Era’s End

The first piece I remember buying with my Grandmother was this clover design porcelain covered dish. She taught me to look for the red maker’s mark because it might be Prussian, which she considered the best. I always assumed this one was until 50 years later I looked again and saw, to my horror, it was only Limoges.

Grandmother was a serious antique collector. From the age of 10 until I moved to San Francisco I would attend auctions with her. She’d pack our lunch, take her knitting and stay for the day.

She always sat towards the front and a little to the right of the podium so she could be seen. The auctioneers knew her well. When an item she was interested in came up they would glance at her as they yodeled incomprehensible garble. I’m not sure exactly what Grandmother’s mysterious consent gesture was but the auctioneer knew. She was one of the few bidders who were named in the call. “I have Mrs. Kimmer at 55!”

Unlike her grandson, she was a penny-pincher and knew her limits. Her assent motion may have been imperceptible but when the bids went too high she’d shake her head dramatically while mouthing the word “No!” She seemed offended by the price, as if it was the most disgusting thing she’d ever heard.

Wheelchair access in Aisle 5 also allowed for additional performance space. Thank you ADA!

I sometimes bemoan the fact that in the second coming of my San Francisco life I don’t have the connections I had the first time around. There used to be parties, dinners, and openings every day of the week. And in the years I hung out with David Gillette we could be stacked 3 or 4 deep over JFK with nightly invites.

So it was a great thrill two weeks ago to be asked at the last minute to the Nob Hill Theatre closing day barbecue. My friend got us in for free and we had a leisurely stroll through the premises. I particularly enjoyed the go-go boys in their stretch terry hot pants.

Fucking wall of fame.

Behind the stage was a door I’d never seen before. Outside it were circular steps leading down to a deck and the entrance to the owners residence. The apartment, which supposedly had been featured in Architectural Digest, could only be accessed through the theater. Very La Cage aux Folles. Having Mom over for dinner while they screened Seven in a Barn must have been an interesting evening.

The back of the property abutted the former Williams-Sonoma Mail Order patio where we once found the California Bay Laurel doused in dog piss. And, yes, abutment is the proper term for discussing the physical attributes of a gay porn theater.

In addition to the closing day festivities, my connection (who was empowered with price negotiation status) took me on a private tour of their Touch Our Junk sale yesterday.  All the glory hole panels had been sold by the time I got there but there were still stripper poles, autographed porn star 8×10’s and half priced lube to be had.

Skilled performers on stage expertly worked both the lip and the tongue.

In 1996 I took Mother on a Jackie O Getaway to Manhattan. We saw Zoe Caldwell in Master Class, took a long walk through Central Park by the 1040 Fifth Avenue condo, ate oysters at Grand Central, marched through Bergdorfs  and attended the preview of The Jackie Estate Sale at Sotheby’s. I left only one bid, an excessive $1100 for the monogrammed cocktail shaker. The eventual winner paid about $6500.

I did not get shut out at the Nob Hill sale yesterday though. I scored an original Justin Simpson painting “Spring” from the 2008 Men of Wine Collection. Done in a sickening Lawrence Welk teal, it has the unsettling thematic quality of a Keane painting (minus the eyes) with just a soupcon of Linda Blair’s Excorist menace thrown in.

One can almost see Grandmother doing her phantom “No!”

 

Bosom Buddies

Soulful staredown of two pretty sharp dressers.

I’m not sure when Time Magazine begins the nominating process for its Person of the Year. If the vote were held today, Stormy Daniels would have to be the pick.

When she first gained prominence last Spring she was pigeonholed as a publicity seeking bimbo. But in her published comments and the way she handled herself in live interviews, it was apparent she was an intelligent woman who knew exactly what she was doing. Making porn was not her most defining quality. It was just the way she happened to earn a living.

Recently she’s objected to the constant prefix of “porn star” to her name. “They’d never refer to me as librarian Stormy Daniels.” As a former one I can say the two professions easily intermingle.

One fault I do find with the librarian’s judgement was in accepting the original settlement of 130K. After lawyers fees and taxes there’s barely enough for a week’s stay at a thrice bankrupt luxury hotel.  Like the now-defunct Trump Taj Mahal in loser-ville, Atlantic City. A true deal artist would demand seven figures.

