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Friday, June 14, 2002

Matt Gonzalez Interviews h. brown

From a secret location in the Marina District

June 3, 2002

Baby Boy Brown, aka Harold Lee Brown, aka H.L. Brown, aka h. brown, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1962. That year he entered the Navy, where he became an unwilling spy, took part in the Cuban Missile Blockade, and spent time in a Casablanca Brig. He was honorably discharged, as a Second Class Petty Officer (radioman RM2), in 1965 and immediately began participating in the anti-war movement. He spent the next 25 years going to college, writing, and getting married to a half-dozen women he describes as "the most voluptuous women in the world, by far." His undergraduate degree is in English and Education from Clemson University in South Carolina, in 1989. He obtained a Masters in Special Education from Clemson in 1991. He has worked numerous jobs including health inspector, recreation and parks coach, electrical helper, fire fighter, bus driver, school teacher, nightclub owner, bartender, midnight desk clerk, emergency medical technician, resident property manager, and journalist. In addition to being married six times, he has one daughter, one son, and an eleven-year-old granddaughter. He is currently single and homeless at a secret location in the Marina District. He is a candidate for supervisor in District 2.

Matt Gonzalez was born in McAllen, Texas, is a San Francisco city supervisor, and is a future mayor of Baltimore.

Matt Gonzalez: H., let’s start at the beginning. What did you have to drink last night and how did you feel this morning?

h. brown: Oh lord! Which last night? The day gets kind of segmented when you burn the candle at both ends.

Hmmmm. Well, Jens came by & brought a couple of beers (big ones) & earlier there was some bourbon. I had a glass of wine left. Soooo. That would be beer (Urquell), bourbon (Ancient Age) & wine (a cheap merlot). About a normal evening. Hangovers? Don't get em (knock on wood). If you run & work out at least 90 minutes a day, you burn that shit off.

MG: Tell me about the Bay-to-Breakers race. Is it true you finished in the top 100 runners once?

hb: Naw. That's a rumor I made up to get laid.

Actually, in around 1983 or so, I was in great shape & took 500 mics of purple micro-dot & actually topped Hayes Hill in 14th place out of around 150,000 people. I stopped for a Bloody Mary & ended up finishing at 43 minutes & something.

The Breakers? Best race in the world. If you're a serious runner, it's like a golfer getting to play against Tiger Woods. You get to run with your heroes. I've run against everyone from Bill Rogers to Henry Rono.

MG: Runner? Muckraking journalist? Former firefighter? Raconteur? Ex-husband (6 times)? Which title do you prefer? Particularly as you're getting into the political arena?

hb: I'm a writer. Always have been. You are what obsesses you most. All the jobs were just a way to pay the bills while I wrote. Journalism is just one form of writing. Politics is just a subject area for writing.

Oh, I'm very political. I have the usual hippie social conscience & I've always tried to affect public policy but I mostly just needed to write. It's only recently that I've tied the obsession to write with politics.

It's been rewarding. The women? You ain't got enough paper.

MG: I was with you today when you bumped into Gavin Newsom in the South Light Court of City Hall. You know, the fellow you're running against for supervisor. I'm wondering if you would describe the encounter for your readers. It kind of felt like a prefight weigh-in – à la Tyson vs. Holyfield. Was that the first time you had met? And what was your impression?

hb: Oh, I've met him. He pretended not to know me (as you saw) but he knows me. I'll kiss your ass if he hasn't read (or had staff read) every word I've written about him.

I'm a threat to him & he's the ordained (by the rich) next keeper of the gate on a budget of 5 billion bucks & double that in bond cash. If they aren't looking at me, they're dumb. They know I can take their boy out with one lucky phrase & he knows it too.

Notice that the dailies haven't even listed me as an opponent. I have over 10,000 readers & they're all wonks. That's a dangerous audience.

Today? I just joked with him: "You know, you're way too tall. Anything over 5'6" is wasted. It takes too much material to cover you, too much food to feed you." Just “jabbing” at him good naturedly.

He & his masters are tossing me & my people out of town or I'd have never entered politics. They made a mistake. There are thousands like me. I'm just the one with the biggest mouth.

