Thursday, May 3, 2007

Don't Ask!

I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

-- Sir William S. Gilbert

These two stations face each other across 6th Street in San Francisco
Guess which one I chose to fill the Saab?

Taken 4/30/07

Mumps is commonly thought of as a childhood disease, but I was diagnosed with the illness at seventeen. To be precise, I was sick with the mumps at the time I was supposed to be registering for my first full quarter of classes at the University of California. As youth and adults are expected to be immobile while the body fights off this disease, standing in registration lines was out of the question. My father took up the task of seeing that I got into my classes, and when I received my class schedule, I found that Father had added one class that was not on my personal list. He had enrolled me in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). As Wikipedia explains, “Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program is a college-based, officer commissioning program, predominantly in the United States. It is designed as a college elective that focuses on leadership development, problem solving, strategic planning, and professional ethics.” That is all very well and good, but in 1967, ROTC was also the training ground for officers headed to Viet Nam.

Military service is not a tradition in my family. My father was a member of the West Virginia National Guard when World War II broke out, but as he was in college training to be a minister, he was told to continue his studies while the rest of his unit was sent to North Africa where they died in battle. The only other family “military” stories I heard of growing up involved my paternal great-grandmother sitting on her cabin porch, rifle in hand, picking off rebel soldiers who came over the hill in the War Between the States. I have no doubt that Father’s action in signing me up for ROTC was motivated purely by the idea that the training would be good for me, and may even provide some financial support for my studies. There was no thought on his part that I would be expected to serve my country in this fashion. Conservative as I was at the time, I had already addressed my chapter of the United Republicans of California (UROC) on the topic of “Selective Slavery,” which is what those of us with a Libertarian bent called the Selective Service Act.

Please do not misunderstand, with all her faults I love my country, and in a “more perfect” world, there is nowhere on earth I would rather live. I have traveled a bit, and visited many other countries enjoyably, but the place I call home is the United States. When returning from foreign adventures, I find myself reciting Sir Walter Scott’s lines from “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said
This is my own, my native land!

That said, I have never felt obliged to protect my country by joining her military. Perhaps that is because the wars we have fought during my lifetime have never involved protecting the homeland, but rather protecting the sources of her wealth. The first war to happen during my life, the conflict in Korea, is still going on today, over fifty years later. Approximately 30,000 US military personnel are stationed in South Korea. Personally, I do not know how many “minor” conflicts we have been involved in over the past fifty-seven years, wars in places like Grenada, Somalia, Nicaragua. The biggies, Viet Nam and Iraq are quite enough, thank you. And while at first I supported our attempts to stop Communism in Viet Nam, I came to realize that our leaders had no clear idea of what we were doing there, or how to stop a local uprising. They say that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. If the militia of the thirteen colonies were able to hold off and defeat the greatest power on earth, England, how could we ever expect to stop the Viet Cong? And since we apparently did not learn our lesson in Southeast Asia, we are repeating the class in the Middle East. And why?

I do recognize that other folk feel differently. Military service is a proud and honorable tradition for many American families. Other individuals feel the call to serve and protect, or to be an army of one. (And isn’t that slogan an oxymoron?) I respect their choices, and frankly, I’m glad that others do feel the urge to enlist. There are legitimate needs for an armed force, I’m just not convinced that enriching the coffers of Halliburton is one of those needs.

The dome of City Hall. Surely one of the most beautiful municipal structures in the US.
Taken 4/30/07 in San Francisco, California

What brings about this particular train of thought is a concert I attended Monday evening, April 30th, 2007, in the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall across from San Francisco’s City Hall. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus presented Divas’ Revenge II, Opera, Broadway & More. I had received an e-mail about the upcoming concert through the GALA Choruses discussion group. Immediately, I e-mailed my friend Bear, and asked if he’d be at all interested in attending the concert. As it turned out, we drove south to San Francisco following our two-day training in the Positively Speaking program, and got to the City by the Bay on Sunday evening. Monday we took things easy as we’d had a very draining experience at our training session at Humboldt State University, and after a wonderful dinner at Mochica, we drove to the Symphony Hall for the 7 pm concert.

I’ll admit to getting a bit emotional (read teary-eyed) as the 150 men of the chorus filed in. All those beautiful men in tuxes! It made me miss my own Missoula Gay Men’s Chorus all the more. The Chorus was joined by the Community Women’s Orchestra, and by Connie Champagne, a local entertainer who has been named one of the 100 best things about San Francisco. Ms. Champagne performed as Judy Garland.

