I was there . . .
by Michelle Tea, 2004
Originally published in The Political Edge
I was talking to Heidi today at El Rio. We were out on the back patio leaning against the giant Carmen Miranda, wedged in between a dozen youngish, queerish people clutching their skinny cocktail glasses and cigarettes. I saw Matt Gonzalez yesterday, she told me. He was walking down the street and it seemed like he was talking to himself. I hope he’s okay. Heidi’s face was squished with concern. I’m Sure He Just Had One of Those Cell Phone Earpieces Going, I assured her. They Make Everyone Seem Crazy. Heidi nodded and we both sat quietly in the unquiet throng of revelers. What was the occasion? It was a giant outdoor party in honor, like most San Francisco events, of us: that we are queer or otherwise inexcusably weird, misfit toys cast out of our homes and hometowns and gathered together here by events random and deliberate to be among each other, to make art and set up homes, to find and fuck and befriend each other, to howl, occasionally, in unison, at how bad things are, how terribly and deeply unright the world is, the whole world, even our own city. Especially our own city, which had seduced us to it with promises of a freaky fairyland and did a bait-and-switch on our ass upon our arrival: freaky fairyland, yes, but you will pay to live here, pay way too much in rent, get paid way too little in your crap-ass jobs slinging coffee or dancing naked or some godforsaken do-gooder social service gig that pays you pennies to take care of people with schizophrenia and addictions and no place to live. You will be surrounded by like-minded people, sweet relief, but you will be governed by a series of dimwitted, mean-spirited assholes.
When I got to town Mayor Frank Jordan was sicking the cops, his people, onto kids ladling out soup to hungry folk at Civic Center. A girl I was crashing with got arrested for chucking a stale bagel at a cop’s head. Food Not Bombs indeed. It seemed like a real Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead moment when we got Willie Brown elected. Surely a man who dressed so good, had such a flair for style, was African-American, was not an old fuddy white guy who used to be cop of all things, surely Willie Brown would save us. We thought that big party he threw to celebrate his inauguration was a party for us, that we’d all won when he won, that he was welcoming us back into the city. As it turned out, he just liked to blow money. A gold-encrusted City Hall? What better symbol of a government by and for the upper classes? Soon the city was falling apart and in case you weren’t sure exactly how the mayor felt about your poverty, your upwardly mobile rents, and your dwindling quality of working-class life, he went and told Ivy from the ’zine Turd Filled Donut that if you couldn’t afford to live here maybe you should move. Ivy printed the interview, the Guardian excerpted the incredible quote, and it was official: Willie Brown is all the asshole you suspect him to be, and more.
I was on tour for Tom Ammiano’s write-in campaign against Willie Brown in 1999. I came home to Queer Nation–style stickers proclaiming “I’m A Tom Boy!” stuck all over the city, and heard stories about my most unlikely friends. Strung-out, cynical queers, who wear their alienation like band t-shirts, were campaigning door-to-door for the supervisor. I was in Las Vegas when he lost, saw it projected on a mute television above the bar at the Peppermill Lounge—Ammiano graceful and a little sad, Brown grinning in a shower of confetti or something—it was clear what had happened. I cried a little cry into the thick fluff of my Piña Colada and went on with life.
Tom Ammiano during write-in campaign, 1999.
Photo: Bill Wilson
This time around, fall 2003, I was prepared to get out on the streets and campaign for Tom Ammiano, but the only thing I wound up doing was reading some stories at a benefit show. Man, I love Tom Ammiano. I love how gay he is. I love his hairdo, that little silver pompadour. Once I was at a Board of Supervisors meeting, testifying about the amount of toxic lead paint in crumbling Tenderloin apartments. Folks were throwing around the words table and chair and Mr. Ammiano, perhaps a bit tired with the dull back-and-forth of it, quipped, Table and chair, chair and table, in this very understated but over-it queeny humor and I instantly loved him for livening up the moment, even if hardly anybody else caught it. Once I saw him in the produce aisle at The Good Life up on Cortland and he told me he liked my boots. I was too shy to tell him that I liked his pompadour, but I felt shiny all day from his compliment. God, Imagine If He Was Our Mayor! I would exclaim dreamily to my friends. The gayest mayor ever, a mayor who appreciated platform leopard-print boots. Of course, this sort of shallow read of a politician’s position on things via his interest in fashion has severely backfired before—Willie Brown in his goddamn suits, the frigging fedoras everyone liked to moan over—but it was just one more thing that was good about Tom Ammiano, whom I adored, whom I wanted as my gay dad and if not that, my mayor.