MG: Fair enough. But you know, tall guys have a long reach. He's not going to take kindly to your jabs. Not for long anyway.

hb: What's he gonna do? Get me fired? I don't have a job. My politics have me pretty much black-listed. He gonna take away my woman? Ain't got one. Gonna get me evicted? I'm homeless. Get down & dirty with me? That's what I want.

MG: Hey h., before I forget – can I count on your support when I run for mayor of Baltimore? I'm going to need a police chief, you know?

hb: Ho, ho, ho. Closest you're gonna get to Baltimore is Washington, D.C. When you get there, I'm like Hunter Thompson. I just wanna be the Minister of Marijuana. You're 37 tomorrow. You got a bunch of experience for a young dude. We ain't gonna let you quit at being a supervisor.

MG: Yeah, you're right. Maybe after this supervisor gig, I can get Mayor Ammiano to make me head of the Housing Authority? Washington is too far away. Baltimore is closer.

hb: I got a better chance of being mayor than Ammiano & I ain't got no chance of being mayor.

Yeah, I know, it blows but read em & weep. The voters already said “no” to Tom big time. His candidacy is strictly a matter of ego. I'm tired of accepting a candidate on symbolic grounds or whatever. We get Newsom (& we will if Ammiano runs) … we get Newsom & you won't notice the difference from Willie Brown. You need to keep your calendar clear next year. We may force YOU to run.

MG: I told you, h., I got other plans. Besides, you can't assess an Ammiano mayoral effort based on what you saw last time. Tom didn't have a chance because he got into the race so late. This time he'll have a number of supervisors and other officials supporting him, which will help legitimize him to a wider audience. It will never be the same as last time.

hb: Dream on! The public already hated Willie & Willie beat the hell out of Tom.

I hate to be cold but Tom's too “nelly” to win. Wanna run a gay candidate with a better chance? Run Leno.

Tom's last candidacy was a thing of beauty. It reminded me of Eugene McCarthy in the 1960s. Very exciting rallies but his base was too narrow. We never saw McCarthy again. Tom's peaked. He just doesn't know it. He'll take us down with him.

MG: h., you're wrong. When Tom runs a serious campaign and folks get to see why he wants to be mayor, why he ever got into politics, they will see a fellow who is trying to help people – primarily poor people. They're also going to see a fellow who hasn't made any money in politics, someone who can relate to the common person trying to live in this city. My prediction is that it won't even be a close race. 55 percent to 45 percent. Remember that 49,000 people wrote his name in.

hb: Against Newsom!!!?? Jesus Christ boy, you are loyal! I agree that Tom deserves to be mayor, but when the hell did justice & politics ever go together?

I'd like to see the numbers now. You can bet your sweet bippy Newsom has had polls done recently. Gavin will have Ed Asner appealing to the seniors and Gav & his wife will make Willie & his ladies look like a cheap pimp & his stable.

I see hard times down that road for progressives. “Common” people? There's a hell of a lot less of them now than when Willie took over & the people who replaced them all look like Newsom.

MG: I see an opportunity to move on to another subject here. Before the Newsom encounter, I saw you talking with Joe O'Donoghue. What are you guys up to?

hb: Joe & I are both a couple of hard-assed hot heads. It gives us some common ground. The man is a great writer. He's a marvelous speaker. I just wish he worked for “my side.”

He was passing out his latest statement to the press concerning his latest confrontation. People bait the guy now. This Salinas clown on the Planning Commission was using Joe to get some publicity. You wanna get in every paper? Pick a fight with Joe.

I was trying to get Joe to set up a regular benefit fight bill at the Irish Center. Two politicians or other public figures for the main event and some kids & maybe a semi-pro doing 3 rounders to warm up the crowd. Put big oversized gloves & head gear on the politicians so no one gets hurt & go for it. Joe had the same idea years ago. He even had a ring ready to set up across from City Hall or something like that.

It would be great. Pick match-ups. Say … how about Chris Daly against Gerald Green? Barbara Kaufman against Sue Hestor? The possibilities are endless. Personally, I want to fight Mabel Teng.

MG: h. you're trying to bait me, I'm not going there.

hb: OK, I don't wanna fight Mabel. She's just the smallest one I could think of. Hey, politics can get pretty boring around here. Two hundred years ago, the vice president of the United States and the secretary of the treasury got into an argument. They went across the “street” & fought a duel. The VP shot the secretary dead & no one blinked an eye.

