Thursday, December 13, 2012

first meeting

E ARLY EVENING IN MAY, so pleasant one could almost forget how chilly summer would soon be, so quiet one would almost forget how vibrant these streets once were.  Two young men walked down 18th on their way to the Women's Building.  Approaching Moby Dick's one realized, ``We got time for a drink.''
A friend sat at the nearly empty bar and they went over.  ``We're getting a group together to make a quilt to memorialize AIDS victims,'' partially unfolding a cloth bundle he carried and holding it out, ``Why don't you come with us?''
``A what?''
``Each one of these will depict someone who's died, then we'll sew them all together into a quilt.''  A pause, ``And take it to Washington, D.C. this October.''
How do you explain something that had never been done before?
The guy looked at the cloth and then back to his drink and shook his head, ``Well good luck, hope you're not wasting your time.''

flyer had caught Cindy's eye as she waited for the bus over the hill after work, the chill of winter still in the air.  There are flyers on poles all around the Castro Muni station, why did she pause to read this one?  It announced a meeting to make a memorial for the people who had died of AIDS, cloth quilt panels with the name and some details of the person's life, each to be three feet by six feet.  The flier gave a date six weeks away, a time, a place–the Women's Building on 18th.  She mouthed the words to herself, memorizing them.
She borrowed a sewing machine, set it up in the living room of her apartment and began.  By May she had two of these cloth panels finished, one for Roger, his name in large pink and black angular funhouse letters and another for a coworker with whom she'd watch morning reruns of the ``I Love Lucy'' show, sitting together on his bed on their days off giggling and bouncing.  As she hunched over the machine she would smile, something she'd almost forgotten how to do, hearing an exasperated Desi exclaim, ``Lu-ooo-cy!''  The panel showed the show's opening logo, a large heart with the ``I Love'' in cursive letters but Lucy  replaced by David.
As the May meeting date approached she began to worry about things, how maybe hundreds of people would bring panels and they would all be fabulous (this was, after all, the Castro) and how hers might just get lost in the mix.  She wrote her name and address on both so that after they were taken to DC she might be able to get them back, they had become Roger and David for her.

he Women's Building began life as one of those ``sound body, sound mind'' exercise clubs, this one built by the local German community after the 1906 earthquake; at four stories it was taller and bulkier than other buildings on the street and seemed to dominate its block.  In 1935 the Sons and Daughters of Norway purchased the building, renamed it Dovre Hall and converted the gymnasium into an auditorium.
There had been a substantial number of Scandanavians living in Eureka Valley and even with the gay gentrification of the 1970s one could still run across that only in San Francisco catholic school mix of a half Mexican, half Norwegian who grew up there.  Or still be entertained by an eighty year old Norwegian play accordian on a weekday afternoon at the du Nord downstairs from the Swedish American Hall a few blocks away.
A women's group bought the building in 1978 and gave it the current name but allowed a small bar with a separate entrance to remain at one corner.  The Dovre Club was run by an Irishman so that most people thought the word Dovre had something to do with the Emerald Isle unaware that it was a mountain range in Norway.
The bar became hangout both for the remnants of the Mission Irish and for a new group that sought the asylum of the city's sanctuary policy.  Over the doorway a sign, ``Let's drink to the final defeat of the British army in Northern Ireland.''  Money donated at the bar would find its way across the Atlantic to the IRA.  After the 1983 Maze Prison break four of the inmates made their way to the Bay Area and late in the evening you might hear about some of how, Pogues on the jukebox, MacGowan's Jameson and cigarette rasp the perfect background to the story of how three guys drove from Frisco to Mexico to smuggle one of those escapees into the US.
He had taken the commercial Aeroflot Moscow flight that refuels in Shannon on its way to Havana.  From Cuba into Mexico and Tijuana where the three picked him up.  Just another trio Americans with hang-overs coming back from a weekend of frolic South of the Border, Riley could best hide his Paddy accent so he drove them through the customs toll booth.
The guard holds Riley's fake license and uses one of the old tricks, ``Oh, you're from San Francisco,'' he says real affable like he knows the City well, a faraway look as if fond memories are returning.  ``Where'd you go to high school?''
Riley has a sudden panic, in the UK tube stations the Wanted posters with the face of the guy they have under a blanket in the trunk read: ``IRA Terrorist.''  Looking up through the car window, hot wind on his shoulder, the guard's face now with an intent stare, no more smile, Riley remembers the locals back at the Dovre, standing at the bar, how they'd bitch, brag about school days at,  ``S.I.'' he says quickly, ``Went to S.I.,  Saint Ignatius.''
The guard returns the card and waves them on.

he night of the meeting she took the two panels and hung them side-by-side on the wood fence in front of her apartment building so that a friend could make a photograph.  She wasn't certain she'd ever see them again.  This was the first time any sections of what would become the Quilt were ever displayed together.
After being photographed she took them back into her apartment, paused to look at each one more time and then carefully folded the two panels.
The auditorium in the Women's building seemed so large when she entered with her package, imagine what it would take to fill up a space like this.  A folding table was mid-room where two men sat facing the long wall.  The first to arrive had placed themselves along the wall directly across from the table, as others came in they had sat next to the previous person so that the line stretched away from table in one direction only.  The eight young guys seated along the wall when she got there turned to stare at the lanky blond, sheepish, still in her workday makeup.  She sat at the folding chair at the end and after a bit it became apparent no one else was coming.
The two at the table displayed the cloth panel they had brought and one told of their hope to have hundreds of these produced and stitched together for the gay rights March on Washington come October.  The silent prayer was that if the rest of the country could see the enormity of what was obvious every day in the Castro it might ignite a groundswell demand for the government to mobilize its resources.  Six years into the epidemic and all they'd produced was AZT.  And a lot of obituaries.
Then they asked if anyone had brought a panel.  After no one answered Cindy replied and went over to the table.  She held Roger open and told how he had already been in DC, in 1983, testifying in front of Congress about the disease.  Then she showed them David, explaining the Lucy part and humming a snippit of the theme song.  She and another coworker had visited David in his hospital room the week before Halloween, pulling clusters of orange and black helium balloons they tied to the bedrails.  The ward was quiet, essentially deserted even though this highest of gay holidays approached.  David lay in the bed smiling at the thoughtfulness and thanked them but added, ``Did you need to bring the black?''
They talked about work, catching him up on the gossip, trying to make him feel a part of the world outside, telling how some woman had stood across the counter and just talked, ``You know the type, she wasn't going to buy anything but just wouldn't shut up, she must of talked to me for half an hour.''
David had propped himself up now and his face got a far-away look as he listened.  When she finished he said, so quietly they almost didn't hear, ``I wish someone would talk to me for half an hour.''
Before the meeting adjourned a clipboard was passed down the row and everyone wrote their name and address for further contact, hers went on last, just below a guy named Jack who had been sitting last until she arrived.  When she got home the apartment seemed more empty than usual, the sewing machine had little use now and would need to be returned, the living room floor needed to be cleaned of the squiggles of thread, end pieces of cloth and scattered shirt pins.  But tomorrow.

