The following weekend David walked into the offices of The Real Times. Residing in a swaybacked storefront in the industrial South-of-Market district, the Times was one of the surviving underground newspapers from the 1960s. The Corky thing had taken him out of contact with the paper and he wanted to touch base again.
The day before, President Nixon had begun the bombing of Hanoi. David had read every newspaper account. Some aspects of war excited him but not this impersonal rain of destruction. The Russians claimed bomb damage to one of their cargo ships; the Vietnamese, to a hospital. This expansion of the Viet Nam war also made David aware of the probability of more antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco.
As he expected, there was just a skeleton crew working in the newspaper office, since an issue of the weekly had just hit the newsstands. When one of the hippie girls running the front desk — what was her name, Starr? — greeted him by name, he knew they hadn’t forgotten him. He heard another woman taking down a sex ad from the phone. As it happened, the newspaper’s financial underpinning was massage parlor and sexual classified ads — the Times would print any ad short of solicitations for child porn.
The inside of the storefront was wallpapered with posters of rock musicians, posters of pigs dressed in cops’ uniforms, and photos of brutal riot police at San Francisco State and People’s Park. In fact, David’s first association with the paper had been during those incidents. One of his photos, which he could claim had been on the cover of the publication, was still on the wall — a black-and-white of an attractive woman wearing only a skimpy bra, panties and a big smile being escorted by two male gas-masked students, fully clothed. The Times was just that — a mix of fun and seriousness, blood and music, pubescent rebellion and reverence.
Don Hill, the acting editor in lieu of the ailing owner, was sitting at his messy roll-top desk talking to the ad manager, whose bushy hairdo attained such an extraordinary volume that birds might have nested in it. Both were reviewing the just-released issue.
Finally Don was free and David meandered over, shyly walking between art layout tables where several long-haired workers were beginning to create ad pages of the next issue. Don was a thin, bespectacled man with short hair who carried a certain air of authority and caring. His worn corduroy sports jacket was a trademark. David asked what was happening politically.
“Big demonstration Monday,” said Don. “Civic Center downtown. Everyone’s pretty pissed about how desperate Kissinger and Nixon have gotten.”
“Well, I’d like to cover it,” offered David, knowing he’d have to call in sick to attend the affair. “Who else’ll be there?”
Don named the staff photographer, a writer-photographer couple and “Oh yes, a photographer named Diane Beckel-something who came in a few days ago from the East Coast.”
A surge of resentment rose in David. Competing with the staff photographer for picture space was bad enough, but to have to compete against the young upstarts … Oh well, she’d probably turn in lousy prints and they’d kiss her off.
“Then it’s OK if I cover the Monday thing?”
Don indicated he could cover whatever he wanted. “Get some good cop shots — you know, snouts, piggy tails, et cetera. And take care — we don’t need any more hospital cases or cracked skulls.” They shook hands and parted.
David wandered over to a vacant desk to finish reading the just-released issue. As he read he remembered how the newspaper had contributed to the breakdown with his parents. He had once innocently sent them a copy. They said they’d burned it after seeing only the cover, which to David had been innocuous. Well, there had been some pubic hair showing.
In the latest issue there was an article about the Cockettes, the outlandish and irrepressible female impersonator troupe, and about sexual identity liberation. David reflected that he’d never told anyone at the Times about being a transvestite. Women would come to the Times office wearing men’s shirts and trousers and some of the men wore rather flowing garments and earrings. But David tended to dress in a decidedly male fashion, often wearing an army fatigue jacket over Levi’s.
Maybe it was because of his secrets that he sometimes felt he was a spy when he visited the Times. Once a staffer asked him pointblank if he worked for the pigs. Other workers came under suspicion too, but David deep down felt like an infiltrator and impostor. Even in his dreams he often played that role.
When he finished skimming the Times’ news stories and photos and was sure that no one was looking, he skipped to the back of the newspaper to the sex ads. In a section titled Further Out, he found –
Mistress Leeta Knows your secret desires and shows no mercy. Get on your knees and lick my boots. 559-7708.
