(Little Tony and his uncle, 1968)
I don’t remember what made me think of it last month, but the occasion of Jerry Falwell’s death seems like a good day to finish telling this story.
It was about this time of year, 15 years ago. I had purchased my first new car, a 1992 Honda Civic, which I proudly drove from Eugene, OR to Seattle WA to meet my uncle, who was there as a part of a Fortune magazine business event. There was a fancy-dress dinner, and I wore the same tuxedo that I later got married in, and just wore to the GayVN awards. I met General Schwartzoff and Steve Jobs and some other fancy people. It was nifty. But the niftiest thing about it was that I got to see my uncle, with whom I have had the closest and most wonderful relationship a nephew could ever have with an uncle.
Maybe it’s because my uncle is gay and has no children of his own. Maybe it’s because my uncle adores his younger sister, my mother, and I am the benefactor of that overflowing love. Maybe it’s simply because I am lovable and my uncle is loving, but whatever the reason, my uncle’s care and concern, his belief in me, his wanting only the best things for me has flowed through my life like a magic elixer. Being my uncle’s nephew opened doors for me, of opportunity and imagination, and I love him dearly.
Just returned from this trip, I found myself at the Valley River Center mall with my girlfriend and roommate. I needed a shirt for work or something silly that I can’t remember. What I do remember is that near the main entrance to the mall, the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance had a table set up where they were collecting signatures for Ballot Measure Nine. Still luxuriating in warmth of my recent visit with my uncle, I found myself especially annoyed to see them. I hatched a plan.
Most people do not like rancor. They just want to go about their business and be left alone. I theorized that if I went over to the OCA table and began to talk with the two fellows manning the table, our discussion, even if conducted in polite tones, couldn’t help but put off a rancorous vibe that would discourage others from approaching the table, and the fewer people who visited the table the fewer signatures the OCA would be able to collect. Right there and then, I resolved to spend the rest of the day at the OCA table.
You’ve met these guys before, I know you have. They say they’re disgusted by the idea of gay sex, but when they talk about gay sex they wrap their mouths around the words in the most salacious manner imaginable. It was hard to keep a straight face, and as one of them became more and more combative and insulting about “the vile things homosexual do” it was hard to keep a civil tone. But I did. For my plan to work, I had to stay in the mall, and to stay in the mall I had to make sure not to do anything disruptive.
Finally the less agitated of the two fellows says that if I don’t leave their table he’s going to call the mall cops, and I tell him that as long as he’s going to be here in the mall expressing his political point of view, I’m going to be here expressing my point view too, lively exchange of ideas, and all that. Well Mr. Nothing-turns-me-on-as-much-as-talking-about-how-disgusting-sodomy-is is ready to party, but his more level headed buddy is on to me. He disappears for a couple minutes, and when he comes back he’s got two mall cops with him. You’ve met them too. Cop mustaches, but 40 pounds to heavy to make the force.
“Will you leave?”
“No I will not. I will not leave until they leave,” I say, gesturing at the OCA guys.
“If you do not leave, we will trespass you.”
“I will not leave.”
Then I got trespassed.
I know, you’re not suppose to the verb “to trespass” that way, but these guys were mall cops, and they’ve their own lingo, and what they meant by trespassing me was more of an Our Father “trespass against me” sort of thing. They came at me. I made a snap decision that brawling was not likely to be effective as either personal defense or a political statement. They knocked me to the ground. There was a knee in my back and a boot on my neck (you really haven’t lived until you’ve had an actual boot on your actual neck.) One of them was trying to cuff me, and was bending my arm in a way that it doesn’t go, yelling “Give it up dude! Give it up!” Finally they got the ergonomics of getting my hands behind my back sorted out and got me cuffed. Then each of got an arm and they dragged me out of the mall. (The toes of the shoes I had bought a few months earlier, in the Nordstrom’s in that very same mall got scuffed.) Once outside they stood me up and walked me to some secret mall jail.
Now I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, or at least I’m not one to admit it out loud, but when they got me to mall jail, they sat me down in this chair directly across from the dykiest woman you can imagine. I don’t mean that in any sort of an insulting way. I’m just saying that everything about the way this women looked, the way her hair was cut, the way her mall cop uniform fit, everything fairly well screamed “I am a lesbian.” And I guess she knows why I’ve been hauled in, because there’s this eye contact between us that is something along the lines of, “Can you believe this shit?” mixed with “I’m just doing my job,” and “I know, you’re just doing your job.”
I’m not really sure how long I was there, but it was long enough to get tired and slump into that head between your knees, hands handcuffed behind your back pose that you see when they make movies about people getting arrested for no good reason. After a while the real cops came and pow wow’d with the two mall cops who had knocked me down and handcuffed me. I can’t hear them, but I see them and I can tell by the affect of the real cops that they’re in no mood to take me to real jail. The mall cops seem agitated, maybe they’re still pissed that I was “resisting arrest” (Are you questioning my authority!?!)
Anyway, the mall cops and the real cops hash it out for a while until one of the real cops comes over and asks whether or not I’ll agree to leave and not come back for six months. As it happens, I was just days away from leaving Eugene to find a place far enough away to not compete with my mentor and open my own studio (that must have been why I was clothes shopping,) so it’s an easy choice.
The real police walk me outside and sort of to my surprise, my girlfriend and roommate are waiting patiently, and even they’re even proud of me. Later that evening we go out to dinner. Someone in the restaurant, I still don’t know who, picks up the check. A few days later I called my uncle and told him the story, and he told me he was proud of me too.
It turns out that at the same time I was having my little adventure in Eugene there were some interesting court cases trying to figure out what can and can’t get you kicked out of a mall. Stealing will definitely get you kicked out. Wearing a “Dick Cheney is a War Criminal” t-shirt might get you kicked out in some places (probably not Eugene), but you’d probably have a case if you decided sue.
Politely disrupting someone’s mall-sanctioned policitical activities? Well I don’t know if that ever got settled. Mostly what happened is malls stopped giving anyone permission to anyone to do anything in the mall except spend money. There’s a lesson in that, or at least I think there is, even if I don’t know quite what it is.