ull night now as the two men walked back to the Castro, the darkness greater than just an absence of light, the quiet was murmurs from the thousands who had crowded here just five years before.  They stopped in Moby Dick's again, the friend was still at the bar and he swiveled on the barstool, ``So how'd your sewing bee go?''
``Nice crowd, maybe a dozen or so.  It wasn't a sewing bee, it was an organizational meeting to make a memorial quilt for AIDS victims.''
``So how did your little quilting bee organizational meeting go?  Did anybody bring sections for it?''
``Two.  Some strange blond woman brought two quilt panels.''
``A woman brought quilt?''   The guy on the barstool chuckled before turning back to his drink, ``A woman—now you guys are really going to have to do this thing.''

Sunday, September 16, 2012

jack day one

ack got his first view of San Francisco where I-80 finally ceased its westward thrust to curve south past Berkeley.  Four days earlier he had given his mother a goodbye hug on the porch of the Craftsman bungalow where he grew up, walked the strip of concrete that divided the front lawn early on an already muggy August morning and drove away from Kokomo on a dim promise from Wade, almost a rumor too unbelievable to be true.  A bit after 2 p.m. his Oldsmobile and the U-Haul that had trailed it those four days curved west one final time to merge with the freeway arteries that led onto the Bay Bridge and into the City.
In the distance before him across the quicksilver shimmer of the bay the image of a tight cluster of office buildings backed by low hills rose into a bright haze.  The connection took no leap of imagination, exactly like the movie, up ahead was Oz.  Jack paid at the toll booth, slid his foot from brake to gas pedal and as the car moved onto the bridge proper he became a cliché, yet another new arrival.
From the bridge he merely had to follow the directions given over the phone and he would arrive at his new home.  ``It's on 16th just across Market from the main block of Castro Street,''  Wade's voice coming thin and tinny out of the Bakelite receiver, ``Jack, you'll be amazed.''  Then Wade laughed, ``And get a haircut, the sixties are over, it's a new decade out here.''
The apartment key was under the mat, a welcome note was propped on the entry hall table, ``I get off work a bit after six, wait and we'll get a drink to celebrate your arrival.''  Jack couldn't wait, couldn't bother unloading, he had to get out into it, had to see what Wade meant by ``you'll be amazed.''
The wide traffic lanes of Market Street were a last boundary in his journey.  The light became green, the stream of cars parted and Jack crossed the intersection.  As he stepped onto the far curb a group of pigeons hesitated, shuffled and then flared into the air a few feet to settle back to the sidewalk under the plate glass windows of the Twin Peaks bar.  Inside old guys sat sideways on the barstools to stare out.  Shit they must all be at least forty, thought Jack, old queens.  A bit further and Jack became aware that all around him now were young men, smiling and gawking at one another, young and vibrant, reminded of his first Indiana State Fair, the excitement from disorientation at trying to take in too much too quickly.  Without the smell of sawdust, damp straw and cow manure.  All these guys out and this just a random weekday afternoon—doesn't anyone in San Francisco have to work?
He paused in the pleasant gloom under the theater marque to read the Now Playing poster, his own image, stringy hair, baggy pants, reflected pale over the frozen embrace, Audrey gazed up at Gary Cooper.  Odor of buttered popcorn, a siren pull he had to resist, there was too much out here to see, he had to continue on.  Humming ``It Was Fascination I Know. . .'' as he moved away from Love In the Afternoon.  Wade had been right, Jack needed a haircut, not even half a block and already he could tell there was a prevailing style, short cropped hair, moustaches, tight faded jeans, trim and healthy.  Making him feel even more obvious, out of place, more aware of his current status: new in town sailor?
Up ahead at the street corner he could see Hibernia Bank, remnant of the Irish influx, now Hibernia Beach, a row of shirtless guys preening against the granite wall, getting some sun while showing off.  Every shop window he passed was a carefully decorated enticement, even the hardware store.  At 18th St. he stopped, which direction?  A deep steady bass sounded from his left like the approach of a parade.  He turned that direction and stood outside a doorway covered by two heavy black leather curtains.  Seemed a little early for a drink but it was three hours later back home, so . . . OK, a drink.  The bass throb increased as two guys came out through the curtains, laughing, looking at Jack one said, ``Step right on in, always room for one more,'' as he held back the curtain.
Inside blaring disco pounded as he squinted while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.  Human forms coalesced, slowly he could see that the long narrow barroom was jammed with bodies, they looked like the same young men he'd just seen on the street.  Every barstool was occupied and people stood two and three deep behind.  Those attempting to talk over the music were tilted towards one another, mouth close to ear.
Two guys who faced the door with their backs against the bar moved aside enough for Jack to squeeze in.  When the bartender finally noticed, Jack stretched across the bartop and shouted, ``Gin-tonic.''  He watched the drink being mixed: ice, gin, more gin, and finally a little a splash of tonic.  Jack pushed some bills across and shouted that he'd just moved here, confiding, ``This is my very first drink in San Francisco.''
The bartender shut off the stereo, faces turning his direction as the amplified music faded away.  ``This is on me,'' he said to Jack placing the drink and then he announced to the room, pointing, ``Another New One Here!''  And to Jack, ``Where you from?'' then loudly again to the crowd just before turning the music back up, ``Representing the Great State of Indiana.''
Someone was patting Jack on the back as he reached for his glass and before he got one sip it seemed that people were trying to elevate him as if to show him off.  The music was blaring again, he was being grabbed under his shoulders and then from behind his knees and suddenly he became airborn, spun in a whirlwind of hands, tilted on his back into a cushion of raised arms.  The noise level alone seemed enough to bouy him aloft as he began to be passed feet first in celebration down the length of the bar.
Bewildered, hovering above these strangers, this was not the kind of attention he sought, then he relaxed and flowed with it.  Everyone was laughing, arms rose automatically in an undulating wave to support him as he body surfed this curl of hands.  He saw himself full in the mirror as he was borne floating amidst cigarette smoke and odors of cologne.
Around midbar the uplifted hands began tugging at his clothing, people giggling at his helplessness, he felt a shirttail slide out, a shoe went, a button popped.  Fingers groped his flesh as he slid past, someone was tugging at his belt buckle, Wait a minute here!  When the last hands let Jack down on a concrete floor in the rear of the barroom in a garish red, yellow and violet glow from pinball machines he was laughing giddily and completely naked.

