Wednesday, September 8, 2010


In 1980 I lived in a two-bedroom railroad flat in the Mission District with Renee, my best friend at the time. We had claimed the first two rooms as our bedrooms, once parlors, with sliding wooden doors between which we often left open because we were so close. We often slept together as well. For a while, Sharon lived with us in the "real" bedroom next to the kitchen, but she went away for CETA training during the spring.

Renee worked part-time at the Women's Building and she was naturally gregarious, chatting up all the women visiting from elsewhere. Often she offered them out spare room for a night or two. That summer, however, we had a month-long visitor, Ina, a German dyke who was radical, funny, and the perfect blend to our household. That year the exchange rate was very favorable for Germans visiting the U.S., and Ina extended her time with us, using our home as a means of exploring much of California.

We were really sorry to see her go. Thus, then Renee showed up with another German lesbian needing a place to crash, we were both excited. Her name was Efa, and she had hitchhiked her way across country to reach the West Coast. She was very striking looking, six feet tall, wide-shouldered, with black hair, pale skin and bright blue eyes. She habitually wore dark coveralls, looking like a tradesperson, which was uncommon attire then even for dykes. Her first night with us, we asked her if she had encountered any problems hitchhiking, despite her tough appearamce. Her English was not as fluent as Ina's, so after struggling for the words a minute, she simply grinned and pulled from her coveralls side pocket a massive, wickedly sharp metal hook, saying "I show zem ziss." We collapsed into laughter.

Efa only stayed a week. She did not know Ina personally but there was some sort of communication network they were plugged into and she had gone to the Women's Building hoping to find Renee. She made dinner for us one night, a potato and cheese casserole we liked, but what really wowed us was the fruit salad which had an unusual and delicious flavor. We pressed her for the recipe, and she told us the secret ingredient in German but we couldn't figure it out. Finally she thundered down the hall for her dictionary and ran back to sit at the table as she looked up the word. "Gin!" she announced triumphantly. Renee and I were both nondrinkers but we laughed and ate every bite.

I left in early August to drive to the Michigan Women's Music Festival. While there, I led a workshop for survivors of child sexual assault, the first ever. I was also interviewed on the subject by Pacifica Radio. The large number of attendees, most of whom had never told anyone what happened to them, and the emotional demands of trying to help them left me overwhelmed. I caught a ride into the nearest town where, besides getting a cheeseburger and Coke, I went to a phone booth and called home collect, hoping to talk with Renee.

Instead, a strange voice with a German accent answered our phone. She refused to accept the collect call. I called back, making it person-to-person for Renee, and again the call was denied because the same voice said she was "not zair." Frustrated, I called Joan, one of the dykes who lived next door to us, who wasn't thrilled about the collect charges. I asked what the fuck was going on in my house. She explained there were two new German dykes installed, Isa and Sylvia, and apparently they didn't know who I was.

I asked Joan to inform them I lived there and to accept collect calls from me, and to tell Renee I had called. I went back to the festival feeling cheesed.

It turned out our luck had expired with Isa and Sylvia. Referred by the same word-of-mouth network, they were not nearly so friendly or responsible. In particular, they spent hours in the bathtub running hot water to counteract the chill of August in San Fran. The clouds of steam created a fine speckle of mildew all over the bathroom walls. They didn't replace food or chip in for utilities, either. After they left, we had to scrub down the bathroom walls with vinegar and repaint them.

Still, we agreed, Renee should keep bringing home travelers as she saw fit, and we had a soft spot for German dykes.

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