Location vacation


Movies may be ephemeral, flickering shadows on a screen, but (or perhaps because) I have always been attracted to their physical remains.

As a kid at Disneyland I was thrilled to walk through sets from the Disney films Babes in Toyland and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. On my first trip to Europe in 1971, my friend Jim and I saw our surroundings, indeed planned our itinerary, through the lens of movies. We experienced London as the home of Mary Poppins and Vienna as that of Miracle of the White Stallions. When we heard that Castle Combe had been used in Doctor Doolittle we hightailed it there, and splurged by taking the Sound of Music tour of Salzburg filming locations.

My early memories of visiting San Francisco include walking down Flower Drum Song‘s Grant Avenue and driving through the towns of Bodega and Bodega Bay to find Hitchcock’s setting for The Birds. I have collected various maps, publications and websites denoting movie locations.  This fixation developed into the book that Will Shank and I coauthored, Celluloid San Francisco: The Movie Lovers Guide to Bay Area Film Locations. Since then I have presented film clip programs depicting the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in feature films. National Park Service Ranger John Cantwell agrees that much of Alcatraz’s appeal is due to its depiction in the movies, citing nearly one and a half million visitors annually.

Over the years, I toured the backlots of Warner Brothers, Universal, and Paramount studios, and drove by the Hello Dolly set behind Century City more times than I can remember. I was impressed by the Hollywood Heritage Museum, the (now-relocated) barn used by Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille in early filmmaking. I was surprised to learn how many films were shot at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, known as “the movie railroad,” in Jamestown. In nearby Sonora, an exhibit identified locations in many famous movies. A visit to eastern California included the Lone Pine Museum of Film History, followed by a drive through the Alabama Hills to see the unique terrain in Gunga Din, How the West Was Won, Tremors, and many Hollywood westerns.

Costumes are another physical element of what remains after the movie makers have moved on to other projects. Exhibits over the years included original costumes worn by famous stars and had loftier goals than mere hero worship. “Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film” (1988) at LACMA posited that “…Hollywood historical costumes have often initially appeared to be authentic recreations of dress from earlier eras. Contemporary viewers are not aware that the costumes reflect their own standards of style and beauty — that the cave-dwellers’ costumes are cut to emphasize the 1940s silhouette, that the antebellum dresses are made with 1930s bias-cut fabrics. It is only with the passage of time that one can see clearly how all-pervasive the designers’ contemporary aesthetics have been. “Hollywood Costume” (2015) at the forthcoming museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences displayed explanations and examples about the role of costume designers in creating a film’s characters and helping to shape its narrative. Most recently “Dressing Downton”(2017) offered a historical perspective on changing mores and fashion, inspiring me to rewatch the entire series.

I realize I am not alone. Film tourism is a thriving industry. Witness the popularity of the Lord of the Rings locations in New Zealand and Harry Potter sites in London and Scotland. Next month Allen will take a TCM bus tour of Manhattan locations. High on my agenda is visiting the archeological dig of the sets from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 The Ten Commandments, recently discovered in the Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes.

The attraction of visiting a setting inspired by fond memories of a film, and the desire to watch the movie again after seeing the site seems to be a symbiotic relationship, All I know is that I look forward to my next “location vacation”.


Living in Latin


Carpe Diem. Lately I seem to be living in Latin.

Having co-hosted a monthly Potrero Hill Death Cafe with Danielle and Harvey for going on two years I am embracing every moment. Well, as much as possible.

I am inspired by the participants who seek a safe, respectful space where we can talk about this taboo topic. They can feel comfortable sharing questions, curiosity, fears, beliefs and stories about any/all aspects of death, grief, mourning, bereavement. Over the two hours of our wide-ranging conversations, while sipping tea and enjoying cookies, we find that there is often lots of laughter as well as a few tears.

Every morning I engage in a brief meditation (while my English Breakfast tea steeps) which ends with gratitude for another breath, another day. I find myself more sensitive to the sunrise and sunset, to ever-shifting cloud formations, to birds soaring across the sky, to the trees dancing in my backyard. The downside is I’m also more impatient, frustrated with people’s perceived irresponsibility, and sensitive to unnecessary noise. It’s as if by acknowledging my mortality my range of responses has widened. Each second is sweeter, except when it isn’t.