Photo: courtesy Tom Ammiano
Who’s this Matt Gonzalez? I squinted a hostile, cowboy squint in the direction of the poster tacked to the wall at La Bohême. A really cute poster, silkscreened in good colors, a quirky green, some orange, on chunky paper. Our Ideas Are Better, the wonked, inky letters bragged across the page. And there was Matt Gonzalez, disheveled, unassuming, sort of cute. Oh right, he’s the head of the Board of Supervisors. Wow, I didn’t realize he was, you know, cool or whatever. I got pissed at myself for falling into the simple aesthetics of the campaign poster. God, am I so easily manipulated by propaganda or what! So it looks like one of my friends made it, so the dude looks like someone I’d go thrifting with, so what? Why was he encroaching upon Tom Ammiano’s turf? It was clearly time for Tom to rule San Francisco, and now some hipster campaign was bucking up out of the muck to steal his votes.
I got an e-mail from my best friend asking me to read at a Matt Gonzalez benefit at the Makeout Room. Um, I’m Already Doing Benefits for Tom Ammiano, I typed in this tone that implied, And Why Aren’t You?! My boyfriend did a benefit for Tom that week and reported, sadly, that there weren’t exactly a ton of people there. Maybe it wasn’t well publicized? Maybe there were just a lot of other Tom benefits going on that same night? Maybe Tom is just too fucking gay? That’s what I surmised from a friend who was campaigning in the Castro, where votes for Tom should have been Duh, laid out on the counters of all the local businesses like the giant bins of free condoms. But, incredibly, a lot of gay people weren’t voting for Tom because . . . he’s too gay! Gay people didn’t like his, um, voice. His wicked gay, fierce, and lispy voice. The wonderful queer intonations I had yearned to hear delivering impassioned and triumphant speeches. This same voice struck fear in the hearts of the self-loathing queens who had beat the lisp out of their speech, who had cultivated a bland machismo and dudish lifestyle that washed over their anxiety of things queer—nelly faggots, swaggering dagger females, and everyone else who upset the progress of assimilation like a bull in the Pottery Barn.
Okay, so I went to the little church around the corner and in the roomy basement I cast my vote and as tends to happen, my vote lost. I decided to abandon my simmering resentment of Matt Gonzalez, who had stolen Tom’s votes. I was, after all, someone who had been viciously screamed at in late night barrooms by drunken imbeciles who insisted my support of Ralph Nader is why we are all now suffering the rule of George W. I understand the infuriating and futile arguments and did not want to lob them at my Gonzalez-voting comrades. Especially because now it was only Gonzalez who could save us from the greasy, evil specter of Gavin Newsom.
Gavin Newsom. A name born to be shunted out from the mouth in a tone I’d recently heard described as “WASP-y lockjaw.” You know the accent. Think James Spader in any movie he did during the 1980s. Gavin with the famously bad hairdo, rising like an Exxon oil-slick tsunami above his bony brow. Now, Michelle, that’s not nice, my own mother scolded me during her first-ever visit to San Francisco, smack in the middle of the campaign. We were cruising through the Castro on a tour of the city. This Is Where All The Gay People Are, I generalized grandly. Then I looked up and saw a larger-than-life billboard of Gavin Newsom, rising up off the roof of some gay business. Eww, That’s Him! I shrieked and pointed, so my mother could understand exactly who it was I’d been railing against, maniacally, all week. God, Look At His Hair, Look At That! Now, Michelle, that’s not nice, she chastised. She had, after all, lived through my teenage years, a time when I was having everything from insults to chunks of brick hurled at me because of my own fucked-up hairdo. She must have thought that such a traumatic experience should have given me sympathy for others with laughable hair, but no. Instead, it taught me a powerful tool to humiliate your enemy—make fun of their hair. And I wasn’t alone with this knowledge—nobody could deal with Gavin’s hair. As the race progressed, even the Chronicle, which had gathered a cast of supposed fashion experts to critique the candidates, talked some shit about Gavin’s ’do. They poo-pooed Matt’s look too—his cowlicky coif, baggy suits, and Doc Martens, but you’d expect them to do that. Glancing at the ridiculous article while waiting in line for my morning coffee, I felt glad that even the conservatively groomed in the city took issue with Gavin’s bulging hair-helmet.
