Monday, November 17, 2008

Rallying Against Prop 8

I got up early on Saturday to make my way, via the Red Line, downtown for the rally in objection to Prop 8.  It was a hot, smoky day, and I looked forward to coming home and watching coverage of the extraordinary event on the news. Of course, there was no news but that of the devastating wildfires, which, incidentally, destroyed the family home of the man who made my wedding ring.

I only just realized the significance of that as I typed it. Before we got married, my wife and I arranged not to breed.  To some -- those who believe that the only legitimate purpose of marriage is to promote the getting of children by 1 man and 1 woman -- that would seem to disqualify us from have been granted a marriage license at all.

I hope the debate turns from boycotts against individual businesses and Mormons (you can find a lengthier discussion of my Last Word on this is on my restaurant blog, regarding El Coyote, here) and toward this larger, fundamental issue of equality and civil rights. As funny as some of the signs and as impassioned as some of the speeches from the podium were on Saturday, the single best summation of the issue was one I overheard on the subway on the way home.  A woman explained to a straight man who was conflicted about the issue: "On the ballot, the first words describing the Prop 8 were: Changes California Constitution to eliminate right of... I don't even need to read a single word farther to know that it's wrong."

Constitutions are made to guarantee rights, not eliminate them.

Okay... here are some of those funny signs (many of which traded on the conceit that chickens were voted more rights than gay people in the election.  Last snap courtesy

Thursday, November 13, 2008

El Coyote Boycott News

I was out of the office yesterday, and so was unable to report on yesterday's meeting between management of El Coyote and local members of the gay community upset about the revelation that a member of El Coyote's family ownership had made a personal, $100 donation to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.  I can be saved the time of describing the meeting blow by blow, as there is a factually correct account of it posted on

What the report fails to communicate is the level of upset among the El Coyote staff present.  Each and every one I spoke to was visibly shaken, some crying openly.  Each one stated clearly that although they disagree with Margie's personal position on the issue, that it is not the position of El Coyote as establishment or its management, so they do not understand the boycott.  They truly wish everyone could just get along, and allow individuals have their opinions without threatening the well-being of the entire establishment, a gathering place for a uniquely diverse community.  I tend to agree with that sentiment.

That said, it is not surprising that the meeting went the way it did, and it need not have done so.  One important element is missing from the reportage that helps explain why it turned ugly so quickly.  When Sam asked Margie if she would be willing to donate an equal or greater amount to Repeal Prop. 8, she deferred to management.  Management stated "We know Margie is so upset about this, and she would take back the donation if she could."

But when Sam pressed his question, Margie refused to donate a C-note to the opposite side, which would have effectively "taken back" the donation.  The deeds did not match the rhetoric.  I suspect that if Margie had agreed to do this, to put some meat into her apology, the issue would be dead.  But, sadly, it is not.

So... while I think the boycott is misguided, and its energy could be directed toward any number of larger, more complicit establishments, I understand and respect the anger and frustration of the community, and the need to make a visible protest of a visible target.

I had plans to dine at El Coyote tonight, at about 7:00... when the protest officially begins.  I will honor the protesters by not crossing that picket line.  But I will not boycott the restaurant before or after the protest.  The gay (and Other) staff, nearly all long-serving, dedicated employees, and truly wonderful people, depend on my dining dollars to feed their families.  Suggestions posted elsewhere that employees should "get other jobs" truly don't understand the nature of the restaurant: it is a family place in every sense, where owners, customers, and especially staff treat each other like family.  One might as well suggest these employees "get a new mother and father."

You may see me in El Coyote the next few days... you will also see me at the Repeal Prop. 8 rally at City Hall on Saturday.  I truly feel that's a more appropriate place to display our displeasure at the passage of Prop. 8.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Official Post-Election Post

I have put off an official Post Election Post until now.  There is so much to say, and so much already being said so well.  I feel the same sense of hope and wistfulness as Al Martinez expresses in his beautiful column from Monday's LA Times.  (Don't worry, despite his line about martinis and cigarettes, my heart is in no present danger.  But the poignancy of his dealing with hope during difficult  times is one I share.  But no matter how poignant Al's story is, nothing compares to the tear-jerking bittersweetness of the retired White House butler and his wife that appeared a few days ago.

In yesterday's LA Times Opinion section, there is a great piece: A vote too late for Obama.
It tells the story of a woman who decided not to vote, then, in the ensuing days of celebration and watching Obama conduct himself, felt like she might have missed out on a historic moment.

This echoes one personal story I'd like to share.

