by D.S. Black
WHO KNOWS, AND WHEN THEY KNOW IT
photo by Margot Duane
Live hard—party hard, now more than ever. ’Tis the season.
Whether it’s a cakewalk, or a pie-in-the-eye, San Franciscans like to think they are the friskiest of party animals. But don’t look to the dailies for proof: it’s nowhere to be found in Pat Steger’s society-of-blue-hairs column (“The Social Scene”) in the SF Chronicle , nor in the disco-diving blather of Lloyd Martine’s “Tearing Up the Town” party diary served up by the Examiner.
Occasionally word gets out about a weird and wicked underground—or what passes for one. It has been documented by V. Vale in innumerable RE/Search, and now V/Search publications (his imprint). Summer Burkes is one of the Bay Guardian writers to investigate and report on it, while Silke Tudor covers a similar beat for the SF Weekly . The demimonde is there if one troubles to look for it.
Too often it is only when the rich and powerful collide with some random post-industrial, pre-millennial, sex positive, post-postmodern, political group or activist movement that news of the latter’s existence leaks into the mainstream media.
We all love to hear of parties where the folly and the foibles of the high and the mighty are brought into damning stark relief. Behind the titillating headlines, these stories must appeal to a basic human appetite for hearing good dish on society’s elites.
When I moved to this City in the early eighties, the scandale du jour centered on a police graduation ceremony where a prostitute was retained to perform oral sex on one of the freshly-minted men in blue.
Last year at political Svengali Jack Davis’s 50th birthday blowout, there was something to offend people of all tastes, including Native Americans, hemophiliacs, and drinkers of Jack Daniels whiskey. Steve Leyba found his United Satanic Apache Front performance censured by the Mescalero Apache tribe and other Native American groups. Even so, a good time was reportedly had by all…perhaps too good a time for it not to be a crime.
When the caca hit the media fan, none of the guest luminaries, from Willie Brown, Carole Migden, Sheriff Michael Hennessy, et al could recall seeing any of the blood-spilt, urine-rinsed performance. The newspapers had a field day, while ordinary readers, like yours truly, wondered what it would take to get invited to such a high-powered debauch.
photo by Maxwell Malice
Ron Turner takes care of his friends. No stranger to the macabre, the greying, bear-like publisher is the proud owner of Last Gasp, an imprint specializing in underground comics, graphic novels, punk and other marginal literature.
Turner wanted his pal Warren Hinckle to have the best possible 60th birthday party. Having arranged the notorious entertainment for Jack Davis, he hoped to top even that.
In the buccaneering world of San Francisco journalism, Warren Hinckle is a pirate par excellence. Where else to throw him a party than Treasure Island?
Besides the trademark black eyepatch, Hinckle has cut a noteworthy swath for himself from muckraking beginnings at Ramparts in the 1960s, subsequent decades writing for the dailies, now resident gadfly for the Independent. Not to mention his quixotic revival of the Argonaut, an opinionated periodical founded by an earlier San Franciscan fly-in-the-ointment, Ambrose Bierce.
To help celebrate the big 6-oh were four generations of family—from his 93-year old mother, to daughter (and Examiner Business Editor) Pia Hinckle, with husband and baby. There were friends dating back to high school, as well as an assortment of writers, journalists, academics, politicos, and other Professional Party People.
But that wasn’t all: to further enliven the proceedings, Ron Turner invited the drag queen Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and he put out word to the Santa Claus community that they should dust off their beards and red suits a bit early this year.
“Hey, Santa, wanta party?”
“Till I drop, Santa,” I told a fellow man in red. “Or until They throw us out—whichever comes first.”
Which is to say the gang of Santas I run with isn’t always invited. But who’s going to say No to Santa Claus, let alone a hundred guys and gals in cheap Santa suits?
In 1995, our sources close to Herb Caen summoned us to the Chronicle’s Christmas party in the newly reopened Palace of the Legion of Honor. We lasted all of 10 minutes, diving into the finger food while noisily checking out the art and copyeditors, before we were chased out by the security Scrooges.
“Step away from the Rodin!” ordered a surly rent-a-cop.”
I never saw such a sorry lot of Santas in all my life,” opined Lynn Ludlow, an editor from the Examiner.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
photo by Santa Bagga Donuts
For a Monday evening, it was a pretty good turn-out at the SoMa studio of Sister Zsa Zsa. There were a few dozen Santas, and some Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sucking down beers, waiting for the silver CyberBuss to come ferry all over the Bay Bridge.
A humorless upstairs neighbor dumped a sheet of water on us as we lounged on the sidewalk. “Very naughty,” one Santa shouted in reproof. “Just wait till you see the lump of coal I’m saving for you on Christmas Day!”
After we boarded the bus and got underway, there was talk of our destination.
“Never been to Treasure Island,” remarked one S. Cape Claus.
Neither had the rest of the Santas. “The Navy is just beyond naughty and nice,” sighed a Sister.
“I didn’t want to go when they opened it during Fleet Week; that would be like supporting the Blue Angels,” stated Klaus Barbie.
“Wasn’t it built for a world’s fair?” asked Santa Sweetcheeks.
