I'm so gay it's not funny!
April 28, 2006
11 a.m. — Van Ness and Market Streets, office of the San Francisco Taxi Commission
EACH SPRING, in order to prove that they're still alive, all San Francisco taxicab permit holders must appear in person at the Taxicab Commission to sign an affidavit, present a picture ID, and surrender a right thumbprint. I usually wait until the very last day of the deadline, as it is the one day when I can count on running into old-timer, permit-holding friends I haven't seen in a year or so, noted procrastinators all of us. But I’m not scheduled to work on deadline day this year, won't be making the trip across the Bay Bridge and into the City, and so I'm here at the Taxi Commission office one week early, with my cab parked -- legally, at a meter -- out at the curb. Next Friday this place'll be packed, but today I’m the only permit holder in the office. A young woman, a Taxi Commission newcomer, shows me where to sign, helps me ink my thumb, gives me a towel to wipe off, and I'm all done -- good for another year.
11:13 a.m. — Market and Franklin — Around the corner from the Taxi Commission I see a guy waving from the sidewalk. He’s a short white guy in his late twenties, with a black baseball hat pushed way back on his head. The hair on top of his head is dark and stubbly, indistinguishable from his six-day old beard. The odd detail: he’s holding a paper bag full of groceries high in the crook of one arm -- too high -- it's almost up under his armpit and he's squeezing it the way one might squeeze a squirming poodle.
I comment on the clear weather, the warmish temps –- no turtleneck for me today.
“We earned this,” he says, still resenting the record rains we endured in March. And then his story tumbles out: “I left Cleveland, Ohio, to escape winter. Joined the Air Force, but they pulled a dirty trick –- sent me right back to Dayton, Ohio. They made me an MP and sent me undercover into gay bars to try to find Air Force people in there. This was before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.' In every military installation, they keep a list of local places –- bars and clubs -– you can’t go into. So they’d send me in to see if there were any of our guys hanging out. But before I could go in, I always had to show my military ID to the management -- that’s the regulation -- and the bouncer would call ahead to the bartender and the DJ, who would crank down the music and turn down all the house lights and then shine a spotlight on me and say, ‘Anyone in the military, that guy in the spotlight is undercover -- in just a minute we’re going to turn the lights back on, and you’re not going to be here any more.’
"And of course while the spotlight’s blasting in my face I can’t see a thing -- I'm blind -- and when they turn the house lights on again there’s not a military guy within blocks of the place. In two months on the job I never turned in even one person. This was when I was still in denial. I’m so gay it’s not funny, but I didn’t know it yet. I only wound up in the Air Force because in high school I drove a girlfriend to the recruiting office, and the recruiter -- he was good -- he talked me into it. Signed us both up. Two for one. First, though, he asked my GPA [grade point average] and it was 1.85 [way low] and he said ‘Well, there’s no point’ but I said ‘Let’s give it a shot anyway’ and then I tested off the charts -- especially in math. He said, ‘Well, you’re one of the few with a low GPA and a high IQ.’ Well, duh! Anyone with any IQ at all is going to be bored out of their skull by a Cleveland public high school. So here I am, back in the same Ohio I ran away from, and my supervisor's this hot, hot black woman -- she's an Air Force canine handler -- and she is always hitting on me. And I’m still in denial but my body knows and I could never have slept with her...”
“Do you think a heterosexual man would have found her attractive?”
“A heterosexual man would have definitely found her attractive -- you, definitely! She was military, and a canine handler, but my god she was not ugly. And she’s always hitting on me -- when it all blew up she got in trouble for that. When she finally got that I wasn’t interested, she says, ‘If you’re not fucking me, you’re definitely gay!’ And she sends me to our commander, and tells him, ‘He is definitely gay!’ And the commander -- since the time I'd enlisted, 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' had started -- and the commander says, ‘I’m not asking you, so don’t tell me -- but get the fuck outta here!’ And so I pretty much had to leave. The funny thing was, my supervisor and I were good friends. She and I had so much in common. We were basically the same.”
“How do you mean?”
“Black women and gays -- they’re the same.”
“The same? Like how?”
“We get along like brothers and sisters. Or like just sisters.”
“I don’t know why. But I promise you...”
At the corner of Sutter and Hyde I sit behind the wheel and watch him walk down the sidewalk with his sack of groceries squeezed up high on his chest again. He’s wearing big droopy Levi's shorts that reach below his knees -- his bare calves are thick and stubby. His black baseball cap is pushed so far toward the back of his skull that its bill is sticking straight up in the air like a cockeyed tiara. He’s got something the size and shape of a golf ball, a digital gizmo of some sort, hanging from a long silver chain that dangles loose from his belt -- it bangs against his knee with each step. His walk is just a bit off -- his feet don’t track straight ahead, but make loopy little flicks to the outside before coming back toward the middle to land.
He’s thirty yards down the sidewalk now, and apparently his groceries must be slipping -- he gives a little skip, a quick mid-stride leap and shake, and using his whole body he skooches the bag just a little bit higher. This part of Sutter Streeet is downhill for him, and his hop/skip is so vigorous that, for the oh-so-briefest of instants, both of his green Converse basketball shoes lose contact with the cement. And for a fraction of a second he is airborn, he's floating, just above the Sutter Street sidewalk, on a balmy day in San Francisco.