In the Introduction to his best known work William Burroughs explained that the title meant ``exactly what the words say . . . a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.''
ou have received an invitation to one of the weekly lunches that the wealthy matrons Mimsy and Delia preside over at the Poodle Dog, old world wood-panel elegance, rich leather banquettes, sparkling crystal. Soft music. Catty gossip and gentle quips volley around the table amid giggles and Oh My's while waiters in formal attire hover discreetly, serving carts glide past and the maître d' keeps a close watch. At these lunches sit the crème de la crème of San Francisco, opening night at the opera and symphony, private boxes, parties in ballrooms of estates that have ballrooms, without these women there would be no society page, no society. You have arrived.
As you lift Chef François' famous Bœuf Bourguignon to your mouth the room light suddenly intensifies, colors bleach in the dazzling glare, all movement and sound halts. Even squinting it is difficult to look around the table. The moment is frozen.
At the end of your fork, instead of the famous Bœuf , no longer couched in the trappings of society, you see a chunk of raw meat, dead flesh from the dumb beast that screamed in primal agony when slaughtered, it drips blood that spots the starched and immaculate white cloth. Across the table Mimsy and Delia sit naked, their veins a sickly blue against pale wrinkled skin. They glare at you as lips curl over teeth into a snarl.
runch on the cafe patio, settled into canvas director's chairs at a round table shaded by a red and navy Cinzano umbrella, protected from the wind by a weathered wood fence, bright magenta bougainvillea cascades over one side and gnarled branches and beards of purple wisteria form a trellis that frames the entrance. After a night closing bars on Folsom Street Joe, Wade and Jack have returned, the wide empty boulevard outside looks completely different in the daylight. The waiter comes over, ``What can I get you guys to drink?'' It's eleven a.m.
Jack starts, ``I'll have a screwdriver,'' and before the waiter can say, ``No,'' and before Jack can ask why not Wade has grasped his forearm and speaks, ``He'll have an Anita.''
The waiter walks away and Wade says, ``We're boycotting orange juice, you must have heard the crap that bitch is spewing about us in Florida. It's scary enough our new President is a born-again, soon we may be boycotting peanuts too.''
Three leather men at next table are passing a hand-rolled cigarette, Jack raises his nose into the air, sniffs, smiles, ``Mmmm, something smells good. Is that on your menu, I didn't see it on mine.''
``Want some?'' Joint is coming across as a waiter passes, three plates fanned out in his left hand, one plate held in his right. He stops, sets the one plate down, intercepts the joint, takes a quick puff then retrieves the plate and continues on.
As Jack hands the roach back the swarthy guy in black jacket leans towards him, preceded by his body odor, stubble surrounding his smile, ``You into FFA?''
Jack, just off that boat from Kokomo, Indiana takes a sip of his vodka and apple juice and shakes his head, he doesn't understand the question.
Grimacing the guy repeats himself, enunciating each word slowly like explaining to a child, "I said, Are-You-Into-F-F-A?"
Jack ponders a second, then answers, he has to say something, ``Well I think they had it at my high school.''
After the meal and after them buying the leather guys a round of drinks and after the leather guys buying them a round of drinks, as they cross Folsom Street in the early afternoon sunlight to the car, Joe clues him in, ``That guy wasn't talking about Future Farmers, Jack, the places he goes to they give you a cup of Crisco when you come through the door.''
Further up the block Jack sees the three leather guys walk to a car where one opens the trunk lid and helps another into the dark and cramped space. Then he shuts the lid.
Wade is unlocking the door to the car, squinting from the sun, ``Where to now—the night is young!''
ay and Eddie are getting the store ready for Sunday brunch, arranging the salt and pepper, napkins, thin glass vases with daisies and baby bottles of half-and-half on the tables. And recounting their respective Saturday nights, why they're so hungover. Ray is saying, ``We started at the Eagle and then went Stud, FeBe's, Powerhouse, Ambush and after that I'm not sure. Actually after the Stud I'm not too sure. But I know I was there!''
``You must've been at the Stud before I got there, I didn't see you.'' Eddie is over at the bar marrying the ketchup and the mustard in their respective red and yellow squirt bottles, his face has a smooth sheen and his eyes are dark from the makeup and mascara not quite removed. ``You wouldn't have recognized me anyway. I was Glenda the Gorgeous, you know, that leather miniskirt and dark wig with the bangs. And I was gorgeous, this guy danced with me half the night and kept buying drinks and I don't think about it until we get back to his place and I realize he's clueless.''
