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On Republicans who defy stay-at-home orders, and Part 10 of my Memoir

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You get a twofer today, Dear Reader. Dual posts: one about the stupidity of the Republican Religious Right (RRR), and a longer Part 10 of my Memoir. You shelterers-in-place can’t complain you don’t have enough to read!

ON THE STUPIDITY OF REPUBLICANS COMPLAINING ABOUT STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS

Longtime readers of my blog know that I have no patience with the RRR, the most dangerous domestic threat in America. Now, with their politicization of coronavirus, they’re recommending increasing the number of deaths from the disease.

They’re complaining that government prohibitions on large gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are based on “religious bigotry” because they include church gatherings. Some “megachurch pastors,” in open defiance of local stay-at-home orders, are holding mass meetings anyway.

RRR neo-fascists Harmeet Dhillon and John Yoo are supporting the megachurch pastors. Yoo worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department; Dhillon is a Republican Party operative. They just published an article for the conservative Hoover Institution in which they call stay-at-home orders, such as those issued by at least 38 U.S. states, “draconian [and] potentially devastating.”

In their March 31 article, they complain that Democratic Governors have not explained the “cost-benefit trade-off” of balancing stay-at-home orders with their effect on the economy. They mention by name Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom, while conveniently neglecting Republican Governors of Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, Idaho, New Hampshire and others, who have done exactly the same thing.

Yoo and Dhillon are quite a pair. Yoo, as Deputy Assistant Attorney General under Bush, authorized the use of torture against suspected Al Qaeda militants—an act for which he justifiably was pilloried by the legal community, his reputation ruined. As for Dhillon, former vice-chairman of the California Republican Party, it was she who sued U.C. Berkeley when the school tried to persuade Ann Coulter to cancel an upcoming speech, out of the university’s legitimate fear the agent-provocateur would cause riots. Dhillon chose to protect her fellow rightwinger’s “freedom of speech” over preventing damage and bloodshed. A Trump favorite, she “gave the opening prayer at the 2016 Republican National Convention” that nominated him.

In a tweet in which she tries to justify her reasons for co-writing the Hoover Institution article, Dhillon demands the public “hold [Cuomo and Newsom] accountable” for “suspend[ing] our civil rights indefinitely,” which sounds like a threat against two Governors who are trying to keep people from dying. Do Dhillon and Yoo really believe Americans have a “civil right” to get sick and infect others?

Look, it’s true there’s a trade-off. The American economy is suffering because of the shutdowns; there’s no doubt about it. Nobody disputes it; no one is happy about it. The topic is worthy of rational discussion.

The problem is that these RRRs have no credibility. Everything they say is perceived through the lens of re-electing Trump. Nobody believes anything Trump says on his daily coronavirus T.V. program because his claims are so patently self-serving.

These RRRs celebrate the jailing of brown-skinned children; taking away the civil rights of LGBT Americans; pillaging and polluting our air and water in the name of corporate profits; eliminating the right of women to control their bodies; insulting the immigrants who are a foundation stone of our economy; cutting taxes on billionaires. These are the people who defend Trump’s pathological lying, ethical and moral depravities, profiteering from his office in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, attacks on science, and his daily vulgarity that degrades us all.

Last and definitely least, there’s Rep. Devin Nunes, the RRR who leaked information on the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Trump’s collusion with Russia to his Fuehrer, Trump. He’s now protesting mandatory school closures as “overkill,” as if protecting the lives of children is a Democrat plot.

As a live-and-let-live guy, I find myself livid at the outrageous behavior of these RRRs. Frankly, I don’t give a damn if Christians go to church and infect each other. It would be divine karma if a couple thousand evangelicals at a megachurch get sick because they choose to disregard medical advice and trust in Jesus. As for Dhillon and Yoo, if they’re so concerned about their “civil rights,” why don’t they go out and run their hands all over lampposts and 7-Eleven countertops and elevator handles and doorknobs and credit card machines and public toilets, and then rub their eyes? They have the “civil right” to do that—but they don’t have the right to infect others.

