November 3, 2011

Occupy What? The Queer Adventures Of A Homosexual and Dick - Part One


San Francisco, California: Last Saturday I went down to the OccupySF encampment to join the Halloween march to Union Square. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to get off of the subway at Montgomery Street, and walk the few blocks to the Embarcadero. As I got closer to Harry Bridges Plaza, I noticed that skateboarders, joggers, bikers, activists, street merchants, tourists, farmer’s market foodies, members of the media, and the SFPD, were all gathered uneasily at the foot of Market Street. Occupy SF was scheduled to march and protest in the streets of the financial district, and finding the right information about where to gather, and line up to march, was a little hard to come by with so many people cramming into a small space..

I was standing near a very cute toddler perched on her Dad’s shoulders. Her tall Dad was continually scanning the crowd, looking for someone, while his daughter was entranced by the fearless pigeons foraging for food, on the edge of the camp. Completing the tableau were two very patient canine members of the movement, who were desperate to observe the birds in a more up close and personal way.

The pigeons seemed to quietly tip-toe their way to the crumbs they saw on the ground, while the canine critters pulled their short leashes to the limit, in the opposite direction of where their owners were facing. The toddler giggled as the pigeons retreated, and waved at them as she said “bye bye.” The “bye bye” elicited a question from her Dad - “do you see Mom?” She said "no Daddy" as she stared at the dogs, while the Dad said they had to find her Mother. In response to her Dad’s declarative statement she asked “why?” At this point I wriggled a little closer to eavesdrop properly, and her father said rather plaintively, “not now [and muttered her unintelligible name that sounded sorta like Sophia or sofa].” After she heard the “not now” she wanted to know why - and you guessed it, asked “why” again when her father failed to respond. She made me laugh, while her bespectacled father grimaced.

I empathized with little Sophie or sofa (it’s San Francisco folks - and it hasn’t changed much since 1968 - so you never know if someone is named after a buxom Italian actress or a piece of living room furniture). I could tell by her Dad’s look that he heard that question frequently, and I was reminded that a 3 letter word and simple adverb, when uttered by a child, can morph into a question that annoys some adults, while others find themselves suddenly deaf, and incapable, of responding to the probing questions plaguing the prepubescent set, looking for approval and validation via an answer.

I heard “not now” a lot myself when I was a kid, which was due to my repeatedly asking “why” to any adult within earshot. I’m not kidding when I say I’d ask anyone, and I vividly remember being dismissed, while the childhood memories of those who provided me with thoughtful and smart responses made me feel special, and smart, and almost like a grown up. I’m not sure how or where I developed a love of learning, and I don’t know whether to attribute my inquisitive nature to the excellent education and teachers I had growing up, or to genetics and my DNA. I would guess that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I’m a thinker. If there’s one theme in my life - it’s the fact that since I was in kindergarden - I’ve spent countless hours thinking about people, places and politics. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading, and studying, history, politics and our popular culture. I have an intellectual curiosity that’s never satisfied, and as I devour the facts and figures related to the latest employment data, or the Iowa Presidential Poll results, or the Exxon Mobil Q3 earnings report, I always want to know more.
I can talk about what Stephanie Germanotta said last week about politics, or what she wore on television during an interview, because I’m a huge fan and admirer of hers, so I can go there. I’ve been mum about the changing landscape in college sports, and I’m not going to register my opinion until I see how things shake out. I don’t want to jinx my team, and am optimistic that the Division 1 athletes competing “on the banks” will be in a better conference when this re-alignment is over.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about myself, and why I’m making a valiant attempt to convince you that I’m reasonably intelligent, with an independent and rational voice, who isn’t afraid to confront any issue. I think I have the bona-fides to speak about a lot of different things, and I’m writing about this because of a conversation I had with a fellow OccupySF protester last weekend, when we carried our picket signs, and Wall Street outrage, to express our frustration and anger in solidarity with the Occupy movement  

He had slicked back hair, and was wearing a mask, and baggy jeans, with the brim of a Boston Red Sox cap tucked in his back pocket. I had my graying temples, and was wearing a smile, with an atm card and some lint in my pocket - having left my wallet at home to ensure that I wasn’t robbed or pick-pocketed in the huge crowd. Not carrying my wallet wasn’t a statement about the people who comprise the Occupy movement here, as every socio-economic background (except for the 1%), race, gender, sexuality, and wide ranging viewpoints, are represented. I’d been told by a “camper” the day before not to carry or bring valuables to the camp, or on a march. I had a perfect opportunity to ask “why,” but elected not to.

