Santa Cruz Pride Festival 2013


Radical Faeries SCMouse and I returned to Santa Cruz yesterday with our friend (and Ashlie’s step-mother) Mary for the Santa Cruz PRIDE parade and festival. It’s an event I’ve enjoyed for nearly a decade, though 2008 was hands-down my favorite year. “In The Name of Love” is an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice which captures that experience. Ever since, I’ve returned each year to celebrate and mourn. The festival always takes place in the first week of June, near Ashlie’s birthday but this year, it was ON what would have been her 21st birthday.

It always feels like a kind of homecoming, passing the Leonard Building (no longer the home of The AIDS Project, but still handsome and familiar) on the way to Pacific Ave., where the streets are lined with familiar faces and every imaginable color has exploded into the street. I always cry. I always laugh. And now, I always see her there.

Down at the end of Pacific this year there was an open air / impromptu dance circle. I stood and watched them for a long time, letting myself see her there – silly, grinning and dancing in the midst of the strangely beautiful crowd. It is always good to see friends, however briefly, and reconnect with my hometown. But I come back every year because I can still feel her here – where she is happy and laughing even as she dances away from me.

{Photo Note: I’ve always been fascinated by the Radical Faeries. Ash was too. But it’s Mouse who snapped this shot and for whom the gracious fae are smiling.]

In The Name Of Love


One day before Alice’s sixteenth birthday, Max, June, Alice and I pile into the car and head West for the promised excursion to the Gay Pride Parade in Santa Cruz. Earlier in the week, June took Alice shopping for the perfect outfit, and she skips out of the house this morning in a flouncy black mini, tall shoes and striped stockings. A little black tank, her favorite hoodie and a smattering of chunky candy jewelry completes the outfit.

Max and June are equally splendid in their attire, June having donned a red party dress with a matching parasol and Max sporting his favorite bowler, a natty vest and, oddly enough, a raccoon tail. My slouchy gray t-shirt and jeans are frowned upon by all.

On our way out of town, we pick up Samir, the Persian boy from Alice’s support group. He is inexplicably dressed like a pirate and wearing a delicately pasted beard that fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride Parade, and he’s stoked.

With Alice riding shotgun, Gwen Stefani sings us through the Valley, over the mountains and down Highway 17, which dumps us into downtown Santa Cruz with twenty minutes to spare. We may have been gone for a year, but Santa Cruz is still my town, and I prove it by scoring one of the few unregulated parking spaces downtown. The kids spill out of the car and are rushing towards the commotion a block away when Alice turns back.

How do I find Davey so we can get into the parade?” she asks, stumbling momentarily in her tall shoes.

Down to the end of Pacific.” I point west. “Look for someone with a clipboard, and ask where the AIDS Project group is staged.”

She grabs Samir’s hand, and they’re off. Max and June are already across the street, heading in the opposite direction, towards the clock tower. Her parasol is bobbing behind their heads, and his raccoon tail bounces along behind them.

I catch up to them near the Del Mar Theater just as the Dykes on Bikes roll out onto the street to clear the parade route. The sound of their engines makes me tear up; it always has.

The motorcycles are followed by the Grand Marshall, roller-derby girls and a pair of seven-foot-tall drag queens. A group of Latin dancers from up at the college puts on a hell of a show, and then The Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (a huge support system for local cancer patients and those living with HIV) rolls onto the scene with my old friend Mario atop the float, shaking his Salvadoran ass in short shorts and sporting a giant platinum afro wig. I squeal like a delighted child as he throws a string of glittery beads my way.

Things mellow out a bit when the local gay-friendly churches take the street, another entrance that makes me emotional year after year. Having grown up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical church, it is still a pleasant surprise to see open and affirming churches practicing what Jesus preached. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8, banning gay marriage, is on the table, so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big, graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friend Trace and his husband Gage pass our corner. The king of serenity, Trace smiles and waves his God Is Still Speaking sign in my direction.

The churches are followed by stilt-walkers, the San Francisco Cheer Team and a smattering of state and local politicians, including the Mayor in a beautifully restored Woody surf wagon. A random group of boys in tutus and girls with tiny dogs follow the political crowd, and then I hear a blaring bass and look up the street to see an approaching contingent dressed all in red with the exception of one bright green pirate and a girl in a flouncing black mini and striped tights.

I punch Max in the arm. “They’re coming!”

I can see, mom.”

It’s this point at which Davey spots Max and me. He jumps out of the parade to grace me with a bear hug and a second set of shiny beads. Then, like a flash, he’s back in, and the whole AIDS Project group stops in front of us. Volunteers from the Org run to the edges of the crowd with buckets for donations and to hand out condoms, little red ribbons and more Mardi Gras beads. The music blaring from the flatbed that precedes them is obscenely danceable, and those who aren’t working the crowd put on their own impromptu dance show. Right in the middle of them are Alice, Samir and Davey having a grand old time.