What the hell was this place he'd come to?

San Francisco, 1977

Thursday, August 23, 2012

wash that man

an parked his car in the lot where the road ended near the top of Mount Tam to meet a rocky trail that circled to the peak.  This is what Jerry wanted, the kind of thing some New Age tourist would want done, but Dan had promised.  He looked towards the summit and saw a red tail hawk float in a lazy circle against the blue as he hiked up into a dusty odor of wild fennel in the Indian summer heat.  Two people on their way down nodded pleasantly when he stood aside for them to pass.  As he made the top a breeze came up and Dan saw that he was alone, perfect.  He undid the band at the back of his neck and bent slightly to let the wind shake his pony tail loose and protect his neck from the sun.  Jerry had hated that long hair, ``The Summer of Love was twenty years ago, get over it.''
A 360 degree view, off to the west a haze that would be the Pacific ocean, to the north the country ran clear up to the redwoods, south was the City and east was the Central Valley and all the rest of America.  Dan stood there and gauged the wind as he pulled a plastic bag carried in a brown paper one and held it above his head and away, trying to think of something to say that might add meaning to the act, to make it something more than mere littering.
``So long Jerry,'' as he shook the contents into the air.  Gray ash dropped and sifted and rose to stream away in a rapidly disappearing cloud.

n retrospect the China trip was a mistake, it had the opposite effect from that of bringing them closer.  The long flights, stuck, squirming in their seats, the time changes, the round the clock companion became an ordeal as emotionally exhausting as the evening a year before when Jerry told Dan he was positive and had to tell him why.  They sat up all night talking, just talking; they had been so careful for so long.  Or at least one of them had.
Dan could remember their first night together.  They met at the River, Dan should have realized at check-in when he glanced across the lobby through the sliding glass to the pool deck where burly men with trimmed beards wearing Speedos and construction boots stood around holding drinks, hairy bellies protruding from unbuttoned leather vests, that he might want to spend the next two days at some other resort.  A Bear weekend, having to listen to their nauseating word plays in a Folsom Street bar was bad enough but you could easily leave a bar;  here Dan would be stuck.
He overheard ``Looks like someone could use a hug,'' before he was able to order a drink, caught the snide observation from men down the bar that ``There are other animals in this zoo,'' and nearly gagged when one grizzled guy growled, ``Come to pappa,'' because Dan mentally inserted the word 'bear' into each sentence.
If he had a gun Dan thought gazing around, he'd make himself a bearskin rug.
Jerry was not the kind Dan ever would've imagined he'd become involved with, but for a weekend fling sure why not.  Fate put them next to one another out by the pool, Jerry making catty remarks about everyone that passed by,  ``Jeeze, does that queen really believe anyone would believe she's a top?''  Introductions were unnecessary.
Dan couldn't tell exactly when he began warming to the guy but the next afternoon sitting in the sun again they ordered drinks, ``My treat,'' Jerry grinned as he looked over to wink, ``Honey.''
The obviously new waiter, swamped, visibly flustered, took forever to bring the two drinks and, after asking for three dollars and seeing the twenty Jerry held out, apologized, ``I'll have to go back inside to get your change.''  Jerry raised his head from the deck chair to peer up at the kid.  ``Keep it,'' he said as he rolled away, ``Maybe you'll be a little quicker next time.''
Reclined there on the wet concrete surrounded by sounds of splashing and carousing Dan saw the cub behind that gruff burly exterior.
So a weekend turned into weeks and then it made no sense to keep two apartments, Jerry enjoying the redecorating (``A place to hibernate, you know.'') and Dan plotting trips for him and the homebody.
But in time the playful curmudgeonly quips that had once made Jerry seem so personable and quick witted, that made you forgive him even when he overstepped bounds, became caustic and crude; eventually Dan moved out.  ``I'll make you regret this!'' Jerry snarled.  So when Dan got the phone call that Jerry was in 5A at SF General he joked to friends, ``I didn't realize the lengths Jerry would go through to make those words true.''
After that first crisis Dan stayed at Jerry's overnight, listening to him come awake from some terror; Jerry was so afraid to be alone, some tough guy.  But as the trips to General became more common, the priest coming in the room, the last rites, holy water and solemn incantations, maligna discordia, then Jerry pulling out of it and being released.  Dan would try to go back to his own place, ``Jerry the doctors said you're stabilized, they can't do anything more for you, I want to go home and get a good night's sleep for work.''
He'd take personal leave during the day to drive Jerry to the various appointments, the aerosal pentamidine, exams, counseling, the waiting rooms, he'd clean the fridge, toss out the foil containers, their white cardboard tops penciled with the contents, unopened, uneaten, delivered each day by Open Hand.
Dan remembered that last night with Jerry, once again last rites, the priest gone, after they discharged him, after they'd gotten back from the hospital.  Dan helped Jerry get into bed and then went to the doorway and turned.  ``I'm going home, I've got to work tomorrow, the doctors said you're OK.''
Jerry was adamant about Dan staying, begging, ``I'll do anything, just stay here with me this one night.''
``Do anything?  Anything, Jerry?''  Dan was overwhelmed by what he felt, exhausted mentally, physically, how many years now had they both been part of this?  ``Anything?  You're never going to get better.  If you'll do anything for me then you'll just die.''  Jerry's face contorted into a fierce scowl and then he realized how Dan meant those words.  Dan watched as the glaring face softened, as Jerry let go of his fear and lay back relaxed, at peace.  Jerry smiled at Dan as he closed his eyes and settled in for a long winter's nap.

s Dan watched the remains spread off into the blue above Mt. Tamalpias it seemed like Jerry got back at him one last time.  The wind shifted, whipped around to reverse its flow as the ash suddenly buoyed with spirit.  Dan screamed ``You fucking asshole!'' into the enormous sky overhead as a hard grit blew across his face and eyes, scattered into his hair and covered his clothing.  He drove back across the bridge working his mouth to clear the dry gravel irritant.  When he got home Dan stood in the shower looking down at his bare feet on the enamel of the tub, the water flowing sleek over the back of his neck and splatter to a swirl of shampoo suds pooling into the drain.  ``Right out'a my hair,'' he sang, ``Gonna wash that man right . . . right . . . right.''

