Go Ahead and Call It Frisco, What the Hell Do I Care

The avant garde does not always age so well.
The avant garde does not always age so well.

The problem with being part of any vanguard is that, if you do your job properly, there’s eventually no van to guard. But the world doesn’t owe you a living for getting it right. Excellent instincts should be reward enough. Still, it is hard to watch what is happening to this city.

In the beginning the Beats begat the Free Speech Movement which begat Haight Ashbury which begat The Castro which begat the AIDS Crisis which begat the Y2K bubble that burst which begat communal non-office office space. Somehow, the spirit has changed. If history teaches millennials anything it’s that a CEO telling you something is cool usually means it isn’t.

In retrospect, my generation happened upon a gold mine when the bourgeoisie fled the City for the pre-fab dry wall and concrete driveways of the suburbs. What they left behind were Victorians and pre-war apartment buildings that were pretty much intact. Though we did not have the money to decorate them properly there was still something dramatic about having an India print covered mattress on the floor under a 12 foot ceiling.

Today’s influx also sees the value of these properties but it’s more of the investment opportunity kind. They no more than move in than they start waiting for the opportune moment to flip. We were just looking for a place to live.

My friend Thom always had a novel take on things like going for walks after a big storm because the air smelled clean. When he found a place in Hayes Valley, however, I thought he was nuts.

In the 1980s it was a neighborhood of abandoned store fronts, junk stores, drug dealers, muggings and police harassment. Some could see the potential, like the Punks and Goths, but nothing seemed to make a go of it over there. I had friends who opened an apparel store on Hayes called Dog Meat that only lasted a few months.

When I first visited Thom’s apartment I could see the appeal. High ceilings, well proportioned rooms, crown molding, and plenty of light from the rounded windows in the turret. It was a wonderful apartment. Getting to and from it was the issue.

Thom was hassled daily, mocked and yelled at on the street. He tuned it out and thrived on the neighborhood telling me he once bought some crack and smoked it with a guy in an alley. He just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  (And no, he did not become an addict.)

One night walking home after the bar closed he was mugged. They took everything on him and beat him badly. The police responded but nothing ever came of it. When I saw him a few days later he was severely bruised, his eye was swollen shut, and he was still stitched and bandaged up.

Thom didn’t walk home late at night after that but neither did he move out. I think of his face today when I’m walking down Hayes Street with my $5 scoop of fast frozen ice cream, admiring $95 Japanese baby booties in the window.

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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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