June 30, 2005
SO SEXY IT HURTS
“If you want people to read you, write about them.” h brown
THE FANTASTIC FIVE
Gavin Newsom, Matt Gonzalez, Ross Mirkarimi, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Barry Gifford. The sexiest men in San Francisco. What a team of superheroes! What makes these Five so Fantastic?
Gavin Newsom. Well, duh. He’s only too sexy for his goddamn shirt. Unless you specially have something against handsome, smart, charming, powerful, impeccably groomed rich men, this one’s a no-brainer. A friend once remarked that the real hero of Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” is Cary Grant’s suit. Nary a wrinkle as he plows through a field chased by a crop duster. I think Gavin has the same tailor. I don’t think he ever looks like he just rolled out of bed even when he’s rolling out of bed. I think he springs up perfectly coifed. Everyone looks a little shabby next to Gavin. By his side I’d look like a Salvation Army Raggedy Ann.
During his campaign, I dismissed him as a slick ambitious career politician; plus I’d become “Matt-notized” and he seemed more like a stylized poster of himself than a genuinely qualified candidate. He’s still plenty slick, but I misjudged and underestimated him. I love those kinds of surprises. Obviously there are no war-mongering Republicans on this list, but I’m not talking politics anyway; I’m talking Gavin’s presence and power as a communicator. The first time I heard him speak I thought he was hoarse from campaigning, but it turned out that’s his voice, and I have grown to like it; it has a kind of scratchy edge to it.
I showed a Philadelphia friend a San Francisco magazine full-length picture of Gavin looking like an Armani model, and said to her, “Can you believe this is our mayor?” Elected as leader of a major American city at the tender age of 36, Gavin “excels at public relations,” as Ross Mirkarimi put it, and superficially, at least, puts the city’s best foot forward on the world stage.
It was first revealed to me that there was a man behind the façade when I read his then wife say of her hairstyle: “Gavin likes it wild.” Is that so now? Things that make you go hmm. Watching him stride around at a District 5 Town Hall meeting last summer, perspiring in his rolled up shirtsleeves, my mind wandered and I heard as in an echo the words, “Gavin likes it wild.”
“Nothing’s wilder than ideas!” I heard Michael Tilson Thomas say. And Gavin’s are hot-button enough to have fueled a national debate on “moral values” vs. civil rights. What if Newsom did skew the presidential outcome? There is no inappropriate time to decry discrimination and seek to eradicate it. If blame for Bush’s reelection must be laid, lay it where it belongs, on the lily-livered Democrats who couldn’t win against, as Ralph Nader put it, “the worst Republicans of all time.” We needed backbone, said Ross Mirkarimi, and we got milquetoast. The challenges and backlash and bumps in the road around same-sex marriage have to play themselves out and we’re all further down the road than we were when Newsom took office. Gavin, you’re all right with me.
I loved the bravura of his declaration, at Harvard University, “I can’t stand my party right now.” Maybe he thinks he’s got nothing to lose. I’ve got the solution for ya, Irish laddie that ye be: ERIN GO BRAGH? GAVIN GO GREEN!
Why did this guy not have a date to the Black and White Ball? He’s got to know every rich, tall, gorgeous gal in town. Does he vant to be alone? Is it because of that wedding ring on his right hand, like a flag flown at half-mast in mourning? I felt so sorry about his divorce I sent him flowers on Valentine’s Day. You know that the first Valentine’s Day after your wife leaves you has got to suck. He sent me an Office of the Mayor thank you note handwritten with a silver marker. His “G” looks like a little hammock you could nap in.
If Gavin’s too perfect for, say, 47% of you, there’s the inscrutable Matt Gonzalez. He’s a whole ‘nother smoke and a smoldering one at that. He made Gavin actually run for mayor, with a dog yapping at his heels. Clean Money campaigning in this city might have won him that election. I’d really like to visit the parallel universe in which Matt was elected. The city and the world could be a seriously different place. At the end of his term he’d either be reelected, move on to Governor, or get lynched. Wherever he’s headed, he’s on some gonzeau all right (French Canadian for “shining path”).
Matt’s got that mysterious Mona Lisa thing going. There’s a very appealing boyish petulance about him (cf. Chris Daly’s tiresome terrible 2-year-old tantrums), combined with some secret he’s not telling. The thing is---I’m not sure he knows what it is either. Is he an old soul, a tough nut, or just shy? Something about him amuses me. It’s that Mona Lisa barely-a-smile. I want to pinch his cheek like my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Wagner used to do and call him by my pet name for him: “Munchkin.” The combination of his rather sullen persona and his sharp intellect strike an odd balance.
Most of all, he’s got integrity enough for the lot of us lesser mortals. Bravo to Matt for standing his ground backing Nader in this last election. Not even Ralph’s old CA campaign manager Ross Mirkarimi, who named his dog after Ralph, did that (he was trying to get elected after all). I myself gave Ralph money in support of his campaign and then to retire his campaign debt, but did not vote for him. I believe in what he’s doing and his right to do it but it was not where I wanted to put my vote that year. Matt and Ralph and Ross are the only politicians I’ve ever given money to. Matt’s the only one who never thanked me. To do so might have made him more scrutable. And we can’t have that.
Mirka is my private Russian-Iranian admixture of Ross’s name. Ya gotta roll the “r” though or it doesn’t fly. Now Ross Mirkarimi is sexy in a domestic kind of way. He’d make a good body pillow. And let’s get the tall dark handsome thing right out of the wayand not just dark and handsome but exotically so (Persian). He’s a prepossessing figure, all around big, lumbering around and dominating every room he’s in. He “storms” into the office in the morning, his aide Boris told me, and I think he storms wherever he goes. I saw him storming up Steiner one day walking his dog and talking on his cell phone. Even in casual mode the man’s on a mission.