I started doing Gonzalez benefits slowly, just one at first, a comedy one above a bikrim yoga studio in the Mission. I frantically begged my way onto the bill, eager to reverse my early snub of the candidate. The thought of Mayor Newsom, famous hater of the poor and the homeless, denizen of the Marina, terrified me. What did I know about the Marina? I went to couples’ counseling there, once. I bought makeup at the BeneFit store, once. And I’d seen people from the Marina on drunken slumming binges in the Mission, requesting directions to SkyLark on a breath of burped Slanted Door cuisine. Did I want one of those yahoos running my town? Even my boyfriend’s aunt, a stunningly conservative woman who once uttered the words, “I hate the homeless! I spit on the homeless!”—even she didn’t want Gavin for mayor, concerned that his housing policies would put her rent-controlled apartment in jeopardy. I felt deeply buoyed by Aunt Doris’ disdain for Gavin Newsom. If she saw through his slick and moneyed facade, then others of her ilk would, too, and that’s who Gonzalez needed to convince. Not the Mission artists swooning over his cute posters, but the cranky Aunt Doris’s of the city.
Twelve-step programs brought me closer to Matt Gonzalez. Outside an Al-Anon meeting I bumped into a guy I hadn’t seen forever, one of a gang of folks speedily scheduling fund-raising benefits. I’ll Do Anything, I volunteered. Not Just Read, I’ll Do The Door, Whatever You Need, Call Me. I scribbled my number into his notebook with a pencil. Later I was waiting to be let into an AA meeting and bam, there was Matt Gonzalez, strolling down the street, on his way to a meet-and-greet at a bar down the road. I’d been talking and thinking about this man so much I’d forgotten he was actually a real person. He’d become a sort of concept, like peace or love or justice. Gonzalez. He stood for good stuff for the city—living wage, free Muni. A Green Party member, not a weasely Democrat or absurd Republican. A third-party candidate—the genderqueer of the political system. There he was, in his rumply suit, a tall man, a big guy, super cute. I got all giddy and excited, seeing him there. Like when I met Billy Idol as a teenager, or the poet Eileen Myles as an adult. I became deliriously nervous and obnoxiously full of stares. One of my fellow alcoholics managed to trot over and shake the candidate’s hand, offer some praise and the promise of a vote. I was in awe of my friend’s composure in the face of such fame and greatness, but he has a lot more time sober than I do.
I got my first Matt Gonzalez placard from a table outside the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. Both candidates had faced off earlier, and had left behind tables full of paraphernalia and some volunteers. I took a bright yellow cardboard sign and walked it home. Across the street a little kid, maybe eight years old, held her own cumbersome sign, and screamed, Gavin Newsom stinks! Gavin Newsom stinks! She was yelling it at the Newsom workers climbing into the SUV parked in front of her. The little girl hollered and shook her giant sign. I sighed with deep happiness. Older conservative women, bratty little children, everyone united in their loathing of Gavin Newsom. Carrying my sign home, there was no way to not feel like I was in a parade of sorts, a march of one. My sign waved and flapped, I submitted to its unwieldy proclamation, I pranced it up the hills to my house. And something was changed. I was no longer simply trying to defeat Gavin Newsom, engaged in the familiar stance of Against. No, this fresh new purpose I felt was not a weary posture of defensiveness. I was actually for something—I was in favor of Matt Gonzalez, thought him deeply deserving of mayoral office, felt invested in his campaign, wanted badly for him to win, thought hopefully that it might actually happen, and perhaps had a crush on him as well.
At a benefit in the Mission I sold t-shirts. They were so cute. Some were simple white Ts with Matt’s trustworthy face silkscreened in pixelated green, others were balls-out rocker shirts, with three-quarter-length sleeves and a cool logo on the front, “tour dates”—benefit shows—listed on the back. I coveted them, planned to splurge on one eventually. I pressured my sister from Los Angeles to help out the campaign during her visit, something she was happy to do, having spent the recent season of war feeling frustrated in apolitical L.A. Our campaign supervisor was a wiry and energetic man named Tom. Tom had the sort of boundless vitality possessed by Jack LaLanne; I wondered if he was fasting and was maybe super-high on low blood sugar. Tom helped us fold and organize the shirts, heaping praise onto Kathleen for her shirt-folding abilities. I love to fold, she modestly admitted. We were joined by my old friend Chris, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, Gonzalez pins dangling from his jacket. Some others folks loitered around the table where we sold stuff all night. Eventually Matt himself walked in and everyone got a little ga-ga. I was embarrassed to see that the special feelings I’d been feeling for our candidate weren’t so special. It looked like maybe everyone had a bit of a crush on Matt. The girl who’d organized the benefit, looped on booze and pills and bursting out of a creatively-scissored evening gown, swooned into his arms. My sister stared. I watched the crush form in her eyes. He’s so cute, she said. And then, right as she said it, Matt, feet away, turned and caught her eye, held it a minute, and turned back to his people. Oh My God! I gasped. He really looked at me, Kathleen seemed lightheaded from the bolt of charisma. We Have Crushes On Matt, I explained to Tom, who was standing nearby. Well, if anyone has a chance with him it’d be you girls, he flattered. Me and Kathleen sank into a fantasy that involved Kathleen finally moving to San Francisco, dating Matt Gonzalez, and becoming the first lady of San Francisco.
