Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sisters (Part 13)

     It was a hell of a crowd that descended on Angel's trattoria.  There was just no way we would be on the patio, we'd be inside using banquet seating.  Those present were Erica, Fang, Jill, Mallory, Glee, Feather, Bekka, Gladys, and two new friends of Gladys': Betty and Norma.  They were both lesbians about Gladys' age, and had been introduced by a waitress at Girl Bar, who knew them from some activist work she'd done.  The three had met at Girl Bar that afternoon and got along like a house on fire.  I'd offered to take the whole  crew out to dinner, if Gladys and the two other women were amenable.  Gladys called me from the bar and said she'd love to have dinner with these women.  I gave her instructions to the trattoria and told her to be there around 6:30.

     Not only was I the only one present with both an X and Y chromosome, heterosexuals were outnumbered, two to one....  And that included putting Bekka in the "straight" category.  Just our arrival caused consternation, especially when Fang, Erica, Feather, and Glee arrived.  They'd taken Fang's behemoth of a '71 /Chevy Impala, a massive brutish vehicle with oxidized blue paint and a 454 cubic inch motor.  Seeing this thing approaching in your rear view, you would move over to let it by.  You could be at the wheel of a half-track, and you'd let Fang by.  All four had the hardcore punk look going, especially Erica and Fang.  Both had been "collecting" piercings since arriving in Los Angeles --- they'd met a piercing tech who was willing to do work on underage Fang after hours --- and had a bit of surgical steel in them, in various parts of their bodies.  They had agreed to both get their clitoral hoods pierced on the same day, so they'd both heal at the same rate and be ready to jump back into their usual frenetic sex life at the same time.
     The valets were not amused.  A hulking slab of Detroit iron with bad paint, dispersing four punk rock girls....  One is wearing a Queer Nation muscle shirt with no bra, another is in a leather jacket with the word "DYKE" across the back in pink, five inch high letters.  And....  Oh my God, that's Feather, the Inana Girl.  The four joined us at the benches next to the entrance.  The valets looked and nodded: okay, Lenny Schneider is here, that's right.  Yeah, these are definitely his friends.
     Gladys, Betty, and Norma arrive a couple minutes later in Gladys' Chevelle hot rod.  They were in high spirits.  Gladys was smiling widely, while the other two were laughing out loud.  After introductions had been made, I asked what all the mirth was about.  Norma said, "Good lord, this old lady is a demon at the wheel!  Riding with her is definitely an E-ticket attraction!"
     "Are you showing off at the wheel again, Auntie?" asked Fang.
     With her grin still in place, Gladys said, "Well, ya know, they were asking about the Chevelle, so I kinda put it through it's paces.  I wasn't starting up any hoo-hah, okay?  Just a demo of the sixty foot time and a couple drifts.."
     To elaborate to the new women, Fang said, "It't totally sick.  I'm sixteen, and Auntie Gladys has faster fuckin' reaction times than me.  Never worry about being a passenger with her, even when she is hot rodding it."
     We went in.  Spotting me leading this ensemble, Mr. Smith the maitre'd gave me a worried look over the shoulder of the tourist he was busy abusing.  Instructions were to seat Lenny, Bekka, and any friends they had with them on the patio, the exclusive section of the trattoria.  Tourists would never be seated out there.  Hollywood stars could eat at the trattoria in peace, they'd be seated on the patio.  Anyone else out there would be too cool to ask for an autograph.  And now I was showing up with ten women at once.
     I stepped up to reassure Mr. Smith.  "Don't worry, honey, we'll be in the banquet seating.  I'm not expecting you to seat this menagerie on the patio."
     All 120 swishing pounds of Mr. Smith looked relieved.  "Thanks, babe.  Load off my mind.  Let's see, there's.... eleven of you."  He gestured flamboyantly at the girls and women, loudly preening, "This way, ladies!"  Marching into the depths of the main dining room, Mr. Smith began singing "We're Off To See The Wizard" as he let us on.  I drew in last, Bekka at my side.
