A Trip to the Baths

sc0591f38fTennessee Williams’ Amanda Wingfield is a character that I understand. That scene when she appears in the dress in which she “led the cotillion,” the way she waxes about all the gentlemen callers, the opportunities she once had as a young girl, I understand it all. I, too, was once young. And if Amanda appears foolish for trying so desperately to hold onto those treasured days, it’s a foolishness that most of us relate to, perhaps some of us more than others.
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Yesterday, in my blog about three different San Francisco men, I touched on the fact that I’d made a visit to the remains of the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths were a large swimming pool complex built in the 19th century. It closed in the 1960s and a fire destroyed the building not long after. For decades, people have visited and walked around the ruins that face the Pacific Ocean. The venerable Cliff House is nearby and tourists and locals can visit both together.

It had been years since I’d hiked around the Sutro Baths ruins. When Eric and I were in the city in June, we drove by, but did not stop and explore. But Tuesday, when I was tooling around the city, I felt I needed to go there, a mission of sorts.
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When I lived in San Francisco, I visited the Sutro Baths on occasion. I must confess, anything with the word baths in it’s name just sounds kind of sexy to me. I’ve seen the old pictures and the reality is probably not nearly as sexy as what I’d imagined. But still, I am a swimmer and I do love history so there was an appeal.

In the summer of 1997, my friend Greg Zukowski, a friend from New York and also a photographer, came to visit San Francisco. We got together and he asked me if I wanted to do a photo shoot with him, maybe something out and about in San Francisco. Because I was young and still loved the idea of having my picture taken, I said yes. I suggested we go to the Sutro Baths and that is where the majority of the pictures were taken. He took picture after picture, I gave him pose after pose. I smized, I tooched. I took off my shirt and posed shirtless. I’ve never had the best torso, but I’d run several miles that morning and felt confident. He asked if I wanted to take off my shorts for a few pictures. And, I figured I’d already been naked in a play and this was San Francisco, really, why shouldn’t I? So I dropped my shorts and posed for a few shots, my Speedo tan line, complimenting my summer skin. I don’t remember ever feeling more handsome.
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I also felt unlimited possibility. I had broken up with my boyfriend but we had remained friends, in fact we still lived together. These were my last weeks in San Francisco; I was moving back to Los Angeles and looked forward to starting the next chapter in my life. I know it’s a cringe-inducing confession, but I thought I was going to go back to Los Angeles and get an agent and start booking commercials and guest starring on Friends and Ellen. Of course, that’s not really how it went down, but, hey, that’s the great thing about hope: it gives you hope.
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Months later, when I was living in Los Angeles, Greg sent me a bundle of pictures with a letter saying that one of my pictures was going to be in an art show he was doing. He sent me a flyer for the show with an image of me. I was thrilled. I felt famous. By then, my Los Angeles reality was not shaping up the way I’d hoped. I still lived on my friend Amy’s couch, not making enough money to get an apartment. I dated with some regularity, but every guy paled in comparison to the ex-boyfriend I’d left in San Francisco. I was lonely and lost. But I loved my little bundle of pictures, they made me feel handsome. Years later, I am so happy I have these wonderful pictures taken by my talented friend Greg.

All of these things were in my thoughts as I wandered around the Sutro Baths on Tuesday morning, taking pictures of the ocean and the rocks and the ruins instead of selfies, because, as it turns out, I don’t like most pictures of myself anymore. Like The Glass Menagerie, it was my own memory play. I’m not young anymore and some days I mourn it’s loss more than others. But there on that overcast breezy morning, with each salty breath I took in, for a few minutes anyway, I was 29 again, slim and tanned and young with a world of boundless opportunity before me.
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You Have to Give Them Hope

harvey-milkI am home after a whirlwind trip to the Bay Area. A friend of mine, Michael Gaffney was doing a reading of the one man show he’s been working on for a few years now and because I’m not working and I could, I decided to drive up for it on Monday and come back last night. He lives in the East Bay and the show was in Berkeley. I thought I was going to head home yesterday morning, but the City by the Bay called to me. I could not be that close to San Francisco without crossing that bridge, both literally and metaphorically.

