- Missing Person
- Little Dog
- Tim Shea
- First Thanksgiving
- Willits News
- Main Event
- Old Age
- FB Fog
- Sexual Harassment
- Yesterday's Catch
- Gender Issues
- Bus Stop
- The Cockettes
KEITH OLSEN: HUMCO SHERIFF’S REPORT
The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a suspicious missing person case near Humboldt County.
Family members reported 74 year old Keith Olsen missing on Nov. 15 after he did not arrive as scheduled in Seattle, WA. Olsen left Yuma, AZ on Nov. 12. Olsen talked to family members on Nov. 13 at about 4:30 p.m. and told them he was on “the 101” but with no precise location. At an unknown time on Nov. 13 his red 2011 Toyota Camry (AZ license # WCKCZ16) was seen parked near mile post marker 18.5 on Zenia Lake Mountain Road. On Nov. 18 his vehicle was determined to be abandoned and towed from that location. All of Olsen’s belongings were found in the vehicle, including his wallet, cellular telephone, keys to the vehicle and luggage.
On Nov. 20 a search team from Trinity County Sheriff’s Office searched the area and did not find any sign of Olsen. Olsen is described a white male, 5’ 11” tall, approximately 218 pounds, with gray hair and blue eyes. Family members report that he has several medical issues and is unsteady on his feet.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Lieutenant Chris Compton of the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office at 530-623-2611 or Deputy Duarte of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office at 928-783-4427.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “Kicking back today, what with Boonville quiet as a crypt nothing much to keep an eye on except for the deadbeat cat who lives here. I'll have some gravy, the only part of Thanksgiving food I like, maybe watch a football game.”
FORMER MENDOCINO COUNTY SHERIFF TIM SHEA, 82, DIES
by Bill Swindell
Tim Shea, who served as Mendocino County sheriff from 1982 to 1990, has died, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.
The department did not have further details Wednesday on the death of Shea, 82. Capt. Gregory Van Patten said in a statement Shea would “be remembered for his leadership and dedication in serving the community.”
Shea served more than 30 years as a local law enforcement officer, including 11 years with the Ukiah Police Department and four years as Mendocino County undersheriff.
He was president of the county’s Deputy Sheriff’s Association in 1980, when officers went on strike for nine days to protest then-Sheriff Tom Jondahl’s leadership and failure to work with his officers tackling an uptick in crime.
Shea took office on a platform of increased neighborhood-watch programs and marijuana eradication efforts but was hampered by county budget troubles.
His department was marked with greater controversy in later years, including a 1985 botched drug raid where deputies targeted the wrong house for a major marijuana smuggling operation, and a 1987 incident where a deputy used a youth as a human shield to fend off an angry mob.
Shea retired after two terms, citing accomplishments such as a countywide narcotics task force and an anti-marijuana program “that’s the political envy of the state.”
Announcing his retirement in 1989, Shea noted that “31 years in law enforcement is long enough, pure and simple.”
(Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
A WILLITS READER WRITES:
The Willits News situation is unfortunate for several reasons. The over a hundred year old publication was sold in the early 90’s by a local cabal of big shots who built it up just enough to off it to the highest bidder. Local offers were submitted but none were acceptable. So the paper sold to a nation wide corporate owner, Mead Publications. They eventually stripped it down and sold it again to Dean Singleton, a nationwide owner. It should be noted he owned the Coast papers, the UDJ and the Lake County pubs. Singleton got sick and Media News took over. They changed the name several times but in essence the players were and are the same.
Then several years ago two former Willits News employees bolted and started the Willits Weekly. Four years ago TWN’s Publisher retired, from there it was pretty much down hill… The new editor was law and order with little emphasis on local color, which by the way is the WW’s strength.
It seems to have a come down to the bottom-line, like everything ultimately does. They quietly gave notice, sold or gave away the furnishing, dumped the history and moved to Ukiah….
As a local I hope the WW is up to it, they have no office, I have no idea about who gets paid, and what their ultimate goal is. One of the owners is older, and the other is a silver spooner, something goes wrong and they could be gone too.