Matt clambered onto the stage and delivered a speech in which he called Gavin Newsom a “fucking liar.” It’s always thrilling to hear someone unexpectedly use the word fuck, and it’s extra great when it’s a politician you’re having an unlikely crush on. Everyone went wild when he said that. And it was true, Gavin was a fucking liar. A phony “Green Party” protest of Al Gore’s San Francisco visit had been sent out on the Internet, encouraging protesters to “wear green” and perhaps “dress like trees.” It had been traced back to Newsom’s campaign. Then there was Willie Brown’s bombastic accusations of Gonzalez’s racism, hurled on Newsom’s behalf. Later, Matt came over to the table to autograph some stunningly beautiful silk-screened campaign posters. He took a second to thank me and Kathleen, and shake our star-struck hands. Then he turned to the guy waiting at his side, my boyfriend’s cousin, visiting from Colorado and wanting an autograph on the t-shirt he just bought. Man, I never heard a politician ever call someone a fucking liar! he gushed. He was starstruck, too. We packed up the table, and I waited for my boyfriend. Rocco had just performed and he was stuck in a clutch of people I’d never seen before buying his $5 CDs. Already the Gonzalez campaign had cross-pollinated the San Francisco arts scene, pulling people out to shows they wouldn’t normally go to. Walking home that night, heading up Mission, the city felt wider, the night larger. Our Gonzalez pins clattered on our jackets.
Tom kept calling my voice mail to get me to come fold and sell shirts at the nightly benefits. I got other calls too; I read tarot cards at a candlelit table during a fund-raiser thrown by local filmmakers. I MC’d a giant rock show at the Great American Music Hall, noteworthy for how flagrantly I botched the performers’ names and introductions. I wasn’t too familiar with any of the bands and they all sort of looked alike in their white-dude, ski-hatted rocker way. I mispronounced Mark Eitzel’s name repeatedly, and then actually mistook him for the singer from Cake, whose name I never learned, and called him, on the mike, “Mr. Cake.” As in, Hey folks, it’s Mr. Cake, weren’t they great?! Thank God I’d tricked-out my Gonzalez T-shirt, studded it with rhinestones and customized it with scissors and safety pins. I hoped that my dazzling shirt would distract the audience from my shoddy MCing. Jonathan Richman, whom I’ve adored since discovering The Modern Lovers when I too lived in Boston, spoke eloquently between songs about what a beautiful person Matt Gonzalez is. It was super touching. After his set, the two men, Richman and Gonzalez, did ceremonious shots of liquor in the corner. God, on top of all else, Matt Gonzalez is friends with Jonathan Richman? Would it even be legal to have such a cool mayor?
I dashed back and forth between Rocco, sitting now with his new friends, Lara and Melinda, a couple of girls who bought his CDs the other night, and the blinding stage. Lara had a sticker on her purse that read “Why does my girlfriend think Matt Gonzalez is so fucking hot?” Everyone really did have a crush on him. I tried to shake my own, uncomfortable with being part of a mass attraction, but it stayed lodged in me. He had those real sensitive doe-eyes and that great voice, soft but with some sort of hard twang right underneath. Not even his speech that night—a terribly long-winded thing about the Whig Party that lost me after the first twenty minutes—not even that lapse into arcane egomania, shut my crush down. God, what was that speech? Rocco marveled later on, and I’d shake my head like a proud mom and concede that yes, it was boring and yes, it went on for too long, but how cute that he’s so passionate about the Whigs! Rocco looked at me like I was insane, but I could tell that he had the stirrings of his own Gonzalez campaign crush—on Lara—so we let each other be. The hectic campaign atmosphere, full of hope and passion and played out nightly in the city’s bars and clubs, was conducive, I believed, to romance. I wondered how many actual single people were falling in love with their fellow volunteers or at least getting laid.
