What I Saw In California

What I Saw In California

8/9/10, a nice sequential date.

From Salt Lake City I cross the vast high sagebrush-dotted desert of Nevada, with the only variant in 400 miles a roadkill ruffed grouse.  As I approach California thunderheads mass over the high Sierra.  I pass through Reno and, after 2000-plus miles of effortless open road, precisely as I cross the state line traffic slows to a crawl — I-80 is being resurfaced across Donner Pass.  Indifferent to the stop-and-start traffic my innards recall the two cups of coffee I had for breakfast but all the rest stops are closed and finally I resort to slipping behind a Douglas fir at a place where the emergency lane widens to accommodate winter chain removal.  Welcome to California.

That evening I stop in Sacramento to give my road-weary dogs a rest.  Here in the heart of an ever- deepening financial crisis my host’s partner speaks of remodeling his kitchen which as it stands might be featured in Architectural Digest but he will tear out the counters, replacing the dark granite countertop with a gray granite countertop and elevating the whole from prosperity to luxury.

On Sunday we go to a gay pool party hosted by an older man.  In past lives and at different times my two friends have each been the lover of our host, who now has a sweet-faced younger man filling that role.  A pipe filled with pot sits discreetly beside the six-burner gas grill.  Twenty gay men straggle in, along with one woman and two nonoperative transsexuals.  Everyone gets plastered by the pool except the transsexuals, who slip to a side table to smoke.  At some point I slip away to walk a block to the American River, flowing swift and clean, and jump in some real water, a living creature, swimming with full effort upstream I just manage to stay in place.

As we sit to table the host proposes a toast to his sibling, “my dear little sister Donna Rae, formerly my dear little brother Donald Ray.”  Donna stands in her lavender halter-top bikini, not a great look for a nonoperative transsexual in her 60s.  In Florida she packs a pistol for self-preservation but we are in California and life is good.  We are in the capital of the world’s ninth largest economy and the conversation centers on politics, the Senate race, the governor’s race — will Californians return hoary Jerry Brown to the post more recently occupied by the muscleman Arnold Scharzenegger.

On the ride back to my host’s house we have much discussion about the success or failure of the thong in covering Donna Rae’s equipment and of the vexing question of whether one could support an employment protection bill that excluded transsexuals or whether the only possible stance is the pure stance, all-inclusive or nothing.  I’m an incrementalist — take the rights when and where you can get them and keep fighting — a point of view not popular in left-wing gay California.

And now I am in socked-in San Francisco but in mid-afternoon the sun peeks through the cool gray.  The apartment where I stay is in chaos as workers prepare it for my host’s imminent return so I retire to a neighborhood cafe where the conversation focuses on Twitter and Facebook and textual content and viral advertising.  The chief conversant, a young Hindu /Latino/Caucasian mix, features on her arm an oval scar from a tattoo removal.  A woman ahead of her time, I think, but we are in California and life is good.

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