RIP The Willits News, just another empty, gutted building in Willits that was once a vibrant work place…
JENNIFER POOLE RESPONDS:
Lazarus’s comment is mostly wrong — no surprise there; remember, the “word on the street” was that Measure B would fail? But the most important point: Yes, the multiple corporate chains that owned the Willits News after the locals sold it could sort of be described as “the same,” although ownership was different, so not really, but “Digital First Media” is a different animal entirely.
All those other chains had corporate ownerships that were in the business of producing newspapers. Digital First Media’s owner is Alden Global Hedge Fund, and they are not a newspaper company. Hedge funds buy distressed properties and, depending on your point of view, 1. “turn them around,” or 2. Strip all the value out of them for short-term Wall-Street level profits and toss the empty husks aside.
Alden’s been stripping the value out of the Media News Group papers. For one thing, selling off the real estate nationwide — do readers understand that Digital First boasts of owning 800+ “multi-platform products” across the country? In Mendocino County, the Ukiah and Fort Bragg office buildings were sold in 2016.
The company has also been decreeing newsroom and business layoffs at a much higher rate than other corporate newspaper chains, and has a policy of “consolidation,” which means a couple of things. One: consolidating reporter duties — only one reporter covering, say, the county government, for all the papers in a region, not one reporter from each newspaper covering the county. The Digital First papers are also reprinting more and more regional news and feature stories — and producing fewer unique local stories in the local papers. Anybody who reads the local papers knows this is true.
Two: consolidating newspaper offices and consolidating actual newspapers. In spring 2016 Digital First consolidated the Oakland Tribune into a new newspaper called the East Bay Times, along with the Contra Costa Times, the Daily Review in Hayward, and the Argus in Fremont. According to the SF Chronicle story on the closing of the Oakland Tribune, “subscribers in Oakland, Hayward and Fremont will receive news inserts bearing the old local dailies’ names each Friday.” They did the same with the San Jose Mercury News that spring: Changed the name to the “Mercury News” and consolidated it with the San Mateo County Times.
We at Willits Weekly have been expecting Digital First to consolidate the Willits News with the Ukiah Daily Journal for a long time now. An argument could be made that it was the existence of Willits Weekly that actually kept the rented Willits office open longer in hopes of making a turnaround. Although there has been no formal announcement yet, a staffer on Facebook has said the Willits News will continue to be produced as a separate publication, but my bet is we’ll see “news inserts bearing the old Willits News’ name each Friday” in the Ukiah Daily Journal sooner than later.
As far as the personal stuff in Lazarus’ comment, most of that is wrong, too. I will plead guilty to being “old,” yes, although I’m not that close to retirement age, but there’s not a “silver spooner” among us if that means somebody born to wealth that’s always had everything done for him — just hard workers who are committed to the community.
Part of the collateral damage of the way Digital First runs its community newspapers is a speeded-up revolving door of reporters who come in to the community from elsewhere, looking for a few clips before moving on. That’s always been a venerable newspaper tradition for rookies, but at the local Digital First papers in recent years, the newcomers aren’t put on rookie beats, but are put into positions of responsibility where they have been known to publish stories full of embarrassing errors. Mostly, in recent years, the Willits News reporters haven’t even lasted a year.
Willits Weekly pays all our freelance reporters, feature writers and photographers, thanks to the businesses — mostly but not entirely in Willits — who have been supporting the paper with the advertising revenue that pays the bills. We pay considerably more per hour than we ever earned at the Willits News or Ukiah Daily Journal, although we do not have fulltime workers: all of our freelancers have other gigs or jobs. Former employees of the Willits News have estimated (I can’t vouch for this) that the newspaper sent $250,000 to $300,000 in profits outtahere every year to the corporate owners while newspapers were still thriving. Long before Willits Weekly started in May 2013, the Willits News had already lost many of its local advertisers — rates were too high, and the readership of the paper was declining due to poor decisions made locally and by the parent company.
Willits Weekly doesn’t expect to ever make anything even close to that much profit, but we can reasonably expect to operate like any other successful, small-town business with owners who work hard and that provides a needed and appreciated service. Fingers crossed!
