San Francisco, November 27, 1978: I was living in the studio apartment at 495 Third Avenue; and I had a devastating flu that knocked me woozy, half-unconscious.
Over the radio, the murders seemed lurid, wacko, surreal.
George Moscone was San Francisco’s very popular new mayor, after many years of Joe Alioto. Diane Feinstein was on the board of Supervisors, as was ex-police-chief Richard Hongisto, along with Harvey Milk and Dan White.
Harvey Milk ran a camera store on Castro street. He was the first openly gay candidate elected to public office when he was voted a Supervisor.
Dan White ran a tourist shop on Pier 39, and after being voted a Supervisor, supported the Briggs initiative, which would ban gays from teaching. Dan clashed with Harvey, and with mayor Moscone, on a number of issues, and Dan was also having business problems with his shop. White at one point resigned his post, and then later, wanted it back, but mayor Moscone declined.
According to White, his colleague Harvey Milk “smirked” at him, and therefore Dan White decided to kill both supervisor Milk and mayor Moscone with a small-caliber pistol.
He smuggled the pistol past City Hall security by the simple expedient of leaving a window open, through which he then re-entered with the pistol. He murdered both men in their offices with the hit-man’s trick: he shot them in the belly, which is so painful it incapacitates the man, and then close-up he shot them in the head.
Later, when White’s attorney invented the “Twinkie” defence, claiming White was unstable due to stress and eating Twinkies, there were riots, but at sentencing time, White escaped the death penalty, though after parole he committed suicide, as is proper for Twinkie murderers.
On the day of the murders, dimly following the reports on the radio through my flu-muddled mind, it seemed surreal, shocking and unbelievable. But perhaps I am to be forgiven that what I remember most about the day was something else entirely.
My girlfriend Joanne had made for me a long nightshirt, of orange and brown stripes; it resembled those long African robes that some black men affected at that time. Sounds awful, but it was comfortable.
I was wearing only this long shirt when I tore myself from my sickbed, because I had to take out the trash. It had heaped up too much, becoming smelly, and it was bugging me. I only had to go a few steps down the hall, and behind the frosted glass door was the trash chute. Nobody would see me, barefoot in my night shirt. No problem.
Afterward, discovering that I’d locked myself out of my apartment was very disappointing.
Dim-witted, I thought over my options. I didn’t much like them. And I didn’t like the obvious answer, which was to climb the stairs to the roof and come down the fire escape to my apartment on the third floor.
On the roof in the early November afternoon, the sky was bright overcast, and the sea breeze brisk. In my thin night shirt, no undies, no socks, I was freezing. No help for it.
At the edge of the roof, I paused, woozy. No help for it, so I firmly grabbed the hand rail, turned facing the roof, and stepped over the edge of the building, feeling with my bare foot for the metal step below. Found it. So, step by step, I climbed down the two stories to my own window.
The chill wind turned gusty, blowing my night dress in bursts up around my waist. Being naked beneath, I hoped no neighbors were at their windows.
Up the block, two black women pushing perambulators appeared around the corner and were briskly walking toward me.
“Oh, great,” I muttered, hoping that they wouldn’t look up.
I had to focus, but the biting cold of the metal steps on my hands and bare feet helped. I was shivering uncontrollably, but forced myself to move slowly and carefully. My night shirt blew lewdly this way and that. I was chilled through when I reached the metal ledge outside my window.
The window was open an inch. I pulled it open wide. Clumsily I climbed in.
I could hear the women as they passed below, for one spoke to the other.
“Now that burgler,” she said, “. . . he bold!”