The masked compatriot walking on my right resembled an obese Ed McMahon, and I could swear that the funny sounds coming from his direction was him saying "heeeeeeeeeeer'es Johnny!" After the fourth time he started his tired routine, I turned to a woman on my left to say I hoped that Mr. McMahon wasn't flipping his wig, and that he took his meds as instructed. She leaned forward and peered around me to get a good look at the Star Search host, and said that he died. Not missing a beat, she reached into the plastic bag hanging around her wrist, to take a giant bite of a super burrito, as the sour cream, refried beans, and pico de gallo fell gently on her ample  bosom. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the moment. While I was laughing, the burrito lady said I must have figured out that my friend was Dick Cheney and not Ed McMahon. I didn't know it until right then. I hoped that this Dick Cheney would stay out of my sight line for the rest of the day. 

Dick Cheney tapped me on the shoulder while extending his hand, and said his name was Ned or Ted or bed. I told Ned/Ted/bed that it was a pleasure to meet him - and introduced myself - and I said and spelled my name for him twice to make sure he got it. And yes I wrote bed - uncanny isn’t it? [Do parents have a fetish around furniture? Why name your kid bed, when ottoman is out there?] It was noisy, and I should have asked him to spell his name for me, but at that moment I didn’t think we’d have a conversation in such a queer and challenging environment. Truth be told - I was thinking about the odds of encountering a girl named sofa, and a guy named bed on the same day - and thought I'd love to meet the OCD parents who are obsessed with household furniture, and I'd like to tell bed "have I got a girl for you. Sofa and bed are the perfect couple." 

I asked Dick Cheney if he was sure that he didn't want a piece of the community burrito, and he said he was sure, and oddly mentioned heart disease and bad diets. I figured I could get away with calling Ned/Ted/bed by the name Dick, since he was being a Dick by wearing that tacky Cheney mask.

The masked Dick started walking next to me, and he was chatty, though all I could hear was Charlie Brown’s cartoon mother with a brassy mwaa mwaa voice shouting at me. He tapped me on the shoulder again, and I told him I couldn’t hear a word he said with the mask on, so he kindly lifted the mask slightly so that I could see his mouth. We were moving slowly, and he had started talking about his car parked in North Beach, and he hoped that he wasn’t getting any parking tickets he couldn’t afford to pay.
I asked him why he was protesting, and he said he was laid off from a job in retail management nearly a year ago, and couldn’t find a full-time permanent position within 100 miles of San Francisco! He graduated from UC Irvine, and his family was in Southern California. He had a fiancĂ©e in San Francisco, and was supposed to get married next year. He said that without a job he couldn’t get married, and that he was couch surfing because he couldn’t pay rent. He was starting a temporary part-time holiday job with a major retailer, and said any money he made would just cover his car payments and insurance.

Dick said over and over that our country is ridiculous, our economy is ridiculous, banks and wall street is ridiculous, and that his college degree was ridiculous for being worthless. He said his parents worked hard to help him get through college, and that he applied for a job at a Subway to make sandwiches, and they interviewed him twice and didn’t hire him because he didn’t have the right experience - and so Subway is ridiculous too. Each “ridiculous” was followed by “bro,” and I’ll admit that I really felt badly for the Dick in the Cheney mask.

All I could think of to say to him was that it was imperative for him to keep believing in himself, and to sell the unique qualities and work ethic that he would bring to any company interested in hiring him. Then he asked me why I was protesting, and I told him that I’m interested in politics, and our economy, and that I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval. I shared the fact that I was a blogger, and that I write about politics, equal rights, marriage equality, bullying, religion, the issues of the day, and whatever else I think people might be interested in.

Dick asked me if I was gay - and I said “yes I’m queer” and he said “you’re one of those” in a girlish voice, and made a weird hand gesture that was meant to be a limp wrist. Then he pulled his Dick Cheney mask back down to cover his mouth again, and turned around on his heel and walked away.