So, I drove first to Coit Tower. I parked on Sansome, I think, and decided to climb the Filbert steps to the Tower. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, and enjoyed the lovingly restored structure with WPA murals and an ancient Otis Elevator and took several pictures from the observatory deck. And then I took another set of steps down, back to my car. As I was pondering the mixed blessing that living in one of these Telegraph Hill apartments would pose, I noticed a plaque, in a garden. This was Grace Marchant Garden and the plaque itself was to honor a man named Gary Kray who tended to the garden from 1979 to 2012. “His selfless dedication to friends and flowers will always be remembered.” Of course, I wondered if Gary Kray might have been gay, reasoning that any man who tends to a garden, in San Francisco, for 33 years, well, it’s possible, if not likely. This morning, I found his obituary where a friend shared that Kray’s big loves were San Francisco, Paris and the British Monarchy, so, you can draw your own conclusions. His obituary also told me that he worked nights as a cab driver so he could maintain his garden during the day. I thought about the sacrifice he made for doing something he loved and how that sacrifice touched the hearts of so many people. And his work lives on. Anyone, tourist or local, can stop and enjoy the flora and fauna as they take in the spectacular views: it’s a legacy.
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After a quick visit to the Sutro Baths and the fairly new incarnation of the Cliff House, I headed to the Castro for a quick lunch before hitting the road. I walked by The GLBT History Museum, and thought, this is my solo San Francisco adventure, I should check this out. It’s basically one large room and one could spend 15 minutes or a couple of hours there. What struck me most was the section dedicated to Harvey Milk. There was a hologram image of Milk and a blue button with instructions to push the button to listen to an excerpt from his famous tape recording that is featured in the film Milk, where he surmises that an assassination might be imminent and he conjectures what his legacy might be in the event of his death. I had turned away from the hologram as I listened to his words, while looking at pictures and artifacts, I heard him talk about someone from Altoona, Pennsylvania who called him, sharing that Milk’s election had given him hope. Harvey Milk also offered that, if he was assassinated, he would hope to see “every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know.” As I pondered his legacy, I turned around and noticed that the hologram was gone and through the glass, I saw a blood stained suit laid out. My response was surely the curators’ intention because I was truly shocked by its presence. As Harvey Milk continued to speak, I scanned the crimson soiled shirt and tie and jacket. As I became a bit emotional, his words were both a salve and a call to action. His life and death affected and inspired so many people, all races, all sexual identities, all ages.

I thought about Gary Kray and Harvey Milk as I drove down the 5 last night. How these San Franciscans had had these very different, but enduring legacies. They both were a product and a tribute to a city that holds many treasured memories for me.

I must confess now that I’ve buried my lead, and I did it on purpose. Because even more than Gary Kray and Harvey Milk, the person I thought about most as I travelled home was my friend Michael. He’s been the subject and guest star in several of my blogs as well as an occasional guest blogger. His show, at Berkeley Playhouse, a one night only event (so far), was a staged reading of his solo memoir The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses. While he’s been a professional actor for over 25 years, he’s also been a cater waiter for several years. His story is about the juxtaposition of the two careers, the two worlds. It was something I clearly related to, having worked in restaurants, on and off, since I was 19, but it’s a universal theme. Who among us can say that our lives have turned out exactly the way we thought they would? Michael’s story made me laugh and cry, with honesty and humility and passion and tenacity. It must also be noted that the theatre (designed by Julia Morgan, btw) was filled by other artists and cater waiters and artist-cater waiters who love and root for Michael as much as I do. I think it’s rare for someone to be as loved, treasured as he is. I’m so proud of the work that he’s done on this show and I look forward to the next chapter.

So, three men. Three very different legacies, but they were the men who permeated my thoughts and even spoke to me on that long drive home last night. I remembered another famous speech by Harvey Milk, about giving people hope, its importance, and how each of these three gave and give me hope in their own ways. It could have been a lonely trip, but I felt I was in good company.

Morning Swim

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If I’m lucky, every morning I start my day with a swim.  About four years ago, I joined a gym with access to an outdoor pool and ever since, swimming has been a regular part of my life. Because I swim, I tend to have a bit of a tan year round and at least once a day, someone will ask me where I got my tan.  I’ll tell them I swim regularly and they will always respond, “Oh, I loooove swimming.”  It amazes me how every time I start my first lap, I instantly feel like a child again.  I’m not a doctor or scientist, (insert best joke here) but I believe we love to swim because it subconciously reminds us of swimming in our mother’s bellies as fetuses.  Feel free to quote me on that.

The other reason I think we love swimming is that it’s sensual.  This blog adheres to a strict PG-13 guideline so I won’t elaborate too much further, but swimming is sexy.  People with attractive bodies look hot in swimsuits. 

I’ve compiled an album of swimming pools, please peruse, comment, if you feel compelled.  Summer’s here, it’s time to dive into the pool!