     I hadn't realized we had been followed.  A hand suddenly clapped on my shoulder.  I spun towards it, to find myself looking at an angry middle-aged tourist.  He was wearing a Colonel Blake fishing cap, a Hawaiian shirt, Action Slacks, and knock-off running shoes.  Fanny pack?  Of course he was wearing a fanny pack.  He had a hook nose, grey hair, and was pissed off.
     "What the hell is this?" he demanded.  "Me and my wife and friends get told ninety minutes wait for a table, and you people just waltz on in?  That little faggot ignored us so he could take care of....  you!  What the hell is this?"
     I dead-eyed him and said in a bored voice, "We had reservations, now move the hand or get it broken."  I started to turn.
     He grabbed the shoulder and pushed, trying to spin me back his way.  I grabbed the hand and twisted it in a come-along maneuver. pulling downwards, forcing him to bend and grunt with pain.  I stopped when he was on one knee.  Even from there, he did have some guts.  He snarled up at me, "I tried to get reservations, they said they didn't take 'em here!  What's your story?"  I let go of his hand and he stood up again.
     Bekka told him lazily, "While America likes to pretend it's a classless society, who you are and who you know still count for a hell of a lot.  Especially in Los Angeles, and definitely in high-class Los Angeles restaurants.  Mr. Smith, our host, knows us and knows who we are, so we receive preferential treatment.  This is one of the very few places where I take advantage of it.  QED.  Don't try to tell me you don't have similar behavior where you're from."
     "Where is home, sir?" I purred.
     "Tuscaloosa, Alabama," he said proudly.  "Home of the Crimson Tide. I'm an offensive coach for the team."
     I made myself look confused and said, "Um, you lost me after the word 'Alabama.'  You're a coach for what, again?"
     "The Crimson Tide!  University of Alabama!  Bear Bryant's school, ya gotta know that!"
     Bekka said brightly, "Oh, college football!  Now I understand!"
     "You do?" I asked.
     "Yes.  College football is what they have in lieu of actual education at a lot of schools in the country.  It tends to be very profitable for everyone except the players, and provides the sort of 'bread and circuses' spectacle many places need as a distraction for the local residents.  Lots of civic pride is taken in college football, to distract from the blinkered existences most of the locals endure."
     I nodded sagely.  "Okay, like the Florida Gators, where Jane's scumbag dad works."  Turning to the Coach, I smiled and stuck out a hand.  "Hello, Lenny Schneider.  I guess we both work in the entertainment industry."
     Coach looked baffled.  "What?  No, like I said, I'm an offensive football coach."
     "And college football is a source of entertainment.  It costs money for people to see your team play, right?  They sit and watch while the team does....  Whatever it is they do?  That's pretty much the definition of entertainment."
     Bekka continued, "And I'm sure there are plenty of places in Alabama where you, your fellow coaches, and members of the team are treated with great deference, getting preferential treatment, getting service the plebes will never see.  I'm sure every Waffle House in Alabama will always have one booth empty, no matter how busy they are, in case members of the Lavender Tide show up."
     "Crimson Tide," Coach corrected tersely.  He scowled at Bekka saying, "I know you.  You're that dirty picture lady, Becky Page.  They give you special treatment here, for what you do?"
     "I'm a successful entertainer," Bekka shrugged.  "Why wouldn't they?"
     "I remember hearing about you on Jerry Fallwood's show," graveled Coach.  "Disgraceful."
     I stepped in Coach's face, our noses inches away.  "Hi, I'm her husband.  The guy who got shot up by Fallwood's zealots just over a year ago.  Nearly bled to death, a 30.06 round does some damage to the human body.  Two of them, even more so.  I have this terrible feeling you're gonna have something incredibly stupid come out of your mouth, on the subject of the woman I love.  You have no idea how angry that will make me.  You need to return to the front, collect your wife and friends, and make other dinner plans.  Just trust me on this, okay?"
     I had four inches and some weight on the guy.  His voice quavered, but he still had the balls to say, "Or what?"