The good will, empathy and compassion that I was feeling toward Dick evaporated in that instant, and while I was among hundreds of noisy people protesting and walking toward Union Square, the only feeling I could muster for Ned/Ted/bed was abject pity, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the masked guy called Dick. "He’s an ignorant dick, and an arrogant dick, and a prick who can".......I’m not a lyricist so I decided to stop writing that song in my head.

Then I looked around to see if this was a practical joke, hoping that Ashton Kutcher would jump out from behind that dumpster on the sidewalk to tell me that I’d been Punk’d, or that I was on Candid Camera. But alas that didn’t happen, so I held my borrowed protest sign even higher, and blended into the throng of protesting people - while I thought about what I’d learned (if anything), surveyed the people around me to see if anyone was wearing fabulous footwear (nary a Louboutin or Jimmy Choo for miles), and wondered if this big chorus of disapproval was reaching the titans of Wall Street, or the powers that be in Washington, DC.

As we neared Union Square and I looked to my right, there was a man in a Guy Fawkes mask who was looking in my direction. I lived in England, and I know who Guy Fawkes is, and I’m familiar with the failed rebellion, to overthrow the monarch, that he participated in. In fact, in just 2 days, on the 5th of November, it will be bonfire night and Guy Fawkes day in the UK. I know that the many Guy Fawkes masks that I saw that day, are supposed to represent being anti-establishment. That’s not what I see when I view that mask, and I associate it with failure, and the failed Gunpowder Plot to install a Catholic monarch..

We kept walking toward the square, and the crowd stopped suddenly. I looked toward Guy Fawkes again, and he nodded in my direction, as if to say hello. Everyone else around me was craning their necks, trying to look ahead to get a height advantage, in order to see what had interrupted the protest march.

The man in the Guy Fawkes mask was oddly staring at me, so I mouthed “You look fucking ridiculous.” I said that while I looked directly at him, and he was standing 4 or 5 feet away, and I stood there and waited for the angry retort, and waited and waited.

Then the Guy Fawkes fellow cupped his hand to his ear, in that universal way that indicates he didn’t hear what I had said at all.

So I shouted --- “You look fucking ridiculous!” And then half whispered a disingenuous “bro,” for good measure and my own pleasure, and nobody heard it and I didn’t care. While being critical and confrontational was out of character for me, I didn’t dwell on it, or think about it, and waited for the wise ass response I deserved.

The only response from Guy Fawkes was a shrug of his shoulders, and as the crowd started moving forward again, he disappeared among the masses. A shrug? That’s it? He doesn’t care that I think he looks fucking ridiculous in a mask that stands for failure?

It was at that moment that I realized that the man wearing the Guy Fawkes mask was bloody brilliant, because his message was for Wall Street and the politicians, not for me. Who cares if he looked fucking ridiculous, and who cares what I think. I was able to put everything in the right perspective.

As we entered the open space around Union Square, the disparate voices in the crowd started rising, and the dissonant chord started resolving itself methodically, and that's when I knew that the movement was vibrant and real. You could feel it in your bones, within yourself, and within one’s being, and it was fantastic and exciting, because you could sense the electricity and contagious energy that charged the air.

With local elections next week, and the presidential election just a year away, this next year is going to be like the playoffs, with a Super Bowl and World Series wrapped up into one, that will be played out on election day in November of 2012.

I had my graying temples, and was wearing a smile, with an atm card and some lint tucked away in my pocket - on the day I discovered a non-partisan political movement that was exciting and thrilling, and was organized to challenge the status quo, and support our representative democracy.

A complete stranger came up to me, and she spoke loudly in my ear, and said that I looked happy.

I smiled at her and said, “I know --- It’s this movement, and the energy, and this crazy collection of people, and it's just like my friend Dick says, it's fucking ridiculous - bro.”

End of Part One


To be continued


This is Part One of a Non-Fiction Story in 2 parts, that is based on my participation in the Occupy San Francisco Halloween Protest march on Saturday October 29, 2011.



If you like this story and blog post, it would be very cool if you would share it with someone you know on Twitter, or Facebook, or Stumbleupon, or Reddit. Feel free to leave a comment whether you like it, or want to criticize it. I welcome the feedback, and the interaction that comments provide. Thanks for visiting! Part Two will be posted on Friday!



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