, “you were always trying to be like Jagger.” Then she added, “I thought you were limiting yourself.”

I first saw Ike & Tina Turner on American Bandstand in the mid-60’s. The Ikettes were doing their mini-hit, Peaches ‘n Cream. Dick Clark lavished praise on Tina during the interview and called her shows legendary. I’d never heard of her.

Tina didn’t perform that day and barely spoke. But she was so self-possessed and confident, I was beguiled and instantly obsessed.

My favorite Ike & Tina album back then was called In Person and was a live recording of their performance at Basin Street West in San Francisco. It was on MINIT Records and I could buy it for 99 cents in the Rexall discount bin. I know because I wore out and replaced about 10 copies.

It’s mostly covers of popular hits but there are two medleys where she talks extensively. During one 17 minute recitative she stops and starts the band repeatedly to wax on about love and hurt. Like a Baptist Preacher, she varies the volume and cadence for dramatic effect. It was the height of soul music and there’s nothing more soulful than a Sunday sermon from a southern pulpit. Which is basically what Tina delivered. Very effectively.

There was always a manufactured and meaningless rivalry between Tina and Aretha. They were really quite different and I loved them both.

Aretha had the better voice and was more musically talented. But she was what opera queens call park and bark, a diva who plants herself on stage and lets the voice be the show.

Tina had a great voice too with a more limited range. But she danced exceptionally well and, incredibly, sang and danced simultaneously. She constantly worked on creating new dance moves and on staging to highlight the movement. She wore long falls because she said they had “action.” As did the fringe on her costumes. Hers was one of the first acts to use strobes and fog machines.

Show business cognoscenti took note. I remember hearing Diana Ross say with astonishment “oh my god, she’s so bad.” (Back when that phrase was first used as praise.) In 1969 Dick Cavett asked Janis Joplin who she admired as a performer. She immediately responded, “Tina Turner.” And Lena Horne was quoted as saying she wanted to be reincarnated as Tina.

Listening to one of the Turner’s albums was always hit and miss, gems surrounded by mediocrity. Ike was a musical control freak and notorious for stealing from other acts. Even the “rough” part of Proud Mary was nicked from Fort Wayne’s own Checkmates. It was Phil Spector’s majestic uptempo production of the Checkmates version that made Ike’s recording.

He also controlled most of the stage act. Tina later admitted being embarrassed by things Ike made her do like the lewd, kabuki-esque fellatio she performed on the microphone. Or singing lyrics with heavy drug references (“she reached in her bag and she pulled out some coke!”) She may have been reluctant to do them but, again, it was so good because she was so convincing.

Make-up’s a little scary but the fringe flew.

I completely internalized her music and always played it when I needed a lift. In college I drank prodigious amounts of coffee and mimiced the way she splayed her thighs, sat her butt down in it and gyrated across the stage to get that fringe moving.

Later when I did her on stage I was never an impersonator. She was sui generis and impossible to recreate. But she inspired me as I tried to perform with her spirit and attitude. And I loved doing her songs because they were full of energy and so sexually provocative.

David Bowie said that being on stage next to Tina was the hottest place in the universe.  Rock ‘n Roll gods melted in her presence. A YouTube clip that has since been taken down showed Mick and Tina in Tokyo doing Brown Sugar. When he drops to his knees in a corny gesture she dismisses him with a look: “not on my stage.”

(Note bene 11/28/18: a friend and devoted reader found the clip. What I wrote was on memory. Who knows what they were actually thinking. But at approximately 2:00 the look is there. Thank you Mimi.)

There is a video of Keith Richards in a group jam of Keep A Knockin’. He takes his vocal turn and nervously sings two lines. He’s palpably relieved and shows such affection when Tina steps up to rescue the verse.

And when Paul McCartney does Get Back with Charles and Diana in the audience, his look of anticipation as Tina makes her entrance and the thrill in his eyes as they harmonize are unmistakable ardor.

My generation grew up with a Bill Murray sneer for show business. We mocked every gimmick and show biz cliche there was. I kid you not. But the happiness Tina exhibited on stage was impossible to deride. There was joy in every performance she gave.