     There was a clicking noise to our side.  Bekka was standing there with her Colt leveled at Coach's head, a comfortable two-hand grip.  The barrel of the Colt Defender was six inches from Coach's temple.  She was flicking the safety on and off, over and over.  Click, click click, click....  Bekka said, "Or you will learn just how cheap life is in Southern California.  No one will ever find your body.  And yes, we've made it happen before.  So, you were just leaving....  right?  And not having any stupid ideas about ringing the law to complain about the dirty picture lady pointing a gun at you?  Just walking away quietly, to find dinner somewhere else?"
     A trickle of sweat ran down Coach's face.  The only muscles in his body that moved were in his jaw, as he said, "Yeah."
     Bekka holstered her pistol and said brightly, "Well!  Nice meeting you, coach!  You have a nice evening, buh-bye, now."
     Coach walked quickly away, just as Mr. Smith came around the corner looking for us.  "Didn't I leave a big enough trail of bread crumbs?" he asked.
     "Sorry, we got distracted by a fellow diner," I said.  "Would-be diner, anyway.  The tourists who were up front are leaving.
     Mr. Smith beamed, "Lenny, Bekka, you sweethearts.  Always running off the degenerates for me.  What tactic did you use this time?  Did I miss another good bit of improv theater?"
     "This one wasn't theatrical," Bekka pointed out.  "We used a mixture of sarcasm and violence.  In fact, if the police arrive, looking for Becky Page and her husband, try to signal us so we can hide in the walk-in cooler."
     "Oh my."  With a sly look, Mr. Smith said, "I don't want to know, do I?"
     "Probably not."
     "I swear, if you two ever get bored with making all that hot porn, I'll bully Angel into giving you jobs here.  You two would be paid to do nothing except frighten tourists into leaving all day.  Yes, I'm a snob, yes, you two are geniuses, and yes, I want the fanny pack foot brigade the hell out of my restaurant.  $400 a day each sound good?  Plus meals?"
     We'd been walking and talking, arriving where the rest were seated.  I looked at Fang and Erica, and a light bulb went on over my head.  I said to Mr. Smith, "You know....  If you're serious, I may be able to help.  Let me work on it for a few minutes, you may have your Tourist Deflection Squad sooner than you think.  Not me and Bekka, but people just as effective.  I'll walk up and talk to you in a while."
     Mr. Smith gave me his sly, in-the-know smile and said, "Talk to you soon, sugar."
     We had two waiters, a tall blonde twink named Julian and another guy I didn't know, but who had the same gay porn star look as the rest of the wait-staff.  They collected drink orders and scuttled towards the bar.  I turned to Erica and Fang and said, "So tell me, are you two familiar with improvisational acting?"
     They shrugged and said, "Yeah, sure."
     "Okay, great.  How would you two like part-time jobs working here?"
     "Are you serious?" asked Erica.  "I've never done restaurant work.  What would we be doing?"
     Bekka responded, "Horrifying people into leaving before they're seated.  If you've never guessed, this place thrives on snobbery.  The trattoria is very popular with the Hollywood set.  They can eat in privacy, talk about anything they want, and never worry about being approached by fans.  The hoi polloi eat out on the patio, the plebes are seated in the main dining room....  if they're seated at all.  The maitre'ds will go to great lengths to avoid seating tourists anywhere in the trattoria.  They can't just say, 'You're tourists, get the fuck out,' but they'll delay them so long the tourists give up.  But even then, they're occupying space in the bar or at the entrance."
     I continued to elaborate.  "Me and Bekka, or sometimes me and Terry, have managed to terrify groups of tourists into leaving in the past.  We've done it just by telling ugly stories and acting in inappropriate ways.  We were only amusing ourselves, but Bruno and Mr. Smith and the other maitre'ds loved us for it.  We'd removed an eyesore from the trattoria much more efficiently than they could.
     Mallory was giving us her amused, suspicious smirk.  "Okay guys, you like terrorizing people, I know that.  Remember what you did to our property manager?"
     "Who picked up two more sets of clients from us later," I pointed out.  Erica and Fang went through Rod, so did Gladys.  Okay, we gave him a thrill...."
     "You terrified him!  Bekka drove down Lincoln Boulevard at eighty-five like a maniac!  So how did you terrify tourists here?"