When the procession starts up again, I leave Max and June at the corner, moving through the throng to keep pace with Alice. I don’t want to miss out on the grand finale—the Radical Faeries—but it is so rare these days to see her this happy that I want to capture every second of it.

I pass a number of friends, acquaintances and familiar faces along the way, but I don’t stop long in any one place, following the thrumming beat as it heads towards the clock tower at the end of Pacific Avenue. I’m up near Bookshop Santa Cruz when I run headlong into another spectator.

Whoa!” He grabs me by the shoulders and steps back. “Jules!”


With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd. I hug him fiercely as a blast of music announces the arrival of The AIDS Project’s group. Jesús turns to see them, and I tug on his sleeve.

I practically shout over the music, “You remember my youngest, right?”

The soldier boy? Of course,” he says, still looking towards the dancers.

I stretch out my arm in front of him and point to Alice who is currently twirling and laughing in the middle of the street. She spots us there at the edge of the crowd and waves in our direction.

My god,” he says, more delighted than surprised, “she’s blooming!”

With his arm over my shoulder, we stand and watch them. Davey dances circles around Alice and Samir while the volunteers with the buckets work the crowd. It strikes me suddenly that Jesús sees what I see: a happy girl dancing in the street with a cute pirate. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I hope for the day when she passes well enough that we won’t have to think of such things, but I bask in the company of someone who doesn’t have to be convinced, someone who also sees her blooming. I love him dearly for that.

Jesús and I walk to the end of the street, watching as the groups begin to disperse. Trace and Gage find us, then Max and June come past, arm-in-arm with an elderly man sporting a wooly beard and a seafoam green frock. They’re moving on to the park with Samir where a festival is waiting when I spot Alice, skipping towards us, trailed by her old friend Dante in full soldier garb.

Can I stay with Dante for the weekend?” she asks when she reaches us.

Can you what?”


I don’t – “

Don’t trip, Mom. Dante’s cool. His mom and sister are cool. It’s all chill.”

From somewhere behind us comes Dante’s mom, a small Hispanic woman with soft features. She steps right up to Alice and examines her. “Sweet Mother Mary, look at you! You’re skin and bones.”

She shot up six inches,” I say, “and only eats chicken sandwiches.”

Dante’s mother laughs. “Then you must let her visit so I can feed her.”

I laugh too. I also worry and wonder if they’ll get along the same, but then I think how that’s exactly what I told Helen—that her boys would get that Jordan and Alice are one and the same.

All my finals are over,” Alice says, “and my birthday is tomorrow. What better way to spend it than here with my brotha from another motha?” Alice strikes a gangster pose and bumps fists with Dante. They grin at me hopefully.

They’re not going to take no for an answer, are they?” I say to Dante’s mom.

They’re young. It’s summer. Let them have their fun. “

Ok then, but…”

Nobody hears my conditions, though, because the Radical Faeries are rounding the last block, and pandemonium has broken out. Also, Davey has dashed up the street and caught me in a bear hug. I walk to the park with my Santa Cruz boys. Small children whiz past with bright balloons. Once we cross the bridge into the park, I spot the kids near the playground and head towards them. Max is up a tree, and Samir is navigating the lower branches, intent on joining him. Dante leans against the tree as if holding it up for the others. June and Alice stand off to the side beneath the red parasol. Alice clomps over when she sees me, wincing with each step but looking ridiculously happy nonetheless.

Did you see the faeries?” Alice asks when I reach them.

They’re always awesome. I think Jesús knows some of them.”

We glance across the park to the Faeries lounging in the shade of the ribbon-covered shelter they have erected.

Would he introduce me?” she asks.

Maybe. Get your brother out of the tree, and we’ll find out.”

We order a mix of Greek and Indian food, staking out a spot beneath a generous tree to eat. As we’re finishing up, I spot Jesús heading towards a dance tent throbbing with trance music. I grab him just before he goes in, and he consents to take Alice over to mingle with the Faeries. I flop down in the grass near the other kids and watch them go.

I will always love this place where my child is accepted for who she is, not for who she once was or even who she will someday become, but who she is right now, flouncing through the park, arm-in-arm with Jesús, towards a group of men in fancy frocks.

(Twitch is an excerpt from Jules Vilmur’s upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out in Dec 2014.)