Workers in the newspaper office snickered about these. David had never worked up the courage to answer one. Maybe he would, he thought, some time when he could afford to — of if the urgency could let him wait no longer.
David returned home. Sunlight streamed in through the bay windows and the day was warming up unusually for an early Spring Saturday. He spent some time straightening up his apartment, throwing away accumulated magazines and newspapers, and washing two days of dishes in the kitchen-darkroom.
The doldrums of the weekend stretched before him. He wanted to go out and hike or bicycle but he pictured himself doing those things feeling lonely and isolated. He could go see a movie but would it turn out to be a good one? It might be one that left him bored, with a headache and time lost. Here he was alone again. There were women he could call but none had seemed especially interested in him. He didn’t like to beg.
He began to imagine dressing as a woman, putting lingerie and silky fabrics on his body and feeling sexy. He wanted to dress well enough to look in the mirror and say, “This is how it feels to be a woman.” He thought he needed some new garments, not the tired old things in his closet and drawers. His paycheck from the day before would make a shopping trip possible.
He remembered a certain corset shop on Mission Street that had tempted him many times. He made his way out of the apartment into the fresh, sunny air. Taking a crowded bus, he summoned enough courage to get off at 22nd and Mission in the heart of the Hispanic district. There could be no hesitation, no turning back. Through crowds of shoppers, he walked up to Alana’s Corset Shop trying to seem at ease, stopping briefly at the display window to admire clear plastic torsos with perfectly-filled bras and corsets.
David joined a stout Mexican-American woman being served at the counter. Two teenage girls were fingering filmy panties on a rack. Eventually the saleswoman got around to asking if he needed help.
“Yeah, ah … I’d like to buy some lingerie for my wife.”
“Yes, yes, sir,” said the senora. “And what do you look for?”
“I think a bra,” said David. “Maybe a corset.” He began to sweat when he heard the girls giggle. The proprietor brought out two dainty white corsets. He looked at the price tags and managed a little laugh. “I think I’d better look at bras instead.”
“What size, sir?” The woman impatiently looked off to one side.
David fumbled with a slip of paper he took from his pocket. “Ah, a 38B.” As the saleslady went to get some bras, he remembered the time he and Corky had gone shopping together — he’d shyly handed her money and told her which lingerie to buy. She’d gleefully embarrassed him at Penny’s by holding a bra up against his chest.
David left the shop carrying a lacy black bra with slender straps. He recalled how the saleswoman had handled the bra sexily, running her fingers along the inside of the cups as though to seduce him.
His compulsiveness was an overly-ripe fruit as he boldly made his way through other stores buying a new half-slip, a dress and a long wig. At the women’s shoe store he had a hard time because of his man-sized feet. Only through trial and error in the past had he learned what size fit him. He had to settle for a rather commonplace pair.
When the VA clerk got on the bus with his packages, with his checking account nearly exhausted, he felt excited, magic and guilty all at once. Some men hire prostitutes, but I am my own prostitute.
Guarding his packages in his lap, he mused about the early days when he accumulated things by stealing from his mother. Then there were the several times he thought that dressing was ruining his manhood and burned his stash.
Arriving home after the bus has labored up his small hill, he excitedly spread out the day’s purchases on his bed. In the messy apartment they seemed perfect and right, with price tags still on them and the elastic stiff and new. The wig was fragrant as though from a real woman.
David went into the bathroom to pin his long hair back and to shave as closely as possible. As usual when he was in a hurry he made a small cut on his Adam’s apple. The little stainless steel shelf beneath the bathroom mirror was soon full of cosmetics. David applied a grease stick over his beard trace to hide it, remembering the time when he was in a grade school play and his mother had put lipstick on him — ick! And how those very same foreign, alien things in stylish containers now captivated him. Men’s toiletries came in dull, square bottles with thick wooden stoppers.
He worked with eyeliner, mascara and eye shadow. Lipstick. Rouge. The silence in the bathroom was total. He wasn’t aware of the other tenants moving about their apartments or the street sounds outside. What he was doing was injecting a steady stream of excitement into his veins.