     "Let's see...." said Bekka.  "Okay, one time I put on an airhead voice and made allusions to all the bestiality porn I'd been making recently, claiming to be Becky Page's double.  Another time, when I wasn't recognized, Lenny and I claimed to be brother and sister, from a mega-rich family in Bel Air, then started making out.  When the tourists asked us if we were really brother and sister, we explained that yes we were.  We'd been in love since we were eleven and twelve, respectively.  Our sexual activities ate up a good six or eight hours a day, and we were trying for our first baby.  They said that was horrible, so we started going off on how repressed Americans are, we wouldn't get a second glance in Europe.  They also left in disgust."
     "Terry and I told stories to one group about the constant violence in our lives, and the lives of most other people in LA.  We explained that getting on the freeway was essentially entering into a death match with every other driver, and how the CHP had devolved into a bizarre, state-funded vigilante squad made up of hardcore tweakers who would work for days at a time.  CHP patrolmen pretty much lived in their cruisers.  They were all major meth addicts at this point.  They'd shake people down for money so they could buy more dope, but also had a weird law-and-order bend to them, like the Knights Errant of the freeways.  They'd stay awake for days and days, spun as shit, just constantly cruising.  The cruisers had been modified with superchargers and body armor.  And of course, every other motorist was either a thief or a murderous psychotic.  Terry and I told them we made our living as drug mules, and also offering "protection" to fancy businesses like the trattoria.  Our lives were nothing but guns, fast cars, sex, drugs, and death.  There was no meaning to life, all you could do was survive, so have as much fun as possible, 'cos you could be dead in an hour.
     "Another group were informed Terry and I got preferred seating because we were the drug dealers for the trattoria.  Everyone who works here is high as shit on something all day.  Meth, junk, Ecstasy, LSD, whatever.  The management wanted their workers happy, so they kept us sweet by feeding us for free whenever we wanted.  We had the best shit, we always had it, and we were reliable.  I explained the Mr. Smith acted like a queen, right?  That was just his personality that day.  He was so far gone on drugs you never knew who you'd be dealing with, one day to the next.  Today he's a queen, tomorrow he'll be a Bronx longshoreman, the day after that he'll be Charles Manson.  Oh, and since most of the kitchen staff are junkies, they'll bang their China White while they work, and would sometimes get blood in the food....  Hey, it's pasta sauce, who's gonna notice?  When the tourists asked about the celebrities who ate here, and if they knew, we said they did.  To Hollywood types, totally blasé about everything and always looking for a thrill, they liked the idea of risking contracting hepatitis or HIV from eating at a restaurant.  Just a little bit of thrilling gamble, you know?"
     "All this will happen right up front," said Bekka.  "Mr. Smith, or Tristan, or whoever will spot us coming in and break off from whoever's in front of him so he can glad-hand Lenny and locate a table for us.  The tourists get pissed, and ask just who do we think we are?  We make shit up, and scare them into fleeing."  She focused on Erica and Fang.  "So.  Do you think you two could subtly frighten tourists into leaving a restaurant?  You couldn't use violence, or really outlandish behavior.  You'd have to come up with ways of creeping people out enough they'd want to flee the area."
     Fang and Erica looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  Then Fang smiled at us and said, "I think we could freak people out...."  She made her eyes huge and wild.  She turned back to Erica and said in a spacey, creepy voice, ".... Couldn't we.... Mommy....?" and began licking Erica's neck.
     "Fang, that is absolutely horrible and creepy," said Bekka.  "I love it, perfect."  The rest of the ladies burst into laughter.
     I threw in, "When they ask what you do for a living, explain you haven't worked for years.  You keep marrying these very successful men, who always seem to die within a year of the wedding.  Just enough time to have bought life insurance and get a new will written.  What rotten luck you've had."
     "I know," said Erica.  "I'd tell woman tourists I'm a writer for a new, all-lesbian version of Cosmopolitan, and I'm interviewing women at the trattoria.  I'd start with a couple softball questions....  Are you married?  What is your age?  Then, 'When you're fucking your girlfriend with a strap-on, do you pull her hair and talk dirty to her?'  'What?  I don't have a girlfriend, I'm married to a man!'  I'd give her a condescending look and say, 'Of course, honey.  So, do you prefer being a domme or a submissive with women you fuck?  Do you and your mistress always use the same safe word, or change them?  What is the frequency of your prison rape fantasies?'  And on and on."