I'm not advocating that. Joe's my political enemy but he's a good guy. I don't give him any slack but I think he's good for the scene. I've got pretty San Francisco basic values: do anything you want, just don't bore me.

MG: I have to weigh in on Joe's side of the dispute with Jim Salinas. I know both these guys and frankly I think Joe can take him. If he wanted to of course.

hb: No doubt. Joe says in Ireland they have what they call "the Belfast kiss." Someone insults you, you take a crack at em and they at you, and the next day you're friends again. Here, a little argument can play in the press for years. Look at the mayor & Daly.

See, I'm doing it. Keeping petty shit in the news. Joe says kids kill each other nowadays because they don't have the fighting outlet we used to have. He's right. When I went to the Boys Club at 8 or 10, the first thing they did was lace on a pair of gloves & throw you in the ring. Nobody shot each other.

MG: Can h. brown take Joe O'Donoghue?

hb: Not even in my dreams. He's tall. He's powerful. He's mobile, agile & hostile. I'd take a crack at Newsom but O'Donoghue? Never.

MG: I want to ask you about your favorite journalists. Who do you like to read? Do you bother with Ken Garcia, for instance?

hb: I read absolutely everyone. Writers are like ball players. Or painters. They hit hot streaks. The last few months I think Matt Smith has been doing the best pieces. I don't like his politics but his investigative journalism has been powerful. Garcia is lazy. His column reads like he spends most of his time hanging out in Golden Gate Park. Seriously, half his shit is party-line from the Rec & Park Commission & those people are no good for parks or recreation. Others?

MG: How about Frank Gallagher?

hb: He's a hired gun. I'm just a gun. He & I both have very definite agendas. I like his stuff because he's vicious and completely without conscience. He tells half the truth, half the time. Kind of like my last wife.

MG: What about the SF Bay Guardian writers?

hb: Hey, you need another bourbon?

MG: It's about time. I was wondering when you were going to offer.

hb: Here (pours – lots).

Hmmm, da Guardian. The Call is a better paper but it's tiny. The Guardian has the best stable of writers by far. Redmond has got scope but he doesn't do enough writing for me. I'd like to see a book on SF politics from him.

I'd love to write for them. Spice up their shit. I approached them & they told me to stick it up my ass. I took it as a compliment of course, but still, I wish they'd reconsider. The Guardian is simply the only progressive paper in town that makes any money. The big outfits have too homogeneous an offering politically. Only the Call & the online Sentinel will print really divergent views & I got too racy for the Sentinel.

I think there's a niche there for a rag that publishes a range from Gallagher to h. brown. It would sell. I'm thinking of getting my buddy Gavin Newsom to borrow 80-100 million from Gordon Getty to start our own newspaper. We can call it the San Francisco Bull Dog. A “Bull Dog” in newspaper lingo is the first run of tomorrow's paper, run late afternoon for editing at majors. We'll do half politics & make the other half of the paper just pictures of Gavin & Gordon in evening wear partying with their friends.

MG: Tell me what happened with Pat Murphy? You guys seem made for one another. You know, Hansel and Gretel, Carson and McMahon, Clinton and Gore.

hb: He got tired of editing my obscenity.

MG: That's it?

hb: He found out I was an alien from Mars.

MG: That's funny, he told me you were from Saturn.

hb: Naw. That's Gallagher. He drives one too.

MG: Let's get serious again. What do you think of Mayor Brown?

hb: Hmmmm. I watched him give his budget speech today & it was one long lie. He's firing a hundred laundry workers when he could make the same savings dumping a few of his “special” assistants. A few years ago someone asked him about the city gentrifying and he replied, "That might not be a bad thing." Really. Hey, most of us voted for him for most of his career. We fucked up. He sold us out.

MG: Actually, I thought the speech was rather short. Thirty minutes. Hell, I've heard him give longer speeches at ribbon cuttings.

hb: He didn't seem comfortable, did he? Jim Meko (writes for the Sentinel) said he still has nostalgic feelings of affection for Willie & so do I. When he lets his hair grow too long & I see the gray, I feel older too. If his face looks a little swollen some mornings, I worry about him. Honestly. Da Mayor is the most entertaining figure on the San Francisco political scene in my 22 years here.

