n April, 1988 the night before she was to leave on the four month tour Dan phoned to verify that she would be home, he had a going away gift. She told him sure, she'd be packing all evening so come over any time.
Dan arrived holding a gift-wrapped package a bit larger than a phone book. It was very heavy and inside was a single volume from 1930s encyclopedia, almost four inches thick, bound in maroon leather. Embossed gilt type showed it covered subjects beginning with the letter M, everything from Maasin to Mzabites. On the cover page he had enscribed a message, ``Dear Cindy, there's nothing better than a good book to relax you after a long day on the road,'' and beneath that wrote, ``You might look especially under the section 'Measures and Weights.' ''
Dan had always known her as Cindy unaware that during the past months in the workshop she had taken on a new name and that by the time she returned from tour would barely respond to Cindy. He sat in the living room, a mischievous grin like a little kid who's hidden a Whoopee cushion as he watched her open the book.
year before she had worked at a Macy's fragrance counter on the first floor near the escalators. It wasn't the type of job she'd ever planned on doing but in 1980 there was a lull in the small theater shows she had worked with and an old coworker told her of an opening in the ticket office of the Union Square store. Macy's rented out space to private services, an optometrist, cookie bakery, and in this case a ticket vendor. Customers could use their Macy's card for sports events, music concerts and of course theater shows. At that time she just assumed this job would be temporary, that new shows at the Alcazar and Little Fox and Hippodrome would open soon, little knowing that local theater would be one more casualty of the still unseen epidemic. After a few weeks she brought in one of the forms used at her theaters and showed it to the boss when he made his daily breeze through, crowding the space already cramped with two employees. She demonstrated how it gave a better accounting of the various discounts and promos that made keeping track of multiple simultaneous events a nightmare.
He watched over her shoulder listening until she finished, then thanked her for showing initiative and said that might've worked for those small houses but this wasn't amateur hour here, ``I deal with major promoters at stadium size venues all over the Bay Area and we'll just keep doing it my way.'' Thanks but no thanks.
After he left she muttered, ``This is why I worked in those little amateur theaters, no fucking bureaucracy.''
A few days later she was called down to a Personnel office, a union rep and a store manager and her boss were there, the boss saying he wanted her fired and he didn't want anyone else with previous experience to be hired. The meeting was mostly legal formality, she told her story and it was noted. To work in the store you had to be union so she couldn't be fired and instead was transferred to a cosmetics and fragrance counter on the main floor near the elevators, a job where few lasted very long. But she found two gay coworkers, Edward and Gerard, who shared an enthusiasm for casual insubordination and soon they had rearranged things so that they all were working together in the same area.
Shift schedules and break schedules got organized to give the trio maximum overlap, thus they could run up the street to Bardelli's on mid-afternoon break when the restaurant was quiet and the sun lit the gorgeous stained-glass peacock over the little entrance-way. The owner's son worked the bar and she finally had to tell him not to put so much vodka in her drink, words she never thought she'd hear from her mouth. They'd come back into Macy's through the employee entrance, squeezing by security seated at the large bank of black-and-white monitors that covered the store, silent customers seen at odd angles from above, moving out of the bottom of the picture and entering on an adjacent screen from the right. The guys would glance over and shake their heads.
A month or so after she was moved downstairs, when the ticket service operator disappeared with hundreds of thousands of dollars he hadn't paid those major promoters of stadium size venues, the store manager who'd sat in when she was transferred came down and said, ``I guess we should have listened to you.''
dward and Gerard would have so much fun putting makeup on her, mascara around the eyes, cheekbone highlights and multicolored lips, redoing her after a few hours. A new look deserved a new name and she'd noticed in the employee rule book that you had to wear a nametag while on the floor but it didn't say the tag had to be in your name. Lorelei and Mitzi and Gert all got nametags and though she'd just grab one from the drawer Edward and Gerard became convinced that her personality for that day was reflected by the name.
Lorelei was aloof and cool, would answer a customer's question with, ``Edward knows more about that than I do, he'll be glad to assist you,'' turning away and moving to the far end of the counter. Mitzi was scatterbrained, ditzy, the little finger held to the front teeth and a ``Tee-hee,'' as excuse for any silly act.