On New Years Eve 1982 she was gearing up for her return to the lime light. No one knew it was in the works but I thought at the time her stunning visual presence needed to be captured in the new medium of music video. Although she was technically still down-and-out in this appearance on Johnny Carson, watching it again she obviously was not going to be denied a comeback. And with a piano player like she had I’d be attempting one too.

Happy Birthday Tina.

It’s Showtime!

In the early 90’s I was visiting Barbara in LA and we made it a point to cram as many hip restaurants as possible into my short stay. I think we got it right because every place we went Dennis Hopper was there too.

He was at Spago’s the night we sat in the front room. So was Rona Barrett and at a table directly behind me were Willie Brown, Maxine Waters and four other politicos. They were having way too raucous of a time for elected officials.

It was close quarters and at one point Ms. Waters’ chair bumped the back of mine. She immediately apologized then smiled, placed her hand on my left shoulder and sighed reflectively “oh, to be young again.” I didn’t think I looked that young but I’ll take it wherever I can get it. In retrospect she was probably just being her savvy politician self and knew how to work the potential vote of a gay constituent.

About 10 years ago I was in line at O’Hare and she happened to be at the counter in front of me. This time when she saw me I got a scowl instead of a smile. I seriously doubt she remembered me but she studied me like maybe she thought she should.

She quickly turned back to deal with the agent. Obviously frustrated, their exchange was not going well. When it was finally resolved she looked at me again and rolled her eyes as if to say “can you believe this shit?” The magic was still there.

After the election on Tuesday I was feeling down about Democrats out polling Republicans nationwide by 10% but still not making significant gains. The deck seems stacked against us. My mood might have also been the by-product of working 16 hours at the poll that day. But even with the help of another super duper burger at the end it was hard to be buoyant.

Then this morning it dawned on me: Maxine Waters will be Chair of the Financial Services Committee. There is hope.

I have an ongoing correspondence with Nancy Pelosi’s office, who is my Congresswoman. They have been very responsive in helping me with problems. They have even contacted me after dormant periods in our communications to remind me they’re there to help. Now that’s responsive.

My last email to Pelosi, however, went unanswered. She had reprimanded Waters for the tone of some controversial statement. I thought she’d have been better off by just letting the matter slide. Civility is nice but at a time when the base is clamoring for forceful leadership we don’t need lessons in the social graces. Let Maxine be Maxine.

During the Clinton Impeachment Hearings, Congresswoman Waters was grilling Kenneth Starr. In the middle of one rambling, evasive answer she abruptly interrupted. “Excuse me, could you please repeat that? I think I may have heard you commit an impeachable offense.”

It was such a ludicrous thing to say but perfectly captured the spirit of that farce. The gavel will be in very competent hands.

I Did Not Vote for Feinstein

She’s emblematic of what is wrong with the Democratic Party. Even if they win back Congress they have no real vision. Devoid of both courage and conviction their one unifying ethos is “I am not a liberal.” Strong, progressive voices need to wrestle the party leadership away from the phantoms of Wall Street, Schumer and Pelosi.

The most fight I’ve ever seen in Feinstein was when she initially opposed the Healthcare Plan offered by a President from her own party. Before that she consistently did a Susan Collins during the Bush Presidency, always struggling with her conscience while voting solidly for the Republican agenda. Lately in the Kavanaugh Hearings she seemed reluctant to organize any kind of opposition even though she was in a leadership position to do so. Can you imagine what Mitch McConnell would have accomplished if he had the type of ammunition she had?

Her most egregious sin, however, was when she was Chair for the first Obama Inaugural. Admittedly it was a very exciting day, but in one of the tackiest displays of decorum I’ve ever seen she and her husband, Richard Blumenthal, were bouncing around the podium during the ceremony taking pictures on their phones. Maybe I’m just on the wrong side of history here and inevitably we will see Camilla doing selfies at the State Opening of Parliament.

It is her work with Blumenthal in aggrandizing personal wealth that may be her greatest achievement as a public servant. The Feinstein-Blumenthals purportedly are one of the biggest slum-lords in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. The Section 8 Housing and Single Room Occupancy Hotel programs that offer low-income tenants a place to live also guarantee landlords a hefty check subsidizing the difference between market rates.