The sun shone into the all-white bathroom. He momentarily reflected that anyone on the fire escape outside the window or on the roof of the ramshackle shed across the street might see him primping. It was dangerous being a pervert.
On the matter of perversion, he had been quite along in years before he even knew his quirk had a name, or that he shared it with anyone. Where had it been — in one of Freud’s books? — that he had unearthed the work trans-ves-tite, even more momentous a discovery than finding ho-mo-sex-ual in Reader’s Digest.
After putting the finishing touches on his facial artwork, David framed it with the new, perfect wig. His heart rose as he admired his perfect woman’s face in the mirror. He felt the caress of panty hose and the new slip, and the pressing in of the new brassiere’s straps across his back. A padded girdle was authoritatively tight around his middle and genitals. He turned himself in front of the bathroom mirror and posed in various angles so he could see his breasts and hair.
Suddenly there was a shout. He dove below the level of the second-story window and waited with heart racing, feeling like some female soldier in war. Finally, peeking, he saw a man with a beer belly loading the truck of a large American car down on the street. Whoever it was couldn’t see him.
David slipped away to his bedroom to try on his new heels and dress and admire himself in the full-length mirror. Like a teenage girl practicing provocative moves, he angled his head just right, pushed a wisp of hair this way and that, and pursed his lips. Eventually he drew closer and closer to the mirror until he kissed the approaching woman on the glass. The surface was cold.
He set up a camera to photograph himself, thinking that if only he had a car and it was nighttime he could drive around to see if men would look at him. He felt as potent as a loaded pistol — as Marilyn as Marilyn Monroe, as Sophia as Sophia Loren. After taking many pictures of himself, holding his sexual excitement at bay, he sat down and typed an entry for his diary. Pleasurably, he pushed aside strands of long hair from his eyes. He called himself Natalie.
I’m sitting up here in my ship, fully dressed. Someone might be able to see me, maybe. What a contrast — my clean and nicely-colored dress, my perfect face and hair, and the dirty windows and run-down buildings across the street. I feel fulfilled and sexy, yet everything around me is decaying. Natalie is my friend, always there when I need her. Thank God I have this apartment all to myself.
Natalie lay down on her bed and relaxed. She slowly, teasingly, reached down and pulled her girdle and nylons away so as to touch her penis. She imagined making love to someone else and alternately that someone was making love to her.
When David called in ill Monday morning Vince was skeptical but finally OK’d sick leave. Hoping that no one from the VA office was attending the midday demonstration, David dressed in his photographer’s uniform, a long, tropical fatigue shirt he’d brought back from ‘Nam that provided multiple pockets for photo paraphernalia. Rolls of film in the pockets felt like bullets — or breasts — bobbing around as he walked. He worried that lingering traces of mascara or nail polish might give his weekend excesses away.
As he walked toward San Francisco’s Civic Center plaza from the bus stop he hoped that the demonstration would turn wild — that people would be upset enough over the bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong to raise some hell. The hotter the action the better the pictures he got.
Protesters were forming up in front of City Hall, waiting for formalities to begin. It always helped to have an imposing concrete manifestation of government as a backdrop. David’s excitement rose as he stepped closer. Old men sitting on park benches were muttering and leaving, replaced by longhairs and shorter-haired communists, by Maoists and serious activists, and by families with kids in strollers. David began photographing these types as they stood or sat waiting. Several objected, suggesting obliquely that he worked for the police. David hoped that mentioning the Times would smooth things out but it failed to impress. Even the Times was suspect these days, and many women had an intense dislike of the weekly’s sex ads. It would help, David thought, if he had a beard and wore a beret with a red star — Fidel Castro drag.
David looked at the other photographers, some of whom were familiar from past demonstrations, and wondered if his new competition, Diane-somebody, was there.
Several activists asked him to join the demonstration. He winced — they were always trying to get him to commit himself. David had long thought that demonstrations were silly but had never dared say that to their faces. He was there only to record the event.