There are three, related reasons why these RRRs are attacking public safety. First, Trump has only one thing to run on: the economy. If it’s tanking, he loses. They want him to win, and they don’t mind how many Americans die to ensure that objective. Second, they look at the same statistics we do—and they see that most of the deaths are in Blue states. When Democrats get sick and die, there’s a greater chance of Republican victory in November. Third, they don’t believe in science. The Bible doesn’t say anything about viruses; therefore, the germ theory of disease is a Democrat-atheist hoax.

Enough said. Now, onto the fun stuff!

Memoir Part 10: I Leave the Commune and Move to California

Cousin Maxine to the rescue! She’d moved to the suburban town of Benicia, California’s first capital, on the Carquinez Straits, 24 miles northeast of San Francisco, with her boyfriend, Keith. I called her the day after the beating and told her about it, about my need to flee. She responded with typical alacrity. “That’s it. You’re leaving. Fly to San Francisco and we’ll pick you up. You’ll live with us until you figure out what to do.”

I borrowed $200 from a commune friend (which I later repaid), got a red-eye to SFO, and left Logan Airport in a blizzard, the last week of 1978. When we landed, the morning air was warm, the sky blue, the coastal hills fir-green in the soft winter sun. After welcoming me to California, Maxine and Keith wondered if I’d like to see the view from atop Mount Diablo, on the way to Benicia.

The 3,849-foot high mountain, in Contra Costa County, is said to offer a glimpse of a greater portion of the Earth’s surface than you can see from anyplace else, with the exception of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. There had been a big storm the previous day; the air, particulate-free, was clean and clear. At the summit, Maxine and Keith pointed out mounts Shasta and Lassen in the north, the Farallon Islands to the west beyond the Golden Gate, the snow-clad Sierra in the east. Only the southern perspective was limited by other peaks of the Diablo range. I was learning about the geography of my new home, a subject that, with our mini-climates, fascinates me to this day.

We got to their little Victorian house in Benicia. Maxine showed me my room, and said she was thinking of barbecue for dinner. Barbecue! In December! How ‘bout that! (as Mel Allen might have said). I began to fall in love with my new state. As I looked at the flowering trees and flowers and felt the balmy air, I couldn’t help but think of the freezing cold and snow of Boston I’d left behind just the day before.

We went straightaway to Safeway. Maxine threw steaks into the cart, potatoes, a few other items. Then she entered the wine aisle, where she did one of the strangest things I’d ever seen: She’d pick up a bottle of red wine, look at the front label, turn the bottle around and read the back label, then put it back on the shelf, only to repeat that behavior three or four more times. Impatient, I said, “Just grab one. They’re all the same.”

My cousin gave me a look I know all too well, a combination of schoolmarm admonition and amused contempt. “They’re not all the same,” she said. “You have to think about it.”

That’s exactly when and where it hit me, “it” being the wine bug. Years later, when I became a wine writer, I interviewed psychiatrists whom I knew from the wine collecting community (psychiatrists tend to be bigtime collectors—they can afford it) and asked what this “wine bug” was. How do you go from zero to a million miles an hour in no time at all?

They answered with psychobabble; I remember one going on and on about anal retention. To this day, I can’t claim to understand what happened to me. But it did, fast and furious. Within weeks, I was buying wine books, and later, when I moved to San Francisco, and my friends were enjoying their weekends flying kites at Marina Green or loafing in Dolores Park, I’d be going to every fine wine shop in the city, from Draper & Esquin in the Financial District to The Wine House South of Market, The Jug Shop on Polk, Hennessey’s in the Castro, the old Liquor Barn on Bayshore, Ashbury Market high above The Haight, and way out to the Avenues by the beach, to a place whose name I forget. I’d ask the clerks why, for example, this Chardonnay cost $11 while this one was only $4. I learned a lot, but I want to make two points: 1, there are no dumb questions, and 2, you never know when opportunity will open a life-changing door—even in a Safeway! That moment in the wine aisle is why I became a wine writer and critic.

