My second novel with the working title They Didn’t Come For Me follows the characters in my first novel Our Time, San Francisco in the 70s through the AIDS years and beyond. It will be published next year. This is an excerpt from one of the early chapters.
San Francisco, 1981
A hot muggy day in the middle of July is as freakish as snow for San Francisco, and the humidity is as claustrophobic as the wool coat in Wisconsin that kept my ass from freezing. To make things worse, an embossed envelop just slipped through the brass mail slot. I don’t like being hounded by unsolicited mail from strangers, and why the fuck would a downtown lawyer know me? I know it’s a little hippie to say, but isn’t life supposed, to get easier as one gets older? When do I get to smell the roses? I would like to be left alone so I can enjoy life with Michael. We are madly in love, and is that asking too much? He makes the finest meals that introduce me to tasty nutritious food Mother never made and opens me to seeing food as an intrinsic part of our lives. Michael is exactly who he is; there’s not the slightest hint of affection popular with gay men afraid to act normal, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m smart and moderately good looking; he’s very good looking and as natural as a mountain stream. I love that he’s warm and easy; and he loves that I’m destined to right wrongs.
Making friends as a kid was hard because I didn’t fit in, and it wasn’t just because I’m intelligent; it’s because I saw the world outside Big Bull Falls as exciting and seductive, while they expected to live the rest of their lives there. I was uncomfortable around them, and it wasn’t because I had only one parent; half the town was Polish Catholic and the other half German and Scandinavian Lutherans, while I like my father was Unitarian, and mother was a devout Roman Catholic, and she never forgave me my apostasy. In the other kids’ Sunday school they studied the Bible while in mine we studied the solar system one year and attended other churches to see how other people worshiped another year, and I grew to appreciate how those religions appealed to those people. That understanding didn’t keep my short-lived girlfriend, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, from tearfully asserting I would never make it to her Heaven where Lutherans got better food in the celestial mess hall and better accommodations on higher floors in the heavenly hotel than the Catholics did while the rest of us were homeless on the street.
When I got to San Francisco in 1971 the Castro was teeming with newly arrived 20- odd year-olds raging with pent-up testosterone It was the one place in America where gay men could be physical without shame or guilt, and I found the most expedient way to make friends was sex, and Michael understands that is part of who I am, and by honoring it I can be 100% me with him. He is the most loving man in the world, and I never knew I could be this happy. What I have with him is the loving relationship one sees in movies where every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly with no riffs between pieces. How many gay men can celebrate their birthday in a suite at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel? That was Michel’s birthday present our first year together. Our Edwardian flat reminds me of the mansions on Lake Drive in Milwaukee that I drove past with Father at the wheel, the year before he died, where I was sure a handsome man who would take care of me lived because at that tender age I was afraid to say I wanted a male lover. Michael’s dream chef’s kitchen is complete with a commercial range he scavenged from a bankrupt business, and three times a day he makes his magic there. He must start thinking of what he’s going to serve for dinner the night before because each meal at dinner is more elaborate and delicious than the last. For someone who grew up on frozen Lima beans and fish sticks, it’s like falling through the looking glass of food.I gave up second guessing what he’s going to serve because I was invariably wrong, and now I can’t wait to see what he’s come up with. The shower room has two shower heads for warm wet lovemaking. At my insistence it also has a douche hose, and when breeders ask about the hose, I say we use it to shampoo the dog we don’t have. The toilet is separate and just big enough for a toilet and a roll of toilet paper held by two ceramic fists, typical of San Francisco apartments of that era. If anything older than 100 years is an antique, we each have our own antique chest of drawers found at different second hand furniture stores that abound in the Castro with one just mazes of armoires. Our life centers in the bedroom with a mahogany sleigh bed and two wing back chairs covered in faded green mohair that are used for tossed clothes left there for days. Our bed is where we watch TV, eat countless bowls of buttered popcorn and countless pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, his favorite is Cherry Garcia, mine’s Heath Bar Crunch. What we do to each other there is so mischievously lascivious it makes the Falcon Studio porno actors with the huge honkers blush with embarrassment. Who the fuck needs special lighting when we are ferociously into each other emotionally and physically? The flat’s inlaid hardwood floors gleam when one of us gets around to polishing them; the round bay windows give me a view of our street and the corner of Alamo Square with its row of matching Victorian homes. The square is popular with tourists and I especially like the Germans with their short leather shorts, sweet butts, timber-like legs, and trimmed blond facial hair.
