Mayor Maureen O'Connor and San Diego Evening Tribune reporter go slumming in Balboa Park

A summer night's fever dream

Beneath the headline “It’s as hot here as the desert,” is a large, full-color photo of tomboyishly-clad O’Connor and DaRosa parading past a half-naked, black homeless.
  • Beneath the headline “It’s as hot here as the desert,” is a large, full-color photo of tomboyishly-clad O’Connor and DaRosa parading past a half-naked, black homeless.

Chipmunk-cheeked Mayor O’Connor and her moral shill, Tribuneer Allison DaRosa, achieved a landmark of sorts with their grotesque burlesque of human suffering in a richly detailed front page story in the paper’s Labor Day edition — “Mayor samples lifestyle of the homeless (!!!). See the shameless millionairess schlep bottles of Evian and tubes of heavy-gauge sunscreen through this, The City without Pity. See her sycophantic cohort DaRosa brazenly prostitute sacred journalistic values to record the mayor’s exquisite horror slavishly. See them: Sisters in Suffering. Chip and Dale chez the Dispossessed.

The heat. Perhaps a fever dream? A midsummer night’s fever dream? Another avant-garde performance adding to O’Connor’s increasingly Dadaist mayoral style? A Communist Plot?? Right-wing conspiracy theorists have long alleged that wealthy individuals in high places (often Jesuit indoctrinated) are intimately involved in a global strategy to overthrow democracy and install a one-world Stalinist-Leninist dictatorship. Is Maureen’s Poor-Like-Me experience an attempt to shake our city’s faith in the virtues of late-stage capitalism (her recent trip in a Stalinist-Leninist police state is in itself cause for speculation)? Or is this adventure an expression of sham pity turbocharged by mere hideous self-promotion?

How do we know? Again and again we must return to the text. DaRosa’s stylistic virtuosity, her painstaking rendering of O’Connor’s insights into poverty — “… she learned why the homeless shuffle. Their feet ache. Hers are swollen today …” — lend themselves to the structural scrutiny employed by literary technicians at the Ecote Normale Superieure in Paris and at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. DaRosa’s deconstructed text sheds/surrenders layer after layer of meaning — what at first seems a vulgar display of exploitative media hype is, in reality, an allegory: a troubled woman’s wrestling match with the feminist/sexual/religio-socio-economic issues that batter the contemporary soul (see below: sole, dark night of).

Examine first the story’s page-one placement: beneath the headline “It’s as hot here as the desert,” is a large, full-color photo of tomboyishly-clad O’Connor and DaRosa parading past a half-naked, black homeless. Their attire’s distinct sexual ambiguity is a disturbing visual cue — it unsettles the reader/viewer with its implicit theme of gender confusion: are these male or female homeless? Directly below the photo rests the headline for DaRosa’s chronicle — Mayor Samples Lifestyle of the Homeless. And beneath the headline is yet another photo op/visual cue. It's cutline reads, “Mayor O’Connor catches some sleep on her backpack in Balboa Park.” Sleep, its corollary — dreams. Dreams: the subconscious, wish fulfillment, censored lusts.

Careful attention should be paid to the location of DaRosa’s text vis a vis other stories: examination reveals that the Tribune’s Powers-that-be arranged other page-one articles so as to appear as footnotes to the mayor’s story. The “record-setting heat wave” item indicates to us that O’Connor has indeed suffered, abandoned climate-controlled office for the stench and sweat of the streets. The “Record floods spark panic in Bangladesh” story details the deaths of 1200 and the homelessness of 25 million.

These facts signify our mayor’s proximity to, in fact, a participation in, the human condition: We are being told that DaRosa’s is more than a simple account of San Diego’s megabucks mayor posing as a homeless. Hers is a vastly important tale fighting to be told. Allegory upon allegory, the text cannot bear the weight; it cracks apart – fissures form through which meaning flows.

“Why all the fuss? What are Maureen’s demons?” are the obvious questions to follow. Again, turn to the text: Communism; Roman Catholicism; female royalty; and an obsession with machismo and male homosexuality.