At the very end of the show, so late, midnight now, the crowd down to those who bought raffle tickets and were waiting to see if they’d won any of the creative prizes—a ride to the airport, piano lessons from pianist Marc Cappelle, a beer with Matt. I was pulling the winning ticket for relationship advice from Mark Eitzel, making goofy cracks about it hopefully going to someone in a lousy relationship, and watched as the curly-haired female winner walked reluctantly up to the stage. You Look Like You Need A Lot Of Help! I quipped cheerfully, and the lady froze and stared at me as if I had just called her, I don’t know, a fucked up crazy-ass bitch. That’s not nice, she snapped at me, and Mark Eitzel, to my right, consoled her, You’re right, it’s not. I had only just called him Mr. Cake, I guess I couldn’t expect any solidarity from him. I explained into the mike that, hey, don’t we all need a little help? I know I do!
At Trader Joe’s I apprehended a Gonzalez volunteer and got a handful of little newsletters to distribute through my neighborhood. When I got home I saw that someone had already scattered them across everyone’s doorstep—modest newsprint things, wholly different than the glossy card stock Newsom mailers that came nonconsensually through my mail slot each afternoon. One featured a glossy portrait of an upset-looking Latina schoolchild, matched up with some text about how Gonzalez was failing the children; another was a full-color photo of a bunch of people with slapstick expressions trying to squeeze into a phone booth, representing Gonzalez’s supposed wish to force families to sleep eighteen to a tenement apartment. On the one hand, the flyers were blatantly manipulative, their claims obviously suspicious; on the other, people were jackasses who believe what they’re told. Newsom’s flyers shone with the slickness of television, that familiar box of truth. I kicked them out of my hallway and into the street.
Another day I wound through the Mission, the state streets up around 24th—Florida, Alabama. Voted already! a little man shooed me away from his gate. Gonzalez! A lot of people had already cast their vote, and in this neighborhood it seemed unanimous—Gonzalez. The yellow signs were propped in many windows, and the house that occasionally sported a Newsom sign seemed laughable, reactionary, like that crazy Republican notary in Noe Valley who uses his storefront to rail against “loony liberals.” I could hardly take the Newsom signs in the Mission seriously, felt sad for the angry people that would hang such signs, worried about their houses getting defaced. Hey nice pink shoes, a man sitting in his truck drinking a tall boy in a brown paper bag yelled out the window to me. My shoes were tiny fuscia thrifted things with a low and worn-down heel, not the most comfortable shoes to canvas in but hey, I was representing Gonzalez and wanted to look my best. I walked over to the truck, campaign paraphernalia in my hand. You Guys Going To Vote For Gonzalez? I chirped. There were three of them wedged in the cab, all drinking afternoon beers, at least one of them already tanked. Never, ever would I actually engage with a boozing dude who starts a conversation with me by using the word nice, but this was a new era of being in San Francisco, a new feeling of community that rolled out of me like some new emotion, an extravagant benevolence that allowed me to feel compassion for the foolishness of Newsom supporters and to interface with drunk dudes harassing my shoes on the street. Yeah, he’s Green. I like Green Party, I voted Green for him already, one of the men slurred. What’s he all about, challenged the original shoe-commenter. What’s he gonna do for me? Ah . . . I fumbled. My mind blanked out in the face of the vastness of Gonzalez’s plans. I mean, I got the big picture, right, but the details, the little bits, my mind sort of short-circuited. I’m disabled, the guy continued. What’s he gonna do for disabled people? He’s Going To Help All Working People, All Poor People, All People Who Need A Hand In The City, I spoke earnestly. I’d read some material detailing Matt’s position on homelessness and was touched by his immediate assertion that homeless people are people in our community, a part of our city, included. So simple, but who the fuck’s said that, ever? I tried to communicate the scraps of information I’d gleaned over the past week. The dudes seemed satisfied. Well, I Got A Lot Of Houses To Hit, I explained, waving my plastic bags, heavy and bulging with propaganda, at them. Bye-bye pink shooooooes, the guy chortled.
Another time I went to North Beach. The way it worked was, you walked into the crazy hive that was Gonzalez headquarters, and you looked at all the different volunteer stations, figuring out what you wanted to do. Me and Rocco liked hitting the streets, it seemed most important. Then you said “hi” to all your friends who were there, then you said “Wow, Oh My God!’” to all the people you hadn’t seen in eight years with whom you were suddenly reuniting. Like Daniel, last seen in New Orleans while on tour, who had dragged me to “his bar” a fag bar in the French Quarter, where he did me the dangerous favor of comping me athletically alcoholic cocktails all night. Now he was setting up a community space down on Sixth Street, writing a vegan cookbook and helping direct the Gonzalez campaign. After these tiny moments of social activity you gave smiles to all the people you sort of know but not really, or the ones that you know but you’re not sure if they know you so you just give a shy smile, and then the ones you’ve never met but you’ve been riding the bus with, passing in the streets, seeing at shows, for years. Then you get your assignment.