I have a friend who went through similar feelings.  A lifelong Republican in the financial services industry, he voted for Bush twice, and had come to regret it.  He was shocked at the choice of Sarah Palin.  He's moderate on social issues, but as are most in his business, suspicious of Obama's plan to soak the rich; the rich, he believes, are where jobs come from.  No new news there.  He respected and admired McCain, but was put off by his campaign tactics, and by his party's shift to extreme right-wing social conservatism: reproductive rights, Creationism, all that.  He talked with me extensively about Obama, and my take on the election.  We debated, and agreed a lot about what ails the country and how to fix it.  Roads.  Health care.  Education.  A sensible foreign policy that doesn't support dictators.

And he called me the day before the election.  He was, to my amzement, still undecided, and we talked some more.  He wanted me to reassure him that if Obama was elected, and his economic advisors came to him and said that raising the capital gains tax was a bad idea for the economy, he'd listen.  I told him I couldn't guarantee anything.  That there are a lot of unreasonable hopes being placed on this one talented, inspiring but very skinny fellow. But that I believe Obama is, if he is anything, a good listener, and not and ideologue.

After we hung up, I sent him one last e-mail.  "I think that Obama," I said, "is gonna win.  It's going to be historic.  And I think you're going to want to be able to tell your grandchildren you were a part of it."

I got a call from my friend the day after election day.  He told me that he went and talked with his own mother about which way to vote on election eve.  They talked for half an hour about Obama vs. McCain.  They seriously discussed leaving that section of the ballot blank.

At last, he said, he voted for McCain.

But when he saw his mother the next day, after Obama had won, he asked her, "aren't you just a little bit relieved, that it turned out this way?"  And she agreed that she was.

My friend and I agreed that it's time for reasonable people to move on.  He told me that it's like a football team... the QB you want to start the next game because he throws you a lot of passes isn't starting, it's the other guy.  You still go out and work as hard as you can for the team.  I agreed.  I told him I would do the same thing if McCain had won (unlike some of my friends who threatened to really, this time, leave the country if a Republican took the White House).  We thanked each other for offering our perspectives on our nation in a civil and forward-looking way.

It is this spirit of unity, even more than Barack's oratory, thoughtfulness, and intellect, that give me hope for the next administration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Politics Meets Food -- The El Coyote Boycott

My novel, MY NAME IS WILL, is a cautionary tale about the danger of mixing politics and religion. I gave our friend Margie, the niece of the owners of El Coyote, a copy last week, but I doubt she's read it yet. Now she's learning the lesson the hard way.

Margie appeared on a list of donors to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign, which has led to calls for a boycott. Now as you know, I spend a lot of time at El Coyote, and I've spent some time here defending its kitchen. I'm going to spend a little more time defending it against a boycott.

Margie is variously described as the owner or the manager of the restaurant in various blogs and e-mails currently making their way around the 'net. My understanding is, she's possibly in line to take over someday; currently just an employee. When questions come up about the menu, or prices, or my and others longstanding request for some seafood, any seafood, she invariably refers us to the managers, Billy or Bobby. Billy and Bobby are both gay. In fact, I'd guess (with my fairly accurate straight man's gaydar) that a solid majority of the staff of the restaurant is gay. On any given night, particularly a Thursday (which has become an unofficial "gay night" -- always amusing when I sometimes go there with Kent while Sa's at her belly dance class!) a majority of the clientele is likely to be gay as well.

I'm sure she's not going to need to hear from me about the mistake I think she made donating $100 of her own money -- and listing her place of work as "El Coyote Cafe" -- when I go there tomorrow or Thursday for dinner. But I hope that the boycott call doesn't hurt their business. Some of the wages that her family pays to all those gay employees no doubt made its way into the No on 8 coffers. And I'd hate to take money out of the bank accounts and tip-takings of Billy and Bobby and Roberto and Jose and all of our other gay friends there, just because another employee (however closely related to the owners) prefers to donate differently.

We've talked with Margie quite a bit. She's the nice, tall, willowy lady who comes around with ice water and asks how you're doing. We talk about movies, current events, and, yes, politics. She's a Republican. So is almost half the country, and about four in ten Californians. She's also a lifelong Mormon (is there any other kind?). She was very excited about my book, and asked for a signed copy; I warned her it might be a little "racy" for her taste, but she wanted it anyway.

Perhaps when she reads the book, she'll get some reinforcement of the concept that toeing a church line on political issues is a slippery slope. But I think maybe she's already gotten that. From an apology letter posted online at shutupIknow, where there is some heated discussion of the issue:







Was Margie on the wrong side of this issue? I think so. Does the restaurant where she works deserve to be boycotted for it? I don't think so, but if you do, I'd at least go hear her out before deciding.