Digital First / Alden has been getting quite a lot of attention in the liberal/lefty press lately. There’s a “Digital First Media Workers” page and an “AldenExposed” page on Facebook, both run by the Newspaper Guild union — some of the newspapers are union shops — which is a good place to keep up. Here’s the September 17 story on Alden in The Nation: “How Many Palm Beach Mansions Does a Wall Street Tycoon Need? As many as destroying America’s hometown newspapers can buy him.” The answer? 16 Palm Beach mansions. At least the day the story went to press….
And for those who think, well, of course, newspapers are dying, that’s why this company has to take these extreme cost-cutting measures, as this October 23story in The Street about Digital First CEO Steve Rossi stepping down reports, Digital First “maintains the most strict budgeting regimen in the industry,” leading to “profit margins top[ping] 25% in numerous markets.”
One more link: an interesting story in Forbes magazine from December 2015, “Paper Lions: Why Hyperlocal Newsweeklies Are Making A Quiet Comeback”
— Jennifer Poole, editor, Willits Weekly
OF ALL the terrifying (and depressing) stories to emerge from the Great Fires, this passage from the Press Democrat describing the care home at Oakmont struck me as the most horrifying: "Lenghals and Kathy Allen were left alone to evacuate approximately 24 seniors remaining at the facility, including 14 in the dementia care unit, according to the suit. When they found the front door of the facility locked, Lenghals used the car hitch on her vehicle to break into the front door and prop it open, the lawsuit said."
TO FINISH out your days in a locked "dementia care unit" can't be anybody's idea of a happy ending. I hadn't known there was such a thing. What kind of life can that be? And Oakmont is a high end trail's end, too. Imagining the "care" the less prosperous elderly demented get — strapped to a urine-soaked bed in the basement of a convalescent hospital probably — makes the prospect of dependent old age positively frightening. I read somewhere that the socialist hell of Norway institutionalizes less than half its elderly demented. Most are kept at home with services rendered in the home, not an institutional setting. (We elect them to office in this country, president even.)
MY EXPERIENCE with a demented elder, my mother, whose care was rotated among family members was, ah, unpleasant often enough, but nothing she did prompted us to even consider a so-called nursing home. And in between bouts of paranoia and denunciations of various relatives, with much of the criticism entirely warranted, she was content to gaze out the window and at television. Crippling arthritis made it difficult for her to move without pain, but she was able to hobble out to the car for rides to points of interest. There were episodes of pure paranoia and nights when she would wander the house shrieking threats, but these were infrequent. And she was often quite funny. One afternoon we were watching the Chuckle Buddies read the news when a segment about two women marrying appeared. "Quick, Bruce! Turn that off!" I was half out of my chair when she said, "Oh, never mind. It's probably a good thing homely people find each other." One day I took her to a neurologist, a young woman specializing in gerontology where the doctor asked, "When's the last time you saw a doctor, Mrs. Anderson?" "I've never seen a doctor!" Mom barked, "Why do you think I'm still alive?" Mom worked most of her days as a registered nurse and had a very low opinion of the profession. "Don't tell me about doctors," she'd say at the mere mention of them. "They're all drug addicts and drunks." She rightly blamed doctors for keeping nurse pay so low for much of her working life. "Hell yes, I'm for unions," she'd say. "The same week we finally got a union my pay went from $300 a month to $600. Those bastards kept us down for years."
LEST WE FORGET, Mendocino County's two most egregious cases of sexual harassment were committed by prominent liberals. Long-time judge at Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg, Jonathan Lehan, repeatedly exposed himself to a female staffer.
When she complained she suffered an inconvenient job transfer. The infinitely indulgent Commission On Judicial Ethics found against Lehan but not strongly enough to remove him from the bench. The late judge Ron Brown, probably with the connivance of the rest of the county's black robes, moved Lehan temporarily to Ukiah. But, in the county where history begins all over again every morning, Lehan was soon back at his Fort Bragg post, neither he nor the public none the wiser.
