san francisco

Happy birthday, Harvey

As the 20th century was drawing to a close, Time magazine set to work preparing its mother-of-all-lists: The Time 100 Persons of the Century. Quite an undertaking, especially when you consider how many tens of billions of people lived and died during that momentous century. How to whittle the list down to a mere one hundred? Imagine the screaming matches in the editorial meetings as Einstein-TIME-Person-of-the-Centurythat deadline neared! “How can you not include [blank]?!” “Are you out of your mind? [Blank] is worth fifty of [blank]!” “OK, you can have [blank] or [blank] – but not both.” I’m sure it wasn’t as polite as all that.

In the end, The 100 were chosen. This was not a list of the most popular or most beautiful or most loved (although many were one or more of those). The filter used to sift the 20th century was influence. These folks were named for the impact they had on the human race in the past hundred years – “for better or worse”. Given the explosive growth of mass media in that century, many of the names on the list enjoy a renown without borders. Some inhabit the mono-moniker realm: Mandela. Churchill. Gandhi. Hitler. Freud. Ali. Diana. Lindbergh. Pele. Sakharov. Che. MLK. FDR. A few founded companies that became global brands, giving them a more dynamic form of immortality: Ford. Disney. Chanel. Albert Einstein landed on the cover, first among equals – and you don’t have to be Einstein to understand… oh, never mind.

Maybe you’re surprised to learn that little more than half of the list is comprised of Americans. That may seem too high or too low, depending on where you stand. The “made in America” label was sewn into far less than 5% of the planetary population during the timeframe. But this country did have an outsized impact on the condition of the human race in the 1900s, in almost every way. For better and worse.

The list was released not all at once, but in flights across five issues of Time in 1998 and 1999. Each issue offered a different group of The 100 including “Artists & Entertainers”, “Builders & Titans”, “Scientists & Thinkers”. (There’s a link at the end of this post to the entire list.) The final portion of The 100 appeared in the Time issue dated June 14, 1999. “Heroes & Icons” includes some of the most inspiring and courageous people our species has yet produced. Anne Frank. Rosa Parks. Helen Keller. Jackie Robinson. Harvey Milk. Mother Ter––

“Harvey WHO?!”

Seems a safe bet that most earthlings, and (sadly) most Americans would see that name on the list and have no idea who Harvey Milk was. Of course, most Americans can’t name the current Vice President (Joe Biden) or the inventor of the internet (Al Gore)… but that’s Harvey_Milk_Day_logocold comfort. Harvey Milk is a hero of the gay rights movement (and of the larger struggle for civil rights) in America and around the world. He is in the upper echelon of prominence in the lgbt pantheon. In 1977 Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council). In 1978 he was assassinated in City Hall alongside Mayor George Moscone by a deranged ex-Supervisor with a gun. But Harvey (he is one of those ‘one-namers’ to the gay community) had made his mark long before reaching SF City Hall. Here is an excellent bio from The Milk Foundation, if you’d like to know more about this man and his life so powerfully lived. I can also recommend the excellent biography by Randy Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street (which was made into the Academy Awarded film, Milk with Sean Penn).

Today – May 22nd – is Harvey Milk Day celebrating the man and his life on his birthday. This was established by the California Legislature in 2009 as a ‘day of special significance’ for public schools, with appropriate focus in the curriculum to insure that kids learn about this important man and his place in their own history. As you can imagine, this sets certain folks’ hair on fire… but that’s all the ink I’ll waste on them here. Harvey would be 84 years old today.

harvey-milk-stamp (1)In a special acknowledgment of Harvey Milk’s place in our history, the United States Post Office has issued a commemorative stamp – to be officially dedicated in a ceremony at the White House today. It’s a very proud moment for all of us, gay and straight, who know what a powerful and positive role model this man was for his generation, and all those who followed. I was a 16-year-old kid in the closet in Connecticut in 1978. If I was even aware of the events unfolding in faraway San Francisco, I don’t recall any reaction I may have had.

Looking back now, it’s so easy to forget the context of those times. Harvey Milk was killed just ten years after MLK and RFK were gunned down. That’s less time than has passed for us since 9/11. The Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the gay pride movement were then even more recent. And it is haunting to realize that Harvey lived, and died, in a time just a few years before the onslaught of AIDS… It’s impossible not to indulge the What if? daydreams. What if Harvey had not been murdered? How would he have continued to change the world? It’s impossible not to hear the fury of his voice cracking the marble foundations in Washington – demanding the action and the funding and the leadership that Reagan’s government withheld. Others rose to take up that mantle, courageously and nobly. But there is no doubt that the bullets fired in 1978 condemned more than two good people to death. Keep that in mind the next time you see or hear some imbecile talking about “2nd Amendment solutions”. This nation has paid a hideously high price for our unwillingness to separate dangerously unstable people from their guns.

As President Obama remarked last summer at the 50th anniversary of MLK’s March on Washington and the civil rights struggle: “The arc of the universe may bend toward justice – but it doesn’t bend on its own.” Harvey Milk, as have others before him and since, reached up and grabbed hold of the arc of the universe – and pulled on it with all his might to bend it a little further toward justice. He succeeded. And as we celebrate that success we should stop looking around to see who the next leader will be, and look within. That was Harvey’s real message. And that is why those who would put us all back in the closet may win a battle here and there – but they have already lost the war. Thank you, Harvey.


And how cool is this? The White House made a birthday cake for Harvey today. He would have loved that!


The End (so far)

The Time 100 Persons of the Century

[024] Armistead Maupin

They say you should never meet your heroes.

Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin

Well, I don’t know who “they” are, or who they choose as their heroes… but I can tell you that they are wrong. I met one of mine tonight, and he did not disappoint.

I wonder how many people who will see this even recognize the name: Armistead Maupin. In 1976, The San Francisco Chronicle started running a daily serial by Maupin – and so began an extraordinary adventure called Tales of the City.

TalesoftheCity.coverThe City is San Francisco, and the Tales center on three main characters: Mary Ann Singleton is a naive young woman from Ohio who takes a vacation in San Francisco and decides to stay. She finds a room in a boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane (Macondray Lane steps, in our world) on Russian Hill, presided over by a mysterious woman called Mrs Madrigal. Michael “Mouse” Tolliver is the gay neighbor who becomes Mary Ann’s first – and best – friend there. Tales is a love letter to San Francisco – which is the fourth main character. And along the way, we are introduced to a close-knit extended family and dozens of other characters. Friends are the family we choose; Anna Madrigal calls this her “logical” (not biological) family.

Maupin with Dukakis

Maupin with Dukakis

In 1993, the first of three miniseries (covering the first three books) was produced in the UK and shown in the US on PBS; the next two installments were shown here on cable on Showtime. These films were extremely satisfying to fans of the books, as they were faithful to the letter and the spirit of Maupin’s text. Laura Linney played Mary Ann Singleton, and Olympia Dukakis inhabited the role of Anna Madrigal. (We’re all hoping for the remainder of the Tales books to be filmed. Pleeeeeeeeeeeease!)

Linney as MaryAnn

Linney as MaryAnn

Armistead Maupin started spinning his Tales nearly 40 years ago, culminating in the new (ninth and he says final) novel in the series: The Days of Anna Madrigal. The stories and the characters ring true as they are based on the real people and situations – the Zeitgeist – of Armistead’s world, every step along the Days of AM.covertimeline. In fact, he is likely the first writer of fiction to incorporate the story of AIDS, as that disaster unfolded – from the beginning.

So, what started out as a bit of a lark in a SF newspaper column became a hugely entertaining and poignant series of novels – plus the films and even a theatrical musical production. But Tales of the City also functions as an important historical document covering the trajectory of AIDS, of the gay civil rights movement, and how life in the City by the Bay has changed over four decades. Armistead Maupin’s characters live in the same world we do, and his novelist’s voice is pitch perfect.

My friend Jenn and I discovered Tales of the City one summer in the early 80s in Connecticut. Little did I know then that just a few years hence I’d be moving to San Francisco for my own grand adventure. Having read the first few books, SF felt like home to me before I even got there. Armistead Maupin is a great tour guide, having introduced me to new places in the world, and in the heart. I sent Armistead a note on Facebook a few years ago, just to say thank you for Tales, what a touchstone his work was for me as a gay man without too many role models. He rewarded me by ‘friending’ me on FB, which was wonderful. Now that I’ve pulled the plug on FB, that lovely connection has been cut. I shall have to find a new way to stalk him keep in touch.

AM Lib2

I don’t know if tonight counted as “meeting” my hero; this is as close as I got in the cozy Mark Taper Auditorium at the Central Library in downtown LA. When they opened it up to questions from the audience, there weren’t many takers, so I raised my hand, grabbled the mic, and asked him if he was aware of anyone writing a 21st century version of Tales. He started talking about a woman married to a vicar in Lynchsomethingorothershire in England… But I wasn’t really following. I was a little lost in the moment of having this brief chitchat with Armistead bloody Maupin!

I had purchased the book in advance, and planned to have him inscribe it… but by the time I got out to the lobby, the book-signing line looked like a literary Black Friday. I decided to give it a miss. So I walked out into the cool, drizzly night (yes, it almost rained in LA today) and snapped some downtowny pics for a future post.

Now comes the bittersweet choice that faces every fan of Armistead Maupin every time he publishes a new Tales book: Do I devour it in one sitting? or savor each chapter like a course in a 3-Michelin-starred meal? or do I put it away to draw out the anticipation… just a little… while… longer? Ugh. (I’m pretty sure this dilemma won’t persist beyond this weekend.)

And then, it may be time to revisit the series from book the first. My favorite stretch of Memory Lane is where it intersects with Barbary Lane in Maupin’s Tales of the City.


Armistead Maupin and his Tales of the City make me happy.
Day 024 #100happydays

[002] Old Friends

Catching up with old friends.

Thom + Bridge @ Taste

Thom + Bridge @ Taste

Here’s my partner Thom with our friend Bridge – whose Christian name is Brian, even though he’s 25% Jewish. And who has time for proper names? (It is an admittedly lousy photograph, from a technical perspective. I was balancing a 2nd martini in my other hand. So fuck off.)

Bridge lives in the Sonoma wine country with his husband Michael and their two Catalan sheep dogs, Izzy and Geli. He commutes to his show biz job in LA, and we don’t get to see him often enough. But when we do, we laugh till we cry (– and unless your name is Connie, you really have nothing to worry about). Once upon a time (circa 1990) I rented a house at the tippy top of Cumberland Street in San Francisco with my friends Liz and Ray. Brian and Michael were our across-the-street neighbors – and so much wonderful has flowed from that random collision.

Life, she is like that, non? You turn left instead of right, find your way onto a dead end street with a “FOR RENT” sign on a house with killer views of San Francisco. And 20-something years later, none of us is where s/he used to be, but we find our way back to each other like salmon swimming up a river of vodka. And it feels like home, all over again. (Liz, we’re so overdue.)

An impromptu dinner with an old friend. Day 002 of #100happydays.