And the next time you pay $7 for a pack of gum at the airport think of the FB’s. It’s rumored they own most of the leases at SFO and have gouged the merchants there for years

I’m sure the FB’s have not broken any laws and the Senator may have had no part in drafting either of these bills. But she definitely was privy to their immaculate conceptions and would have passed the tip on to her investment management husband encouraging him to get in on the ground floor. Since Republicans are the party of wealth preservation it may explain why she struggles so with her conscience at times.

Conflicts of interest policy in Congress simply means the elected person can’t have any but their family can. A decade ago I watched the healthcare debate intently. When it was down to the last few votes, Chris Matthews spent a week covering Evan Bayh’s indecisiveness. His vote was important because he represented the middle-of-the-road working class whose support was critical for passage. After days of analyzing his Hamlet act, Matthews casually tossed out an aside that Bayh’s wife was a lobbyist and had received a couple of million dollars from the healthcare industry for her work. Oh yeah, that.

Reporters like Matthews are part of the beltway bubble that selectively tells the truth. Everything is a negotiation in DC, certain knowledge is withheld from the public as a means of maintaining access to insider contacts. In exchange for the really big scoop, reporters ignore the mundane details about the work on the Hill. Like who actually does it.

It’s baffling that there can be so many 80 and 90 year-olds at the top of their game writing such complex legislation. And when John McCain and Ted Kennedy battled life-ending illnesses, they were rarely seen for a couple of years. Yet their offices continued functioning without missing a beat.

Somebody’s in charge but it’s not the individuals we’ve elected.  Senators themselves seem to be nothing more than holograms, displayed on camera every now and then for a well-placed sound bite.

We deserve representation that is more involved in and understands modern life. After the hits Republicans took on women’s issues in October, the Hologram from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, stepped up to offer an olive branch. He thought Dr. Blasey Ford was “very attractive.”

Had he only included that she was wearing a really pretty dress the GOP might have secured the women’s vote for the next generation.


Pheasant Under Glass

No job is ever done in this apartment. Which can be taken many different ways.

In the context of today’s post it means past projects with ho-hum results can always be revisited and improved upon. Like the 12 foot long window sill/shelf that allowed me to finally hang the Resistance drapes properly. The finishing touches ended up being rather bland. Enter the ghetto discount fabric store

My life as a fabric whore dates to childhood. Both my Grandmother and Mother were accomplished seamstresses and our weekly visits to the farm ended with the two of them going over their current projects. I was baffled by the  terminology: gaberdine, cutting on the bias, interfacing, pile, weighted hems–it was all so foreign. And none of it was about me. The boredom was only compounded when we visited the fabric store.

Bringing up four boys who’d be born within eight years of each other consumed all of Mother’s time. Going to buy material, buttons or patterns was the only time I remember seeing a look of self-satisfied enjoyment on her face.  Equally as rare in those days was the feeling of accomplishment you sensed when she finished a sewing project.

When we shopped, and when I wasn’t being told to get off the stool to let another woman sit, I would pull out one of the pattern books and try to help, “what about this one?”

Mother would look down dismissively, “that’s Butterick.” She only used Vogue or Simplicity patterns. Their designs were the best.

Left to stare at the surroundings because I was under orders not to touch anything, I day-dreamed about what all the fabrics were and what they would become.

Like at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, pilgrims at the Tooth Temple are treated as a mass produced commodity as they are loaded onto a conveyor belt to fully experience the viewing of the relic.

The endless possibilities of using fabric have stayed with me to this day. And I’m amazed at some of the new products coming along. Like the fake fur faux pheasant feathers at 17th and Mission.

There are so many wrong words in the previous sentence that, taken together, add up to something that should not have been produced in the first place. Which makes it much more desirable in my book.

When one thinks of fake fur and home decor thoughts naturally gravitate towards the King and Graceland. There’s another Elvis connection to my window sill redecoration as well.

In 2005 I went to Sri Lanka with Peter & Barbara. After visiting the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, we traveled downhill and stopped at a road side tourist store. There were slim pickings until I spotted a velvet painting of Buddha. I was struck by how two vastly different icons of modern culture, Siddhartha and the Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love, were both given the same tacky treatment. The camp value was too pronounced to ignore.