Homesick; Shades of Santa Cruz


The Street Preacher takes to the corner of Pacific and Cooper in Downtown Santa Cruz shortly before noon on most days. I suspect he’s chosen this spot, because the acoustics on the single short block of Cooper Street are amazing. As he bellows, his words bounce off the tall stone buildings and swell with significance. He looks like an aged biker with his grey beard and a bandana covering his head. He smells like dust and sacrament He holds his bible aloft in one hand, while the other skinny arm stretches skyward. His message is a mix of ancient texts and anti-establishment psychobabble. Some days its hard to tell where the reading ends and the sermon begins.

He’s quite mad, of course, but still, I like to lean against the pole just outside Pacific Wave and listen to him. He sounds as impassioned as John The Baptist and as angry as crazy as Charles Manson. The passages he shouts down the block are most often the complicated metaphors of obscure prophets. Some days I want to cross the street and ask him gently to read a Psalm, or one of Solomon’s love poems. I want to make him understand that fire and brimstone won't work here, in this time, in this place. But maybe he knows more than I. Maybe his secret visions are to terrifying to not be shared. Perhaps he really is the lone sane voice, crying out against evil.

I smoke my cigarette, leaning against the pole while a string of verses from Malachi reverberate from the wall behind me. I watch The Street Preacher because he makes me think. Not because I like what he says.

Doing Santa Cruz Right; Straight Talk on The Boardwalk


More than a decade ago, way back when the internet(s) were young, I came across a little gem of a webpage titled "San Francisco: an idiosyncratic guide for the goth-geek-freak-hipster-nerd" which changed forever the way I amuse myself in San Francisco when I'm there. I've branched out and discovered new favorite spaces beyond those highlighted in the guide, but it was a great jumping-off point and it virtually reinvented the city for me.

Having returned to my hometown after living in Santa Cruz County for the better part of a decade, I find myself cringing when I hear people talk about a day or weekend trip to the Central Coast and realize that they've spent their time (and money) in what locals consider "all the wrong places". For that reason (and because it is rude to admonish them in person) I thought it would be fun and perhaps helpful to put together a guide that might reinvent Santa Cruz for someone else the way the Goth-Geek-Hipster-Freak-Nerd guide changed San Francisco for me. I thought it best to begin with a couple of basic rules:

1. Skip The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

2. Since you are going to ignore Rule #1, let's have some straight talk about The Boardwalk Read more

Courtney Love @ The Catalyst (10.28.2004)


I went because…

1. I wanted to see the Queen of Disaster and Devastation with my own eyes.
2. I was curious to see who would still pay to watch her perform.
3. If she did something shocking or unseemly in my town, then I wanted to be there to witness it.
4. Chances were good that she’d give me at least an experience worth writing about.
5. I wanted to glare at her from the third row; cursing her for whatever role she played (intentionally or inadvertently) in the death of a particularly fragile icon.
There was another reason, of course, but until she came out onto the stage, tossing roses to the crowd and adjusting the straps of a slinky white dress two sizes too small,  until I pushed my way up from our comfortable little table, weaving behind a broad-shouldered stranger, until I was at the center of the crowd, only five bodies back from the edge of the stage, until she lit her first of many cigarettes and held it aloft in the same hand that clutched the microphone stand, until she belted out the first lines of “Asking For It”

every time that i sell myself to you / i feel a little bit cheaper than i need to

well I couldn’t have told you that reason, couldn’t have even guessed or more precisely, remembered, that I went to see her play on Thursday night, because there was a time when those heavy chords and ragged screams gave voice to a pain and rage I had not yet found a voice for.

So there I stood, on Thursday night, squashed into the center of stage-pressing crowd, noticing, not for the first time, how reserved I get in such situations, not wanting to dance because those around me were dancing stupidly, not wanting to sing along because those around me were screaming out lyrics with religious fervor. Then, catching me completely off guard, the first chords of Violet were struck and an electric charge shot from the soles of my feet to the top of my skull. By the time she reached the fourth line, I hardly noticed that my mouth was open and I was screaming along with the rest of them “you should learn how to say no!”. I don’t know if I can really explain how base and primal that felt, but somehow, in that moment, she was Mother and we were nursing from her tainted teat.

There was no logic to the thing. I mean, how dare she stand up there old and fat, with her tits hanging out, and a serious girdle visible beneath that clingy white dress? How dare she prop her stocking-clad foot on the speaker box and hike up her skirt as if people cared to catch a glimpse beneath it? How dare she behave as she does, vulgar, violent and unapologetic, while we must go about our polite little lives wishing (on rare or frequent occasions) to let go as well, to scream and rage, to be impolite and ugly without consequence?

But of course, that’s it; the mix of adoration and disgust, an explanation for that taste of mother’s milk;you see,  in some deep, dark corner of myself, I too long for devastation; I too want to be the girl with the most cake, and every once in a while, you have to purge that shit, so you can go along your way and not become Courtney Love.

{This piece was originally posted five years ago at and got me my first paid writing gig.)