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The Man Who Came to Dinner 

Wednesday, Feb 17 1999
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Sometimes I don't want dinner. Not even a free dinner.
OK, I always do.
But sometimes I'd like my free dinner served in my very own house, curled up in front of the cathode rays watching CNN, MSNBC, or Felicity.

That's how I felt after a recent long day of living. I didn't want to stop home, change my clothes, grab a bottle of wine, drive across town, hunt for a parking spot, check to make sure there was nothing between my teeth, locate the address, ring the bell, wait 20 seconds in silence, introduce myself, make the requisite small talk, and smile -- just to get my free meal.

Still, as I found myself standing before a renovated Victorian in the Panhandle, I reminded myself: This is your job. These people don't want to hear it. They've cooked for you. They may have even cleaned for you.

Just then the door was opened by Molly Steenson, my host for the evening and a founding member of MaxiMag, one of cyberspace's pre-eminent "chick zines."

Molly was a burst of energy in a bright print shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, short red hair, and a tiara. "The tiara is worn for all official Maxi gatherings," she explained as we began the trek up the long stairwell to her apartment. I decided that if I were going to overcome my lethargy and play ball, I would need to throw myself fully into the game. I removed the crown from Molly's head and placed it awkwardly atop my own.

With my tired, tiara-capped self, I arrived at the top of the stairs to meet two additional Maxi Girls, Rosemary Pepper and Janelle Brown. I sensed the headpiece wasn't working for me and quickly returned it to Molly.

In the large, modern kitchen, Molly was busy cooking while her two partners offered occasional assistance, moral support, and comic relief. I sought refuge in a sparkling red vintage diner booth tucked neatly into the wall. The Maxi Girls' cumulative powers were blinding: I felt what little energy I had drain from my body and into the vinyl below.

Janelle came over to show me the digital camera Molly had purchased earlier that day. It lets you record images and view them immediately on a little screen in back. And you can even twist the lens around to take self-portraits of you and a friend.

I stumbled upon what must be one of the most underrated applications for the digital camera as I posed the question: Am I losing my hair? Holding the camera directly above me, I took an aerial shot of my dome.

"You're a tall guy. Here, let me see," said Molly. "Oh, you're fine."
I found the digital results more reassuring, as they proved conclusively that I still have more hair on my head than my back.

Rosemary dumped a bowl of mixed greens into the salad spinner and added the by now familiar package of edible flowers. We moved all the food over to the diner booth and did the jockeying-for-seat-position dance. Finally, Molly served up heaping portions of a wonderful risotto mixed with Gorgonzola cheese, asparagus, mushrooms, and champagne.

She gave a recap of past Maxi issues for me. "There was the Body issue, which ended up being the Sex issue with three vibrator stories. The next one is Power. And we're working on a special Feminism project."

As I reached to refill my wineglass, Molly grabbed the bottle from my hand and demanded, "Man Who Came to Dinner, I get to serve you."

"Let her do it," advised Rosemary. "She'll spank you if you don't. It could get ugly."

"Don't make her get out the riding crop," warned Janelle.
"No," vowed Molly, "I will not bring out the riding crop." And then, after a brief pause, "OK, I will."

Molly disappeared into her room. Janelle said, "She'll put her rubber dress on for you too. She's got latex."

Moments later Molly returned with a sturdy brown leather riding crop. "I used to have it on top of my monitor to remind myself to kick my ass." With a quick jerk of her wrist she snapped the whip against her hand.

"Where do you keep it now?" I asked. But Molly didn't answer.
Instead she said, "A couple weeks ago my boyfriend and I went to the Fetish Ball. I was wearing PVC and a corset. You know, just your standard dominatrix wear. And he was wearing wrist restraints, a collar and leather pants, and, um ..."

"This was what's-his-name?" asked a surprised Rosemary. "I've only seen him with a baseball hat on."

Molly struck the crop against her bare hand a little harder. "So I ended up punishing my boyfriend with this. And his roommate. And several articles in their house. It was such a funny persona to wear, especially because I'm so nice and such a fucking pushover."

I offered my hand to Molly in an ill-thought-out invitation to test the crop on me.

"Go ahead, hit him," urged Rosemary.
"That's why he's here. He wants it," added Janelle.
Then someone had to say, "Bend over." We each froze for a moment, clearly imagining the range of scenarios that could actually unfold in the next few minutes.

"Where's that digital camera?" I joked in a poor attempt to stall my fate.
"Yes, a photo op," said Molly as she ran off to retrieve the camera.
"Go put on your PCVs first," I hollered after her, "or whatever they're called."

"OK," said Molly upon her return, "let's play Punish The Man Who Came to Dinner."

"You're biting your lip and weighing the decision," Rosemary observed. "You want me to whip Janelle instead?" she offered.

"No, no, no. You should rap her knuckles," advised Molly.
In the end, The Man Who Came to Dinner did not succumb to the mighty girls of MaxiMag. Instead he finished his dinner. Went home. And went to sleep.

By Barry Levine

Want to host The Man Who Came to Dinner? E-mail SFDinner@aol.com and tell us what's cookin'.

About The Author

Barry Levine

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