“She (O’Connor) wandered the streets till her feet blistered [see above: swollen feet; see below: “click-click-click”], was rousted from resting spots, slept a night in a seamy [read: semen] section of Balboa Park …”

“The mayor was startled when she saw her first drug transaction two blocks from the St. Vincent de Paul Center, where she started on Friday …”

Saint Vincent de Paul Center — actually, the Joan Kroc/ St. Vincent de Paul Center. Joan Kroc — millionaires, world peace advocate (“World Peace” is held by many right-wing conspiracy theorists to be a Communist-front ideology – emerging pattern or red herring?” we ask). Saint Vincent de Paul — eighteenth-century Catholic figure (see above: Jesuit indoctrination; global conspiracy) who was kidnapped as a child and sent to North Africa — a notorious center for male prostitution (see: L’ Immoraliste, Andre Gide, Nobel laureate).

“O’Connor was no sissy. She scaled the steep ivy- embankments of Highway 163 to get into Balboa Park the way homeless do … the mayor and her shadows investigated … under a Highway 163 bridge, they laughed at the paperback reading choice at one campsite, ‘Pagan Land.’”

“… the mayor ended up back in the park, in a palm-sheltered dirt alcove just south of the lawn bowling green .. she and the others [her photographers, two undercover police officer, channel 39 reporter Dave Owen, his cameraman, and DaRosa] strained their eyes to make out the shadowy forms in the surrounding brush …”

O’Connor was no sissy unlike the “shadowy forms” whose goatish wickedness (see above: paperback Pagan Land ; see below: satyrs in bushes, threat of libido-gone-amok) and all it represents were soon made manifest:

“They [Mayor & Co.] hardly slept at all. They didn’t know they’d camped just off ‘Queens Circle,’ a busy thoroughfare for homosexuals …” [as always, the italics are all mine].

“… camped just off ‘Queens Circle’ … DaRosa broadsides the reader with a pun so obvious as to appear unintentional. “Camp” is, as the educated reader well knows, an adjective used to typify male homosexual humor – “to camp” is to indulge in such humor. The “Queens Circle” referent is clearly Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (see above: satyrs, mythological fertility icons), specifically, its dream sequence in which Titania, the “Imperious Queen of the Fairies” (“fairy” American sland for male homosexual) figures prominently.

“Queens Circle,” is also perhaps an oblique but skilfull play upon O’Connor’s obsession with her self-perceived role as Queen of San Diego. Obscure. Elusive.

DaRosa’s compulsive thematic unity illumines the page — the text is a tightly woven tapestry that unravels in the reader’s mind.

“The mayor learned that prostitution isn’t just a business for women …” (see above: Saint Vincent de Paul; Andre Gide, et al). “She discovered that the threat of the AIDS death penalty isn’t a very effective deterrent from promiscuity for some gay men…”

“Some of the male prostitutes [see above: North Africa] used flashlights to signal from the bushes; there seemed to be some sort of code …”

Think back to the photo of the sleeping mayor, then consider her troubled night in the bush: Princess and the Pea (see below: Queen symbolism); troubled sleep/strange dream; strange dreams/coded sexual desire: Cracking the Code, a play performed in London and New York, dramatized the World War II story of a gay British cryptographer. The flashlights, emitting coded beams of light, which we are told, “invaded O’Connor’s privacy,” are totemic references to greater male-versus-female themes developed later in the text; DaRosa’s complex symbology battles interpretation (see: Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag, viz, “Notes on Camp,” 1964). She (DaRosa) goads the reader (see: “shepherds the reader”; see above: goatish (goatlike) wickedness; satyrs) to reach beyond facile understanding — her text is her shield as she pokes at the reader with her walking stick.