“The Golden Gate International Exposition,” piped Auntie Claus, repositioning her gold librarian’s glasses. “Then the Navy had it. Now—”
“It’s a party space for Duh Mayor and his friends,” said Santa Sans Claus. “Still closed to the general public.”
photo by Santa Bagga Donuts
We were a bit worried as the CyberBuss approached Building 271 and saw a flashing police cruiser parked out front. It turned out to be a prop from the Nash Bridges show. Our fears were allayed when we saw that Harrod Blank had come and cordoned it off with his and some friends’ “wild wheels” art cars.
Pouring off the bus, we goggled at the view of the glittering jewel spires of San Francisco’s downtown, so near and yet so far across the Bay. Some of us were still fuming at the fact that Proposition K—passed by the City’s voters—has thus far been stymied. Its passage was supposed to ensure that the public’s interest, and not Duh Mayor’s, should prevail in planning for the future of Treasure Island.
WHO’S NADIA NICE?
The neat thing about our Santa cult is that anyone can do it—and it attracts some mighty fun people.
Nadia is the sweetest woman you could ever hope to meet. She looks splendid in red, too, with white fur trim and black boots. Watching her, one beholds the power of the suit when she is transformed into Nadia Nice.
I quickly lost track of her in the sea of faces, as the Santas joined the party. Despite the white wig and beard, I was recognized by Peter Dale Scott, a poet and scholar, who has known Hinckle since their days at Ramparts.
Out on a patio, the island’s mistress Annemarie Conroy kept a nervous eye on the suddenly swollen ranks of guests who were getting more boisterous by the minute.
photo by Santa Bagga Donuts
Nadia and I saw each other just as it came time to honor the birthday boy. The first to approach the podium was Duh Mayor Himself, in a chic casual black leather baseball cap.
“Here’s a little heat,” I passed Nadia a tiny squirt gun from Toys R Us.
I carry it to zap loudmouth performance artists like Michael Peppe, who might otherwise take themselves too seriously. Nadia, however, had other ideas.
*squirt* *squirt* *squirt* she fired reflexively, as though faced with a mischievous cat who needed to be brought into line. Duh Mayor spun around, his face dripping, enraged.”
“Who’s the asshole who just did that?” he demanded, glaring at us. “Come up here and face me like a man.”
“Don’t you think he should rephrase that question?” I whispered.
After an uncomfortable silence, in which I saw other Santas looking at us in delighted horror, His Williness reverted to a more gracious mode as host and celebrant of Warren Hinckle.
No mention was made of Hinck’s being the bad boy of Bay Area journalism. With a few well-chosen, honeyed words, Willie surrendered the stage and briefly pressed the flesh with his well-wishers.
Nadia went straight up to him and identified herself as his liquid assailant. Normally loquacious, Mayor Brown was for the first time in memory struck dumb. Incredulous, he saw that Nadia was a petite, amiable Santa who just minutes earlier had caused him to lose his composure.
Without further ado, the Mayor high-tailed it out of there, prudently leaving Treasure Island before a stripper, one of Margo St. James’s friends, took the stage and did her thing. She was soon clad only in a g-string, stockings, eyepatch, and a Santa hat. Clutching her with a cigar pressed between her legs, Hinckle smiled as though in a Heaven gone to seed since the passing of Herb Caen.
AUTO DA CAKE
As the last strains of “Happy Birthday” were winding down, Warren Hinckle was so overcome with emotion, he grabbed a giant slab of birthday cake and broke it over his own head.
Santa Mateo disrobed in all the excitement. His clothes were immediately swiped. The red suits may be cheap, but they are still hot fashion items.
photo by Maxwell Malice
In other crimes, Kim Corson suffered the loss of a purse. In chasing down leads, the cops insisted on searching the CyberBuss. A case of PlumpJack wine—donated to the party by one of the City’s Supervisors Gavin Newsom?—was found and confiscated.
When Hinckle was informed of the stolen wine, he waved his hand and said, “Let them have it! Those Santas made this party.”
It’s a wonder that any of us were able to get off that island, but get off we did.
In the days that followed, I was bemused to see few very sketchy accounts of this remarkable soiree reported in the newspapers. Chronicle columnists Matier & Ross evidently were not present, but that didn’t stop them from writing that a drink had been thrown at the Mayor.
photo by Maxwell Malice
I telephoned and offered a summary of the Santanalia, with particular attention to Nadia and her encounter with Da Mayor. They seemed interested, but no followup was printed. When the Examiner’s Rob Morse weighed in with his own spin based on fragmentary, conflicting stories, I offered him the same eyewitness report. Both these proffers came to naught. I concluded that the only way to get the story out was to write it myself.
It was especially vexing in light of the fact that these events occurred a few weeks before the Da Mayor was pied by the Biotic Baking Brigade. One can view the squirting of Willie Brown by a Santa as foreshadowing the pie attack.
It is unfortunate that instead of taking these sweet admonishments in the spirit in which they are offered, the mayor and city supervisors now are calling for felony charges to be filed against the BBB. Nadia Nice at least got off easy!