     Fang exclaimed, "Oh, I know!  I won't speak at all, but I'll be your sub.  Every now and then you just snap orders at me, and I do 'em.   'Go to the bar and get me a beer.'  'Massage my legs.'  'Suck your thumb.'  Shit like that.  And explain to the tourists that you're training me for the woman who owns the restaurant.  The owner bought me.... I dunno, in rural Latvia or some shit.... and you're doing the training, because the owner's current girl is almost twenty years old, so it's time for a new one.  Yeah, casual references to white slavery should send people packing."
     "And if they ask what will happen to the old girl, tell 'em she has a new job lined up already," I suggested.  "She'll be on the creative staff at Cosmopolitan, a fashion editor."
     "But only if she's a good girl," murmured Glee with a grin.  Everyone burst out laughing.
     "Okay, this is getting creepy," said, Norma.  Her smile had a nervous twinge to it.
     "That's the idea," Bekka replied.  "Creep people out so they leave."
     "It's a pretty elitist attitude to have, personally," said Betty.
     "Absolutely!  It's elitist, it's snobbish, it's exclusionary.... And it's aimed at a particular sub-set of potential customers."
     I continued, "The trattoria doesn't interview people when they walk in, asking if they're tourists.  Show up dressed like you have every intention of eating at a high-class restaurant, hey, fine.  But if you show up looking like you're headed to Disneyland for the day, you've gotta go.  Matching sweats, cheap Nike knock-offs...."
     "Fucking fanny packs...." added Bekka.
     "... Instamatic camera hanging from your wrist....  No, they do not want you here, period."
     "Why not just have a dress code posted?" asked Jill.
     Bekka and I both snickered.  "Because too many people who the trattoria wants as clientele would refuse to adhere to it," Bekka answered.  "Does Lenny look like he should be getting preferred seating in this joint?  Much less the rest of us?  I've seen Don Johnson on the patio wearing a muscle shirt, cut-offs, and Birkenstock sandals.  I've seen Winona Ryder barefoot, in jeans and a sports bra, brandishing a hangover so bad it was contagious."
     "Michael Douglas in a paint-spattered boiler suit," I intoned.  "Sharon Stone, looking like 1973 puked on her.  Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas both so geeked on coke they were looking at their menus upside down.  Harrison Ford dressed like the King of Disco, and with a woman who was definitely not his wife.  On and on.  See, the trattoria is a haven for Hollywood people.  They can come here, have great food and excellent service.  And most importantly, be left the hell alone.
     "There's a few other places that are even more exclusive, but you can't just drop in on a whim, like people can here.  Those places would stonewall God if He didn't have a reservation and a tie.  The trattoria is purposely more easygoing and friendlier.  Demi Moore could show up covered in blood and wearing a dress made of pork chops, and the trattoria will seat her, because she's fucking Demi Moore.  So a dress code wouldn't work.  The selective enforcement would be too blatant, and that's bad press."
     "What puzzled us was how tourists were learning of the trattoria to begin with," Bekka stated.  "Angel, the owner, has done a good job of keeping the trattoria out of the show biz press.  You'll never see paparazzi shots taken here.  Pull a camera out within a hundred yards of the trattoria, you'd better have a gun and a badge in your other hand.  They've asked tourists who told them this would be a good place for dinner, and it's a mixed bag.  Some tour guide will be wise to the place, or a hotel desk clerk.  Um.... Angel can get a bit heavy, when he wants to.  He and a couple friends once spent several days visiting local hotels and motels, speaking to managers, and telling them in no uncertain terms that the trattoria was not to be suggested as a good place for a meal by anyone employed at the hotels and motels.
     "See, the type of tourist we're trying to run off are exactly the types who want pictures and autographs with the stars, and the stars come here precisely so they can avoid that shit, without having to make reservations three weeks in advance.  I remember the first time I ate here.  Lenny brought me.  Jack fucking Nicholson was sitting fifteen feet from us, and Lenny had to nudge me, and tell me to stop staring.  Yes, staring at someone is intrusive.  If stars want to be recognized by the public while they eat, their opportunities are endless.  If they want stellar but anonymous service, they come here."