LUKE BREIT, an occasional resident of Albion, and long-time aide to various Northcoast solons, harassed a female state worker — a married woman — so severely she left her job. She sued the state and won a large settlement funded, natch, by the taxpayers.
* * *
“Eligible Bachelor” A Hot Topic
by John Howard, the Orange County Register
January 27, 2002 — Embarrassing moments in the Capitol? Constantly.
The latest involves one of Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's top aides, press secretary Luke Breit, who is being profiled next month in a local magazine as one of the area's most eligible bachelors.
The problem is that Breit was named in a sexual-harassment complaint by a former Assembly staff member in 1999. She alleged that Breit, her supervisor and a veteran legislative staffer well-known in the Capitol, made unwanted sexual advances toward her. After she refused his repeated overtures, she said Breit questioned her work and threatened her with a negative job review.
Assembly officials settled the case in May 2000 for $140,000 — all taxpayers' money, by the way — after they probed the allegations, which they described as groundless. But they said they paid the money to avoid a court fight; Breit declined to discuss the issue.
It was at least the third sexual-harassment settlement in the Legislature financed with public funds in the past five years, according to The Sacramento Bee, which first reported details of the case.
All this would probably have become just one more topic for the Capitol's gossip mill — except for the magazine article scheduled to hit the stands this week.
Sacramento Magazine, a glossy that covers the local social and business scene, has a story on the area's most eligible bachelors. Those include Breit, 58, described as “a senior aide to the speaker of the Assembly.”
The brief piece discusses his likes — “home, jazz and blues” — and the fact that “the Rolling Stones are still the world's greatest rock 'n roll band.” Asked for a romantic moment, he cites getting “Victoria's Secret to open early Sunday morning for a champagne brunch and lingerie-buying extravaganza for me and my honey.”
No mention of the $140,000 settlement or the allegations that prompted it were contained in the brief profile, which was printed before the case became known. Editor Krista Minard said the magazine “probably would have handled it differently” had she known. Advance copies of the piece moved like wildfire Friday through the Capitol and bureaucracy, where it quickly became a hot topic, indeed.
CATCH OF THE DAY, November 23, 2017
DONALD BROTHERS, Eureka/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
KEVIN BURROUGHS, Dublin/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
COLLIN CASTER, Talmage. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
NICKOLAS DUNSING, Calpella. Controlled substance, smoking-injecting device, probation revocation.
CANDICE HAWKINS, Covelo. Probation revocation.
RACHEL HUMECKY, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation.
ANTHONY MCCOY, Ukiah. Suspended license, unlawful display of evidence of registration, failure to appear, probation revocation.
LATOYA REYES-CAMPOS, Ukiah. Disobeying court order, resisting, probation revocation.
SHANNON TOBIN, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
ANTHONY WOODWARD, Laytonville. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I think it’s fair to say that women do not have clue one about the male sex drive or its power over the behavior of men. I think it’s fair to say that women have no more understanding of men than men do of women.
About 20 years ago I read a woman’s account of an illness she had that required her to take a testosterone derived hormone as treatment. Her sex drive spiked up as a result. She said that only then did she understand why men do what they do w.r.t. sex.
There was a time when our grandmothers gave their daughters-granddaughters advice about the “facts of life”. They were called “facts” because that’s what they were. Simple things like beware of men, don’t find yourself alone with a guy in his apartment unless you’re looking to get sexual advances. Like dress modestly. Behave modestly.
A while back I was in a business meeting. We were sitting there waiting for an exec from another company to arrive. We’d never met her. And when she arrived she was wearing a mini whose hem-line skirted the tree-line. When the meeting broke up a colleague muttered to me that women wonder why they’re not taken seriously. If you’re going to dress like a hooker you’ll get treated like a hooker. Sorry, but that’s just a fact of life.
