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Conversion San Francisco, May 1994 The city sparkled, unveiled like a new statue, cleaned up for the United Nations rededication. Some of the scuzziest streets in town were tidy and bright for the ceremonies. The homeless were, for the moment, maybe squirreled away somewhere like the czar’s peasants during European state visits. Ground had been broken for the grand edifice of the new public library, and stately rows of full-grown palm trees had been planted in the greens dividing Market Street. “Conversion,” Dennis said out loud, because he wanted to simplify it, or isolate it, or God, even convert it into something new or else. But really, he conversed with himself as he tromped toward Muni, he was thinking about that flat in his house, which was being converted into a condo, and did he want to buy his own place? But when somebody converts, or something converts , to condos, or Christianity, or compost, there’s 56 57 that going to place, but a coming from place as well, and just last month, his sister had left her husband of seven years for an Austrian medical student and moved abruptly to some Tyrolean ski town to serve après ski hot toddies while her new boyfriend spent his offhours giving ski instructions to rich girls (which was how they met, his sister and the ski instructor med student , for she said he looked sexy in lederhosen but who could look sexy in that stuff? But that wasn’t the point, though, was it?—the point was that she was happy and in love). The point, actually, was that his sister had converted , passed up her admittedly frumpy and waysexist husband Matt, that pig, and she was having a ball while Matt was feeling betrayed. He’d called Dennis and said his sister was a “fucking renegade, and while it might be okay for you gays to act that way, it was different with straight people.” What one person might call conversion, another could call betrayal. After Rigo dressed Jimmy and Dennis in shirts and trousers far too big for their bodies, Jimmy did Dennis’s face. Jimmy was doing a good job. Jimmy had already done his own face, and maybe it was his sharp rosy complexion that made him a shape-shifter. But where had he learned to make Dennis look real, too? He caked a pale, waxy makeup to simulate huge cartilage deposits, and had ready a case full of little inserts for the nostrils, made of gray splayed hairs that looked like fly-fishing lures. He used some kind of thin syrup that puckered his skin when it dried. Rigo had found toupees that made them all look like they were balding and unkempt, and while Rigo finished with Dennis, Jimmy practiced hobbling around with a cane. “This is all so very freaking Fall of Rome,” said Rigo. Dennis agreed. The difference between them was that Rigo liked the idea of decadence. Dennis waited for Jimmy to weigh in, but if there was one thing Dennis had learned about the crusading journalist, it was that he kept things to himself. Like maybe a career in theater?, he thought, marveling in the hand-held mirror at this massive transformation. Rigo raised a fist and shook it, face set like a largemouth bass; the scar from the years-old brain surgery phonily enraged into proud flesh. He shouted, “Gosh darn you kids!” “Say ‘God damn,’ Rigo,” said Dennis, but it was hopeless. Rigo’s life on disability consisted of hatching goofball schemes like this one. A stroll through the Castro, a drink at JJ’s piano bar or the Twin Peaks. Dinner at the Galleon, maybe, and a souvenir cane at the end of the evening, which would come in handy in the real twilight of life, ever-swiftly approaching. Time was wasting: the three of them, suited up, struck out. At JJ’s, it would appear that Rigo began hitting on three boys all at once, young and slumming, by telling them one of his lousy clean jokes. “I was standing here 58 59 the other day,” he said, creakily, emphasizing his fake age, “and the bartender walked away, and I was alone and I heard this little voice. It said, ‘Hey, handsome, that’s a real nice suit!’ Well, imagine how surprised I was. I looked around to see who was admiring me, but nobody was close by. Then this little voice said again...


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