Mother’s death left me a wealthy man, and it continues to shock me that when I go to bed I will have money to spend the next day and the day after that. I used to get by on what I made at the travel agency with enough left over to buy a few books. Back then I dreamed of a time when I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent on time, but now I own the building, I’m not pure; when the estate was settled I bought an Audi.
Since my collection of gay and lesbian literature opened I’ve been getting invitations from groups that want to honor me that I refuse because they deserve it more than me, and I put off opening the embossed envelope thinking it was someone wanting me to part with some of my cash. Why else would a big-ass attorney want to meet me? God forbid, someone is suing me. For too much sex? For having the perfect partner?
My only contact with straight power was the mayor who spoke at the opening of the collection, and it’s his job to make nice to his constituents, so what he said to us he could just as easily have said to the Latinos in the Mission or the African-Americans in Hunters Point. It’s progress that an elected official addressed a queer group but just a token step.
As I leave Church Street Muni station I piece together what I know about the attorney that might explain why I’d been told to come to his office. The embossed envelop contained a sheet of high quality ivory paper with the lawyer firm’s letterhead in midnight black Helvetica. The wording was simple. “Would you please come to my office at ten on Friday?” I recognize the firm’s name from the lists of supporters of state and city propositions in voter handbooks, and much as I hate politics I am a good citizen and read each of the tedious propositions that can go one for several pages and vote in every election. I looked up the firm at the library, and it’s one of the largest in San Francisco, and that makes it even stranger because I am just one thread in San Francisco’s magnificent flowing tapestry. I have his name: Richard M. Roosevelt, Jr. and when I look for him in Who’s Who I find only Richard M. Roosevelt, his father who owns mega-drugstores in Oregon and a string of laundromats on the big island of Hawaii. I do find his residence is West Portal a neighborhood of large homes on the west side of Twin Peaks, and I’m looking for a larger home, but I won’t live there because Eddie says it’s also the home of heiresses and women who’d divorced well who grab salacious rumors faster than a rat on cheese and spread them around until they’ve had the desired effect on some poor soul. I had enough of that petty shit in Wisconsin, and it baffles me why Eddie maintains friendships with those women. Living almost exclusively amidst gay men makes every day worth living. Why settle for anything less? I’m certain Richard is of northern European ancestry.
I turn to Eddie because of his affinity with weird people. He doesn’t want their company, but he nurtures them as fodder for the urban legends that he writes about in his weekly column in the alternative paper The Fog. He loves the sound of his voice, and since his performance at the opening of the collection speaking about his generation’s problems, Eddie’s been asked to MC gay events because he’s also fused his gift for gab with an insatiable fascination with the juiciest details of people’s lives, especially those that involve infidelity. I don’t expect the attorney to be weird, but the invitation was weird; it came out of the blue and the kind I can’t refuse because of the embossed envelop and high quality paper. Eddie’s never met the man, and when he checked with his friend Sylvia de Luna who curates the Chronicle’s archives, she found Richard graduated from Harvard with pre-law classes. She found no mention of his marital status, but even if Richard is gay I don’t want to have sex with him because why would I play with a man who gets off on embossed envelopes when there are so many grounded men to play with?
By the time I get to the base of the building, one of the newest in the shape of a pyramid, I say to myself, you’re wasting your time; the only thing a big-ass attorney wants is a hefty contribution to his cause de jour. I shoot up in the sleek elevator to the 7th Floor faster than I climb the 39 stairs to my flat. Open the thick glass door with the etching of a family crest but I don’t see the banks of partner’s offices that I expect, and there is not a single wall of highly polished tropical wood typical of law offices. The one wood wall is birch, and it occupies space rather than defines space. The partners’ offices are assemblages of furniture randomly strewn across the entire floor of the building. I find his assistant when I hear a phone ringing. I turn to the sound and see a mound of white and when the mound turns it’s a woman with long white hair whose ample frame is covered in a peach white gown. She says in clipped speech I associate with beauty pageant queens, “I’m Susan Scarpula Mr. Roosevelt’s assistant. Could you please follow me.” She waits until I nod, and then she leads me down a passageway that resembles the Sunday market in a Third World country. She stops me at what I call the corner of Phallus and Park because I’m standing next to an antique iron street lamp in the shape of a penis and across from an indoor garden of big-faced pansies.
Mr. Roosevelt’s office consists of Ms. Meadow’s hard corner 50’s blond desk and chair, and ten feet away sits Mr. Roosevelt’s many generations old mahogany partner’s desk. His oxblood leather chair is big enough for me to curl up in. Across from them is an armchair covered with dull red mohair. Most of Mr. Roosevelt’s law partners define their area with plants but Richard’s is exposed.