Gert was the one they feared, Gerard watching as she pins on her tag then running to Edward, ``It's Gert!'' And they would step lightly.
But mostly it was just playful fun to get through a day, none of them planned to make a career of this, it paid the rent so they could live in San Francisco. They'd stand around and mutter catty remarks about the customers that streamed past, gossip about people they knew, and brag about their carousing.
``I was a docent on Angel Island last summer,'' Gerard is telling them, ``we get to see so many places where the public isn't allowed.'' Edward, ``How would you know? You probably spent the whole time in the men's room.''
``We've made Thursdays `Gay Night' at the ice rink in San Mateo, a bunch of us get in cars and drive down and take over the place. At some point in the evening they do these theme skates, Just the Boys, Just the Girls and when he gets to Couples Only the announcer adds, `That's Couples, Boy-Girl, Girl-Boy.' Like that stopped us.''
She opens her drawer behind the counter one morning to see a female doll bound and gagged with a ransom note.
Edward explains it to them, ``Macy's likes to hire gays because we're such fashion trend-setters, you go out on the street and look at all those well-dressed shoppers and most of the guys are imitation our styles.'' Gerard, ``The only people I see out there mimicking your style are pushing shopping carts.''
And of course, and not the least, their sexual exploits, ``I was about fifteen and already fully aware of where my yearnings lay. There weren't a lot of outlets there in the middle of Indiana but I found some advertisements in a paper and answered one. I got home from school first so could get the mail and sent a reply to this man. We were going to meet up but the way he worded the second letter put me off, I got scared, he wrote, `I cannot emphasize this too greatly, you must have absolutely no body hair.' ''
Edward paused to let this sink in then said, ``But I did go meet the second guy.''
Sunday nights at the discos became locals night, what with so many antique shops, hair salons, restaurants closed on Monday the Castro boys didn't have to mingle with the bridge and tunnels types. Gerard is telling how they left the Troc a little before the 6 a.m. closing to get a cab ahead of the crowd and be at the Balconey when it began serving alcohol. ``We have to wait a bit outside and get in the cab just as everyone else starts streaming out the door. The driver sits there a minute and watches, then picks up the mike, 'Better send the rest,' he says. We pull away and I ask what that was all about. 'The doorman wanted forty cabs so the dispatcher sent fifteen. After I saw all you people I knew we needed the other twenty-five.' ''
Edward is recapping, ``I was up at the River and this one bartender was so hot that when he asks what I want I toss my room key on the bar and say, `I want you to come up to my room so I can give you a blowjob.' He says, `Can't, gotta work.' So I say, 'In that case I want a scotch and soda.' ''
He looks around to make sure there are no customers, then continues, ``After I get back I'm down in the men's room at the Castro theater and this guy's giving a blowjob by the urinals and he looks at me and says, ``Don't leave, you're next.''
Edward smiles at Cindy, ``I'll bet you wish you had a penis.'' She doesn't even pause, ``Oh I think I've had a few.''
For almost a decade Gerard had been the featured cartoonist in the national gay magazine The Advocate, he was given a full page each month for his cartoons that depicted svelte young men with beefy shoulders, tight butts and impossibly thin waistlines.
Over time Gerard begin bringing in cartoons he'd done of a Cindy character, lanky and blond standing at the cosmetics counter eyes rolled as she says to a customer, ``Lady, I'm way too cool to even talk to you.'' or the ice princess approached at a club, ``Don't ask, I won't dance.''
As the 1980s ended Gerard's cartoon page had to be cancelled, the world he depicted had all but disappeared, the happy-go-lucky gays with their campy problems had given way to one where all humor was bitter, the rainbow flag at permanent half-mast. As a gift he did a multipanel story for her, ``Bleachy Locks and the Three Dicks,'' with Cindy playing the roll he would have normally drawn for a gay man.