The first half of the program featured music from Broadway, including numbers from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, Rent, Dreamgirls (sung as Dreamboys of course), and The Producers. Surely we’ve all thought that Bloom’s touching “Till Him” was homoerotic. The orchestra played a medley from The Wizard of Oz, and Ms. Champagne, with the Chorus as her backup group, sang such Judy Garland hits as “Get Happy,” “The Trolley Song,” and “The Man That Got Away.”

Flower growing in garden terrace of Castro Street's Luna Restaurant
Taken 4/30/07 in San Francisco

The second half of the program turned political—albeit in a fun and entertaining way. Shedding their tuxedos, the chorus returned to the stage in sailor whites and performed their very first musical, “The USS Metaphor (or The Lad Who Loved A Sailor),” a modern retelling of “HMS Pinafore.” Captain Corcoran became Captain Closeted, who is “hardly ever gay at sea.” Sir Joseph, whose lines are quoted at the opening of today’s blog, became The Honorable Secretary Josephine Porter, Secretary of the Navy and US Presidential Candidate, etc. etc. I’ll have to go see Pinafore sometime soon, but I believe the Chorus did a pretty good job of telling the whole story in a little over an hour. (Not quite as good as Anna Russell getting through Wagner’s Ring in twenty minutes.)

The point, of course, was that all the sailors on the USS Metaphor, from the Captain on down, were secretly gay, and that the Captain’s son, Stephen Closeted, was in love with Ensign Ralph Rackstraw, but engaged to Secretary Porter. Secretary Porter (who it turned out is a closeted lesbian) and the Rev. Dick Deadheart were set on cleansing the Navy of the abomination of homosexuality. In true Gilbert and Sullivan style, all was satisfactorily resolved in the end, and since the ship was docked at Boston Harbor, the two lovebirds were able to be married. And of course, TV newscaster Anderson Scooper was there to report on all the dirt.

The concert closed with a honor guard from Alexander Hamilton Post #448, the only predominately GLBT American Legion Post in the nation. As these veterans took the stage, I was on my feet with tears, once again, in my eyes. Gay people serve honorably in the US military, and have from the beginning. Baron Von Steuben who has been credited with being the father of the US Army, was himself a closeted gay man.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a national disgrace. It must be overturned! The forces that keep pandering to the ignorant must be turned out of office and gay people must be granted full citizenship in this country. I, for one, am tired of being a second-class citizen in my native land.

To mitigate this screed, I must tell you of Tuesday's breakfast. Bear and I headed north out of San Francisco, with the thought that there must be a good place to eat in Marin County--and one with parking. We left US 101 at the downtown Novato exit, and after a few wrong turns, we found that Novato does, indeed, have a downtown. Right in the center of town sits Mary's Crepes, featuring Breakfast, Lunch, Espresso and Cocktails. I can't speak for the Lunch or Cocktails, but breakfast and my latte were so beautiful that I grabbed my camera and recorded them for posterity (and for Eyefetch, ID 321254 and 321247). As I started shooting the latte, even moving it to a different table for less distraction, Mary offered to make another one saying, "I can make a prettier one." After Bear and I had finished our breakfasts, Mary asked if we had ever had a sweet crepe, and offered to make us one as her gift. She actually made us two, one each, and they were as beautiful as the breakfast plate. As delicious too. This is far and away the best breakfast I have ever had, and I urge you all to run, don't walk, directly to Novato and try Mary's cuisine.

Dessert after breakfast, Mary's Crepes, Novato California
If you're ever in or near Novato, by all means eat at Mary's!
Taken 5/1/07

1 comment:

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, there is an exciting new group on Yahoo called The Judy Garland Experience. The group features amazingly rare audio treasures, great photo’s, lively discussions, and just about the greatest membership a group can have. This week we are featuring rare files of Judy performing in Long Beach with The Rat Pack, as well as an ultra rare interview with Judy, unreleased tracks of Sinatra at Carnegie Hall, and some other odds and ends (including both of Judy’s songs from Valley Of The Dolls).
The group consists of fans of all levels, Garland family members, historians, authors of books on Judy, other entertainers, filmakers, and more. The only thing missing is you!
So, please check out our little Judyville, once you visit us you might never want to leave.