I leave you with a photo of one of the clearly-oppressed staff of El Coyote a couple of Halloweens ago. That's Roberto, affectionately known as Betty...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Press Conference

I watched it with trepidation, excitement, and a critical mind.  Would the dude I've been shilling for the past eight months handle himself as well as I hoped he would?

I watched the Dow ticker on CNN go from 200 to 100 as he spoke about middle class tax relief.  Then watched it go back up to the high 100s when he talked about bailing out US automakers.  No surprise there.

I did think he made one wince-worthy misstep, when he made a joke about talking to dead presidents via seance, a la Nancy Reagan.  Mind you, I thought of the same joke before he made it, and I too conflated the Hillary stories with the Nancy stories. 

And yet, Obama apologized within hours.  Need we note: he's already admitting he made his first mistake, when Dubya's still trying to think of one of his.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin's calling people who reported her own faux pas "cowards and jerks."  So far, sooo predictable.

Monday, November 3, 2008

DC Recap

My trip to DC was a whirlwind.  Quite literally, as it was one of those "you-shoulda-been-here-last-week, it was beautiful" trips.  It was cold.  Freaking cold.  And whirlwindy.  Little dust devils of fall leaves everywhere.

I arrive on Friday night and take a taxi to the hotel.  Ten bucks.  A nice change after all the $40-50 LA and NY cab fares I've racked up on the book tour.  The Capitol Suites, a block or two from the Folger, the Supreme Court, the Capitol.  Unfortunately, I got in late.  Like, 10:30.  No bar or restaurant at the hotel as it was a long-term stay type place, so I asked about restaurants.  Was told, up to Pennsylvania Avenue, turn right.  Jokes about "I've had enough of the right on Pennsylvania Ave." flood through my mind.  Well, Pennsylvania Ave. SW on a Sunday night at 10:50 pm is like downtown LA used to be before its Renaissance.  Nothing like those bars where they made deals on West Wing.  Absolutely nobody there, but a few homeless, and a very few skanky bars with skanky clientele.  I finally found one place (which shall remain nameless) that would reluctantly serve me a cheeseburger.  A local, first thing when I walk in, insults my jacket.  If you know me, you know that insulting my jacket (I have a bigger collection than anyone who lives in SoCal has a right owning) will put me off the establishment away.  I actually walk out, only to find NO other food for blocks.   I come back, tail between my legs, have that cheeseburger.  I'm sure it had been spat on, but I was starving.  It sucked.  Okay, it was called the "Tune Inn."

I take an Ambien to counteract the time lag, but still don't fall asleep til 3.  Next day I wake up at noon, shower, and get a lovely breakfast from Le Bon Cafe next door.  This place is excellent, by the way.  Great coffee, great pastries, nice little cafe vibe.  It's raining, and I haven't brought any rain gear. (72 degrees, mostly sunny!) has failed me again.

I go to the Folger.  It's deserted, in the rain on a Monday a week before the election.  I walk in to find an empty Folger, just one woman talking to the stage door guard.  I tell the guard my name, that I'm reading there tonight.  He says to the woman, "clearly you should talk to him."  She's a reporter from All Things Considered, getting people to read the witches scene from Macbeth.  He declines, but I accept.  You can hear the result here.  meet my contact, she shows me around.  The theater has a nice setup for "Henry IV P. I," and I'll be reading from a podium on the stage. 

It looks fantastic.  I meet Betsy Walsh, who will take me for a tour of the place.  It's stunning if you've never been.  The most extraordinary collection of Shakespeareana in the world.  Bizarre that it's in D.C., though; an Elizabethan building wrapped in a neoclassical shell.  I have an English friend who is very angry indeed that all their stuff is here.  But that, I say, is how empires roll.  I do not mention the Elgin Marbles.

The best part is the vault tour.  I have some other pics, but I promised not to publish 'em!) Two stories down, behind the vault door, there are their special collection stacks.  They have, count 'em, 79 copies of the 1623 First Folio.  Since these go for anywhere from 2 to 6 million a copy, depending on their condition, this is one pricey pile of old books.  They have one out on display, for those who are allowed in the inner sanctum (me!  Nyah nyah!) to fondle.  I fondle it.  It's a very nice copy, probably closer to six mil than two.  I look at my favorite bits.  She points out fun publishing arcana to me.