The employees went on strike and initially most everyone came out and picketed but after a while most drifted away. But not their little group and being out on the street every day gave them an authority; prior to this they could've cared less about being in a union. They sang rally songs in Union Square, calling themselves ``Wilson and the Pickets.'' By the time the strike ended everyone working the floor knew them.
he took Dan's book with her on that first tour and later, when they did small displays and could fly with quilt in large duffels (once a skycap grabbed at the straps and groaned, saying``What'd you got in here, dead bodies?'') she'd carry it on the plane. At security the book would glide into the x-ray tunnel and she would watch the woman at the monitor stop the conveyer, back it, glance up to see who was standing there and then shake her head, smiling.
She left it under her seat in DFW and realized it as soon as she got in the terminal so ran back down the tube into the now empty cabin. Three stewardesses prim in navy uniforms were huddled down the aisle with the opened book and as she approached one looked up and said, having read the inscription, ``Why you must be Cindy.''
They returned the book and thanked her for the best laugh they'd had in years.
hen the workshop got underway she'd stop in to sew for a while after work, there was no organization, just people showing up. Many wanted help sewing a single panel and over time those who were there most often took the time to assist them, usually doing the more difficult parts themselves. She'd forget to remove her Macy's name tag and people began calling her Gert. Soon, if someone needed thread or fabric or instruction, it was ``Ask Gert.'' Jack was always there, after Joe had died and then Wade had died and Jack had taken the HIV Early Retirement Plan he had nowhere else to go. You could hear him across the room, his voice rising over the drum of the machines, an imploring ``Gerr-eert.'' Because no one else bothered she learned to fix the constantly snagging and breaking machines so that ``Can you wait until Gert gets here?'' was the usual recommendation.
It had been over a year since Roger had died, her other life still overlapped, the life where she was Cindy, a girlfriend wanting her to get out more, you need to meet some new people, drove a group down to a sports bar in San Mateo. They pass the brightly lit entrance and Mollie begins to circle for a place to park. Cindy goes, ``Stop, let me out!'' Mollie says, ``Wait so we can all go in together.''
She's already got the car door open, ``If I walk in that place with three other women I'll never meet anyone.''
They're at a table now chatting across the aisle with a group of guys. The room is jumping, multiple TV screens flicker as waitresses hefting drink trays drift past walls of framed photos of leaping catches, corkscrew swings, newspaper headlines in Second Coming type, a noisy sports bar in the early evening, surrounded by memories. Mollie is at the cigarette machine when one of the guys asks Cindy where she lives. ``San Francisco?'' he says, ``Aren't you worried, things are kind of scary up there?'' She thinks, take it easy Cindy, give this guy a chance, she scans the place, all the activity, ``Things look pretty wild right here if you ask me.''
But the guy persists, ``No, I mean aren't you scared with all those fags dying of AI . . .'' which was all he got out of his mouth before she is up out of her chair, ``Why don't you just go Fuck Yourself Asshole!''
She pulls Mollie away, ``Come on, we're going.'' and Mollie says, ``Cindy, I left you alone for ten seconds! —what did you do?''
itting in the living room the night Dan brought the book she did as he asked, pulled it open to find Dan had labouriously hollowed out the interior and in the open space lay an enormous anatomically correct battery operated dildo, the infamous three D-cell Folsom Street Special, the ones kept up on the wall display behind the counter, Are You Man Enough?
She sits there just staring at it, Dan says, ``You need to name it, why don't you call it Steely.''
``I'm not going to call it Steely, Dan.''
``Then what? It should have a name.''
She looks up at him and says, ``Pee Wee.''
The next morning during the final loading of Stella as everyone hugged and well-wished she showed the book around. They were going out into America, across the whole continent and had no idea what to expect. Their joke was that they had raised enough money to get to Boston and after that it was just a big uncertainty.
Except it wasn't really a joke.
A week later, when they would've reached Phoenix, Marcel had a little anxiety attack as he opened the office that morning and saw the Western Union Overnight Special Delivery envelope that had been slid under the door. He knew what these cost, Gert wouldn't have wasted the money unless it was important, unless something had gone very wrong.
He ignored the blinking phone lines to open the telegram and then relaxed as he read the blocked words, ``SEND BATTERIES!''