THE COCKETTES: A MEMOIR
by Clay Geerdes
Hallowe’en, 1969. The Bitches’ Christmas. Before a midnight showing of an old movie, Hibiscus, Tajara, Sandy and a few others get up on the stage at the Palace Theater near Washington Square in San Francisco’s North Beach. They danced around to the music of the Rolling Stones and camped it up for the audience. Steven Arnold, manager of the Nocturnal Dream Shows, always claimed The Cockettes appeared to him fully costumed in a dream. Actually, The Cockettes appeared on Haight Street along with thousands of other drop-outs and freaks during that period when free acid was plentiful courtesy of the CIA’s covert MK-ULTRA program. They didn’t think of themselves as Cockettes anymore than anyone thought of him or herself as a hippie or flower child or any other media label. Mostly artists and actors and musicians and people searching for roles and identities, these people found theirs in old second hand stores and dimestore basements. It was a time when people were throwing off the restraints of parents and authority figures, growing their hair long, listening to music soon to be labeled acid-rock, and spending a great deal of time in meditation and contemplation and very little time doing any actual work.
Hibiscus and his friends were street queens, out there, not in the closet, overtly gay. Hibiscus went around giving head onstage that night at the Palace. He was public at a time when San Francisco’s gay community was still covert. If you wanted to see traditional drag, the standard transvestite show wherein men dressed up like Judy Garland or Marlena Deitrich and sang their hit songs, you went to Finocchio’s on Broadway; you didn’t go to a Nocturnal Dream Show. The straight gays had their Hallowe’en party at Bimbo’s, mock couples, evening gowns and tuxedos, wigs, all very conservative and quite well-to-do. Further down the street, The Cockettes were beyond drag, living pop art, dimestore hip, multiple images. Hibiscus might toss off a Bette Davis line, but he would be wearing a gold evening gown with a bosom created by a pair of giant golden balloons as he camped it up. Drag singers did their best to look exactly like Marilyn Monroe or Mae West, but from the beginning The Cockettes designed new images for themselves.
The Nocturnal Dream Shows continued for a couple of years, but competition developed in the ranks of the players. Steven Arnold pushed for more organized shows and when Sebastian, manager of Secret Sinema on Seventeenth Street in the Mission District, took over, he tightened things up; His Cockettes would become a regular feature at the Palace and the movies would be dropped. The musical shows were modeled on old movies from the 40s, the dance numbers a simplified version of Busby Berkeley’s complexly choreographed works in films like THE GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933. It was, with a few talented exceptions, still amateur night every Saturday at midnight at the Palace, but now there was more pressure on the people collectively known as Cockettes, named after the New York City Rockettes, and some handled it well, but most didn’t.
In that strange group, some were educated, some weren’t, Some had day gigs and did the shows as a lark; others lived on welfare and hung out in the Haight. Marshall owned the Third Hand Store on Haight and many of the costumes in the shows were compiled from the antique clothes hanging on the racks in his place. Everyone hip wore those old clothes during the sixties. They were still very cheap, only a few bucks if that; the antique hustle had not begun. Copies of MODERN SCREEN still sold for a dime at Peggy Caserta’s In Gear. Remember Peggy? She wrote that book about her affair with Janis Joplin and called it GOING DOWN ON JANIS. Today, all that second hand junk sells for collectors’ prices. What wasn’t found at Marshall’s was available in Woolworth’s basement down on Market Street. For less than a dollar, Wally got all the glitter and face paint he needed as well as a few little pink and blue plastic baby rattles to jazz up his costume. Wally was an ex-cheerleader from the University of Wisconsin, a verbose witty gemini who always had a fast comeback. The drag competition between him and Hibiscus was one of the highlights of the various Cockette reviews. Hibiscus came on in gold and Wally walked down the aisle of the Palace as the Red Queen of Mars. Both had headdresses over a foot high. Wally’s giant nipples were red flashlight bulbs built into a light balsa wood frame. They flashed on and off alternately, powered by a built in battery. For a Christmas show, Wally turned himself into a Christmas tree and came down the aisle with a set of colored lights wrapped about him. On Hallowe’en, he used two little toy Jack o’lanterns for breasts and for a fifties parody he cut a football in half and made it into a pair of bullet breasts reminiscent of those deceptive falsies so popular with the flatter of chest circa 1951.