MG: Can h. take Willie? I mean, Chris didn't fare too well.

hb: Daly won big. He made headlines. I can't beat any of these guys. At anything. I'm just an old geezer having fun.

MG: But I thought there were a bunch of witnesses. Didn't Willie knock him down, or something like that?

hb: Naw. Daly told the mayor he was full of shit and Willie came out of his chair to go after him. That's what I hear anyway. He lost control. Kind of a metaphor for his political career. Daly had just buried Willie's hand-picked candidate 8 percent to 18 percent or something. Chris represented all of us. Willie lost control politically & then personally.

MG: I'm kidding. I know what happened.

Okay, let's change the subject. What happened to that girl you were with, the one with the broken foot, what was her name?

hb: Melisa.

MG: Yeah. What happened to her?

hb: Well, let's see. It's 2:04 am. Happy birthday, by the way. You're 37 years & 2 hours old.

She's asleep downstairs in Ania's crib now. She's single. I can fix you up.

You want some more bourbon?

MG: Yes, thanks. But I heard the foot thing was your fault. Sorry to bring it up. Jim told me about it.

hb: Yeah, people get hurt around me. I've been blamed for the Kennedy thing and I made a bundle off Enron.

Actually, truth (as they say) is always stranger. She was dancing up a storm at my birthday party. They started doing one of those Russian dance things where you squat & kick your legs out. She kicked a Buddhist monk in the shin. Honest. No shit. Broke her foot. She's still hobbled but she gets out.

MG: Do you have some ice? Oh, yeah. Thanks.

You know I meant to say earlier when you were mentioning the Bay Guardian writers … my favorite is Amanda Nowinski. I think she is absolutely brilliant. I wish she just wrote politics. No, scratch that. I love reading her interviews with all the DJs that come through San Francisco. You don’t have to know a damn thing about music to appreciate the interviews. Do you know her stuff?

hb: Naw. I only read the first 20-25 pages of the Guardian. Just the purely political stuff.

This bourbon ain't bad. Usually I just get the cheap stuff.

Nowinski … I'll read her tomorrow.

MG: h., did I tell you I had a blue bird land on my head a couple of weeks ago? Seriously, I was walking down McAllister Street on a Saturday or Sunday. The bird just landed on my head, then jumped down to the ground and stared at me. I mentioned it to Rob Lee, who came by the art party we just had at the office. He writes a column for the Chronicle. I've never read it, but I think it's about environmental/nature stuff. He said it was probably a Western Scrub Jay or something like that. Said it has a lot of blue in it. Anyway, what do you think it means?

hb: Apparently, from the air, your head looks like a tree.

MG: Come on, h.! You're supposed to say it means I'm going to come into great wealth or something like that.

hb: I am superstitious. I'm very familiar with jays, being from Missouri. They're not friendly like that at all.

Hey, I'm a hippie. It was a message. Of course, the message could just be, "Stay the hell away from my tree!" You like Hitchcock?

MG: Not really. It could just mean I need a haircut, I suppose?

hb: Yeah, that's probably it.

MG: What kind of bourbon is this?

hb: Jim Beam, boy. I started drinking this stuff when I was twelve years old. It can get you in trouble.

MG: h., I got to get some sleep. Got a couple of committee meetings tomorrow, you know?

hb: You can crash here if you like.

MG: Thanks, but I just turned 37. I need to be in my own bed tonight.

hb: You, sure. I can try & hook you up with that girl downstairs?

MG: Thanks h., but I'm going to have to pass.

hb: It's your loss, buddy.

MG: How about one more drink? And you're invited to a small get-together at my office tomorrow. You know, ’cause it's my birthday. Come by after 5 pm.

hb: I'll be there. I'm serious though, man. I know you got no fear, but this shit of walking home in the middle of the night through the Tenderloin & Western Addition & the Mission ain't a good idea. Crash on the couch & I'll wake you in a couple of hours when I get up to take out the trash.

You think Newsom is lying awake worrying about me?

MG: I don't know. Let's give him a call.