Wednesday, May 11, 2011


For seven years I lived in San Francisco on a narrow street of railroad flats. My flat shared a wall with the house next door, and for a while two gay men were loud neighbors who eventually became infamous.

One of the men -- we'll call him John -- worked at some demanding downtown job. The other -- we'll call him Desiree -- stayed home to play music, tend their menagerie of snakes and tropical birds, and pick up guys at Cafe Flore. At least, that appeared to be their division of labor. But they had frequent, protracted, verbally heated negotiations about this domestic contract. I didn't need to make an effort to hear every word. I was only surprised none of the parrots or macaws ever learned the term "bitch".

Things came to a head one week when John found himself too busy to shop for clothes and handed Desiree $100 in cash to do some shopping for him. This was 1980, when that amount of money was more than I paid in rent. Desiree vanished for three days and crawled back home at dawn smelling of poppers, with not a dime left.

The screaming matched lasted for hours. At some point Desiree produced a single pair of socks he had managed to purchase for John (I suspect then departing with the sales clerk for the Black and Blue or the End Up). John was incredulous enough about the return of only two socks for $100, but then he apparently examined the label and discovered they were seconds. His voice reached mezzosoprano levels as he kept repeating "Seconds? I paid a hundred buck for a pair of seconds?"

Within a week, John had moved out, leaving Desiree to fend for himself. Desiree was unable to find another benefactor, despite his considerable good looks, and so two months later the landloard began trying to collect unpaid rent. Desiree had found the funds to change all the locks, and for a few days we heard pounding at the door and yelled threats of eviction from the foyer next door, occasionally interspersed with insults hurled back by Desiree. Desiree was gifted at outrage.

The next week, I quit my delivery job to make my annual trek to the Michigan Women's Music Festival and visit Mama in Texas. When I returned two weeks later, I noticed the building next door had new glass in the front windows and a fresh coat of paint. My roommate wasn't home yet, so I asked the dyke on the other side of me in my building if Desiree had been evicted. Joan said with relish "You missed it" and filled me in.

Ten days earlier, there had again come pounding at Desiree's front door with a man demanding entry. Desiree had responding by tossing out a lit cherry bomb. What he failed to notice is that the man on the landing was wearing a uniform. The SFPD was immediately informed of an attempted "attack" on one of their own, and our block was soon chocked with SWAT vehicles. Joan had tried to come home during the siege and was kept behind a barricade for several hours.

The back wall of the garden next door was several feet high and topped with barbed wire, common in that part of SF. To gain entry, the cops wanted to go over our adjoining wall at back, but they could not rouse anybody at the downstairs flats -- we were all at work. One upstairs neighbor, Merry, was in but she was a good radical and she refused them entry to her flat. I'm surprised they didn't bust down her door. She said she spent the next while hiding in her bathtub.

Instead, they opened fire on the building holding Desiree. Joan said all of the front rooms had required replastering when they were done. Desiree fled to the back garden and crawled into a large pile of compost. When the cops finally decided no one was left alive in the flat and broke in, their search failed to turn up Desiree. They packed up and departed.

An hour later, Desiree emerged from the rotting vegetation and hightailed it elsewhere, getting a shower and then a lawyer before turning himself in to the police. We never found out how many of the tropical animals survived the assault, or saw any sign of Desiree again. The next tenants were a trio of New Jersey dykes, one of whom pounded copper art platters as a hobby, but she was quiet by comparison.

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