     Fang asked, "So....  When would we work?  How many hours a day, and when?"
     "Beats the shit out of me," I replied.  "I'll need to ask Mr. Smith what his plans would be.  And, of course, if he thinks Angel would go for this idea."
     Bekka snickered, "I already know Angel think's it's awesome.  You know his sense of humor, he loves it."
     I excused myself and went to the entrance.  Mr. Smith was standing at his podium, no customers.  I asked if he could spare five minutes.  He said absolutely, honey, let me get someone up here to stand in my place.  He waved down Benny the waiter, who in turn retrieved the bar back to fill in for Mr. Smith.  Walking back towards the banquet seating, Mr. Smith said quietly, "I always hope someday you'll ask for fifteen or twenty minutes of my time alone, honey.  I'll be more than happy to oblige."
     Chuckling, I said, "Come on, Mr. Sm--- Daniel.  You're barking up the wrong breeder.  Been there, done that, had fun.... and it just ain't me, you know?  Although I am flattered."
     At the table, Mr. Smith told Erica and Fang they'd be wanted, ideally, for the dinner hours Friday through Sunday, plus lunch hours Monday through Friday.  This would be very informal, no schedule at all.  "If you can do it, peachy.  If not,well, we'll survive.  I have no problem calling the imaginary dress code on people, and if Don Johnson comes in wearing his cut-offs --- and honey, it always brightens my day when he does! --- the tourists can bitch at me, fine.  I'll point out that he's Don Johnson, and you're not.  Toodles, sweetie.
     "Doing that all the time, though, that's gonna turn into bad press sooner or later.  The movie stars are enough of hypocrites that they'd stop coming if the papers were bleating on about how the trattoria is snobby and elitist.  So deflecting the tourists while keeping the trattoria's reputation unsullied is where you'd come in.  So a couple tourists ran into a couple horrible people in the foyer of a snazzy restaurant.  Can't blame the restaurant, now can you?"
     He quickly elaborated further.  The idea would be to scare a specific small group of people into leaving, not everyone present, so whatever was done would have to be subtle, not noticeable to others waiting on tables.  "So, you'd have to interact with the tourists fairly intimately.  No yelling, no outlandish behavior.  From a distance of six feet, Bekka and Lenny would look like they were engaged in a normal conversation.  You'd have to seriously eavesdrop on them to realize what poison is being poured into the ears of lumpy Midwestern yokels"
     Erica got a positively evil look on her face and said, "Midwestern yokels, huh?  Yeah.... I believe Fang and I know exactly what brands of poison to pour."
     "Oh?"  Mr. Smith's eyebrows went up.
     Fang elaborated, "Sitting right here, you've got five dykes, and we're all expatriates from Minnesota...."
     Betty inserted, "Five and a half.  I'm from Wisconsin.... although I've been in California since 1972."
     "Okay, right on.  Yeah buddy, we can scare the shit outta square-state assholes in two minutes, just using words.  Tell 'em we're early for the all-dyke Ladies Night the trattoria puts on twice a week, how in an hour every muff-diving dagger in SoCal will be showing up and looking to get laid.  They don't mind nudity among fellow patrons, right?  Or sex acts on the tables?  We could play the same scene, only claim the Church of Satan has their weekly bash that night.  Nudity, heavy metal, and animal sacrifice."
     Erica stated, "It would be hard to not tee off a little bit if I met Minnesota tourists.  Just straight up telling them, 'Yeah, Fang and I are a couple, we just moved out here to California, and we did so because we were sick of being around people like you.  Go home and play with your fucking pull-tabs.  Freeze to death every winter, battle pigeon-size mosquitoes every summer, and choke to death on your own self-repression."
     His eyebrows still up, Mr. Smith said, "A bit too hostile, honey.  You'd be starting an argument, not freaking them out."
     With a chuckle, Fang said, "We'll tell 'em we'd have liked to stay in Minnesota, but Ordo Templi Orientis isn't active enough out there."