❖       ❖       ❖

Dan was left to clean Jerry's apartment, toss out the last dinner boxes in the fridge, pack up personal mementos to send to his mother; he kept all the amber bottles of pills because you never know.  On the floor of a closet shoved to the back he found a box of porn videos, most showing a blond surfer type on the cover and thought, ``Thank god I dyed my hair before going to the River that weekend.''
You hold the yard sale, watch the posessions go to strangers because friends don't want to take advantage, what doesn't sell goes to Community Thrift, then you carefully pull the door on the empty room.  That's it, that's a life, end of story.  Next to nothing to show that this one person had ever existed on the planet.
Dan kept the apartment key for few months more, he just liked the feel of it in his pocket.  He made a quilt panel using a borrowed sewing machine and when he previewed the three foot by six foot blanket of cloth spread out on the living room floor Dan felt something was missing.  He got a pair of scissors, reached behind his head and cut off the pony tail that Jerry always hated.  Then he pulled a corner of the cloth back up to the machine, folded an edge over that length of hair and sewed it into the lining.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

tourist town

alifornia as a destination began to insert itself in the minds of the post-WWII baby boomers with the weekly Disneyland/ Walt Disney Presents  television program which first aired in October, 1954.  The theme song, ``When You Wish Upon a Star'' and the programming mix of fantasy, adventure, the American frontier and the American future made it seem that Tomorrowland was just around the corner.  Besides displaying Donald Duck and Davy Crockett, other Disney episodes imprinted the young brains with ``Man in Space'' and ``Our Friend, the Atom,'' shows indicated the future was in Anaheim, California.  this hourlong weekly ad for the Magic Kingdom caused untold numbers of families piled into automobiles and hit Route 66 as choruses of ``When are we going to get there? When are we gonna get there?'' chimed from the wide back seats.
This vocal anxiety was entirely understandable, their destination was the Happiest Place on Earth.

This West Coast tourist industry made possible by the automobile and enhanced by cross country air travel did not go unnoticed in San Francisco.  The shipping based economy had been in decline with loss of stevedore and longshoreman jobs to the container freight-handling capabilities of the Port of Oakland across the bay.  Because of the mild weather San Francisco had a year-round tourist season to provide permanent jobs unlike say a Cape Cod summer or Key West winter.
The City began advertising this ``come anytime'' aspect in East Coast papers, something that went like, ``In February when it's a bitter snowy 23 degrees in New York City, it's 68 in San Francisco.  And in August when it's a sweltering 97 degrees in New York, it's 68 in San Francisco.''  To which some wag added, ``And when there are one thousand intelligent conversations in New York, there are 68 in San Francisco.''

❖       ❖       ❖

large tour bus crawls down Castro Street past the movie theater marque.  Eerie silhouettes in the obsidian windows seem to glower down toward the sidewalk crowded with a bustle of young men.  This swing through the Castro has only recently been added to the route and soon will be banned as gays gain political clout in 1975:  We're not a zoo display!
Inside the bus, in a pleasant gloom insulated from the sun glare and chill wind out on the street, tour guide George stands just behind driver Al's partition holding a microphone as he describes sights the bus cruises past.  SF history for the out of town folk, this blue hair crowd, each face turned to a window.  If it's a couple the man will sit on the aisle and usually try to appear disinterested.
The routine is a glib easy banter between George the pudgy loveable teddy bear, all enthusiasm and big smile, and Al the driver, the grounded, no nonsense curmudgeon, greying hair pulled into a tight pony tail.  Today already they've been across the Golden Gate Bridge, to the top of Twin Peaks, a stop at the Cliff House, everybody out, smell that salt air, George asking as they park, ``Al, I bet you'd like to have a drink at the bar in there.''
``I sure would George, but can't while I'm driving.''
``Well I guess I'll just have to have one extra for you.''

Pickup was Union Square and they swung through Chinatown, then approaching Columbus and Broadway George points out City Lights bookstore, explains,  ``The beatnik era in San Francisco was a mad gay party;  the women were mad because the men were gay.''
Waiting at the light across from the Condor Al keeps hands on wheel,eyes straight ahead as he leans to the mike, ``George, I got a question for you.  The northern part of the City is at least a mile from here over by Aquatic Park, right.''
``Yes Al, that's right.''
``And do you see any beach around here?''
George stoops down and peers out, ``No Al I don't, what's your point?''
``Then why is it called North Beach?''

At the Condor under the three story vertical sign of topless Carol Doda, red light bulb nipples, George bends sideways to gaze up at this monument to silicone.  ``The corner where topless was born.  One night after barhopping Al went topless along Broadway and earned the distinction of being the only person ever arrested in San Francisco for indecent exposure.''
And passing Fisherman's Wharf on the way to the Bridge,  ``Al claims they saw an actual fisherman here in 1971.''
After the Cliff House they cruise through the Park and down Haight Street.  As they cross Ashbury,  ``Al spent all his time hanging out here while his parents thought they were paying for him to be in college, you can probably understand why he's driving a bus now.''
Still on Haight Street Al leans over to his mike, ``George, how many hippies does it take to screw in a light bulb?''
``I don't know Al, how many hippies does it take to screw in a light bulb?''
``Hippies don't screw in light bulbs George, hippies screw in dirty sleeping bags.''
Always a silence as the old gals try to decipher the punch line, eventually there's a a groan or a nervous cackle and some uneasy laughter, this is what they came to Frisco for, a little bit of the naughty, we're not in Kansas.  OK, now we get it as one leans to whisper to the other:  Hippies screw in dirty sleeping bags.
A few blocks later they are moving slowly along Castro viewing storefronts from lintel height, the parade of young men.  Al leans over to his mike while eyes stay on the road, ``George, do you know anybody that's gay?''
George gives it a second as he watches the faces turn from the windows, then he does a little sashay in the aisle with wrist flip to answer, ``Well, Al, you know I'm gay! ''
Never fails to crack them up.