Rocco was off searching for Lara, who had been selling t-shirts there the day before. She wasn’t around. Rocco seemed dejected as we stood on Mission, waiting to begin the elaborate bus trip that would deliver us to North Beach. What’s Up? I asked. He was sulking. I have spring fever, he said. It was November, the fall. Not that San Francisco has seasons anyway. I feel restless. “Spring fever” and “restless” are Rocco’s code words for “I have a crush on someone.” You Have A Crush, I said. On Lara.
The day before election day me and Rocco stood at the volunteer table at headquarters, looking for a neighborhood. I pondered waking up the next morning at 5 a.m. and standing down on César Chavez with a sign. Could I do it? How committed was I, really? We need people in the Marina, the woman heading the booth, a poet I knew from the queer open mike K’vetsch, said in a slightly pleading tone. Everyone looked at each other. Nobody wanted to campaign for Gonzalez in the Marina. I thought, I’d have to get really dressed up and summon all my rage and attitude for that. I didn’t feel capable. I felt blissed out on community and possibility. I selected the Bell Market on 24th Street, in Noe Valley. Hey, anyone need a ride? Anywhere, anywhere at all? I’ll take ya. This is coming from an older biker-looking dude with long gray hair and a matching gray handlebar mustache/beard combo. His t-shirt bore a silkscreen of Gavin Newsom as the Cat in the Hat with some sort of pithy joke underneath. Hey, Yeah, We’re Going To 24th Street, I jumped on the offer. Probably it goes without saying that, without the soothing mantle of common cause the campaign had draped around our collective shoulders, I would not in a million years get in a car with this dude. With any dude, to be fair. This dude’s name was Jackson, and he led us to his beat-up long white Cadillac, the interior deep red, smokey and equally battered. We cruised up to Noe Valley, Jackson comfortably telling us all about his life as a schoolbus driver. I had been envisioning Jackson as either a Hell’s Angel or a professional wrestler, but now I understood him to be an aging Otto the schoobus driver from The Simpsons.
He pulled up to the curb before the Bell Market parking lot, and behold—it is Gavin Newsom. It is him, in the flesh, in the hair. He stands with his wife, Kimberly Newsom, who I was once sort of hot for, watching her cool in the background in footage from the dog-mauling trial, but when I learned she was married to Gavin I lost respect for her. And to be honest, she seemed slightly less hot in person, but again, this could have been due to her proximity to her husband. She wore stiletto boots of plum-colored suede. I thought about how she used to be a lingerie model. I can’t remember where I first learned this, it seemed to be common knowledge at this point. What I also didn’t know is if that meant she was, you know, a model who had gotten a lot of lingerie contracts, or if she’s been a lingerie model, a sex worker, one who works the nebulous Lingerie Model outfits, which seems to be a strange gray area encompassing stripping, peep-show work, and occasionally prostitution. Or all of them or none of them—who knows? It’s a mystery to me. But I had worked in the sex industry myself, as a straight-up prostitute, and I liked the idea of having a former sex worker first lady, but not if she had to bring her husband along.
Jackson bounded out of his car, leaving it idling at the curb. He wanted to show Newsom his t-shirt, which insulted him. Hey, check this out, he crowed, pulling the fabric taught so the candidate could clearly read it. Newsom sort of smiled and shrugged. His handlers waited, tensed for something larger to erupt, but nothing did. Jackson went back to his car and hauled himself away. Which left me and Rocco and Gavin Newsom and Kimberly. This was incredible. Of all the places we could have selected, we picked this magical one. Truly, I wished the station had gone to someone younger, someone angrier and more confrontational—a Gay Shame kid, or a member of the Biotic Baking Brigade. The moment was sort of being wasted. Rocco and I took our post at the other end of the parking lot and wondered if they would make us leave. They didn’t. I slung the Gonzalez signs around my neck, sandwich board–style, the way we were supposed to. I looked really stupid. So stupid, in fact, that I feared I might be costing Gonzalez votes, here in fashionable Noe Valley. Rocco just refused to wear his. Mine blew about my body in the wind as I lunged at passersby and tried to deliver some campaign literature to them. Few wanted any. Many of these people had already voted and didn’t go out of their way to say, . . . and for Gonzalez! They simply said, Voted already. Many new mothers pushing stroller-full-of-baby glared silently at me or snapped No! like I was trying to sell them crack. This didn’t feel very promising. This was worse than North Beach, where I had expected such hostility but had been met with civil curiosity. Here in Noe Valley, where I imagined socially conscious yoga moms would be all over Matt, they were instead sort of rude, like maybe they really really needed a yoga class, or were suffering from postpartum depression.