Out of this bunch of men I’d go to him for the bear hug. He can caress you just with that booming bass barrel tone of his, a voice I once likened to hot fudge sauce. I love his brand of swaggering confidence. But I did think it rather cheeky of him when he, the new kid on the block, announced at the swearing in to the 10 other duly-elected veteran representatives of the 11 districts of San Francisco seated around him, that he had just won the hippest district (No. 5 that is). Perhaps that automatically renders him Hippest Supe, who knows (he is, anyway). I live in D5 though and there’s puh-lenty not hip about it at all. I give that title to North Beach/Telegraph Hill. Any neighborhood containing Lawrence Ferlinghetti beats them all out.
I’m not sure local office is the best use of Ross’s powers (not knowing exactly what is), but he’s ours for now and he’s knocking himself out. He says he feels “stymied by time constraints,” and I wish he could spend more time out and about than swiveling in the plush seats. It’s disguised by his glasses, but Ross has an endearing set of baggage under his eyes, rivaling even the circles it has taken me a half-century to cultivate. I’ve always been attracted to people with bags and circles under their eyes because it signifies to me that they’re up all night on overdrive with their mental wheels turning while others sleep the sleep of the undisturbed with beatific smiles on their faces. I know that’s not true, however; though fatigue can play a part I know bags are caused primarily by edema (excess fluid) in turn caused by poor lymphatic circulation or capillary permeability (whatever that is), but I still like the look. Sup. Maxwell’s also got a great set.
While phone-banking for Ross someone asked me to tell her in one minute why she should vote for Ross. I said he stands out in a field of qualified candidates because he has the heart and soul and passion D5 needs in a leaderthat’s why I’m voting for him and that’s why I’m volunteering to get him into office. Afterwards I tacked the “heart and soul” speech onto all my generic-blurb phone calls. Passion is Ross’s m.o. When he launches into a speech, there comes a moment when he shifts into high gear, gets higher-pitched, and throws “goddammits” around. I can’t get enough of that stuff. When the Revolution comes, Ross will be leading it, bearing the flag and walking into gunfire. He “wows me over,” as he might say. You can supervise me any time you want, hotdog.
Ferlinghetti, I’ve got a thing for you and always have. I’ve said it beforeeven to himand I’ll say it again, he is the sexiest octogenarian around. But his age is beside the point. The point is the man’s power and presence and guts and fire, his trailblazing history and artistic longevity. He’s been in the prime of his life all of his life. Painter, poet, publisher, raconteur and activist; he’s a bona fide national treasure. What a life he’s had! And his eyes contain everything he has seen. May he reign over the Left Coast in good health for many years to come.
Barry Gifford is my idea of a manly man. I used to bump into Barry now and then when his studio was down the street from my day job in Berkeley. I admire him immensely. First off, he started writing at age 11 and has never made a living doing anything but writing. How many writers can say that? Plus, he’s prolific and constantly producing, be it fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenplays, or even songs and opera libretti. He’s a real working writer. He’s written, what, 100 books? So he signed American Falls “from your role model, Barry.” At 59 he already has an archive of “Giffordiana” at Stanford University. Even so, he was as thrilled as a neophyte when a worker at a Cuban cigar factory knew his work.
The first time I saw him read at City Lights he said he’d resisted putting an email address on his website. “I don’t want to talk to anyone!” he yelled; “that’s not what I’m here for!” That’s a line that resonates in my head like a Buddhist gong. The next day I sent him a City Lights postcard with the following verse:
“I don’t want to talk to anyone!”
Writers are all about words
I considered this to be an affectionate compliment. Think of the love that goes into such a glove! I doubt it would have offended him; he’s too good humored. And anyway in “adios, chico!” he likens someone’s face to a “frying pan full of sizzling chicken livers.” The face may be craggy but his eyes are wise and kind.
At another City Lights event last December, Barry read from his latest collection of poems Back in America. I read through the entire 50-page volume while sitting on a folding chair waiting for him to show up. Barry has a strong presence but a gentle voice.
There was only one question from the audience after the reading, as to why there’s a picture of a pugilist on the cover of a book of poems. It was just a picture Barry’s had in mind to use some day, and finally said, whatever the next book is, that’s the cover. And both you and he know there will be a next book.
Gifford and his posse headed over to Tosca’s and I caught up with him for a bit after I got done watching h belt back a bourbon or two (all right, three) at Specs. “I thought of a question,” I say to Barry. “Are you still in love with the person you were in love with when you wrote those poems?”
No it hit the ground with a thud, like the judgment of heaven thundering down. Ouch!
“Well, you got some good poems out of the deal.” And some good loving, judging from the poems.
It reminds me of the time my college fiction writing professor took me to a Kurosawa film and spent most of it looking at me. Annoyed, I said “Are you going to watch this movie or not?” “I’ve seen it already,” he said. “Well you’ve seen me before too so cut it out.” Later (at 6’-7”) towering above me on a Down escalator, he (married, by the way) asked me, “When are you going to let me kiss you?”
And that was the judgment of heaven and hell. He also once told me, “You fascinate me to the point of delirium.” To me this was just a neutral statement of fact there was nothing I could or need do anything about. Later in life, he had a fistfight with his protégé Frank, who it turns out was sticking it to his earth-mother wife.
All right, kids, that’s my lineup of the Fantastic Five. Come and get me boysthe first one of you to ask me for a date has already made it to second base. Oh well, a girl can dream.
The author on Valentine’s Day, 2002
Short Attention Span Poetry Corner
Lost in his butterscotch voice
So sexy it hurts