I quip that I need to reevaluate my participation in Death Cafe: people around me keep dying. Of course it’s just that I’m now more aware of life’s fragility and finiteness.

One exercise poses the question: if offered an envelope with the date and time of your death, would you open it? Whatever your response, I believe that embracing our impermanence gives us a new lease on life.

Memento Mori.

Please consider coming to a special Death Cafe on Saturday, March 25 from 2:00 to 4:00 at Skylawn Memorial Park on the peninsula (Hwy 92 at Skyline Boulevard).

Esalen experience


I am surrounded by sea foam green. Tugged and twisted, stroked and pummeled. As my body lies still, it is tossed and turned in a turbulent tide. It floats under the ocean’s surface, comforted, suspended. I am completely safe.

My breath aligns with the relentless undulation of the surf, crashing, roaring. Warm salty air sweeps over my physical being. I can taste the brine. The more the waves caress my limbs, the more vivid my vision. Slowly I start to see myself as copper-colored kelp. Bulbous. Rubbery. Bendable. Unbreakable.

My body is a fragile sack of skin holding bones and muscle and blood-pumping organs, a temporary vessel of mortality and movement.

As the sea stretches my limbs, the symbiosis between seaweed and surf solidifies. Surrounded by jade green luminescence I have transcended my body, tight and stiff and aging, I am rapturously fluid, flexible, floating. I have died and gone to heaven.

The sea sounds diminish as I hear a divine voice whisper: I’m Elise. Your massage is over.”

“Last Dance”


“Last Dance. It’s my last chance for love…” The disco diva’s voice soars. I smile with memories of moving to the relentless beat. Suddenly I realize my eyes have filled with tears and I am weeping. What? Why? I am remembering all my dance partners, seeing them raise their arms, kick their legs, shake their booties. Full of life, desiring love.

We are filled with the bone-marrow loud music, and likely some drugs. The lights flash, a glitter ball twirls, colors shoot in every direction. I am here and I am there, but they — most of them — are no longer here: Randy, John, Frank, Matt, Tom…

My heart can’t hold the names of all the friends cut down too soon. But it can, and it does. They are here now with me in the music, their souls in the sound waves, their smiles in mine, their dance floor moves never sharper, more focused. I smell their sweat, the poppers, patchouli, stale beer and I dance with them, without them.

“I need you, by me, beside me, to guide me, to hold me…”

Transported across the decades, I am laughing and crying and knowing I’ll be joining them someday soon. We’re all moving in the same direction, different timing, different steps, but the beat is the same. It’s a heart beat, the rhythm of our breath, partly from one too many high energy songs back-to-back, the unseen DJ unwilling to give us a chance to catch our breath.

I miss these men. They were my brothers. We were in this together. Until one by one they were taken away, like some macabre version of musical chairs.

“Disco is dead” proclaimed those who didn’t understand. They were wrong. As long as disco was alive so were we. So were the flamboyant queens with huge shiny fans preening, cavorting, presenting themselves to the world, night after night. And though they’re gone, they’re not really. I am grateful for the grief. Grateful for their return on Donna Summer’s vibrato. They show their ID, order a drink, and sashay on to the dance floor of my heart, one more time. “Last dance…”

It’s happening again, right now, as I write this. I am laughing and sobbing simultaneously, making an imaginary rainbow. And that too makes me smile, at the corny cliché that’s perfect, as I remember my departed dear friends dancing.

And now I realize it’s not only them I’m remembering but myself. The cute clueless guy looking for love, not just sex like everyone else, and never quite finding it. And now I know I have, thanks to Donna Summer. “It’s my last chance for love…”



I recently returned from Manzanar, a place I’ve wanted to experience for a very long time. The visit was important, powerful and poignant. When I tell people where I’ve been they look at me strangely. Either they don’t know what it is/was, or they wonder why I would want to visit such a site in our state’s troubled history.

I had been interested in the Japanese American relocation camp for many years. During library school I compiled an annotated bibliography for an Ethnic Bibliography class in 1980, which necessitated meeting with Japanese American librarians and activists, a visit to the Japanese American Citizens League, and and research at various Japanese American libraries.