❖       ❖       ❖

n summer 1964 a woman dancing on a piano topless, a Republican convention and a Life  magazine spread that showed brooding Brando/James Dean gay men all collided for a perfect media storm to make San Francisco seem the risqué spot to be in America, a Disneyland with bars, something for absolutely everyone; the burgeoning tourist industry could not have wanted for better publicity (``You looking for something?'' the guy said to Jack, ``Well I have it.'')  Every newspaper in the world had mention of the Barbary Coast.  Marshall McLuhan, served lunch by a young woman with bare breasts at a table full of journalists observed, ``They're wearing us.''  The discothéques  of North Beach seemed so sauve, so Continental, you could almost hear someone at the bar say, as that E-minor guitar chord is strummed, ``Name is Bond, . . . James Bond.''
San Francisco in 1964, shaken not stirred.
An influx of new arrivals (the first wave of Baby Boomers had just finished high school), checking out the scene, picking up those easy service industry jobs.  At the end of one summer the owners of a restaurant in Sausalito held a TGTG party for the staff, Thank Goodness They're Gone, now just us locals, us true residents, we can relax and enjoy this wonderland that is California.  A week after that two-thirds of them were layed off because now that Those Tourists Were Gone most of the staff was unnecessary.

A young man in Hong Kong announced to his family that he was moving to San Francisco to seek his fortune.  The father gave a blessing of sorts, he said, ``Son, if you can't make it in a tourist town you won't be able to make it anywhere.''

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

more different stuff

fter he had called in sick to work Ralph sat on the couch and flipped through the TV Guide.  Let's see, Good Morning America.  Seemed about right as a start to this day: Good Morning, America—how's everybody doing this fine day?  Later he'd have to make decisions, which channel.  His finger slid down the grid underneath the twelve noon slot:  Days of Our Lives, sounds OK.  Guiding Light, exactly what I need.  General Hospital, seen that a bit too much.  One Life to Live.  Felt as if his own life had merged with these daytime soaps.
What to watch this fine morning—decisions, decisions.
Earlier while getting ready for work he had passed by the open doorway to Bobby's room and paused.  Bobby usually kept the door closed because of his horrid grating cough.  Today the door stood open.  Ralph heard a slow cadenced counting, ``eleven, . . . twelve, . . . thirteen.''  Looking in, window shades were up, morning light filled the room.  Bobby was sitting with back against the headboard, a water glass in one hand and a bright yellow capsule in the other.  He was methodically swallowing pills from a pile scattered on the nightstand, a little pot of gold at the end of his rainbow.  He'd pick up pill, place in mouth, sip of water, tilt head, swallow, pick up pill, mouth, sip, swallow and repeat.  Announcing each one with a number, drama queen to the end.
``Today's the day?'' Ralph asked.
Bobby raised a finger, Wait just a second, took a sip, swallowed and looked over smiling, ``Fourteen—didn't want to lose count.''  Then, ``Right, today is the day.''
As Bobby picked up another Nembutal Ralph asked, ``Anything I should do?  Guess you won't be wanting any coffee.''
``Peace and quiet.  You go on to work.  Just another day, OK.''
That's when Ralph called in sick, he didn't know why, he just figured he should stick around.  He went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee then went back to the living room and sat down in front of the TV and picked up the Guide to plan out his own day.
Around noon Ralph checked in on Bobby and found him sleeping quietly, completely at peace, his breathing smooth and untroubled with none of the spasmodic cough and violent eruptions of the past months.  This was not right, the pills should have done their work by now.  Ralph dialed the number for Emergency Services at SF General and explained, ``My roommate has AIDS and took a bunch of barbiturates to kill himself but he hasn't died—he's not going to become a vegetable or anything?''  Ralph knew he probably wasn't making a whole lot of sense but when the person got excited, almost yelling, Give us your address, we'll get an ambulance over immediately!,  he hung up.
At five that afternoon, after the soap operas ended, as the evening commute home had begun, Ralph checked again.  He stood in the doorway and scanned the silent room, everything clean and in order in the fading light, that's Bobby, the empty bedside table, the water glass, hesitant to enter, wondering if he should feel something more than he does: drained.  The body lay motionless under the sheet, the distant voices of a television commercial now more present and alive than his roommate.  From a birth 32 years ago to this room wrapped up neatly.  Bobby had been successful in his last endeavor, maybe Ralph should feel proud.
One life to live.

❖       ❖       ❖

n Thursday, July 1, 1993 about 3 p.m., pudgy, moustache sporting Gian Luigi Ferri, age 55, wheeled a sample case strapped to a dolly into an elevator of the 101 California Street building in downtown San Francisco and rode to the 34th floor.  He appeared to be just another salesman making his last call of the workday.  He pressed the red Emergency button to hold the elevator, stepped into the empty hallway and located the door to the conference room of the Pettit & Martin law offices.  He paused outside the door to insert ear protectors and then he pushed it open.
Before settling down to business that afternoon the people in the room would have talked of their plans for the long weekend, kids, barbeques, fireworks displays.  Not one would have known Gian Luidi Ferri as he entered, the only dealings the firm ever had with him had taken place over ten years before.  Somehow Ferri got the demented idea that all his current problems had begun compounding from that single encounter.
The case he towed contained hundreds of rounds of ammunition for the two Intratec DC9 semi-automatic assault pistols with Hell-Fire trigger systems and the .45 caliber Colt holstered under his suitcoat.  He sprayed the room with one of the TEC-9s and then moved to two lower floors firing at anyone he saw on each.  Eight of the 14 random people he shot that afternoon died.  He then used the .45 on himself when trapped in the raw concrete stairwell as over one hundred SFPD stormed the highrise.  Ferri had been in the 101 California building about 15 minutes total.
After police verified the building was secure (a time consuming procedure during which people bled to death that otherwise could have been saved) paramedics moved most of the victims to the place best suited to handle emergencies, San Francisco General Hospital.  The ER there has had a lot of experience with gunshot wounds.
A nurse on duty the afternoon of the 101 California shootings related how the next day a team of trauma counselors went through that building to assist those who worked there and later came over to the hospital to provide the same service to those on the floor that day.
The nurse remembered another afternoon when things were slow and she and a coworker were able to take a break to eat the sandwiches they'd brought for lunch.  They sat across from the glass doors of the entrance ramp at the rear of the building in a pleasant, warm area lulled by the sleepy drone of routine hospital sounds.  They watched as a large Lincoln with dark windows swerved into the parking lot and slammed to a halt near the delivery area.  A black kid jumped out of the car, grabbed a gurney from beside the doorway and pushed it to the sedan where two other young blacks hauled a body onto the palette.  All three then wheeled the gurney up the incline to the doorway, rammed the doors open and gave the gurney a hard shove inside as they turned and raced back to the car.
The gurney rolled across the floor and hit the wall next to where the two nurses sat eating.  The body of a black kid rolled off and landed in an awkward crumple at their feet, wide eyes gazed at nothing.  He'd been shot in the head and much of what had been inside was now oozing out from the blood caked hair and misshapened skull as they stared down holding their sandwiches.
The nurses didn't get to finish their lunch and later no one came to give them any trauma counseling either.