Gavin, who had pranced into Bell Market, was now leaving again, pausing to take pictures with imbecile employees. I felt defeated. An old man walked by and started yelling at me about the unions, how the unions didn’t want Gonzalez and Gonzalez was antiunion. I started yelling back at him. We had a stupid fight there on 24th Street, brief but embarrassing. He trotted off with his grandson, a little kid who looked back fearfully at me like I was the evil person who yelled at his Grampy, which I was. I stood there bereft in my sandwich board. Now Rocco was tense with me, for making a scene in a sandwich board. We had a fight too. Fuck This, I proclaimed, and dragged my campaign materials up to Castro to wait for a bus home. I was done for the night.
The next morning, on election day, I got up and voted at the church around the corner. You gotta take that off, the old man manning the polls said kindly, motioning to my Queers for Gonzalez pin. I had a lot of Gonzalez pins. I had little ones people were wearing as earrings, I had your basic Gonzalez yellow pins, I had Queers for Gonzalez, Poets for Gonzalez, I had a simple, full-color picture of his face, the one I called my Tiger Beat Gonzalez pin. Then I had a shitload of specifically Green Party Gonzalez pins I’d been conned into accepting by a very charismatic Green Party dude at one of the benefits I MC’d. I had tried to get rid of them but really, everyone already had like twelve Gonzalez pins. I left them on top of a trash can at the bus stop at Mission and Eight Street.
Photo: D.S. Black
After I voted I walked to therapy. It was up on 24th Street in Noe Valley, scant blocks away from the scene of my humiliation yesterday. I walked there, taking an unusual route that weaved through residential streets I’d never walked down. A man on a bicycle pulled out of his garage, a Gonzalez sign rigged to his basket with bungee cords. I passed a couple of blonde girls talking on cell phones outside a skin-care salon. Well, if Gavin doesn’t win I don’t know what will happen, one whined, real worry in her voice. Maybe we would win, today. The city would win, my part of the city, the part that has not yet won in the eleven years I’ve been here. The broke part, the messy part, the queer or weird part, the old and disheveled part, the part that needs the help, that really, really needs the win. That deserves it. In therapy I actually talk about the election. I’m So Invested, I tell my therapist. I Don’t Know What I’ll Do If Gonzalez Doesn’t Win. I’m Going To Get Really Depressed. It’s Going To Be Really Hard On Me. Because I’d let myself believe it was possible, that change here in San Francisco could happen. I’d been swept away on hope and good cheer. Now I considered the possibility that we would maybe lose. I considered the possibility that my therapist voted for Newsom. I don’t know if I could get past that. Thankfully I never find out.
Here’s something startling: in the paper the other day Newsom was quoted saying something about battling Schwarzenegger, about standing up to him and his rotten plan for California. It was startling because I had forgotten that Newsom was a Democrat. I’d lumped him in with Schwarzenegger and Bush the same way whoever printed up those “Compassionate Conservatives” posters did—full-color jobs depicting the faces of the president, the governor, and Newsom. They were so convincingly real I once snarled at someone who tried to hand one to me. I thought they were serious. Realizing that Newsom was anti-Schwarzenegger made me wonder. Have the Democrats really become Republicans with marginally better social attitudes and less religion? Are they really that indistinguishable, or am I ruined (no, refined) from a decade in San Francisco, so that a candidate who would seem embraceable anywhere else in the country is hideously, conservatively unacceptable here?
By the time I get home from therapy, still quite early in the afternoon, the polls and whatnot are calling it a done deal: Newsom’s ahead. Newsom’s gonna win. For Gonzalez to win, pundits muse, X, Y, and Z would need to happen and the chances of that are slim and so, with hours and hours before the polls close, the race is deemed essentially won and I am left tending to the results with the dumb faith of someone who hopes their beloved will come out of the damn coma. They’re still breathing, right? Couldn’t something . . . happen? A miracle? A surge of Gonzalez votes from some uncounted corner of the city?