I also see other things of note: A first-English-edition Don Quixote.  The only known quarto copy of Titus Andronicus.  Queen Elizabeth I's very own Bible. (yes, hers... it's in a sumptuous, very old binding, with the ER seal on the front). The famous Edward de Vere bible with his notations and markings. (This is one of the pieces of evidence that Oxfordians use... "many of his highlighted passages appear in Shakespeare's works!"  Guess what, I've seen it now and DeVere highlighted, like, every other verse, and most of the famous ones, for large swaths of the Good Book. It would be nearly impossible for these NOT to appear in Shakespeare's works.)  There were also original copies of several of the book that in my novel, William's friend Richard Field brings from London, including a copy of Anthony Munday's anti-Catholic screed with the long title.  I notice that it had quill-pen margin notes that looked contemporary.  I wondered whose they were... she said she'd try to find out. This was, seriously, the most fun I've had looking at books on shelves, ever.

I go back to the hotel and work on my presentation for a bit.  It's a prestigious gig, and I don't want to suck in any way.  I arrive at the librar at 7:00.  It looks deserted.  It's raining outside, and miserable.  Anyone who's ever done a book tour knows this feeling.  It's one of those readings where no one is going to show up.  I wait in the Founder's room, under the debunked Ashbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare." 

I'm going over my notes, when my handler comes in and says, ready to go?  It's exactly 7:30, and these things never start on time.  "Are we going to another room?" I ask, and she says "yes, we're going to another room."  My handler is 7 months pregnant, and a little fuzzy.  I guess she thought I mean, am I doing the reading in here, because when I grab my tea and my splayed out notes, she leads me directly into the theater... where there are about a hundred people waiting!

This is a good turnout for readings, trust me.

I begin my shtick... much revised, this time, so I have no idea how it'll go.  I begin theatrically, saying nothing but opening to page one of the book and reading the first three paragraphs.  "Elizabeth I's left tit" and "boner" both get big laughs, and when I stuffily say "good evening and welcome to the Folger Library," that gets a laugh too.

The whole thing goes great.  People are engaged, laughing, nodding.  I read, and lecture, and because it's DC I've skewed the whole thing towards politics.  My digs on McCain and REagan get mostly cheers, some friendly boos.  That's good.  My references to Guantanmo and torture... a little chilling.  I open up to Q&A and the questions are smart and and engaging.  I get asked about the best Mexican restaurant in LA, and "Why do the Angels suck?"  "Because they're from Orange County," I reply.  More cheers and boos.

At then end of Q&A, I say, I don't usually do this, but since it's the last night of the tour... I will attempt to break the world's record for the fastest solo performance of Hamlet.  There's a great set for Hnery IV, with a cool thrust, so I use that.  I get a guy in the audience to time me.  Of course I break the record, to much applause.  No boos.  But then I realize aloud, damn, I skipped Ophleia's drowning scene.  So I take the water glass from the lectern, throw it in my own face, and melt.  Yes, I improv-ed a new encore, on the spot.

I sell a couple dozen books in the foyer afterwards, a nice, healthy line, all full of people I don't know who have already paid $12 for the evening.  In short, it went really well, and they want me back "anytime."

The next day, I woke early and walked, in a bitter cold, windy, nasty day, from my hotel near the Folger down the Mall from the Capitol Building -- which was a construction zone, they're already building the dais for Inauguration Day -- the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR memorials.  The Jefferson Memorial was inspiring.  The FDR monument is highly underrated, a beautiful series of waterfalls and courtyards, each representing one of his four terms.  The sculpture of the soup line from his second term is stunning.

At the Lincoln Memorial, I made a wish for our friend Mackey with a penny he gave me, and tossed it into the reflecting pool.

Then across the Potomac to Arlington Cemetery, which I was curious to visit after reading Connie Willis's <a href="">Lincoln's Dreams</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

After five miles, I came away with chapped lips and, yes it's true, a renewed love of country. Washington's a bit stolid for my taste, all that marble, but hey, I could make Scalia jokes a half block from where he dispenses "justice" without getting arrested, and that's encouraging. And there is nothing to humble you like a twenty foot statue of, and the extraordinary mind of, Thomas Jefferson.

The last thing I did was to cozy up to the bar at the Capital Grille, where those West Wing deals were all being made.  I had a half dozen delightful Blue Point oysters, talked hockey with the guy next to me, had a bowl of chowder before heading to Reagan National Airport.  (YCK)

My trip to DC went very, very well.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wish Tree

With Tuesday approaching, I find myself engaged in a lot of wishing and hoping, most of it on a fairly large scale.  Here are some wishes, many on a much smaller scale, that gave me a much-needed laugh, and a few sad sighs.  Peace and chocolate, indeed.