The goof was over when Buddha was framed. Glass pressed against the fabric completely transformed the work adding depth to the color and a richness that had not previously been there. There was not a hint of the medium the painting was on. It was stunning.

The result was not quite as dramatic when I used left-over tempered glass shelves on the faux feathers. Still the fabric represents another triumph of man’s artificiality over nature.

My only regret is the number of fakes that were killed just to upholster my window sill. PETA will be on my ass for sure.

With Peter & Barbara floating from Sri Lanka to the Maldives.

Matisse on Crack

What hath God wrought?

When you enter our apartment the first impression is intended to be one of an uncluttered, simple and symmetrical space. A few items spark curiosity but there’s nothing too challenging. The place may be filthy but the sight lines are clean.

Once comfortably inside with a false sense of familiarity established, you turn to the west for some OMG reveals. Like the questionable house pet art over the sink, the Bambi uber alles above the bed, or the garish faux croc on the doors. To that we now add the Mirrored Wailing Wall.

Clean sight line to the filthy kitchen,

The installation is on the small wall in the living room perpendicular to my bedroom door (where most of the wailing is done). Small in width, 52 inches, but not in height, 11 feet. As I worked, I wondered what the kids at the Social Work for the Elderly Training Academy might think. A 68 year-old precariously balanced atop a 10 foot ladder handling 50 square feet of broken glass. It might set off warning bells as they pursue their number one objective: Senior Safety.

Finally! A place for the vintage, leather bound Kipling to float.

The mosaic’s allegorical title reflects a subject I’ve loved all of my life and have studied in-depth: The Journey of Sperm. When the first pieces were applied, their random, primitive shapes reminded me of Matisse’s cut outs. As the wall filled in and reflected light started to take over, it became more like the silver backroom at The Factory. The mash-up of those two influences conjured up images of Henri taking a couple of hits off of Billy Name’s glassdick.

Less than $50 was spent on materials thanks to Building REsources, a dealer in architectural salvage. Located in the formerly derelict but soon to be gentrified Hunters Point area of town, the charm of the old neighborhood still wafts through on occasion.  The nearby animal rendering facility sneaks up on you sometimes with the scent of burning carcasses. Hours can be spent in that perfumed air perusing the recyclables, exercising free association on what to do with the interesting and awkward materials that are found.

Every which way but up. Detail of tribute to Reagan’s Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Shield Program. God I miss Dutch.

Prices vary from day-to-day depending on who is asked. The woman who works on Tuesdays has been especially kind. I know nothing about her but she strikes me as a life-long San Francisco resident with a high tolerance for the crazies who have come and gone through the years. And bemoans the blandness of the techie lemmings who are currently taking over the City.

She always has a quip for me but I think she secretly questions what this derelict is up to now. I’ll approach the register with sheets of broken mirror or arm’s full of irregularly shaped tempered glass and she will quietly say, “the stickers on the mirror are free, how about $5 plus tax for the rest.”

Home away from home.

People always ask me what me what I do all day. I never know what to answer. I keep busy, it’s just difficult to sum it up. This lack of responsiveness leaves the impression I don’t do anything.

Au contraire. If this project is any indication of my daily diary, 70% of my time is spent thinking, reading and daydreaming. 5% is spent out at the salvage yard rummaging through God knows what. The other 25% is used for actually doing the work.

It’s taken over a month but I’ve just emerged from the 25% portion of the cycle. Now get off my back.

Self portrait in bits and pieces.

Grab ’em by the Pussy! Continuing Thoughts on a Confirmation

RepublIcan think tank convenes tomorrow to finalize Trump Doctrine of American Feminism.

Thursday, September 27

Watching the hearings it’s really a matter of grabbing them by the pussies’ surrogate. Eleven white male Senators so incapable of doing the job they were elected to do they need to bring in a hired gun.  Their voices are stifled, as mute as a rape victim whose cries are smothered by an attacker.

With apologies to Titian (but none to Peter Max), The Rape of Senatoria

Lindsay “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Graham says he’s suspicious that Dr. Blasley Ford took a polygraph and hired an attorney. Suspicious of what? That she might be telling the truth? That the right to counsel is being exercised by the wrong people?