I had said that if Gonzalez lost I couldn’t go to the election night party at the headquarters. I’d feel too emotional and would walk around dripping tears and feeling insane in public, which I dislike. But as the sun set and the results became official and Newsom proclaimed our mayor, I realized there was no way I couldn’t see the thing through to the end. I had to be among my community of fellow losers, to resume our defensive posture of hating the world, to exchange the hope we’d carried all month for regulation cynicism. I put on my iridescent pink sequin skirt and hooker boots and took the 14 Mission. Along the way the bus stopped and other sad people on route to Gonzalez HQ climbed aboard. Kat and Cookie, two punk girls with dyed black hair, who play in bands and do burlesque and write, shuffled on board with beer, came to the back to sit with me and Rocco. Is It True? I asked, a last, futile hope surfacing. I mean, I hadn’t heard a poll report in like an hour. What if something had happened? Cookie nodded somberly.
So many people were at headquarters. They were at capacity. Throngs of supporters were stuffed down the side alley, people on bikes, clutching beers, craning their heads to catch a glimpse of the speeches being made from a gated patio. Lucky for me Tom the t-shirt guy was at the door, and scooted us inside to the overcrowded warehouse. Back behind the initial volunteer room was a labyrinth of rooms. On the patio Matt Gonzalez had just finished speaking and was being ushered out on a wave of applause, trailed by news cameras. Another room had some sort of jam band kicking to life, a room full of tables and chairs where people were milling about in varying states of dejection. A room full of food, mounds of decadent vegan food. Everyone was there. There’s Rocco’s old boss, there’s my old psychic, there’s my ex-girlfriend, my old bandmate. Lots of friends. I didn’t know what to do with myself, beyond scarfing some snacks. The front room got opened up into a big dance party. I stood around awkwardly while everyone else drank bottles of beers and got sweaty on the dance floor. Rocco danced with Lara. I hate to dance. I’m not proud of it, it’s just the way it is. I gave a wave goodbye and split.
At the end of the night Lara, who had spoken to Matt Gonzalez, the object of her campaign crush, a couple times throughout the month, mostly seeking some sort of absolution for the fact that she worked for the Transamerica Corporation, finally gave the man her number as he was leaving his party. And then he invited her along to wherever it was he was going. Last Rocco saw of her he was helping her into a cab. Rocco was delirious with it—what happened? Where did they go? He was dying to call her and get the gossipy details, but—was that weird? I sighed, drowsy with the onset of my predicted postcampaign depression. Fricking Lara. She gets my boyfriend’s spring-fever attentions and then she gets to go off with Matt Gonzalez. What’s her magic charm? And, what’s going to happen next? There’s talk of keeping this community, the one that formed around the campaign, intact, to mobilize around other causes, but that won’t happen. I notice a flyer posted up on a telephone pole on Mission advertising a benefit to help Matt recoup some financial losses.
I get a phone call from a boy I worked on a benefit with inviting me to a dinner at his house but when I return the call he realizes he had called the wrong Michelle. Oops. And so life drifts back to its normal place. That afternoon I go for lunch at the St. Francis Soda Fountain, me and Rocco and our friend Rick, whose husband, ill for many years, recently died, and I hadn’t seen him since. I feel tender and awkward toward Rick, whose persona is that of a brassy old comedienne from the forties, draping his heartache in laughs. Together we all eat eggs and potatoes. At one point the door opens and a girl runs in with a t-shirt she hands to our waitress. It’s a yellow cotton shirt, and silkscreened on the back is a big red heart, broken, a lightening-bolt crack down its center. Underneath it reads, Vote Yesterday.
It felt so lousy taking my Gonzalez signs out of my window, such a terrible concession. It was like Newsom and his pack of voters, my therapist among them, was standing over my shoulder cackling gleefully like a pack of harpies. The small, skinny flyer I’d taped in the window of our front door stayed up forever, I just couldn’t bear to remove it. Um, are you ever going to take that down? Rocco asked one afternoon as we sat beneath it on our front stoop. Oh Yeah, Yeah, I said, embarrassed. I Just Keep Forgetting. Which was half-true. I peeled the tape from the glass and threw the small bit of paper in the trash. All around the city I see Gonzalez signs in people’s windows, still, and wonder if we all need some sort of support group in order to move on, to be there for each other as we remove the signs, and everything they represent, from our windows.
published originally in The Political Edge ed. Chris Carlsson (City Lights Foundation: 2004)