Do You Love Me?

I have been to the muffintop!

In the mid-70’s when my cash flow was running light, I signed up to work on election day. The precinct they assigned me was way out in the Sunset.

Not only was it a Herculean effort to be somewhere at 6 a.m., but I was taking public transportation almost to the ocean. The bus left at 5. The hour commute afforded an opportunity to reflect on the previous night’s closing of the Midnight Sun at 2 a.m..

In a neighborhood of working class retirees, it was a boring 13 hours of long waits for some member of the greatest generation to show up and vote.

At 6 p.m. a sudden rush produced a three minute line to cast ballots. A  6’4″, gray flat top veteran stood seething, waiting for his turn to approach my station. He exuded the “white is right” attitude that still enchants the Republican Party today.

Before giving me his name to check off the roster, he asked sharply, “why should I be penalized for speaking English?” It was the first year for bilingual instructional posters in California elections. Being the model of discretion, it was not my place to answer.

The incident has stayed in my memory mainly because I’ve never figured out what penalty he was paying. Maybe he used phonics to read and two-thirds of the way through the instructions realized not all the words were in USofA American. Wasting time and effort like that can be annoying.

I vowed never to work elections again after that day. But this year, in an attempt to pad my portfolio of personal investments, I gave it another shot. The life’s lessons learned in the intervening 40 years made me feel I could bring something new to the experience. Like poll dancing, which didn’t even exist in the 1970’s.

Babs’ love shack. Today she has a 19th C. town house in the Dordogne. Sometimes things just work out.

Yesterday’s precinct was less than a mile away and nowhere near the ocean. What it lacked in distance, however, it made up for in height. The 21st Street hill has the steepest grade in the city. By the time I reached the summit, I was huffing, puffing and looking every bit my age. I had to fend off the roving van from the Death’s Shore Retirement Center which was targeting me for fast-track admission.

I knew this neighborhood well. In the early 80’s Barbara lived a block away on 20th. We gathered there on Wednesdays to watch Dynasty and eat pizza. Between cackles, the conversation ran the gamut from “can you believe Alexis did that?” to “can you believe we’re watching this shit?” Questions that remain unanswered to this day.

Two blocks in the other direction on Fair Oaks is where Gary (aka A-Hole) had his hillbilly wig party. A couple of doors down from where my friend John Acmoody once resided. Today Acmoody’s mansion is owned by a certain M. Zuckerberg. I looked for Marky-Mark’s name on my roster but to no avail. He’s probably bought his own precinct somewhere, population one.

Up on Fair Oaks where the Mountain Dew ran freely.

To share the personal voting information I’ve learned is a violation of the sacred Poll Dancer’s Oath I took. But there was one minor celebrity sighting, former Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg.

Bertie to her friends, Roberta was the first lesbian candidate for San Francisco mayor, a HUD Under Secretary in the Clinton Administration, and a confirmation hearing adversary of Jesse Helms. Always alpha driven, her interest in voting Tuesday seemed a distant second to the breakfast muffin she was multi-tasking on.

Walking in, I had admired her black and white checked pants. Then I looked up to see her wildly gaping mouth chomping away on this banana-walnut concoction. Possessed, she tried to force even more cake into her mouth while she chewed. Her look was one of complete unawareness, to people and to her surroundings. Finally she spoke. It was a garbled mess.

The idea was to engage voters to verify their name and address. But I knew who she was and just wanted her away from the table. I handed her a ballot then watched her spittle a trail of crumbs to the voting booth.

Do you like it like this? Queens’ Christmas 1981, The Brothel Hotel (now Majestic), Sutter at Gough.

It was an interesting day that, in the end, had yet one more sad reminder of my advanced age. I’ve never worked a poll for 13 hours and come away with no tips.

After leaving the polling place I treated myself to a burger at 10:30 p.m. Utterly exhausted I vented my fried mind to the stone cold, millennial chick cashier. Within seconds she was calling me honey, mothering me and throwing in extra fries as she packed me on my way.

My heart was filled with civic pride as I boogalooed down Broadway all the way home. Watch me now, HEY!

 

Office Parties

I'm a huge believer in natural poses
Cocktails on the corporate dime

My road to corporate America began in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. I got a job as a clerk there and after a few months was transferred to their law library.

The librarian was a wiry little leather queen named Bob. He lived his sex life 24/7 and made no attempt to filter private affairs out of workplace conversation. He could just as easily say “the 27 Bryant was 15 minutes late this morning” as “I had a fist up my ass last night.”

The library was a big, open room lined with books where the attorneys sat and read. While I’d be shelving or checking in periodicals, Bob would be on the phone at his desk gossiping about his latest orgy or making arrangements for the next one.  For everyone to hear.

One time he was talking to a friend about how he’d blacked out the night before. He’d failed to wear the proper protective equipment as he mixed up a batch of homemade poppers in the bathtub.

Bob took me under his wing and wanted me to succeed. He told me the only way I’d make any money was to get into the corporate sector. I started going to the monthly law librarian lunches with him. There I made connections.

