Letter From Los Angeles
May, 2010
© 2010 Joel

Have a headache or a little indigestion? The ball scores or the traffic got you down? As long as you’re not Greece, the Gulf coast, Times Square a month ago, a brown faced Arizonan, an incumbent of either party, a member of the middle class or honest don’t complain!

Quotes of the Issue

“In their rhetoric, the Tea Party patriots do not sound as if they love their country very much; they have nothing but gripes. Yes, of course, these are gripes against the government, not against the country itself. But that distinction becomes hard to maintain when you have nothing good to say about the government and nothing but whines to offer the country.” Michael Kinsley, The Atlantic, June 2010

“(Jesus) is the one who said, ‘Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest, you did to me.’ That means that the priests abusing the vulnerable young were doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus.” Garry Wills, The New Republic, May 27, 2010

"If our country fought World War II the way our government is dealing with the oil spill, I can tell you we'd all be speaking German now." David Gergan, CNN

Cornelius Vanderbilt Redux

“What do I care about law? Ain’t I got the power?” Cornelius Vanderbilt

Goldman Sachs vs. the U.S., and Germany and Great Britain too. BP and Haliburton vs. Everyone Around the Gulf. Now we’re going to see who’s got the power. Can you guess?

Crediting Lena

Lena Horne was no more a credit to her race than I’m a credit to mine. She was a credit to entertainment and a credit to herself. Her “race” was not in need of any “credits” then or now.

I was strolling along Fifth Avenue on a 1961 New York winter’s day and came upon Lena Horne- mink coat, turban and husband white, glasses dark. She couldn’t be more conspicuous if she were nude, but she was as beautiful as they say. I approached the couple in front of Olivetti’s- remember?- and gushed, “Miss Horne, I love what you do.” She thanked me profusely through makeup too thick for her to smile. Lennie Hayton, her husband, tipped his hat and thanked me greatly, too.

Soon after, they separated. Lena left the man she loved because Hayton was white and could therefore never “understand.” Neither do I. In a future Growing Up Gay you’ll read another instance of women leaving their menfolk on “principle” alone.

Horne had seen a lot (as black Americans have and still too often do), but she reveled in a self-righteous anger that became her brand . Still, as far as I’m concerned she could have lived forever, a woman with a voice like hers.

School Bullying: A Reader’s Perspective

A gay teacher and faithful reader in San Francisco has this to say about school bullying. “Due to modern technology such as cells phones, My Space, Facebook etc., bullying has been taken to a whole new level. What was once a personal face to face problem that could be dealt with on-site, now the bullying has spread to cyberspace where it is more difficult for teachers and parents to get a handle on.”

A recent MSNBC series on the subject indicates that girls now engage in bullying more than boys because they hang around the schoolyard cooking up trouble while the boys play ball. I wonder if a well considered ad campaign against bullying featuring such popular figures as Oprah would be of help.

Let’s make no mistake about it. Bullying is not a victimless offense. I would have no trouble with that kind of issue being settled one-on-one. without weapons, in the schoolyard, as they were a long, long time ago. Fisticuffs, you complain? Have you never seen a bully fold?

The reader also reminds me that along with parents of gays and shlepping seniors, another group that “gets huge applause and many tears is the (gay and lesbian) teacher’s contingent.” “Even today,” he adds, “most GLBT teachers are closeted, even in San Francisco.” He also “thinks about all those priests who could have been even better role models if they could have been open about their sexuality.” Now there’s a teacher with class!

Salem’s Witches Ride Again- in Ga.

Tonya Craft, the kindergarten teacher from Georgia who was exonerated from charges of molesting little girls, is hardly out of the “eye of a frog, heart of a newt” soup. $500K in legal fees are due. Ms Craft’s own two children have yet to be returned to her custody. This exemplary teacher is quitting her profession for good.

The play The Children’s Hour surely comes to mind. One reader thinks we blame teachers for the behavior of “rotten kids.” Accountability is required in the Craft case, but don’t expect it from the kindergarten kids. Behind each child who bore false witness are parents who prompted each response.

Buffeting The Winds

I applaud the counsel and example of Warren Buffet. Stock market participation is investing only when we buy shares of well managed, financially sound organizations and we sell only when a company goes sour or we need the cash. Speculating on the market’s ups and downs or on prospects for the economy is an errand for a fool.

Arizona, There You Go!

“Those illegals sure are so lazy”, I wrote an immigrant unfriendly friend. “You see them lazing around other people’s gardens, kitchens, children, and in factories and fields. They had every opportunity to make fortunes in their native countries, but look what they get here. Lowest possible wages, being sold or scammed to get in, separation from their families and worrying about being caught up by the law. Why don’t they just learn English like all our forbearers mastered before they stepped off their ships? Because, like those who came before them, undocumented workers send their money home- they’ve earned it- and are likely return home when they can.”