``So what happens—he want the money back for the drinks?''
``We're in his kitchen under this horrid flourescent light and he's casually leaning against the wall holding his white wine, Mr. Cool, and I don't know what else to say so I just go, `So do you like to suck dick?' His eyes get real big and he sort of melts, slides down the wall holding his wine till he's sitting on the floor staring up with his mouth open.''
Eddie turns, head up, left arm akimbo and right tossed in the air to wave an imaginary cigarette holder, ``I mean I was hot, girl!''
n a human sense the epidemic was ending about 1992 and was all but over by 1996, that is, so many had died among various groups of friends and with each death fewer were left in each group that there was no one to write an obituary. Even with a miracle cure too many people had died, their world would never return, they lived in a community of ghosts. The protease inhibitors became available in 1996 and the death rate slowed but for the community that had arrived to march and dance in the late 1970s who was around to celebrate? The T-shirt read, ``I only want two things: a cure and all my friends back.''
In 1996 a final full display of the quilt was done in DC, after that it would be too large to ever be shown in its entirety again. And around 1996 the first of a new type of gay began showing up in San Francisco.
Those who'd come in the 70s had just arrived, no job, no place to live, they just wanted to be part of the storied mix, to see what was happening, to join in the fun. And what they created merely by being a part of that mix, was unique in all the world. The new y2k-era gays came for job interviews first and moved only when certain that a safe, secure world awaited them. Then, a few thousand miles from home, they would come out of the closet screaming about discrimination and marginalization, and about how brave they are now, living as an openly gay man right here in San Francisco. These gays brought a new kind of virus with them, it was called gentrification but that term, implying something well-bred and genteel, was mere social trapping for what it was doing to San Francisco.
By 1996 most of the Folsom Street places were gone and an earlier attempt by the city planners to rebrand the area as SOMA now succeeded. The city planners caught the first wave of a dot-com economy and proclaimed ``Multimedia Gulch'' as a great live/ work place for young computer graphics artists and software engineers in an industry about to explode in this new Internet thing.
Fifteen years later Multimedia Gulch was the Edsel of the San Francisco Planning Department and they quietly changed tactics, pushing the area as a glamorous Transbay District. Same people, same ideas but couched now in the New Urbanist clichés and catch phrases used by city planners everywhere. Maybe it was just San Francisco but it seemed like gays lacking the creativity and aesthetic sensibility necessary for the traditional theater and music and arts careers found City Planning as a college major amenable to their true talent: moving into an entrenched beauracracy, identifying those in power and kissing up to them. Rarely did their plans produce any of the wonderful outcomes promised in their fancy reports and presentations but they always moved on before the failure was obvious.
efore he got in the car Jack scanned Folsom Street once more in the daylight, trying to see where they'd been the night before. Long brick warehouses, faded signs, unmarked doorways, dark casement windows and cracked chicken wire glass, could have been any of these. He remembers guys sitting naked on stools along one bar as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A barber chair was racked flat at the far end where a naked customer was spread out and being coated with lather. The barber wore a leather face mask and skull cap while giving a complete body shave, the straight razor gliding over the skin, then raised and the gobs of lather slopped into a bucket. The scrotal area was saved for last, a show made with the long blade, slow titillation around those most precious of body parts.
Afterwards the guy would join the others at the bar to get that free drink and show off his sleek new look.
Back on the sidewalk where a half block away a burly doorman allowed them through another unmarked entrance and Jack almost immediately got separated from Joe and Wade. Every inch of the interior was painted flat black and every opening and stairwell seemed to have someone leaning beside it like security, apparently allowing only certain people through. Jack had to brush past one hefty guy with arms crossed who eyed him with disdain and found he was in a urine stenched bathroom, tall ceramic urinals and guys having sex. Joe and Wade weren't there and as Jack quickly left he bumped by the guy again. He said, ``You looking for something?''
Jack just nodded, ``Yeah,'' over his shoulder and kept going. From behind him as he moved away he heard the guy's answer, it seemed to sum up everything about San Francisco in this era, the guy said with confidence, ``Well I have it.''
urroughs again: ``Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. . . . A bureau operates on the principle of inventing needs to justify its existence . . . a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus. . . . Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.''
In San Francisco, in y2k, as this new gentrification virus stalked the city, there on the end of every fork, as it was lifted from the little can, slippery and glistening with brine, one saw a pale and flaccid cocktail wiener.