The following year I attended one of the many redressment hearings, at Golden Gate University. I still remember the palpable anger and sadness in that auditorium, as I listened to painful, personal testimonies. In 1988 I was heartened when President Ronald Reagan officially apologized to the 80,000 survivors and offered them each $20,000. It couldn’t undue the lamentable episode in U.S. history, but it was an acknowledgement of the tragic “mistake”.

That said, I learned a lot by visiting the camp, alternately referred to as a relocation, concentration, or segregation camp. The energy of intergenerational psychic trauma at Manzanar was unmistakable. Driving to the camp, parking the car, and walking toward the museum, I was overcome by an inchoate sadness, which I simultaneously tried to embrace and dispel.

I thought I understood the internment of Japanese Americans, but it’s one thing to read history books and memoirs and to watch documentaries, it’s another to actually stand at the isolated site. I didn’t have to imagine the harsh windswept terrain, set against the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains.


I recalled my grammar school classmate June Shozi, whose family owned the local strawberry stand in our Southern California suburb. I assume she and her family were incarcerated, but it was never discussed. In fact, the entire episode was not taught, even though it had taken place less than twenty years prior. I wonder to what extent it is now part of California’s curriculum.

The museum is installed in Manzanar’s former auditorium. I learned that Paiute Indians lived in the area before the town of Manzanar was founded in 1905. Apple, pear and peach orchards were planted, until the City of Los Angeles began to secretly buy up water rights in the Owens River Valley, and Manzanar was abandoned by 1929. The area was bulldozed to level the ground in preparation for the building of the camp, which exacerbated the continual blowing of dirt and sand.

We watched the short documentary film, which provided an excellent overview of the historical events. I hadn’t realized the extent to which racist antagonism directed toward the Japanese Americans — mainly jealousy for their hard work and financial success in agriculture and other endeavors — predated the relocation. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the professed fear of espionage was merely convenient propaganda for Executive Order 9066 authorizing “segregation” of an innocent minority group. In most cases the Japanese Americans didn’t understand where they were going, how long they’d be gone, or why they were being moved. They packed what they could carry, leaving their homes and businesses to nefarious or benevolent neighbors.


We learned about families torn asunder by misguided attempts to prove their Americaness. Japanese-born Issei (who were not allowed to become American citizens) often spoke Japanese, while second- and third-generation Nisei and Sansei spoke English. Traditions were frayed by intergenerational living and eating arrangements, as well as divisive answers to a confusing loyalty questionnaire. Much of this was never spoken by the stoic survivors. “Shikata ga nai” was the attitude: it can’t be helped.

Allen compared the exhibits to Allegiance, based on George Takei’s experience as a child incarceree. Though critical of the Broadway musical, Allen admired how it instigated renewed attention to the underacknowledged episode.

After exploring the exhibits, we walked to the reconstructed barracks, mess hall, and other buildings, seeing first hand the cramped quarters with no privacy for sleeping, eating, or personal hygiene. One surprising realization was an internee’s oral history describing how the camp experience was actually beneficial for his mother, who, freed from her traditional obligations of cooking, cleaning, and other household/family duties, was able to blossom artistically and culturally.

By car, we circumnavigated the one-mile square camp, getting a sense of its magnitude. We stopped at various historic sites including the cemetery and the ruins of Pleasure Park, a beautiful garden created by the internees, later renamed Merritt Park for camp director Ralph Merritt. It was completely consumed by the desert and only recently rediscovered. I thought I would buy a souvenir of my long-awaited visit, but as I perused the well-stocked shop, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase anything other than a postcard of an undated “Manzanar” fruit label.


Experiencing Manzanar over seventy years after its 1945 closure seemed appropriately timely. Annual pilgrimages take place, involving the friends and families of internees, as well as students. People who were incarcerated as children are now in their 80s. I believe every American citizen should be required to experience the site of this tragic miscarriage of justice.