Linda Greenhouse, the distinguished legal reporter, is glad she’s seen the Grand Canyon before Arizona turned into “a police state.” She recommends that Arizonans follow the example of the Danish king who wore a yellow star of David during WWII. “Let the good people of Arizona- and anyone passing through- walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.” Amen.

The consensus among liberals, pragmatic conservatives (such as John McCain when he’s not fighting the Arizona Tea Party for his political life) and Hispanic immigrants I’ve spoken with runs along these lines.

Borders must be preserved and immigration controlled. (How about bringing the National Guard back from the Middle East?)

A path to citizenship needs to be enacted for those who have worked a number of years, are crime fee and pay taxes, and have learned English and the basics of our government.

Amend the Constitution to require one or both parents be U.S. citizens for their children to be the same.

Penalize illegal employers, the linchpin to this all. Strike one you get a warning, strike two a crippling fine. Strike three you’re off to jail. Remember about money and political power, so forget about that.

Get off the cross about “amnesty” for undocumented workers being an insult to immigrants who played by the rules. Honor those who came legally and regard the others in an objective, pragmatic way.

Learn your facts. Illegal immigrants commit less crime, not more.

Actions such as Arizona’s are not necessarily motivated by racism or a cry for federal help. Political manipulation is a main cause. The media ought to guide us through these labyrinths and make the issues clear.

Beef up the Border Patrol! Their ranks are famous for humanely turning around illegal border crossers in their tracks every day. Let cops be cops. They have plenty else to do.

Make it unacceptably costly, and I’m talking life in prison, for human traffickers to ply their trade.

Right now set an example. Pay your gardener or your nanny at least the minimum wage. Can’t afford to? Pull the weeds or bring up the kids yourself.

Growing Up Gay San Francisco Gay Men’s Rap, Anita Bryant- and A Letter to the UFT

Note: Beginning this year, the state of California has declared May 22nd, the date on which Harvey was born in 1930, Harvey Milk Day.

“Look, Moppet!” I told our little pooch, “There’s the Golden Gate Bridge.” Spending the next six months in San Francisco, then regrouping in the Berkshires the following summer and giving Los Angeles a try was our relocation plan. The three and a half of us settled into a fussily furnished flat in Pacific Heights that accepted dogs. Chinatown and downtown were but a couple of hills away, and a nearby cable car stood ready for Lloyd’s mom. Our address was 1938 California Street- California Street! If they could see me now.

California, Sutter, Market, Bush and Polk replaced the familiar streets of all our lives. San Francisco’s winter was chillier than expected, but I could wear my “fake fag” jacket without scarves or gloves. Moppet loved mornings in nearby Lafayette Park, and the sound of distant foghorns thrilled. I had a feeling that the city’s Chinese residents, dressed in nondescript clothes, were a force about to bloom.

San Francisco was a gay man’s Disneyland even then. The neighbors were gay, the supermarket clerks gay- even the veterinarian was gay. When Moppet had some teeth pulled he recommended I go home and smoke some pot.

Gay publications were for the taking. A rag called Lavender U. listed course offerings for lesbians and gays. When I read that “Enjoying Anal Intercourse” was being offered by an M.D. I wondered, “What kind of doc encourages that?”

Lloyd read an ad for something called San Francisco Gay Men’s Rap. Billed as “an alternative to the bar and bathhouse scene,” Rap met Tuesdays in the basement of the downtown Congregational Church. Would this be San Francisco’s Berkshire Coalition? A demonstration of the deep tissue massage known as Rolfing was scheduled the following Tuesday, and we decided to attend.

En route I fretted that an older man might try to put the make on me, and I swore I’d walk out if one as much as tried. Imagine my chagrin when a member of Rap’s Over 40’s thought we, still in our mid- thirties, were qualified to join. Years later gay San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano quipped, “AIDS? Thank God, Doctor! I thought you said ‘Age.’”

Over a hundred men assembled in a church basement reminiscent of a scene from Guys and Dolls. Rap’s leader Don Jacobs, whom I affectionately dubbed Head Bitch, asked volunteer facilitators to describe their offerings and assigned a Sunday School room to each. The crowd dispersed to poetry, relationship, travel, board game and other groups for companionship and fun. I thought it odd that announcements urging VD testing were as casual as reminders to wash behind our ears.

Occasionally a special speaker addressed us all. Like tolerant Police Chief Gaines. Like San Francisco’s young new Supervisor Diane Feinstein, whom most of the guys despised. (I thought she dressed and made up rather well.) We’d come a long way from the Democratic national convention four years earlier when a gay rights plank was laughed down on the floor.

The group for us was Acting! Frank Asta, an acerbic older guy, led us through improvisational routines. And did my naiveté shine through. In one scene I was “cruising,” i.e. attempting to attract, another guy, As I had never cruised anyone, my effort provoked laughs. In another skit I was assigned to drive a fellow back to my place and broach the subject of having sex. “What the hell are you doing?” Frank yelled about my driving pantomime. “Driving off a cliff?” And when I offered the pickup a choice of drinks Frank snapped, “You don’t want him to pee on you. Get to the blankety blank blank point!”