     "That being..." pressed Mr. Smith.
     "The fuckin' OTO, dude.  The weird fraternal organization Alistair Crowley created.  You know, 'Do what---'"
    " --- thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," most of the rest of the table enjoined.  I noticed I wasn't the only one rolling his eyes while reciting the line.
     Fang continued, "The OTO isn't Satanic.  They're more like a weird and creepy version of the Freemasons.  But they may as well be burning goats or whatever, if you ask anyone in the Midwest about 'em.  And of course, Ozzy Osborne wrote the song 'Mr. Crowley.'  Yeah, claiming to be OTO would freak the shit out of people."
    Snorting with laughter, I said, "I got invited to an OTO mass once.  By the end, all I could think was, 'Jesus, you people are trying way too hard to piss off your parents.'  Sorry, I wouldn't join the OTO for the same reason I'd never join the Masons, It's just ritual-based bullshit, they may as well be the fuckin' Catholics."  I paused, then said, "Okay, the Catholics don't have sex magic rituals.  But still...."

     Mr. Smith returned to his podium.  I asked Betty, Norma, and Gladys how they'd gotten along.
     Norma laughed.  "It was nice being around another old lez who's also not another old activist.  I know Gladys is a lifelong Democrat, and for now, that's all I need to know."
     Betty tittered, "It feels like a lot of us dykes sort of.... retire after a certain age.  We're too old for the bars and clubs, none of the girls at a lez bar want to hear some old dagger rattling on about estrogen therapy."
     Resting her hand on Gladys' arm, Norma stated, "I'm glad to meet Gladys.  Me and Betty have known each other for years, on and off, hanging around the same lefty-feminist-dyke political scenes in LA.  Talking to someone not involved in politics was a breath of fresh air this afternoon.  Okay, Gladys is only recently out --- and God bless her for that! --- so she's never been around queer or feminist politics before."  She stared at her drink.  "And in a general way, she didn't miss a thing."
     Feather gave Norma a look and said, "But the feminist activists, and queer activists, got a lot done.  You can't say your efforts were wasted."
     "No....  But we also caused some damage.  Especially in the early Seventies.  There was...."  She took a sip of her Chablis and cleared her throat.  "I believe a lot of perfectly nice people got hurt, due to the tenor of feminist theory back then.  I've always known I was a lesbian.  I stayed in the closet, then married a man in 1968.  And while I wasn't happy with my sex life, I really did love him, George was a great guy.  He wasn't a chauvinist, he saw our marriage as an equal partnership.  We were still fairly young, and politically aware, even if we weren't marching in the streets every weekend.
     "I got radicalized in 1971, and Jesus Christ, did I buy in.  All men are pigs, castrate them at birth, blah blah blah.  I turned into a damn harpy, and George was in the firing line.  He tried to get me to be reasonable and drop the invective.  He'd read the literature, and try to have a calm discussion with me about it, saying, 'I can understand the points of A, B, and C, but D, E,and F are divisive and counterproductive.  How were these conclusions reached?'  I'd just snap at him and tell him he'd never understand because he'd never be a woman.  That was my constant defense, 'You're not a woman, you'll never understand.'  After a while he started yelling, 'Well, start explaining!  Educate me!'  And I'd stomp off, calling him a pig over my shoulder.  I finally came home one day to find a note saying, 'Dear Norma, fuck it.  Love, George.'  He'd taken $200 our of our savings and left with a single suitcase.  And it struck me: I didn't blame him a bit.  I'd turned into the sort of loudmouthed bitch hardhats made jokes about.
     "Anyway, I left LA for San Francisco, and stayed out of politics until the early Eighties.  Then I started watching fags I was friends with drop like flies, and the government didn't seem to be putting much effort into figuring out what was going on.  So.... dust off the bullhorn and paint fresh placards.  And even after HIV/AIDS was isolated, the government didn't do much of anything to dispel all the misinformation about it.  People were wearing masks on MUNI, in case some fag started coughing!  Queer restaurant workers were being fired, it was too risky to have fags work around food.  Finding solid information was a genuine headache, and informing the public was an even bigger one.  Seriously, by 1984 medical science understood just how damn hard it was to contract HIV, but they did a piss-poor job of explaining it."