As soon as The Cockette shows began to show signs of organization principles at work, Hibiscus and his friends left. They did not want to do what they considered commercial shows, or Establishment cop-outs. They weren’t into it for the money and they didn’t like what Sebastian was doing with the scene. Hibiscus renamed his group the Angels of Light and announced they would continue to do free shows around the Haight. Hibiscus simply didn’t want to rehearse. He hadn’t dropped out and left New York for the Bay Area to get back into another structured scene. He wanted a free form show where he could drop acid, make up an outrageous and ridiculous costume, go onstage, toss off oneliners, flash his cock at the audience or try to cop the joints of young boys onstage.
The organized Cockettes couldn’t operate like that under Sebastian. They had a script, lines to run, musical numbers to memorize and rehease, blocking to work out, stagecraft to deal with, and a sense of responsibility to each other. You couldn’t perform on acid. You couldn’t perform well on any kind of drugs, but most of the Cockettes were semi-stoned during the shows I saw and photographed. They routinely smoked joints in their dressing rooms before the show and a number were into qualudes. I saw various people do a line or so of coke, but I never saw anyone shoot up, though I know there were heroin addicts involved in the scene because Rumi died of an overdose of smack. Hash was common. A number of people had waterpipes in their pads and the joints that made the rounds at some of the parties were treated with hash oil. People discussed various drugs like Nepalese Temple Balls, Peyote, Mescalin, Psilocybin, even Yage which Allen Ginsberg talked about after William Burroughs had gone to South America to get it from a Shaman.
It was, for sure, a drug scene, and some Saturday nights it would be hard to tell whether the actors or the audience were higher. I watched gallon jugs of Red Mountain make their way up and down the front rows, joints being handed back and forth, people swallowing whites or whatever with swigs from their antique store hip flasks. I worried about those people who cavalierly drank after taking ‘ludes, because I had seen the result too many times. Methaqualone, followed by alcohol, often caused the sensation of suffocation and I remembered driving a student home one night in Fresno sometime in 1966 while a couple of people held her in the back seat as she freaked out at the top of her lungs. She had followed a couple of reds with a couple of drinks of some kind and blew her cranium totally. It took a couple of hours to calm her down and, of course, no one wanted to 911 her because that would have meant a bust for all concerned. Her freak-out started in the Caffé Midi and I was there that evening and I had my car so my help was enlisted. My inclination was to take her to Emergency, but her friends begged me to just get them to her apartment and they would cool her out and help her to come down. She was all right a couple of days later when I saw her on the Fresno State campus, but I always worried about all those drug combos my students were experimenting with.
The early Cockette shows were not really shows at all, just people camping it up onstage. Those who successfully separated themselves from the audience and held the stage became the Cockettes, while the others who might hung around onstage for awhile then drifted back to their seats remained the audience, the chorus. As the shows gained form, they were more coherent, but they were less outrageous, and the people who had started to come to the Palace expecting to see a lot of nudity and sexual hi-jinx onstage quickly discovered Sebastian’s Cockettes were more Rockette than Cockette. The music improved and became quite good with the torch singing style of John Rothermel and the piano styling of Scrumbly and Peter Mintun.
The problem with organization was the actors began to believe their own hype, to think they were talented in ways they were not. By the time a New York trip was suggested, many had talked themselves into believing they would be successful there. Cockettes with stars in their eyes. Well, everyone enjoyed the trip and had a good time at the Chelsea and they got lots of ink and attention, but the show was a total bomb and after their return the group drifted into obscurity.
