Friday, May 9, 2014


Osento was at the heart of the wimmin's community that stretched along Valencia during the heydey of actual lesbian ascendency in SF -- our neighborhood rather than the boys' Castro. In the bottom floor of a beautiful old Victorian, owned by Summer (who lived on the top floor), was an entry room where you paid the two bucks fee, a general disrobing room with lockers, a toilet room which also had the shower you were asked to take first, a large tiled room with a very hot pool lined with wide rims on which you could sit or lie to cool off/chat, a small back room with pads to lie on, and a small outdoor patio with a cold plunge.

 It was most definitely not a sexual environment. It was dimly lighted, we were encouraged to keep our voices soft, no making out or fondling (it was very public), and I often fell asleep there after soaking my bones and spirit. I always went weekly, sometimes several times a week.

One of my favourite memories was when two friends from out of town came to visit from Dallas and Los Angeles respectively. We had all lived in Denton during the 1970s and this was a reunion weekend.

The Dallas friend, Mary, had been out to SF many times and was well-acquainted with Osento. She was also a talented prankster. The other friend, Jean, was shy, had never been to any sort of bathhouse, and was, to put it kindly, very gullible.

 As we walked up the steps to the front door, Jean stopped nervously and asked me to swear this was not going to be a den of hot throbbing lesbian sex. We both reassured her, and I said it was a perfectly discreet place, no one was going to ogle her. But Mary, seizing the opportunity to tease Jean, added with a straight face "We do have to give a password at the front door, to make sure it's just dykes coming in."

Jean looked startled, and after a couple of beats, Mary turned to me and said "Did you call to get this week's password?" I grokked what she was doing and said the first thing that came into my head: "Yep, it's 'beans and franks'". Mary nodded and repeated in a whisper "Beans and franks."

We contrived to position ourselves so that Jean reached the door first. Mary and I stood back a pace, watching the sidewalk behind us, as Jean knocked on the door, her face pale. When Summer answered, Jean leaned toward her and whispered "Beans and franks."

Summer said blankly "What?" Jean cleared her throat and repeated the nonexistent password. Summer gaped at her for several seconds, then looked beyond her, saw me, and said "Oh hey, it's you, come on in."

But Mary and I only barely made it in the door before we were convulsed with laughter. Jean realized she'd been had and went beet red with embarassment. We explained our joke to Summer, who also found it hilarious, and within a few minutes, the whole place was giggling and murmuring "beans and franks" to each other. It became a beloved joke between the three of us; sometimes we'd begin phone calls with "beans and franks" before sliding into giggles.

1 comment:

Margot said...

How did I miss this??? Wonderful reminiscence - I would SO have been Jean "Beans and franks, beans and franks..."