T ypical June day for the Pride Parade, luminous fog overhead, jacket weather chill, basic summer in San Francisco. On Market Street the parade continued but she wanted to beat the crowd to the underground so was cutting across wide Civic Center plaza when she saw it. At the far end of the enormous open space surrounded by granite buildings a smudge of color leaked over the City Hall facade. Hung from the outdoor balcony was quilt and there was David, her David.
Cindy hadn't heard anything more from these people after that first meeting. She stared above the tall doorways where large cloth squares billowed and flattened with the gusts. Eight panels in each square—so this is how they would do it.
Someone told her they'd seen Roger at a booth back across the plaza and she headed there. A wood frame braced panels mounted behind a table. The guy she'd sat next to at the meeting, Jack, was standing there staring as well. ``Sure we remember you two,'' the person at the table probably thinking they were a couple. ``We just signed a lease on a storefront on Market Street so have a place to sew to get ready for the march in Washington. Stop by, we can use all the help we can get.'' Handing a flier headed with a phrase she'd never seen, ``The Names Project.''
By Pride day in 1987 the epidemic was a permanent fixture, the playful insouciant joie de vivre that was everywhere a decade before was gone, as irretrievable as the people whose names now hung from the balcony. You were aware of it not just in the twenty or more obituaries, small headshots of young men in prime of life, that ran each week in the BAR or in the framed photos of faces displayed in shop windows on Castro Street, employees everyone had known, or in the increasing number of memorials but in every little aspect of daily life. You were surrounded by the epidemic.
It was there in snippets of casual conversation you might overhear, ``He moved back home, someplace like Indiana.'' Or ``I should have known something was wrong, if there was a choice he always bought the cheapest; this time he didn't bother.'' Or simply, ``He was diagnosed.''
It was there in the exchange of friends upon running into one another, ``Tom, love your new look, you've trimmed down, lost weight, that shirt looks fabulous on you.'' Tom all but shouting, ``I Have Not Lost Any Weight!''
It was there on the sidewalk as you move aside for the scrawny guy coming towards you, baggy wrinkled clothes, matted hair, who halts as head turns and deep-set eyes lock in a long stare that follows as you pass. You hear a weak rasp that almost sounds like your name. A few more steps before you stop, Larry ? That can't be Larry—I just saw him a few weeks ago. That's when you realize the guy must still be behind you gawking. By the time you turn he has continued down the sidewalk leaning a bit unsteadily on a cane.
The Castro Street Doubletake.
She had a day off the following Wednesday, standing there in front of this booth where Roger was displayed she and the guy Jack made a date to check out this new place on Market Street.
n 1979 a contingent representing San Francisco charted Amtrak to carry them to that year's March on Washington that commemorated the tenth anniversary of Stonewall. A piano was installed in the bar car and essentially they planned to take the San Francisco party through the hinterlands, singing and drinking as America slid by outside the windows. The train had barely crossed out of Nevada into Utah before they completely ran out of booze. Fully stocked at departure and now nothing, not a drop. Then true divine intervention, in Ogden a fundamentalist lay on the tracks to block their passage.
``The Lord works in mysterious ways,'' was yelled as they piled out running to the grocery across the tracks, guys in leather chaps raced guys with mascara smeared eyes, feather boas elbowed ahead of lumberjacks, all with a single destination: the liquor aisle.
``Thank you Baby Jesus!''
Clark was one of the first in line, honey blond curls nestling on his shoulders, rainbow tie-dye tee, a quart of vodka in each hand and he heard the woman in front of him say to the cashier, ``MayBelle, you should have seen what just got off of that train out there!''
Maybelle paused her ring to lean over, ``Don't look now but they're all in line right behind you.''
These were the Baby Boomers, children of people who had lived through the Depression and then the War and wanted little more than an uneventful life, a peaceful Leave It To Beaver existence. Job, house, family, the little black and white images on the set that dominated the living room was all the excitement the parents needed. Stability, if June said, after vacuuming the already spotless rug in her heels and pearls, ``Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver,'' you knew it wasn't going to be anything like, ``How so, dear?'' laying down his paper to look up.
``He's been trying on my lipstick and jewelry.''
``It's just a phase honey, went through it myself, he'll outgrow it.''
These Boomers didn't outgrow it, their war, the one that tore America apart, Vietnam, had finally ended, and they were in the extended liberated celebration. Growing up with only three TV network stations almost all of them had the exact same experience most nights no matter where in the country they lived. Most could remember when color came into the living room and all could remember where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot.C
indy met Jack at a bar down the street and after a drink they walked to 2362 Market. They stood in the glass doorway and peered into the empty room, a wide area with a floating staircase at the far end leading up to a mezzanine level. The space had been an apartment furnishings store, a business that couldn't compete now with so many Everything Must Go sidewalk sales. The walls and carpet were gray (the color taupe if you were gay), track lights crossed the ceiling and the mezzanine ran around the left side above them. ``Well, what do you think?'' Jack said. ``Sure seems big,'' she answered.
In the weeks that followed, as word got out and panels began coming in for the display in Washington the room filled, with sewing machines, with piles of cloth, with volunteers working at almost all hours. People just showed up, John Anthony appeared one afternoon, he'd left his home at the River forever with no place to stay, nothing but his plaid shirt, construction boots and jeans, waving about twenty Post-Its, ``Anybody want to help me make panels? These are names of all my friends, they're all dead.''
He wasn't the only one. Outside this room the epidemic had circled and settled, a harsh gray world, four or five young men died each day, the realization that everyone was infected and had next to no hope. Inside there was laughter (``We who are about to die. . .''), color, enthusiasm; where death was so present here was life, for how ever little of it they had left. Just to be able to do something, anything, in the face of this enormity was enough. For many who would sew there this place would be their last real home, it became a warroom, here they were mounting a campaign and this place was the Alamo.