“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Legacy

[Note:  if you read yesterday's post before I managed to add the video at the end, please scroll down and watch it.  My heart is too full to say more.]

When I “came out” -- how odd that the term for identifying myself as homosexual should make me sound like a former debutante -- or not -- one of the great things that happened was being initiated into the lore of the tribe.  In those days (yes, children, it was “When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth”), older gay men were eager to pass on to us young’uns the oral history, the Mysteries, as it were, of our sect.

I have no idea whether this oral tradition still exists.  I suspect that it died out rather quickly with the advent of bourgeois faggotry, by which I mean the glossy magazines, television shows, and -- that indispensable sign of a group having been co-opted by the money culture -- advertisements targeted at them as a niche market, portraying them as youthful-at-any-age, pretty, and stylish consumers.  If so, I am particularly grateful for the privilege of having been heir to a long-ago kingdom of fairies.

So at the risk of apostasy, let me share a few tid-bits of what was poured into my young ears by The Ancients when I came of age:  Milton Berle had the biggest dick in Hollywood.  Rock Hudson -- also horse-hung -- loved taking it up the ass.  One must learn and be able to recite “The Women”, “Stagedoor”, and Ruth Draper’s “The Italian Lesson” or risk having your "Gay Card" taken away.  Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were lovers.  Guys who wear leather and ride motorcycles spend most of their time exchanging recipes. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were lovers.

[OK, listen to "The Only Living Boy in New York" and remember that these guys called themselves "Tom and Jerry" on their first record.  If that's not a break-up song, I'm Ethel Merman.]

Much of this oral tradition (why do I feel like I am punning all the time?) consisted of a roster of famous men who had huge penises.  In addition to the aforementioned, one heard of the prodigious endowments of Yule Brenner, Frank Sinatra, et al.  More importantly -- and, yes, one also learned that “important” is French for “big” -- one heard wonderful anecdotes and thereby inherited a sense of the wit that made our kind so eagerly pursued by the best hostesses in society.

For example, Noel Coward, whose ability to turn an awkward moment into a bon mot made him the source of more of these stories than I can remember, was once being followed about a cocktail party by a good-looking young man.  The youth said nothing but trailed close behind Coward and edged as close as possible to him whenever Coward stood still.  Eventually irritated beyond any ability of maintain his usual polite composure, Coward turned to face the young man and declared, “Young man!  Sharing a sexual vice does NOT amount to a social introduction!”

But, of course, it did.  I have known -- and known well -- a Trotskyite steel worker, who along with his brutal physical labor (God, did that man have a body!) worked relentlessly to convert his fellow laborers to the gospel of the Socialist Workers Party, and I have known the Ambassador to Luxembourg.  I have dined with Virgil Thompson, Madeline (“Jackie”) Horne, James Merrill, Phillipa Foote, Edmund White, Stephen Spinella, Felice Picano, Coretta Scott King, and Paul Rudnick.  I have known people from all strata of our society.  Furthermore, I have been able to move back and forth, up and down, among the classes, something that is extremely rare, for the structure of class has, like time, an arrow:  once you set foot on that ladder moving either up or down, you seldom get a chance to change direction.

I do not think that any of the straight guys I grew up with could have had the range of acquaintances that I have had.  A few of them, I know, have risen to higher and higher planes and moved in ever-more-glamorous, powerful, and wealthy circles.  A few have also foundered, one in particular about whom the last thing I heard was that he had been spotted dumpster-diving in Berkeley -- and that was 40 years ago.  But I believe that not one of those normal people has moved with ease in the company both of the mighty and of the downtrodden, and moved with ease among every class of person between those extremes, as I have.

And that has been a privilege of the greatest order.

Plus Ca Change

Things look different to me now. I got up early and walked to Peet’s for coffee this morning. It is not yet the first of the month, so I could only afford a half pound.

On the way, I walked by some large pieces of cardboard, probably the remains of an appliance box, and a cheap comforter, chocolate brown and heavily soiled. The cardboard and comforter lay just off the curb, in what would be the curb lane or parking spaces at different hours of the day. What I saw was someone’s house, and I wondered what disturbance would have driven them from their sleep in such a hurry as to have left the house behind.

My first thought was of the police.


On many of the blocks I walk frequently in this neighborhood, one finds brass plaques, historical markers, each describing in some detail a jazz club or recording studio or restaurant that once thrived at that spot. The plaques are embedded in the sidewalk in front of burned-out buildings, abandoned buildings, parking lots, and empty lots. I had not realized before how exactly the historical markers resemble headstones in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, where my parents, their parents, their siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles all the way back to my great-great grandmother are buried.


I learned today that the definition of “homeless” is changing. Used to be that if you were in an alcohol/drug rehab program for a few months but had no home to which you could return after graduation, you were homeless. Similarly, if you were in jail but had no home to which you could return after your release, you were homeless. You might even be homeless if you were staying in a hotel room while looking for a home to which you could move or if you were staying with friends while looking for -- etc.

Now these “marginally housed” situations no longer qualify as homelessness for purposes of being granted subsidized housing. Now you are homeless only if you are wandering around on the streets all night or sleeping in parks or under bridges and freeway overpasses. The reason for this bit of vocabularial legerdemain is “Restrictions in Funding”.

For those who prefer plain English, I translate: The Ronald Reagan/Grover Norquist strategy of dismantling government by bankrupting it has worked. The society no longer has an institutional response to the problems of poverty. If you cannot shell out -- or finance -- 3/4s of a million dollars or more (in San Francisco), you must rely on your friends or live in public, i.e., the wild. From now on, the poor must live as the Ohlone did before the Europeans descended upon them like a plague of locusts.