In Benicia, I got a job as breakfast and lunch cook at the Main Street Café, a greasy spoon, where Maxine, a local activist on development issues who distrusted money in politics, had me report to her on who was having power breakfast with whom at the Mayor’s corner table. The owner was an old fag—I use the term deliberately. He was obese, about 60, with a floridly red face, squinty little pig eyes, and the worst toupee I’d ever seen. I got paid once a week. He would come sneaking up behind me and slide my paycheck into the breast pocket of my chef’s white blouse—making sure his grubby fingers passed over my nipple. He kept inviting me out for dinner; I kept refusing. After a few months, I couldn’t stand it. “I’ve had it!” I thundered to Maxine. Told her I’d take my story to the local newspaper, hire a lawyer, sue the old guy. Maxine just listened. I was still in the closet; she knew (as she later told me) that I was gay, but she also knew I had to pick the time and place to come out. And that I needed to vent.

The owner eventually fired me. Today, I’d probably bring a sexual harassment case against him, or wrongful termination, but in 1979, that wasn’t a possibility. And it didn’t really matter: Uncle Lennie, Maxine’s father, had generously bought me a used Datsun, so I had a car, for the first time in my life (at the age of 33). I got a job down the freeway at a fast food restaurant, where I made friends with the other cooks and the waitresses.

After nine months living with Maxine and Keith, it was time for me to go. I think Maxine wouldn’t have minded my staying, but poor Keith—he wanted his life back. I drove my Datsun to Diablo Valley Junior College, found a roommate ad on the housing board, and made an appointment to meet a guy in Pleasant Hill.

From a half-block away, I saw him ambling down the street in my direction, and I shuddered. Oh, shit, I thought, please don’t be him…but I knew it was. He was a tall, lanky, handsome kid with blonde hair down to his shoulders. Beside him trotted a Golden Lab. When he got closer I saw how young he was, no more than 17. The old black magic hit again: help me, help me, I’m falling in love.

We shook hands, went inside the three-bedroom ranch house and chatted. And hit it off. He was happy to let me live there. I should have turned and run as fast as I could! But of course, I didn’t.

Timmy was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known. When he learned of my background—philosophy major, the commune, conversant with eastern religions, LSD (which he liked)–he peppered me with questions. We’d share a bottle of wine every night—Wente Grey Riesling, Almaden Cabernet Sauvignon—and talk about Zen, cosmology, literature, painting, religion, psychology, mysticism. (We also ate well: I’m ashamed to admit I was stealing filet mignons and lobster tails from the restaurant.) Timmy was single—in between girlfriends. In a nonchalant way, the way he might have said “I read the newspaper every morning,” he said, “I jerk off three times a day.” Oy vey, I thought, just call me next time! But of course, I couldn’t say anything—still closeted. After a few months of torture, I made him a tape recording in which I revealed all, left the cassette recorder, with a note saying “play me,” on the living room floor where he’d see it when he came home, and went out to play pool and drink beer with my friends. I wanted him to have privacy when he listened.

I came home around 1 a.m. He was sitting on the couch, with no lights on. I was thrilled he’d waited up for me. We sat in silence for a while. Then he said, “I totally respect and support you. I’m just not ready for that.” Of course you’re not. Three days later, he met a girl—an exotic dancer—and invited her to live with us, err, with him. He told me I’d love her. She visited. At some point, Timmy left the two of us alone, and she turned to me and said, “God, he’s gorgeous.” I hate you, exotic dancer lady! Time to move again. I kind of knew in my gut that I had an ultimate destination, that I was postponing the inevitable. But I wasn’t ready to move to San Francisco. Not until I came out and dealt with being gay.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    Let’s update this story . . .

    From U.S. News & World Report Online
    (posted March 12, 2020):

    “Rome Catholic Churches Ordered Closed Due to Coronavirus, Unprecedented in Modern Times”

    URL: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-03-12/rome-catholic-churches-ordered-closed-due-to-coronavirus-unprecedented-in-modern-times

    — and —

    From USA Today Online
    (posted March 29, 2020):

    “California Catholic church begins drive-up confessionals amid coronavirus outbreak”

    URL: https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2020/03/29/social-distancing-catholic-church-begins-drive-up-confessionals/2935862001/

    — and —

    From USA Today Online
    (updated March 28, 2020):

    “‘How we can show love for the most vulnerable’: Churches cancel in-person Easter services”

    URL: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/20/coronavirus-church-services-how-outbreak-affecting-easter-services/2864084001/

  2. Bob Henry says:

    And further update this story . . .