After the last speech, which had been repeatedly interrupted by Maoists, a coalition leader jumped to the stage, grabbed the microphone and yelled, “Let’s stop talking and start taking some righteous action! We’re marching to the old Federal Building, the building the killer military recruiters work out of. We’re not going to let anyone in so long as Nixon keeps bombing North Viet Nam. Come on now, let’s let ‘em know we’re comin’!”
David scurried along with other photographers to be in front of the marching throng that formed. A long banner unfurled by the foremost proclaimed “Victory To The Viet Cong And All Oppressed Peoples” while the crowd chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh — Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.” They’re like school kids at a pep rally, David thought as they headed toward the other end of the plaza.
Soon a moving line formed around the long granite building which occupied a small city block. Throngs of protesters parked themselves in front of doors. David joined the moving line for a time, wanting to be in the center of things to spot picture possibilities. Thinking that some shaggy demonstrator or paranoiac would come up and accuse him of working for the police, he bought a Nixon button with the “x” cleverly replaced by a swastika.
The city father responded slowly but deliberately. San Francisco police, outfitted with riot helmets and head-knocking sticks, marched in and stood in formation opposite the main door. Between them and the door formed a large clot of intent young men and women who began to sing protest songs in earnest. David put a short telephoto lens on his camera and began zeroing in on the cops as pent-up violence and anger permeated the air.
The demonstrators, appealing to a divine right to block doors, even after an order to disperse from a police lieutenant, were shocked and outraged when the police struck. The first sounds of clubs contacting flesh and bone punctuated by shrieks reached David’s ears. Instantly, adrenaline spurted into his veins. Breathing excitedly and making sure he stayed out of the cops’ range, David began getting good shots. He photographed a hapless bystander, a thin fellow holding a bicycle, being set upon by four predatory riot police. In the space of three minutes it was all over. There were bloody heads, hands trussed behind backs — rather sexual, thought David — and more shouting.
Later someone set a Navy recruiter’s car on fire but the cops let it burn out by itself. As David photographed his version of the scarred hulk, a smiling young woman with two taped and battered Nikon cameras around her neck approached him. She had a well-defined, tanned face and wore a quilted vest over a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled up. Her long, dark brown hair, parted in the middle, was secured in back by an ornately carved barrette, and her tight Levi’s were of the properly faded variety. She asked if he was David Nunley.
“That would be me.” David studied her mischievous brown eyes and busy, slender lips.
“The people over at the Times office said I might run into you here. I’m Diane Beckelmeyer.”
“Oh, yeah, they told me about you.” He liked that name, Beckelmeyer. It sounded like a German bakery. “Where are you in from? They said some place out East.”
“Lately from Philadelphia. I was with Streets there.”
Streets was a well-known alternative paper. David retuned to studying her face and forgot to make conversation. “Ah –” she continued, “how was your shooting?”
“Never know ’til I see it. Oh, I’m sure I got a couple nice ones.”
“You were close to that one poor guy getting clubbed by all those fucking pigs.” She looked off to the side from time to time as if looking for more picture opportunities.
“Should have some g-g-great close-ups of that.” I never stutter! “What do you plan to do out here? Are you making it on photography or what?”
“Oh, kind of hand-to-mouth, you know. I’ve got my kid, Bobby, with me. We’re staying with a friend in the Haight.”
David wondered who the friend was.
“The reason I wanted to locate you was ’cause I don’t have a darkroom yet and I’m trying to find someone to develop my film.”
“I usually don’t do stuff for other people — I’ve got this regular full-time job. But hey, today’s different. I took the day off and was going to do darkroom right away. So if you’d like to come over we could develop all of our film.”
“Jeez, I have to go back and take care of my son. If you’re going to run your darkroom, could you develop and contact print for me? There’s a free dinner in it for you sometime — and I could make it over tonight to see how it came out.”
He took her film, warm with body heat, provided his phone number and address, and watched her leave across the plaza, walking buoyantly in the direction of Market Street. Old men were reclaiming their benches and a few indigenous crazies were returning to scare tourists. Just as David was stealing a telephoto shot of her, she looked back over her shoulder and waved. At the same time a great mass of fluttering pigeons flew between them. He took that to be a good omen.