     Gladys said quietly, "And it also demonstrated who some people in this country would rather listen to.  Scientists are high and mighty, over-educated, they think they know it all.  Too many people would rather listen to preachers.  According the them, AIDS was God's way of punishing the homos, and that was that.  And when other people got infected, well, it was time to round up the homos into camps, wasn't it?  Oh, I heard it and heard it from Roy.  One of his favorite old lines is, 'Science doesn't know everything.'  I'd point out that of course they don't know everything.  If they did, they'd have stopped by now."  We all burst into laughter.
     With a smile, Feather said, "My science teacher said anyone who wanted solid proof from science should only study two fields: mathematics, and alcohol distillation.  Everything else is a theory, and always will be.  And he also explained that the word 'theory' is misused.  When most people use the word 'theory,' they mean 'hypothesis.'  You know, coming up with a logical answer to a question by running it through your brain.
     "But thinking shit up isn't science.  Okay, you think you figured something out.  Great.  Now it's time to test the idea and see if it holds up.  That's where people lose interest in science, because doing that shit is boring and takes forever.  It also means your hypothesis can end up being proven wrong, an nobody likes being proven wrong.  The fuckin' Creationists can be proven wrong by studying the research done, the fossil history, carbon dating, all that crap.  But the Creationists will just argue that they only need to study the Bible to prove themselves right.  Everything in the Bible is completely true, and anything the contradicts it must be the work of Satan or something.  Fuck that."
     This prompted a burst of laughter from Gladys.  "Hoo boy!  I tell ya, to hear Roy go on about evolution would be a hoot, if it wasn't so sad.  Yes Roy, dinosaur bones were placed in the earth by Jesus to test our faith.  Shut the fuck up, Roy, and have another fucking drink."
     We talked about this and that over our meals.  Waiting on aperitifs, Betty asked me, "I have to ask.  Are you comfortable right now?"
     I thought about the question briefly and replied, "Well....  My boxers are riding up on me a little, but beyond that...."
     "No, I mean, you're the only man in a group of eleven people, and the only straight man at that."
     I snorted and said, "You know what, ma'am?  I've been having dinner and conversation with ten intelligent people.  What the hell would I have to complain about?  Trust me on this, or ask Bekka.  If someone had said something I felt was idiotic, I'd have said something.  I can pretty much guarantee if I'd met Norma in 1972, our conversation would not have gone smoothly.  I don't claim to be the world's most sensitive guy, all I ask is people back up their statements with reason.  In 1972, I'd have probably told Norma that if a radical feminist wanted to impress me, they can write their name in the sand, if you catch my drift."  There was a burst of laughter.
     "Beyond that, hey, we're not 'men' and 'women.'  We're people, we were all graced with the same grey matter.  It's how a lot of people use that grey matter that bugs me.  There's a lot of fuckin' idiots in the world, who wrap themselves in their bigotry --- sexism, racism, homophobia, whatever --- like it's a down comforter.  And the hardest thing in the world is getting people to get rid of their comforters.  If they do, they're not comfortable any more, they'll have to learn new things, and they might be made to feel uncomfortable.
     "What I know is I'm sitting at a table with ten people who are intelligent enough to actively use their brains, and also brave enough to admit when they were wrong about something.  That takes courage.  Too many people burrow deeper, rather than admit they made a mistake."
     "I almost never make mistakes," Glee said proudly.
     There was a lot of snickering.  Bekka commented, "Yes, fifteen year olds are almost never wrong about anything.  Ask one, they'll tell you it's true.  Fifteen year old girls should run the universe."
     "You made a mistake two days ago," Feather (Glee's big sister) asserted.
     "What?" questioned Glee.
     "You were convinced --- absolutely convinced. --- that Brussels sprouts were just tiny cabbages.  I had to get the produce manager at Safeway to point out your mistake."
     There were too many good manners in play for everyone to start laughing out loud, it would have hurt Glee's feelings.  However, there were a lot of red faces, inwardly-clenched lips, snorts, snickers, and tongues being bitten for a minute.

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