The steamroller Stormy created continues to gain momentum today. As seen in last week’s capitulation of National Enquirer Chairman, David Pecker. Getting the Peckers of the world to cooperate is no small feat.

If not Person of the Year at least Miss Congeniality in the Trump International Miss Universe Contest.

As Stormy emerges to become the paradigm for the new librarian, we say farewell to a landmark of porn’s past. Last Sunday I attended a barbecue celebrating The Nob Hill Theater’s final day. The home of gay porn and famous All Male Review closed its doors on Bush Street after 50 years. For 30 of those years I passed it daily on my walk to work.

It was the solitary gay establishment in a neighborhood of Chinatown tourists, cable car riders, Union Square shoppers, Tenderloin overflow and residential apartment dwellers. Laid out as a small theater with proscenium and large screen, it later added strippers, a back room, and a video arcade to help patrons meet  “new friends.”

I lived three blocks away for four decades and occasionally dropped in. Friendships did, indeed, spring up.

One buddy was a kid in his early 20’s from Hillsborough. He had an elaborate story about being an Ivy League graduate who worked as a lawyer for the CIA. I saw him on the sly and at his bidding. There were always time limitations and he never gave me his number. Even though I had caller id, the sex was good so I played along.

I saw him several times and started sharing details with friends. When one pointed out Princeton didn’t have a law school I realized I looked foolish pursuing this folly. I gently called his bluff and never heard from him again.

His lying was not malicious nor was he a scammer. He was just another insecure closet case who resorted to fantasy because he had trouble accepting his homosexuality. Practicing it, however, was never a problem.

Another affair that began over art films at the Nob was with an aspiring interior decorator. His fetish was the definition creating properties of lycra, which carbon dates the fling as mid to late 80’s.  We had regular conjugal visits at his place, languishing in steaming hot baths over deadly gin martinis.

I tried not to mix my personal and professional lives. Sometimes it was unavoidable. Like the night in the Nob Hill lobby when I saw an attorney from work browbeating the porn star Rick Donavon into an assignation. Members of prestigious international law firms who have graduated from top flight law schools aren’t used to taking “no” for an answer. And they have the cash to close their arguments.

Compartmentalization also failed me one day walking to work. I looked up at the marquee to see the week’s featured performer was J.D. Powers.

Besides honorary librarian Stormy, Time might also give serious consideration to George W. Bush this year.  His legacy ranks him with Metternich, Wilson, and Acheson as one of the most influential statesmen ever. When he took a break from clearing non-existent, photo-op brush off his Texas ranch, he gazed into Vlad’s baby blues and saw the Impaler’s soul. GOP diplomacy was changed forever.

Look ’em in the eye, give ’em a nickname, go with your gut, then quickly end the meeting to win the daily news cycle–that was W’s style of statesmanship. And it’s provided a road map for subsequent Republican Presidencies as evidenced in Singapore and Helsinki this summer.

The technique requires a level of intelligence rarely seen in the White House.

Don Jong Trump had difficulty seeing Seoul.

Eviction Countdown: Day 11

Valentine’s Day was always Rags’ favorite holiday. The years he was in San Francisco he would host big parties.

The first one I went to was at his Sacramento Street apartment across from Grace Cathedral. His dinning room ceiling was draped in parachute silk. The theme may have been pajamas because that’s what my friend Jeffrey and I showed up in. Or maybe that was just our fashion statement for the evening.

It was probably the first time I met Kathy because we were both there. But neither of us remembers, might have been the ludes. She was fresh off the boat from Nebraska via Kansas and Afghanistan.

The last party Rags hosted out here was with Ben around the corner at their Taylor Street flat. Keeping it on the Nob. Their invitations were handwritten with what looked like lipstick on vintage ladies handkerchiefs.

I wore full length red chiffon accessorized with a bull whip. (Sadly, those photos seemed to have disappeared. Maybe next year.)

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Next: Eviction Countdown Day 10, The Patio
Previous: Eviction Countdown Day 12, Ruining Art
The Complete Countdown
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Rear Window

Thom took me up on the roof one Sunday to teach me to watercolor. Sadly, my work did not survive. His did. 1984
Thom took me up on the roof one Sunday to teach me to watercolor. Sadly, my work did not survive. His did. 1984

My apartment was built in 1915. It is one of three in a series of redwood framed buildings on Jones Street, a block down Killer Hill from Grace Cathedral. The wood theme continues into the interior with faux redwood wainscoting. It has large bay windows on the street side and in the lobby there was once an art nouveau stained glass peacock.window. That was gone within my first year of living there. the little Chin girl broke it playing ball.