Near the end of its run, John Waters came to the Bay Area with some of the people from his Baltimore theater company. Waters was interested in making films, but many of his people were into theater. Babs Johnson, best known as Divine, was his star. She guested in a couple of the Cockette shows, Vice Palace, and Divine Saves the World. Sylvester was on the scene by then and while she was never a Cockette, she put on a concert or two at the Palace and got the same audience. From L. A., Sylvester James soon had a record contract, singing with the Hot Band. By the time of these concerts the lobby of the Palace had become a scene, hence record company promoters tried to book their new acts in to get them exposure. It was a strange trip. During the evening, the audience was all Chinese, and sometimes when we sneaked onto the balcony shortly before midnight we saw the students from a Chinese high school demonstrating their martial arts routines as part of their graduation ceremonies. By the time the Chinese audience began to file out, the lobby was filled with Cockette groupies, many of them well-to-do women from the peninsula. I say women, because that’s how it was. For some reason women liked to hang around the gay scene. They were often referred to affectionately as ‘fruit flies.’ Others who might be in the lobby were actors from various North Beach shows like The Committee or dancers from clubs like the Condor. Carol Doda came over some evenings. She was the first dancer to become a local star by dancing topless. In June of 1964, she put on designer Rudi Gernreich’s topless bathing suit and did a little dance at the suggestion of promoter Davey Rosenberg. Before long, she became the first to have silicone injections and implants, blowing her breasts up from 32s to 44s. There were jazz musicians from various clubs, poets, pizza makers, bakers, drug dealers, pimps; the Palace lobby was a place to be around midnight and if the show was good, that was all right; if it was shitty, who cared? There were as many people in costume in the audience as there were onstage and it all seemed like a fantasy continuum, no restraint, the responses unrepressed, everyone laughing and having a good time. Well, not everyone, there was always that silent steely-eyed military contingent near the back, furtive, watching, misinterpreting, perhaps hating--after all, any Cockette show was a tweak of the cock at the straight world and that world didn’t like it.
To promote one of the shows, I was hired to do the photos for a “Cockette Paperdoll” book. John Flowers did the minimal text. We did the shoot at Sebastian’s Secret Sinema one afternoon. I shot the actors against plain backdrops and during the whole thing we hung out in the alley. Well, people passing along at either ends, the Latino and black folks who live in that area around Valencia Street, began to notice this weird group and a few of them came down the alley to confront us. I anticipated trouble, but nothing happened. They were just curious. There I was taking a series of shots of Goldie Glitters in a pair of panties and a dress of some kind for a paperdoll page and I had been shooting theatrical photos for so long I was jaded. Drag queens, topless dancers, strippers at the O’Farrell, political activists, it was all focus and click to me. The reactions of the locals gave me some perspective on the gig and I had to laugh about it all. Inside, we were cracking up. People would stop at the end of the alley and stand there with their mouths open. There was Wally in a pair of giant red balloon tits and people couldn’t even figure out what he was. Out of make-up Wally looked like any other gay boy on Polk Street, but when he was in full drag there was nothing to match him. He liked patriotic colors. In several shows he put red, white, and blue glitter in his beard. He never stopped improvising. Wally turned himself into living art, walking collagerie, a pin cushion of pop art.
People tried to define the Cockettes, to pigeonhole them, but it was impossible. In some of my own articles I referred to them as a gay theater commune, but that wasn’t true. The majority were gay, but there were straight men and women in the group. There were married men and women in the group. There were more or less married or committed gays and lesbians in the group. There were blacks and whites. There were young people and older people. There were people who sang well and others who were tone deaf. Some lived communally with groups, while others shared apartments or had their own rooms. Dusty Dawn had a child, Ocean Michael Moon, and Scrumbly’s Pam was pregnant; indeed, one of the more outrageous skits in one of the shows had Pam singing a song while several other Cockettes tried to undress her. Some of the people were handsome or pretty, while others were pockmarked and homely. Like any theater company, there were Cockettes who were anorexic and bulimic, others who over ate and ballooned beyond their costumes. It was an up time for gays. Gay liberation had been around for several years. The Folsom baths were flourishing. There were dance contests on the bar at The Stud. There was artistic activity from the San Francisco Art Institute to San Francisco State College. Among the Cockettes were people who considered themselves painters, poets, abstract expressionists, happeners, lyricists, and there were parties all the time. In spite of the rivalries, I remember a lot of cameraderie. There was a whole different consciousness in that period before AIDS and I hope I’ve been able to preserve some of the spirit of that time here. Hibiscus, Sylvester, Divine, and Johnny Rothermel are all dead now. I was told Martin Borman died this year in New York. Blithe spirits all. Well, it was the best of times. May they all rest in peace.