❖       ❖       ❖

weat crawled from his forehead and funneled into his eyes where he tried to blink away the sting.  Tommie was standing guard duty in the heat 50 yards beyond the edge of the tarmac.  He could see the dark treeline shimmer across a wide stretch of dried vegetation and he felt about as useless as a scarecrow in December.  His C.O. had ordered him out here, out where no one ever stood guard, exposed to any VC sniper, listening to the dull whine of insects that sought the moisture on his face.  From the airbase far to his back Tommie first heard and then felt the thump of the rotors and watched a Cobra swing around the perimeter and turn in his direction to settle into a lazy hover and slowly advance, scattering a circle of dust and grit that speckled his face.  He squeezed his eyes shut and when he could open them he saw the grin of the forward copilot/gunner as the turret minigun swept back and forth across his position.
Tommie had joined the Marines at age seventeen at the height of the Vietnam war, his parents gave consent and all concerned were glad for him to be out of the house.  He had been in-country nine months when he was caught having sex with a sailor.  The Company Commander was livid, ``Son, if it was up to me we'd put you in front of a firing squad, toss the body into a paddie and be done with it.''
Standing at attention in front of the desk Tommie watched the man in starched fatigues barely able to control his rage, ''But the Marine Corps doesn't see it my way, the Colonel just wants to give you a bad conduct discharge and get you out of here soon as possible so us soldiers can get on with this war.''
At first confined to quarters, then billeted alone and separate in a tent with no sandbags and now given this special guard duty, to stand all day alone, almost off-base while two Marines in an attack helicopter hover and glare at him.  The expedited discharge came through and when the C.O. realized it meant Tommie was going home he tried to rescind the orders, wanted to keep Tommie there a little longer, send the little queer home in a body bag.
But he was unsuccessful and on Tommie's last day with the outfit he stood again in front of the desk with two MPs waiting outside the door.  Even now the C.O. was trying, on the phone, ``Yes Colonel I'm aware of that but the situation here has changed and we'd like to keep him a bit longer.''  A silence as he listens and then, before hanging up, a dejected, ``Yes sir.''
The man signs along the bottom of the sheet of paper on his desk, pushes it in Tommie's direction and finally looks up, ``Get out!  Get out of my sight!''
Tommie made it back to the world and at some point moved to San Francisco with the great influx of the late 1970s.  There, a bit over a decade later, what the VC and the NVA and the USMC had been unable to do HIV accomplished.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


elly had borrowed one of Cindy's purses the previous weekend to match a drag outfit and she realized that it would go perfectly with what she was planning to wear this evening.  She went downstairs to his apartment, told him she needed the purse for a party.  Kelly thanked her and in handing it over mentioned how it had been a big hit with all the girls.  Cindy started up the stairs then remembered the roommate Greg had borrowed her toilet plunger so again knocked and explained she needed that as well.  She waited as Kelly walked down the hall and returned to hand her the plunger.  He began to close the door and then, looking at her standing there holding a purse in one hand and a toilet plunger in the other, asked, ``Just what kind of party is this you're going to?''

❖       ❖       ❖
ouis pulled to the curb and stopped the cab under a tree between the street lamps that had just illuminated.  A few late clouds scattered pink off the last light of a sun somewhere beyond Twin Peaks and the coast, far out over the Pacific.  Sitting here where Castro peaks at 22nd he can see when a vehicle approaches from either direction.  He dug a small vial from his jacket pocket, unscrewed the plastic cap and lifted the tiny attached spoon to his left nostril, twisting his mouth to close off the right nostril.  Just a quick little toot or two to help him forget this shift, this day.  He leaned back and exhaled, eyes closed, breathing slowly through his mouth, needed to calm down after that Opera drop.  What a world, need a sedative to perk up, a stimulant to calm down.  His next fare can wait a few minutes.
First call of the shift this afternoon, hours ago, he should have just kept going, three black women need a ride over to Marin City, the Sausalito ghetto.  LBJ War On Poverty money of the previous decade, the Model Cities generals erected a revetment to stem the encroachment of affluence.  They found a spot with no sweeping views of the Bay or proximity to quaint shops, just a glimpse of mud flats and distant lights of the mansions of Belvedere, shoved above 101 with cars streaming along the freeway below.
Still daylight and these three women are already drunk, gabbing and jiving, two the backseat and one in front, across the Golden Gate.  No way all three of these large gals would fit in back.  Louis shouldn't have picked them up, liberal guilt overruling common cabbie sense.  Maybe someday he'll learn.
He swings around the curved drive to stop in front of a five story pillbox apartment house squatting in a hollow and these gals don't have any money.  Not one of them has any money.
"You come on in, my sister's got cash," the first out says as they walk toward a salmon pink building.
Well yeah, he's going to trot into a housing project, even in daylight, this white boy will trot right up into that housing project.  Sure.  Louis stands by the open cab door watching her.  No half a league onward for this soldier.
"Come in have a drink," she yells back from the open doorway.
"Can't, gotta work."
"I'll make ya' a K-K-K."  Standing there with a big grin, "You know what that is don't you?"  She emphasizes each word as she tells him what that is, "That's a Korbel, Korbel and Korbel."
At least he got paid.

he tree leaves above the idling cab quiver in a slight breeze, splotches of streetlight wash across the dashboard.  Louis is breathing easy now, methodically, starting to relax.  Really ought to get out and check the front bumper, see if a swash of paint from a Rolls Royce improves the appearance.  Fuck, lucky I'm not in jail for that one.  Two Castro dandies in tuxes somehow scored tickets to opening night at the opera, they're in the backseat squealing, excited, one of them even attempts to sing.  Sounds horrid but it's opera so how can you tell?
Louis probably passed this same pair last night on Natoma, bringing in a couple from SFO, trunk full of luggage, staying at one of those Union Square hotels.  It's a bit past 10p.m. so he gives them the real tour, comes off 280 at 7th and instead of going on across Market he does a little jog through the dark alleys.
From the back seat he hears the man say, "Must be a rock concert, all these people waiting in line."  Louis hits the brights so they get a better look.  "All these people" are guys lined up along the alley with backs leaned against a wall.  But they're hearing a different music, they've got their pants unbuckled and there are just as many guys crouched on knees in front of them.  When the beams hit some pop up and turn away, others glare as the cab slides past, but most just keep going at it, white thighs above bunched Levi's and heads moving in sinusoidal motion, the pump house gang.
From the back seat he hears the women exclaim, "Oh . . . My . . . God! " as the cab clears the alley past a group of men standing around a telephone pole to which another is tied.
Welcome to San Francisco folks, Fruit and Nut Capital of the world.

