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my first feminist by johnnie b. baker
 

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  • For a time in the early 90s I worked at a restaurant in San Francisco called Hamburger Mary’s. Mary’s was an SF institution, a long time gay bar and restaurant on Folsom since the days of Harvey Milk. Many of the older workers had come to the City in the 70s and had lived history (including, at the time I was around, the spread of AIDS), but there were also plenty of young sexually ambitious party people in their twenties who worked there. At Mary’s, whether gay, straight, or whatever was needed at any particular moment, all inhibitions were destroyed by the onslaught of berserker hormones. Very few didn’t jump into that sex pool more than once, and I was no exception.

    Zita started working there after I had moved from the dishwasher to the line. She was a new roommate of Shawnee, who had got her the job at Mary’s as she had with me. Zita was not as extroverted in her attire and appearance as most of the women at Mary’s, she hadn’t shaved her head or pierced most of her face or dyed her hair pink. She was petite and almost the definition of cute as a button; her long strait brunette bangs came down to her eyes, which would squint as she made a point, making her nose (just perfectly too large for her face) wiggle like a rabbit. She was, by her own admission, a New York JAP, a Jewish American Princess, however this was really aspirational, as she was just a Jewish girl raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. To me, not that far from my suburban SoCal existence, she was quite exotic and unlike the other girls I had known. She had just graduated from college and moved to SF, one of those clueless college grads that would cycle through Mary’s on a regular basis as they searched for what to do next. She had a boyfriend, but he was still back at school and would join her later, and that didn’t stop her from being a flirt, especially with me.

    We worked a lot of the same shifts, and we spent a lot of time together in sustained and flirtatious arguments. She was the first strong, opinionated, educated girl my own age with whom I had ever really dealt. I would say something, almost anything, and she would attack, criticize, give the contrarian view. Something that would completely annoy me now then challenged me and turned me on. And no matter how much I made her eyes squint and nose wiggle, she would come back for more. I knew she liked me.

    One night Shawnee invited me over to her place with some people after work to party and play Trivial Pursuit, and of course Zita would be there. Sitting on the floor in the living room of their flat on Haight above the Pork Store Café, we smoked and drank and laughed and played, with Zita sitting across from me, squinting her eyes and wiggling her nose as I collected one wedge after another. I, the junior college dropout, won. I dumped out my wedges and started over again with nothing, and won again. I got laid that night.

    We had fun for a month or so. At the peak of our sexual energy, when we hooked up it would last all day or all night. When we weren’t fucking, we’d be flirt-arguing, which only heightened the passion once naked or re-energized. She would dig her fingers deep into my back, drawing blood as my DNA was collected under her nails. I took it as much as I could. I was still rather new to the casual hook-up scene, as most of the girls I had been with became girlfriends for some period of time. But as she reminded me, she had a boyfriend. “So why you screwing me?” I’d ask. Well, they had an understanding, she’d say.

    Once we started our fling, I fell into the habit of calling her “hon”. Even though I knew she was not my girlfriend, it came unconsciously, a reflex word that would end almost every sentence I spoke. She was not unique; this was a habit I had with all the girls I had dated. But this made her furious. “I’m not you’re hon! I have a name!” And for the first time in my life I was confronted with a feminist deconstruction of my word choices (something which I have since become quite familiar). How words like “hon” are demeaning and neutralizing and something she did not appreciate being called. Words like that kept women inferior and subjugated. “But it’s a term of affection! Consider the source! I’m not some misogynist old man, we’re fucking!” She would have none of it. I guess I was still innocent and ignorant. But she still fucked me.

    Once her boyfriend showed up, everything ended. The times I saw the two together in our social circle, I could easily tell she was the boss in the relationship. Soon her party days at Mary’s and the Haight ended, and she disappeared. And now, when I unconsciously say “hon”, I think of her and wonder if I need to apologize.

    ..................................

    Photo from Mary's. I have the "Ford" shirt on, Zita unfortunately is not in there.
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