Lest you think we were a highly self-selected group of those willing to commit civil disobedience, be assured: Everyone there had been strictly obeying police orders, but had been gathered up nonetheless, at different spots around town, for this unique mixer. Our hosts for this cutting-edge social phenomenon wouldn't dream of boring us by simply throwing us together with our own kind. It's true we were all anti-war, but in the Bay Area, what does that say, really?
The event kicked off with a little light bondage as eight women standing on the sidewalk were handcuffed and escorted into the limo, a new boxy design with a fetching Sheriff's Department seal on the door. One of the women quickly slipped out of her handcuffs, allowing her to perform minor favors such as arranging other guests' hair, adjusting scarves, and feeding us the appetizer. In this unusual form of icebreaker, we were able (if not permitted) to eat whatever foodstuffs we had managed to keep on our persons after our backpacks and purses had been confiscated. The only item in this category turned out to be (ick) paper-thin slices of dried seaweed from the back pocket of a Marin "body awareness" teacher. Not a few of us politely declined.
The ride was brief and uneventful, but for the whispered rumor that our destination was to be the Alameda County Jail in far-off Santa Rita. However, it was at the Hall of Justice that we debarked in the party's antechamber, a sort of open-air coop marked off by crowd-control barriers, continuing the S/M theme. We admit to an involuntary aesthetic recoil upon noticing that six of the earlier arrivals had formed a New Age-y circle, arms laced across each other's shoulders, and were swaying and humming in unison. But we had underestimated our sisters: Crouched in the middle of them, shielded from view, was a small, feisty Latina who was informing her significant other of our plight -- er, get-together -- on her cell phone (an item strictly forbidden by party rules).
Perhaps to stimulate the juices of the het women, our enclosure was cheek-by-jowl with a pen of guy protesters. We spotted Ramu, the stately, shamanic poet of the Lower Haight, as well as Josiah, a nodding acquaintance from Dog Bites' home turf in the Mission. But we ladies soon settled down to learning how to play "snaps" from a brassy young brunette and her friend.
"You have to figure out how she knows what I'm saying," our hypervivacious co-detainee told us, and launched right in: "The name of the game is snaps. Bored I am." She snapped her fingers five times. "Stupid motherfucker. Humma humma humma!" Her companion immediately said the word she had clued, the last name of some ex-governor from Texas -- and no, we're not telling how it's done.
The staff now announced that we'd be moving to the main party site "after a cursory search."
"CAVITY SEARCH!" whooped the snapper. "All right -- some action!"
Nothing so undignified occurred, although when they took away Dog Bites' omnipresent pen we felt as naked as if it had.
Our holding tank was decorated with the cheery graffito "Jane Doe was here" and not much else. As subsequent arrivals were ushered in, yelps went out from Mills College students recognizing a colleague, although they had come to the demonstration separately. Soon the guest list was complete. A lesbian couple, both of them under 5 feet tall, clung together in an embrace that would last the entire evening. Across from them sat a blasé Frenchwoman who had declared that nothing like this would happen in France, where "we demonstrate all the time, for anything, and no one cares." A temp worker from Walnut Creek explained repeatedly to anyone who would listen her claim that she had been fired from her job for her anti-war views after calling in "absent" the day after the Iraq conflict began. In one corner, an ectomorphic Emily Dickinson vibe-alike sat literally wringing her hands and occasionally covering her face with her long, slender fingers. She said nothing whatsoever for five hours or so, after which someone tried to strike up a conversation and ascertained that she was, true to type, some sort of artist.
So here we were. Part of the fun was that we didn't know for how long. There were a few attempts at intellectual exchange:
"Violence has absolutely no place in the peace movement," breathed an earnest 19-year-old. This was briefly disputed by a pragmatic old-school rad who clearly had quite a bit of street action under her belt, but the discussion petered out. A suggestion that we all sing something thankfully fizzled as well.
Luckily we would be entertained by Erin, the class clown, who hugged the front panes of bulletproof glass to get a look at the boys in the adjoining tank.
"He's so cute!" she blurted. "Hey, my future ex-husband could be in that cell!"
A female staff member dropped by to ask if we needed anything of a medical nature. Unfortunately, she didn't mean elective pharmaceuticals, and could do nothing about our most immediate collective need -- for fresh air -- so she showed us where the call button was and went on her way.
"This is so not like the movies," Erin groused. "I mean, no cigarettes? And hey -- I don't know about you guys, but I haven't made out with anybody in 36 hours!"
After dinner -- melt-in-your-mouth Wonder bread with a filling of ham and cheese product, a boldly unadorned whole orange accompanied, even more boldly, by orange juice, and creme-filled wafers crumbling with antiquity -- more of us told our stories. Where we'd been picked up: Franklin, Hayes, Market. What we'd been doing: to a woman, obeying cop orders to stay on the sidewalk. We vowed such charming company should meet again, perhaps in a class-action setting.
A sanitary need arose, and our restless snaps instructor took over. She punched the room service button and, after a rather lengthy delay, a male staffer in blue-and-badge approached and opened the bulletproof slot through which we communicated. He didn't seem to catch the request at first. "TAMPON!" she bellowed, and he jerked back as though he'd been shot. The nurse returned and began stuffing stogie-size plastic-wrapped cylinders through the slot, quickly snapped up as souvenirs.
Erin noticed through the glass wall that the staff outside was eating a bubbling-hot pizza. Murmurs of discontent arose, along with conjecture about whether Domino's would accept a collect call from the phone in the cell.
"No -- let's order fajitas!" shouted Erin, and a spontaneous chant of "Whose fajitas? Our fajitas!" broke out.
The evening wore on, 6 1/2 hours for those in our original group (a bike messenger named Cynthia, however, had been cooling her heels for nine hours), until the staff began to call us by name, one by one. Although we had been advised that if we turned up at another of these gatherings within 48 hours our next event would last for days, several of us drew rousing cheers when we turned at the door and shouted, "See you tomorrow!" to the remaining assembly.
We understand the festivities cost our hosts a whopping $900,000. A small price to pay.