ops are directing traffic along Van Ness, the opening night gala began in the City Hall rotunda across the avenue from the Opera House, a seated dinner for the million dollar donors and now they're all jaywalking as if they own the street to where a line of young men in white tux coats, black pants and black bow ties await them before the magnificent entryway.
Women in dresses that have names, Oscar and Ralph and Rucci ("so who will you be wearing?" Silence of the Lambs), the men in sleek black and he can't get through to drop these two off.  A real zoo is floating across Van Ness front of the cab, penguins with peacocks.  Someone has parked a 1934 Rolls Royce (the small California tag above the long European tag reads "34ROLZ"), cherry, open cab for the driver, steering wheel on the right, shining maroon and black, chrome headlights the size of pumpkins, it's set a bit out beyond the curb lane on display to add a bit more elegance to this little shindig.
These people here seem more intent in looking about, being seen, than in getting inside, the arrival is more important than the ultimate destination.  Some woman about to cross in front of him turns and waves and that's enough of a gap to get the cab through, make a little sashay, smooth sailing to the free curb space up ahead.
Except for that dammed Rolls, a bit too wide for America and the edge of his bumper makes a little slash along the front side as he slides past.  In the mirror he sees his passengers turn, staring out the rear window, one is bleating, "Look what he did to that beautiful car!  How could you do that!"  Louis accelerates, rounds the corner out of sight along the side of the building.  He pulls over, the cab settles to a stop and gets very quiet.
"Listen you two fucks!" yelling as he swings around to them staring like two wide-eyed lemurs in the back, "I know where you live, if this ever gets back to the company it's going to be your fucking asses, capiche?"
They toss him a twenty for the $5.70 fare and quickly exit.

t the crest of the hill Louis takes a deep breath, time to get back to work, shifts into drive, the cab descends into Noe Valley.  Outside the address he sees the front window lights go out on the second floor and a porch light come on.  Holy shit! as the door opens and this amazing blond, short skirt, thin hips, heels, great legs, emerges slinging a handbag across her shoulder and comes down the stairway.  This can't be real, god, not another fucking drag queen.  Louis twists around to watch as she turns to slide into the back seat, trying to catch the Adam's apple, the hands.  She tosses her head and as she gives him an address on Buena Vista he sees just enough.  Yes!  exactly how the proud father must feel: "It's a girl! "
Louis now retraces his route back over the hump from Noe Valley and down into the Golden Ghetto of the Castro.  A little rolling stop at 19th just as two guys enter the crosswalk so that he has to brake hard.  "Goddam faggots!"  He glances in the mirror at his passenger.  A half block on, as he nears 18th, another guy jaywalks unconcerned right in front of him and Louis has to brake again, yells over the squeal,  "Fuck! These fucking queers think they own the street.  What'd'ya have to do, kill a couple before they get the message?"
He glances in the mirror, her head is turned, profile, blond hair, gazing off to the left.
Louis is still shaking his head as they sit the long light at Market but somehow gets to BV Park without plowing into any pedestrians.  He pulls up at the address, an enormous Victorian with steps up to a wrap-around porch and bright light coming through the beveled leaded glass of the double doorway.
His passenger exits quickly from behind him and stands next to window digging into her purse.  He rolls the window down to hear her count out loud each dollar bill and then each of the coins until she has the exact amount on the meter.  She hands the money across while staring directly at him.  Louis looks at it then gives her the old what, no tip?  expression.
The blond hair flips as she nods her head towards the house, ``I'm going to a party in that place there,'' she tells him, ``and it's going to be just full of fags.''

Friday, March 16, 2012

some 70s stuff

little girl snuggled close to her mother at a display counter in the cosmetics section of Saks Union Square suddenly begins tugging at the blouse, wide eyed, pointing down the aisle.  ``Mommie,'' she squeals, astonished, ``Look! ''
Preening in the wide main aisle two counters over is a pair of black men in tawdry drag, short leather skirts, ripped magenta fishnets, leopard spike heels, enormous false eyelashes, one daubing makeup on the other from the floor samples, arching back the long painted nails of fingers that hold the brush.  ''I think you need a little more right HERE!''
The newly annointed leans to inspect the result in a countertop mirror and the other steps back to proclaim as heads turn, ''Dahl ing, you look fab ulous!''
The mother has already looked and takes the daughter's hand, ``Yes honey, I see, now let's just go over to this other counter right over here.''  They walk away through the odor of perfumes and powders as the little girl continues to swivel and gawk, her face still turned as they round a corner.  Then she looks up and confides, ''Mommie, I'm not sure I'd like to live in San Francisco.''

wo young men with their arms around one another wait for the light to change at the corner of Powell and Geary by Union Square.  The red bandanas in opposing back pockets of their jeans flutter and twist in the gusting August wind.  One leans closer to the other with a nudge to indicate another couple also waiting, a black man holding hands with a white girl.  He lisps to his partner, ''I don't care what you're supposed to think, I'll just never get used to that.''

n the hallway space on the fourth floor of Macy's between the doors marked ``Men'' and ``Women'' a woman pulls a resisting twelve-year old boy by the arm toward the door marked ``Women.''  He keeps announcing loudly, ``I don't like this, I don't like this one bit.''
``I don't care,'' the woman snaps as she pushes open the door.  ``As long as you're my son you are not going into a men's bathroom alone in San Francisco.''

❖       ❖       ❖

he Pacific squall that shook the window frames and slapped rain hard against the panes during the night had passed through and now in the morning the wet streets gleam in the sunlight and are littered with twigs and small branches that show the new green of spring.  Jack has the car window down to breath the cleansed air as he drives to Irving Street to check out the junk shop Auntie Mame.  He needs an armoire as there is no closet in the room he's been relegated.  The radio warns that a small craft advisory was still in effect on the Bay until noon.
The guy at the register nods as Jack enters the shop and turns back to conversing with his friend.  Tables, low dressers, random chairs formed a maze he has to traverse to reach the far wall where the tall lacquered wood cabinets are lined.  He passes an open doorway to a second room with a "No Admittance" sign strung across the opening.  The person standing just beyond asks if he needs any help and then says let me know if you do.
Jack opens a few doors and looks inside but the interior space seems so tiny for their large form factor.  Before backing out he scans the framed pictures and beveled mirrors lining the wall and then wends his way to the front.  All three guys are standing at the counter now and Jack smiles as he nears the door.
``That was some rainstorm we had last night.'' one says.  Jack nods in agreement.
The guy at the register turns to look directly at Jack and adds, ``Yeah, there sure was a lot of blowing going on.''