Representations of Hate


I have been presenting a program entitled “How has Hollywood (Mis)Represented Homosex538fc7b68b01e9d276c63f9e5aee3295uality” at which I show selected trailers from Jenni Olson’s compilation DVD Homo Promo. Initially I thought the depictions of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people (e.g. Myra Breckinridge and Christine Jorgenson) from the 1960s and ’70s was merely a convenient, campy way to engage in a dialogue about LGBTQI representation and difference. First presented at my pal Doug’s progressive church, it was such a success that I pitched it to the Eureka Valley Branch of SFPL and the JCCSF, where it was equally well-received. This week I am presenting the program at the Potrero Branch and at Morrison & Foerster law firm.

Recently I attended a talk by David Pilgrim about his book Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice based on the collections of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. I was horrified by the poignant stories about the destructive power of mammy cookie jars, pickaninny posters, and a chauffeur’s cap. I began to think about demonization of other groups: centuries of anti-semitic depictions of Jews, inscrutable”Orientals”, Mexicans, Irish, Italians… Like Rodgers and Hammerstein remind us, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…”

I wondered if there was an analogous material depicting sexual minorities. Fundamentalism religions (of many stripes) that proclaim “God download (1)hates fags” might be a place to start. Popular culture examples such as movie posters and pulp paperbacks another potential source to investigate how members of the groups are pathologized. How imagery and iconography help exert control both from outside (mainstream) and within (personal and/or LGBTQI communities. The stereotypes are rampant. Take your pick: predatory lesbian, depraved gay man, sex-crazed bisexual, confused transsexual. What do these images do to produce and maintain hatred of the “other”? But equally important, how do they impact the psyche of those who identify as LGBTQI or question their sexual identity or orientation?

After showing the trailer for the film adaptation of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band I joked that watching the film retarded my coming out by several years. I realized that download (2)there might be some truth to that, and wondered about the insidious damage done by these images.

In light of the recent shootings in Orlando, this idea seems increasingly both less historical, more contemporary and less far fetched.  Might there be materials in the holdings of the Hormel LBTQIA, the GLBT Historical Society and/or other repositories that might lend themselves to such an exhibition?

When I posed such questions to the audience, several enthusiastically suggested examples: The Lambda Conspiracy by Spendownloadser Hughes, a 1993 novel that “dramatizes with frightening realism the path this once Christian nation is taking, as society persists in rejecting the biblical foundations of our culture.”

Chick tracts, those short Christian evangelical booklets published by Jack T. Chick in comic book format.jackchickbirdsbees04




I researched religious American homophobes: Anita Bryant, Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger, Janet Mefferd’s “mainstream, faith-based Christian radio”, Donald Trump, Steven Anderson, Scott Lively, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory… and the list goes on. When it comes to hate, there are apparently no limits to those who incite violence.


I believe this ubiquitous propaganda has pernicious potential for individuals and society. What do you think?



This example suggested by Dianne:

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Poem for Tom


In an already crowded apartment 
filled with flowers and food and music,
prescriptions and absorbent pads,
ebbing and flowing with friends and family,
nurses and caregivers,
laughter and tears.

The body in the recliner, 
the center of attention, 
almost in the way,
now talked about as much as talked to.
outpourings of memories, 
photographs,  here and electronically,

many proceeded by “Tom would hate this…”
recalling a life well lived, now ebbing.

A sad, sweet scene,
one that has taken place since time began,
in caves and plains,
parlors and bedrooms, 
hospitals and nursing homes,
wherever there has been life, there will be death.
After seven days of waiting and watching, I quip
“The Jews got it wrong; this is sitting shiva.”

I hold Tom’s hand,
stroke his crepey arm,
tell him that he can go
to that big dance floor in the sky,
I will take care of his beloved Allen.
Allen who has so lovingly taken care of Tom
for almost 35 years,
keeping his secrets, 
enduring his stubbornness,
sharing his love of another era,
a deep, unbreakable bond
that will endure beyond this transition.

My own relationship with Tom more fraught,
the phrase “it’s complicated” seemingly developed for this situation:
a trio, 
a ménage, 
not always in balance, 
but buoyed by love and loyalty,
and sometimes rivalry.
As Allen explains it succinctly to the visiting nurse:
“like lesbians”

Over the years Tom and I developed a routine: 
he continually requesting lemons from my backyard tree
me arriving with a bag of yellow orbs
a peace offering, 
an attempt at connection,
until one last lemon is proffered:
refused to let go
slept with in his curled palm
all night long
until it too will inevitably be released…