I laughed at myself with everybody else, but when a young blond called “Dutchboy” refused to do a love scene with “someone who looks like him” -meaning me- ouch! Years later, a wiser Dutchboy stopped me on the street and apologized for what he had said.

Rap regulars included George, a flamboyant queen born in the 1890’s whom everybody loved. A young man named Claro (for Clara Bow) from the Puerto Rican Bronx announced he was destined to be a star. A self-proclaimed hermaphrodite- I never knew his/her name- was weird but kind of cute. Chinese Nelson had finger nails longer than his hand. Harley, whom I unkindly dubbed Harley Human, was a child of nature left over from the Haight. A campy seventeen year old redhead grew up to become the toughest political operator in the state. Blond Leif from Seattle stole my heart, brown haired Kevin later died of AIDS. Another fellow is our friend to this day.

Sharing growing up stories, I discovered the sadness behind many of our Rapmates’ lives and appreciated how lucky Lloyd and I had been. Though “we never talked about it,” my mother had come to a kind of acceptance in the end. Far from objecting to our lifestyle, Lloyd’s mother pitched in by picking up a gay couple at a San Francisco post office she thought we’d like to know. (We didn’t.)

That you could willingly get raped on the way to your San Francisco mailbox, as the expression went, was absolutely true. And now we had a neighborhood of our own. Hippies from the summer of love had moved out of the high rent Haight Ashbury district to a more affordable location over a single, albeit steep, hill. Eureka Valley had been an Irish and Italian working class neighborhood with a commercial street named Castro for a mayor long ago. The hippies set a tolerant tone that paved the way for gays. Those who have seen the movie Milk know the neighborhood was rechristened The Castro, and that Harvey Milk became known as The Mayor of Castro Street later on.

In April the Head Bitch called a meeting of the whole. Former beauty queen Anita Bryant was leading an effort to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida on the grounds that gays were endangering children, and we simply had to act. But how could we help from 3,000 miles away? Retaliation never being far from my heart or mind, we set our sights on the Florida Citrus industry’s spokesperson, Anita Bryant herself. I still have copies of my correspondence with Tropicana and Minute Maid. One proposed activity involved puncturing orange juice containers in local supermarkets until Bryant lost her job, but how could fussy queens make such a mess?

The May afternoon we took title to our first West Coast property, a rental house in Stockton, Ca. where Amtrac buddy Mickey lived, we learned that our East 69th Street neighbor Joan Crawford had just died. No Stonewall ensued now. And the broker who showed us the house in Stockton was giving me ideas. If she could dress divinely and drive around showing properties in a Cadillac Seville, perhaps Lloyd and I could do the same.

In May we returned to Massachusetts, and I sat down and wrote. The United Federation of Teachers newspaper published my words.

To The Editor:

“I am a gay, eleven year veteran former New York City teacher who resigned last June to pursue another career. Anita Bryant and her National Committee To Save Our Children claim their recent Miami victory abolishing protections against job and housing discrimination for gays was ‘proof that the country sees homosexuals as child molesters and religious heretics.’

Many of you, I am sure, know of teachers and administrators who are (perhaps covertly) gay and who happen to be first rate educators and human beings. You also know that the idea of their molesting the children is unimaginable.

Now is the time for New York City’s teachers to raise their voices and do a different kind of educating by telling Ms. Bryant and the public that far from constituting a threat to children, the gay teacher is as valuable and upstanding a member of the school system as his or her colleague who is ‘straight.’

We all know that when one man has lost his freedom, none of us is free. Ms. Bryant has also campaigned vigorously against open housing and the ERA. It is a very short and familiar step, indeed, before the next ‘unfit’ group is singled out.”

Son of a gun could write! So could my old unit coordinator at school, Lillian Stern, “Dear Joel,” she began, “I saw your letter in the United Teacher and I admire and respect your courage in having done so. And I also agree completely with the fight for gay rights as a human right.” Courage would have been before I had resigned.

Because I signed my full name and location I received an amusing phone call from a gay teacher in upstate New York. He wanted to go out with me and was undeterred by my partnership with Lloyd. I had to end the call.

At P.S. 87 principal Arthur Block posted my letter on the faculty bulletin board. When the Blocks visited us in San Francisco a decade later I asked Arthur, “Did you always know I was gay, and was it ever a problem for you?” He shot back “Yes and No!”

Aunt Thea, an assistant principal, had read my letter, too. “Uncle Stanley and I want you to know that you and Lloyd are always welcome at our house,” she took the time to write. Aunt Thea and Uncle Stanley. Conservative Republicans both.

Next: L.A. Flunks A Screen Test and San Francisco Gets The Part! Harvey Milk- and Enter John.

Joel: Letters