❖       ❖       ❖

ne summer the medical library at SF General was allowed to hire a teen from the minority community and they got Lisa, a sweet, shy, studious black girl about 14 or 15 years old who lived in the Bayview.  She quickly learned to properly reshelve books and put out the new journals each day and fell easily into the casual pace of library work, humming softly as she pushed the cart around the stacks.  Every week the staff went to lunch as a group to one of the inexpensive restaurants around the hospital and on this occasion they ate at a Chinese place.  Lisa stared at the menu and told them that this was the first time in her life she'd ever had Chinese food.  Then, as more of an admission, that this was the first time in her life she'd ever had a meal in a restaurant of any kind.  The Bayview was a reality quite removed from that of the glossy tourist brochure San Francisco.  Lisa fumbled with the chopsticks, giggling embarrassed as she dropped one before she used a fork, she was bemused by the fortune cookie, was it serious? and the experience would've been pleasant if she hadn't had an adverse reaction to the MSG.
A few weeks into the summer Lisa came in to work on Monday with one arm slung in a cast, face scraped and scarred and a dark purple bruise on her brown skin around an eye.  Taking Muni home there was always a long wait at Evans to transfer to the 15 so standard procedure was to hitch-hike, if you got a ride before the bus showed you were that much ahead.  The guy that stopped last Friday was going to Bayview and she thought she'd be home early until he turned back toward the freeway heading away from Third Street.  Lisa sat there in the front seat and knew she was about to be raped.
At the end of the school term the San Francisco Department of Public Health had given a lecture with a film on the dangers of venereal disease to these kids as they entered their sexually active years and the talk had made an impression on Lisa.  So as the guy accelerated up the on ramp she pushed open the door and dove out of the car.
It wasn't the probability of being raped that scared Lisa, she could've handled that, it was the fear that the guy might have one of those diseases she'd been warned about and she didn't want none of that VD.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

being tested

arly evening he sat at the bar in the Elephant Walk and the guy next to him starts the conversation with a question, ``Where is everybody?  I lived here seven years ago, in '79 and you couldn't get in this place it was so packed.  I moved up to Oregon, this is the first time I've been back.  Where'd everybody go?''
He knew what the guy meant and it wasn't just people that were gone, something else was gone as well, a palpable joy among the customers at that time, the feeling that this was the best party ever.  And it wasn't only gays in the Castro, back then the singles crowd, the breeders, had filled fern bars on Union St. and the Bermuda Triangle and the bars in North Beach.  A guy dressed as W. C. Fields would move through those places some nights, tails and top hat, little cane, white gloves and white spats over his shoes, looked exactly like Fields, smiling at the gals, ``Hello, my Little Chickadee,'' the accent perfect, it really was W.C. right there in the bar.  Story was he'd even had silicon injected into his nose to make it more bulbous.  Richard Brautigan in a North Beach bar chatting up two girls and when they didn't know who he was he ran over to City Lights and bought them copies of his books with his picture on the back.
Now even in those straight bars that insouciance and exuberance which had filtered over from the Castro was damped down.  How else could he answer the guy in the Elephant Walk, he looked down at his drink and muttered, ``Don't think about it too much.''
``I know that,'' the visitor replied, ``I know what you're saying, but still, it can't be that bad.''
In a way the visitor sitting in this quiet, half empty bar at the corner of Castro and 18th in 1986 was right, it wasn't that bad, at least for those who weren't living in the midst of it.  For those who were, it was much, much . . .

❖       ❖       ❖

etting tested, the new form of commitment.  Larry and Doug had their blood drawn two weeks before and now sat in the waiting room of the Health Center on 17th Street.  Each would be called individually by number into a small office room and each would close the door and be told the results of the test.  Many would exit that door into a much different world than the one from which they'd entered.
Lore was that if you came out quickly you were negative, the ones that stayed in the room were being counseled, told what they should do in the face of this new information.  There were stories that some people had worried for so long that they were actually relieved on learning they were positive, no more uncertaintly about how their future was written.
Larry was called first and Doug gave his hand a little squeeze.  Larry knew what kind of life he'd led, knew where he'd been and what he'd done and he thoroughly expected the worst.  Friends had actually remarked with playful black humor that they were amazed he was still alive.  Doug stared at the closed door in hopes there was a prize behind it.
Minutes passed and the door remained shut.  Five minutes became seven and Doug finally couldn't stand it, he went to the door, knocked lightly and opened it.  Larry was in the chair facing the desk sobbing and the counseler was standing bent next to him holding his shoulders.  Larry craned his face around, his checks glistened with tears and blubbered, ``I'm negative!  I'm negative!''
The counseler had been trained for grief, not elation, and was at a loss as to what to do.

❖       ❖       ❖

ou phoned to make an appointment, were given a date and time to show up and a six digit number, the only way you would be known.  The testing and the results were completely anonymous.
On blood draw day you went into a room where a nurse wearing rubber gloves would tie off your arm, slide a needle into the bulged vein and withdraw about ten cc of dark venous blood into a plastic tube which is capped, labeled with your number and placed in a rack with similar tubes of fresh blood.
You returned to the same place to hear the results.  The waiting room had chairs along the wall, old magazines, random people sitting apart, a few couples, male couples mostly, sometimes a female couple, no one really talking.  The impersonal feel of a place where humans only passed through, where no one belonged or had reason to linger.
The door to an office opened and two men left quickly and he heard the woman holding the door call his number.  She went back to her chair behind the desk as he entered, closed the door and sat down across from her.  She ran her finger down the list in front of her and then slid it across the page, looked up and said blandly, ``You're negative.''
There was a moment while the information settled in and then he spoke quietly, more to himself than to her, ``I guess that means I get to watch it all.''
Her face took on a quizzical expression,  I just gave you the best news of your life!  She had heard him but his words didn't register and then after a bit she realized what he'd meant.
``Yeah,'' she said as he rose to leave, ``yeah, there are times when I think that might even be worse.''