Baghdad By The Bay Keeps the Saddams Away

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The Place for Piercings

I saw a performance by comedian Kathy Griffin over the weekend. It was in San Francisco. As most people know, she’s quite popular with Teh Gays, which made her appearance quite an entertaining affair.

It was an eclectic audience. There was a smattering of suburbanites from the East Bay, some hipsters from SoMa, and lots of leather clad fellows and multi-pierced and tatted up women touching tongues. Several women bought Kathy-labeled kimonos at Griffin’s tchotchke stand and flashed their girlfriends while they snapped photos.

There was a woman in tie-dyed hijab, a couple in white tie and evening gown, and local drag queen favorite Roxy. She arrived like Elizabeth minus Daniel Craig and parachute and posed for dozens of pictures. She looked fabulous in a sparkling evening gown and hair coiffed from green boa feathers. Her shoes were to die for.

Going Down With The Woz

Down the aisle, a crowd gathered to have pictures taken with Apple Wunderkind Steve Wozniak. There are clearly many devotees of the Big Bang Theory in The City (always capitalized like this).

I rode with him in an elevator after the show. He was wearing the biggest watch I’ve ever seen on a regular civilian. It had an old fashioned digital display and you could see the “N” size battery that ran it through the glass. He never refused even one of the dozens of photo requests although his companion rolled her eyes like a heat stroke victim at the Abu Dhabi ComicCon. She probably beat him with a motherboard when they got home. He unfailingly smiled sweetly and spoke to each boor, which led me to ask, “Do you ever feel like the Statue of Liberty with all the photos people take of you?”

He smiled and said, “thank you”. I hadn’t felt so proud since I once asked Clarence Clemmons if he wanted my autograph. He declined, but chuckled.

Pantsless on BARTOf course, Griffin was a riot. She scammed on everyone and everything and went overtime telling raunchy stories. Her act is extremely up-to-date, even including several items from earlier in the day. She is either a very fast writer or a very good improviser. However, she does have an advanced case of ADD.

She included dozens of local references and the audience howled with delight. In fact, the audience howled at pretty much everything, including a few mid-performance walkouts by couples who looked like suburban voyagers from the other side of  The Bay. The fact they’d come was either a brave act by gay marriage opponents or very timid Westboro protesters.

A Standing O

It was a good time. There was a standing O. The drag queens and leather chappers and suburbanites stood next to each other an applauded together.

That is the beauty of San Francisco. It is a place where parades and world-class marathons have equal displays of costumes and bare asses. The Folsom Street Fair displays a wonderful selection of butt chaps and scrotal rings. No one much minds the naked guy who plays chess at the sidewalk tables or gripes about people of the same sex walking hand in hand or pecking each other on the cheek. Most of the time you have to work very hard to get arrested in San Francisco.

It is still a city that local newspaper hero Herb Caen once dubbed Baghdad by the Bay, but it has its problems. Homelessness is rampant. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a screecher or extremely aggressive panhandler. The BART elevators have clogged with human shit. Local politics is a God-awful mess, although that goes back to 1849. The buses run on suggestions rather than timetables. And, fewer and fewer survivors attend the annual commemoration of the 1906 earthquake.

Plus, it’s always foggy and cold as hell.

But, it’s a city to love, a place where a comedian can come and ridicule the imminently ridiculable and people actually laugh instead of answer with a loud HUMBUG! There’s no War on Christmas. They even put up a huge tree each year in Union Square and everyone, gays, the religious, and atheists, come to watch. Fuck you Bill O’Reilly.

Gay MarriageNorton I, Emperor of the United States and Defender of Mexico

One of San Francisco’s early heroes was a crazy man named Emperor Norton. He fancied himself Emperor of the United States and Defender of Mexico, wore a gaudy uniform, and issued his own money – which every establishment in town gladly accepted. His royal proclamations could be a bit iffy, but sometimes also very prescient.

The Emperor was extremely rich before he went round the bend after losing every penny he had speculating on Peruvian rice.  He went from a 99.999 percenter to a one-uniform-owning celebrity whom everyone loved. Over taxation or government regulation had nothing to do with it. He bet. He lost. BIG. He displayed the risk-taking that the rich so herald though rob themselves out of today.

But crazy as he was, he had a brave streak a mile wide. He once stepped between sides in a race riot and brought peace. You won’t find the Koch brothers doing much of that, much less doing it in the stylish, braided uniform of the Emperor of California.

Norton the I was a true San Franciscan – extremely fortunate and destitute at the same time, yet he made it work. He didn’t have all his marbles, but created peace when the “sane” could not. San Francisco is an odd place and though it is looked upon by many as the home of “fruits and nuts” it’s also a laboratory for humanity that eventually become commonplace.

Yes, we are still Baghdad by the Bay. We still keep the Saddams away. We simply live and let live.

If only the rest of the country could do more of the same.

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