Cocktails on the corporate dime
I’m a huge believer in natural poses

I ended up at a prestigious international law firm where I worked for 30 years. It was like being part of a family, a family who retained the services of Dr. Kervorkian when elderly overhead got in the way of partner profits.

Before the bean counters took over, the office Christmas Parties were truly exercises in 1980’s corporate excess. Tons of food and liquor, live music, great venues and everyone in their finest.

Of course “finest” was a relative term when it came to the secretaries from the outlying suburbs. They made such a production of their Dynasty dresses, Flock of Seagulls hair do’s and heels they could barely balance in. It was painful to watch their discomfort.

They seemed to think if they dressed in this special way there was a way they had to act too. And they weren’t sure what that was. It’s a feeling I got over the first time I was in drag: it’s a look, it’s not who you are.

I actually felt sorry for them being so self-conscious. Thankfully, their unease was only temporary and natural instincts soon prevailed. You’d hear the urgent rustle of puffed qiana as they spotted the mounds of cocktail shrimp and made a beeline for Seafood Island.

The midnight rambler; everybody got to go
The midnight rambler; everybody got to go

Not many of my friends were interested in attending office parties with me but I could always get David to go. One of the many things I loved about partying with him was he knew how to make an exit. He’d just say “let’s go” and we’d vanish. No seeking out the host for thank you’s or long good-byes to friends. We were there and then we were gone.

One year at the Christmas Party we made a swift exit and decided to head to the Castro. We’d had cocktails and qualudes so trying to recall the drive over in the rain was a blur of disparate images: cement mixers, white-hot lights, piles of sand bags, windshield wipers working overtime, City Hall golden dome, and a thud.

Miraculously, we found parking right in front of the Midnight Sun (or at least we thought it was a spot). We got out of the pink and white Nash Rambler and noticed it was covered with sand. Except for the path of the wipers, it was completely coated in a layer of silt.

David and I stood there not knowing what had happened. So we just laughed and went into the Sun for a nightcap.

Next: Happy Christmas Y’all
Previous: Life of the Egg Nog Party
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Gimme Danger Little Stranger

My first drag age 6. I was pissed I didn't get to be Zorro. Until I learned I got to wear make-up. I never looked back.
My first drag, age 6. I was pissed I didn’t get to be Zorro. Until I learned I got to wear make-up. I never looked back.

The Halloween night I won the contest at the ‘N Touch I stumbled home at 2 a.m. I could hear my roommate snoring so I tiptoed down the hall to my room.

I was half undressed when I heard someone stirring. This cute little Aussie boy opened my door wearing just underwear and a smile. Apparently roomie had passed out mid-coitus and Down Under had been left unfulfilled. We started making out and fell into bed.

As I pulled off the rest of my clothes he said, “leave the pantyhose on.”

I said, “nah, I’m not really into that.”

He immediately asked, “can I wear them?”

I said, “sure.” A good time was had by all.

Attitudes toward drag were changing. Ten years before I had started out innocently enough as an androgynous waif trying to look like Mick. It shocked the Indiana locals. That look was augmented when my friends and I began to mock old school drag.

The older queens’ goal in drag was to pass. My generation’s was to challenge. Old school gays were often filled with self loathing and seemed to accept that violence was a necessary evil in or out of drag. My friends and I were having none of that.

One of my all-time favorites. We put my hair up into an impromptu French roll for Mark's birthday.
One of my all-time favorites. We put my hair up into an impromptu French roll for Mark’s birthday.

There were always stories of gay men being beaten up and, in particular, a carload of drag queens being shot at coming out of the Waffle House late one night. (Bloomington is 20 miles from the home of Indiana’s KKK.)

I was assaulted one afternoon just walking down the street. Wearing appropriate (for me) mid-day attire, a car of frat boys sped by calling me names and hurling a pumpkin at me. I was too quick, they missed.

What had been shocking in Bloomington was not so much in San Francisco. Charles Pierce, Goldie Glitter and the Cockettes had the local population somewhat inured. In the mid-70s drag’s new antagonist became the gay community itself.

As the gay rights movement became more middle class there was a feeling that male femininity needed to be purged from the image. Drag queens gave gay people a bad name.

The faux-butch lumberjack look became the antidote to the queeny hair dresser stereotype. This hyper-masculine uniform looked good. Until the guy opened his mouth.

One last drag, 1995. Backstage at the Rococo Club waiting to get dressed.
The last drag, 1995. Backstage at the Rococo Club waiting to get dressed.

In 1976 I was invited to an A-list party in Pacific Heights for someone leaving to study at the Comedie Francaise. It was going to be a pretentious and boring affair which I didn’t want to attend.  The dress code would be strictly Macy’s Lifestyle.

But I was friends of the host and had no choice.  I hadn’t planned on drag but at the last-minute I decided to act out and slapped on eyeliner,  some Red Red, a wig and a dress. I was a disheveled but appealing  mess. My signature look.