The Chins were the landlords and could have cared less about art nouveau. Their interest was in the monthly rent not architectural heritage. There were other Edwardian anachronisms in the apartment like the pull out ironing board in the kitchen and the working bathroom sink in the front room closet. I’m guessing the closet doubled as a dressing room for Joan before she dashed off to work.

Then there were the interior window wells. They were designed to provide light and circulation to the back rooms but they also gave you sight and sound into your neighbor’s units. You might be standing in the kitchen confiding to a friend sotto voce but if the window was open your secrets would be broadcast to 11 other units. On the bathroom side of the building you never wanted to leave the window open if you happened to be experiencing explosive diarrhea. It’s called common courtesy

I used to watch the back neighbors in the next building because our dining room windows were perfectly aligned. They were an older gay couple in their late 30’s. I was 25 so to me they were OLD. And they did OLD things like dye their hair in the kitchen sink or have their friends over on Saturday night for drinks and Yahtzee. As the sound of their drunken laughter and slamming of the dice played out in the background, I would be picking out my outfit, making sure it was one I’d never worn before, and doing a line of coke to get me amped for the club.

As we both recovered on Sunday afternoons, their routine never varied. At 4:00 the one guy would go out, probably to one of the beer busts in the City, while the other stayed home alone. He would draw the drapes for privacy although I don’t think he realized that I could still see silhouettes from my side. His special time would begin, this back and forth, back and forth. He would be moving constantly, crossing the room in a straight line, never stopping. This would go on for at least an hour, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly. I just kept watching this figure go back and forth, back and forth. I had no idea what he was doing, maybe some kind of aerobics.

One afternoon we were both home in the midst of one of our semi-annual heat waves. Everyone had their windows open to cope. At 4:00 his drapes were drawn but the window remained wide open. And I could hear what was going on. It was big band orchestral music, he was ballroom dancing. It now made sense, the coquettish throw of the head, the elegant glide, his mastery of the various tempos, the Cyd Charisse twirls that dazzled every beau. He was the belle of his own personal ball and his dance card was always full.

Despite this rather odd personal fantasy, he did have a rugged, aging Mediterranean look to him that was appealing. So I would sometimes visit the vending machine. We might be suntanning on the roof in our speedos, or taking out the trash in our underwear. There would be a nod, a wink and, if the partner wasn’t around, a brief assignation at my place would follow. This would happen a few times a year and continued for about a decade until it died a natural death. After that we would always exchange pleasantries on the street, sometimes a 30 second catch-up or sometimes just a wave.

Still life with speedo, 1979.
Still life with speedo, 1979.

About two years ago I ran into Cyd at the corner coffee shop. He had deteriorated badly, was stooped over and had trouble getting around. With a hollow look in his eyes, leaning on a cane and in obvious pain he said that he was scheduled for major back surgery the next day. There was a finality in his tone like this could be it. I wrote down my phone number for him, which I’m sure he didn’t have even after all these years, and told him to call me if he needed any help during his recovery.

For months I heard nothing and assumed the worst. I asked some of the longer term neighbors if they knew anything, a couple of them didn’t even know who I was talking about. The anonymity of urban life. Then I ran into his partner on the street. It had been a harrowing surgery but he was recovering. He was in rehab and might be there for up to a year. When I did finally see him again, he’d lost considerable weight, was extremely mobile, and in excellent spirits. So we returned to our traditional exchanges of pleasantries, catch-ups and waves.

Yesterday I saw him at Trader Joes. Since he had been forthcoming with his dramatic news a couple years ago I thought I should share mine. Which is not easy for me to do. I told him that after 40 years we would no longer be neighbors. I was being evicted. He didn’t understand so I repeated it. Still nothing. From his confused look I realized that his ailments may be more than just physical. So I elaborated. The new landlord was using the Ellis Act to evict everyone in the building, some of the other tenants had already moved out and by next winter we would all be gone. Our building would be completely empty. He glossed over it with a blithe smile, “well, it’s always something isn’t it?”

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The Eviction Story

 

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com