    From The San Francisco Chronicle Online
    (posted “2 hours ago”):

    “Contra Costa sheriff cites church for Easter Sunday gathering”

    URL: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Coronavirus-live-updates-news-bay-area-15192855.php

    “Forty people gathered with no face masks or physical distancing at All Nations Church of God in Christ in North Richmond on Easter Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office said.

    “The pastor refused to speak to the deputy who responded to a tip about the illegal gathering, the office said. The shelter-in-place order prohibits gatherings of any size.

    “The Sheriff’s Office issued a misdemeanor citation for violation of the Health Order on Monday and later filed a case with the district attorney’s office for prosecution.

    “‘Our focus has been on education of the Health Officer Order and in the vast majority of cases we ask for voluntary compliance and that solves the problem,’ said Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston.

    “‘This was different. The pastor refused to cooperate and put the lives of dozens of parishioners at risk.'”

  3. Bob Henry says:

    From the San Jose Mercury-News Online
    (posted 10 hours ago):

    “Richmond pastor cited for violating COVID-19 health order;
    ‘We are just fools for Christ,’ the pastor told his congregation.”

    URL: https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/04/16/richmond-pastor-cited-for-violating-covid-19-health-order/

    By David Debolt
    Senior Breaking News Reporter

    The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office cited a Richmond pastor for defying the coronavirus shelter-in-place order by holding church services on Easter Sunday.

    Although it has happened elsewhere in the country, Pastor Wyndford Williams of All Nations Church of God in Christ is believed to be the first Bay Area religious leader cited for violating the health ordinances put in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The misdemeanor citation was issued April 13, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

    A Contra Costa sheriff’s deputy arrived at the church after 12:30 p.m. and found about 40 people who were not social distancing or wearing masks, spokesman Jimmy Lee said Thursday evening.

    “The deputy first spoke to the deacon and asked to speak to the pastor who was in front of the parishioners. The pastor was uncooperative and refused to talk to the deputy,” Lee said.

    “Our focus has been on education of the Health Officer Order, and in the vast majority of cases we ask for voluntary compliance, and that solves the problem,” said Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston. “This was different. The pastor refused to cooperate and put the lives of dozens of parishioners at risk.”

    Two Sundays before Easter, on March 29, Williams told his congregation from the pulpit, “a preacher said on TV the other day that we would be fools to go to church but we are just fools for Christ,” according to a Facebook video of the sermon.

    The Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order went into effect March 17 and banned large gatherings and non-essential businesses from operating. Pastor Williams could not be immediately reached Thursday afternoon.

    West Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia said the citation is the only one he knows of involving a religious group.

    “We all need to take the health order seriously because this is about saving lives and keeping our hospitals from being overloaded,” Gioia said. The order “applies equally to religious gatherings, funerals and political meetings. I want to applaud the faith community for abiding by the order and using alternative means of worship. Not having gatherings does not mean not worshipping,” the supervisor said.

    In Oakland, police on Easter received at least one complaint of a church holding services but the city did not issue any citations.

    Four more COVID-19 related deaths were reported in Contra Costa on Thursday, along with 16 more people testing positive for the potentially deadly virus. A total of 631 residents have tested positive and 18 have died, county health officials said.

    Richmond has recorded the most cases with 66, although it ranks 12th of 26 Contra Costa cities with the most cases per 100,000 residents. Behind Concord, Richmond is the largest county city and just above Antioch in population.

    All Nations Church of God in Christ is on York Street in an area where North Richmond is jurisdictionally split between the city of Richmond and unincorporated Contra Costa, putting it under Sheriff David Livingston. Because of the way county health displays COVID-19 data, it is difficult to know if any cases exist among the more than 3,000 North Richmond residents.

    During the March 29 sermon, Williams praised the work of people risking their lives to help others and said, “Lord, we ask you to help the nation help those that are sick today.” The pastor, according to the Facebook video, also told churchgoers how the virus “affects different ways, affects people in their lungs, respiratory system.”

    Earlier this month, at least 70 people linked to a Pentecostal church in Rancho Cordova, a suburb north of Sacramento, were infected with coronavirus.

    In Virginia, a pastor contracted COVID-19 and died after defying warnings about the dangers of religious gatherings and saying he’d keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.” The pastor of a Pentecostal megachurch in Florida was arrested last month after preaching in front of hundreds of people.

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