My arrival was like Scarlet at Miss Melly’s birthday, the entire room was in stunned silence. This was not the place for that.

In a kill or be killed moment I spotted a friend at the far end of the room. I calmly walked towards him ignoring all the eyes that were on me. Ernie greeted me with a big bear hug. Slowly the party warmed up again.

An hour later the ice had melted in the room and in the bourbon. A drunk hunk in his Castro flannel shirt, hiking boots and handlebar moustache cornered me. With a sense of urgency he asked, “What size are those heels? A 10? I think I can fit into them.”

My party for the Library's Gay & Lesbian Center raised $5,000.
My party for the Library’s Gay & Lesbian Center raised $5,000.

Five years after that I was in the Midnight Sun talking to this cute kid 10 years younger than me. He was so excited, he’d just come up with a drag name and was getting ready to dress up for the first time. Drag had become an accepted gay rite of passage.

I held a few drag parties in the 80’s but AIDS took its toll on my mailing list. And my closest friends. I had done best when I was someone’s muse but, truth be told, I was never quite sure what I was doing. It wasn’t as much fun on my own.

The torch had been passed to RuPaul’s generation. Miss Paul took that flame and turned it into an oil rig fire.

Today I love watching Drag Race and queens like Alaska Thunderfuck (who I adore and want to marry. Or at least boink.) I wasn’t as accomplished as they are at producing a look but I’m satisfied with what I did.

I did drag when drag was dangerous.

Next: Reviving a Classic
Previous: Life of Giving Thanks
The complete saga, From the Beginning

 

Life Without Eyebrows, 1974

One thing we hadn’t considered when we shaved our eyebrows was how long it would take for them to grow back, over a month. Plus the red make-up we used on my face left big blotches that took a week to wash off. A clerk at Woolworth’s asked me if I’d been in an accident. So I went with it, added oversize bandages to heighten the effect.

I was standing on the island at Mission and Duboce one day after the red washed off. Spaced out and distracted, I waited for the light to change. A car pulled up and this matronly woman rolled down her window to ask, “dear,  do you need help?”

Next: Mein Kampf
Previous: Christmas, Baby Please Come Home
For the complete saga, From the Beginning

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com

Life at the Original Midnight Sun, mid-70’s

Next: Christmas, Baby Please Come Home
Previous: Rear Window
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com

As the Pot Melts

We could be heroes. Opening night of the original Midnight Sun on Castro Street, January 1974.
We could be heroes. Opening night of the original Midnight Sun on Castro Street, January 1974.

I have lived in my apartment in downtown San Francisco since 1976.  It was perfectly situated for the years I worked in the Financial District and, more importantly, it was centrally located for all the trouble one can get into in this town. I could walk almost anywhere in the City and, if I was too wobbly to make it home, a cab ride was only 5 or 6 dollars.

When I first lived in San Francisco I hopped around between various accommodations in the Castro, Haight and Mission. But I was always intrigued by the area downtown between Nob Hill and the Loin. It seemed so un-California. Old out here usually means mid-century Eichler but downtown there was the 1920’s type construction found in New York and Chicago. It felt big city. Joan Crawford would have lived in this neighborhood and caught the bus to work in a Union Square shop. Snapping her gum and wisecracking behind the counter, she’d bide her time until some oil tycoon swept her away, refined her and turned her into a murderess.

My desire to live downtown bucked the predominant trend of the day which was the rapid gentrifigaytion of the Castro. Gays were moving in by the hundreds, renting, apartment sharing, squatting, buying. It all happened so quickly. The fleeing Irish working class didn’t know what hit them other than the handsome profits for their, until then, undesirable properties. After taking over the housing, neighborhood jobs followed and then the ownership of the businesses themselves. Gay life was so concentrated in the Castro it was almost oppressive.

With so much young gay testosterone occupying every inch of the ghetto, sex was everywhere. You could be waiting for Muni in the morning commute, make eye contact and decide this was the day to call in sick. Run to the corner store for a quart of milk and return home carrying a load of cream. Or be dutifully doing your laundry at the local Mat, get cruised and picked up. One time I actually got placed inside the dryer and blown on the spot. Between cycles.

Despite the lure of the candy store, I wanted to live downtown. Acceptance was the issue of the day and to me you had to be seen to be believed.  I wanted to live amongst the general populace not cordoned off in the ghetto with my kind. It was a time when many still didn’t know what “gay” meant, The New York Times had only recently begun printing the word after years of insisting on the more clinical “homosexual.”

On my personal quest to liberate the masses I felt that living in a diverse area would force people to wonder who I was. They would have to think about and interact with me. Once they realized I wasn’t a threat, I would be accepted. And there were enough gay people in the neighborhood to keep it interesting. If I wasn’t in the candy store per se I could still benefit from the vending machine level of activity nearby.

Steadying Wena on her barstool at The Midnight Sun, c. 1974.
Steadying Wena on her barstool at The Midnight Sun, c. 1974.

***

The Eviction Story

 

 

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com