And Trump is furious with his staff for not knowing how credible Blasley Ford would be as a witness. Just reinforces the fact that we are a nation of laws–and how best to bend them.

Friday, September 28

Beware the venomous South Carolina Coral She-Bitch. When cornered this closeted viper emits a deadly pus.

The demeanor alone of the two witnesses yesterday speaks volumes. One controlled, troubled, whose sincerity shines through the difficulty of outing herself. The other furiously adamant about not sharing his toys, enraged that his little pretend game is not playing out the way he wanted.

But we’re not selecting Miss Congeniality here. This is for the next Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. Thinking is more important than comportment. Presumably.

In a recent Fox News interview, Kavanaugh invoked the infrequently used “Virginity Halo” defense. Because he was of unpopped cherry he was therefore incapable of any aberrant sexual activity.

The best I could piece together from his narrative was that he did not get his first piece until about mid-20’s. Rather late in the game. The frustrations from such repressed desire might manifest itself in socially unacceptable behavior in some young adults. But not when the promise keeper is an entitled prep school boy with a privileged background. That just never happens. (Cue the Skakel kid.)

Then there is his personal use of stare decisis. That because he was cleared by the FBI in the late nineties and declared of outstanding moral character, the issue has been decided and therefore can never be revisited again. One might argue that the level of scrutiny for a low-level staff attorney in the Special Counsel’s office might be less intense than for a Justice on the Supreme Court. What’s decided is decided, damn it, and no subsequent events or newly discovered evidence can ever tarnish his status as “virtuous dude.”

This is the best mind, legal or otherwise, available for the High Court?

Most sex offenders in the United States are forced to wear their Scarlet A throughout eternity. Their mobility and ability to reside in various neighborhoods are severely restricted. About the only place left for them is in dodgy trailer parks living with other sex offenders. No potential problems there that I can see.

In the modern-day, strict-constructionist interpretation of our forefather’s wisdom, however, it has now almost become a prerequisite for Republican appointees to the Supreme Court. The SCOTUS exception for serial sex offenders is born.

And The Flake wept.

Monday, October 1

When politicians like the South Carolina Coral Viper offer advice to rape victims, their magic bullet is reporting the incident to police.  The fuzz will know what to do and take appropriate action. It seems so simple. But it isn’t.

This is not a fender bender that lends itself to a dispassionate moment-by-moment recount. The trauma leaves the victim with feelings of guilt, embarrassment. and shame that make them reluctant to relive events and share their recollections. And the gumshoe behind the desk, whose views on sex have probably been shaped by the 15th Century leanings of the Holy See in Rome, lacks the skill and sensitivity to properly handle the situation.

To say that sexual assault has not been a priority of law enforcement is an understatement. Witness the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that have sat unanalyzed for the last twenty years.  With the exception of Jayne Mansfield’s daughter, god love her, there has been no leadership on the issue. Politicians have not devoted the time, resources or money needed to spearhead any kind of effort.

What have elected officials considered a better use of their time instead? In the case of Republicans like those on the Judiciary Committee over the last decade, to pursue an elusive holy grail. That pesky Kenyan birth certificate they can never quite put their hands on.

Thursday, October 4

Chuck who? Wall Street’s Darling is once again out played by Kentucky’s Chinless Wonder. Or is he?

Republicans in Congress put all of their energy into getting what they want. Democrats put all of their energy into “being fair.” So that Republicans can get what they want. It’s a one party town.

Friday, October 5

Susan “Show Me the Money” Collins. What a ridiculous human being.

Next time you’re in your favorite bar order a Susan Collins, cousin to the legendary Tom. 2 shots arsenic, a shot of cyanide, with a splash of strychnine and a wire hanger garnish. Be prepared, they’re extremely expensive.

Since she probably won’t be running for reelection in 2020 her vote was basically up for sale.  Huge corporate benefactors are supposedly lined up to give her cush jobs that require her to do nothing upon retirement. A trait she’s exhibited in spades her entire Senate career.

I’m sure Senator Collins will remain “extremely concerned” all the way to the bank.