“But the biggest annoyance was the noise: the click-click-click of high heels, the rattling …”

From whence the clicking? Is the question DaRosa begs the reader to ask. Men in high heels? Clattering through the underbrush in which our weary mayor lies? Unlikely. What, then is the source of this bothersome clicking? Evidently, it is the Los Angeles Times. In the paper’s Saturday, August 27, edition, arts columnist Jack Matthews ridiculed O’Connor for her recent junket to a socialist republic (see above: Communist/Jesuit conspiracy) in search for “top quality” schatchkes (i.e. Faberge eggs; eggs – fertility symbols; see above; flashlights) for her much-maligned arts fair. Matthews compared the mayor to “Alice in Wonderland,” (ref: Queen of Hearts; see above Titiana, the Imperious Queen of Fairies; Maureen as mayor/queen of San Diego), and admonished the electorate, saying, “I think it’s time for all of us to click our heels three times and see if we can’t bring the mayor home.”

Pause. Retrace Queen Maureen’s steps. Was not the reader told early on that Her Majesty’s feet are painfully swollen? Why the incessant shoes? Answer DaRosa as cobbler. She has played Dante to Maureen’s Beatrice. She has posted road signs guiding the reader through concentric circles of meaning (see above: Alice-in-Wonderland – decent to truth/self-discovery – “I’m falling, I’m falling”). Hence the feet: (see: feudal Chinese court practice: binding the feet of high-born females – causing, no doubt, the feet to swell/ache). Then the heels (“click-click-click”). We follow the mysterious footwear: Cinderella’s glass slipper (an allusion to O’Connor’s own marriage?)

What kind of footwear? we ask. Cunning Gucci pumps? The vicious spikes favored by a whip-cracking transvestite dominatrix? Their resultant click-click-click (see above: “click-click-click”) could be a reference to the mayor’s strict Catholic education: were high heels verboten at Rosary High? Is not transgression the mother of obsession? DaRosa forces the reader to confront the Primal Scene; the reader squats in the dark beside the mayor – the fecund odor of ejaculate spilled upon moldering leaves, the feral sexual anarchy in the offing, the grunts of pleasure and humiliation – all taunted O’Connor as she wallowed in shame. And again the text bursts apart, disgorging spiritual disquiet.

“’Are you going blind yet?’ one man shouted from a brushy distance.”

Onanism. Solitary or mutual: the blindness-causing vice. A source of religious stricture. Again return. Again. Catholic school. Religious ambivalence.

Alone at the orgy, Queen Maureen wrestled more than the “AIDS death penalty” in her long, dark night of the soul (read: dark night of the sole: see above: blistered feet, footwear, high heels, “click-click-click”).

Flashlights. Signals. Pagan rites. Fairy tales. Voices real and imagined. DaRosa has littered O’Connor’s mental landscape with textural artifacts. The reader becomes archeologist. The text, an excavation site. A buried temple. Icons scattered among the narrative/debris. The metaphor is particularly apt – DaRosa is employing every linguistic device at her command to fashion what is essentially a religious quest. Siddhartha/Guatama Buddha (legend holds that the historical Buddha himself was a prince; see above: Princess and the Pea [royalty encounters discomfort]; Queen/Princess O’Connor) departed from affluence to search for human suffering’s source. The mayor embarks on a similar journey. However, a text must be examined as much for what it says as for what it does not say, as for what it omits…

While DaRosa reports that O’Connor wanders Balboa Park in its entirety, she makes no mention of the San Diego Zoo. Through this glaring omission, DaRosa destabilizes the reader to focus on the zoo and its signifiers:

On August 28 (a week prior to O’Connor’s lowlife masquerade), Lucky, a 51-year-old elephant, was euthanized at the zoo. Lucky was brought to San Diego from Assam, India. India — birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism (see above: Siddartha; search for suffering). The well-known demi-god Ganesha — god of good fortune (read: luck, hence “Lucky”) and affluence, is depicted in Hindu iconography as an elephant and is held to be the son of the goddess Shiva, symbol of fertility (see above: Faberge eggs, satyrs), destruction, rebirth. The death of affluence, Hobo millionaires. A Buddha disguised as a mayor in disguise.

DaRosa is telling us that our Queen Mayor, our Siddhartha/Cinderella, is searching. Her implied disenchantment with orthodox Catholicism has brought her to taboo’s door, a lurid pagan land lies beyond its threshold. It is this tension that has fueled DaRosa’s literary dynamics. It is this conflict that has orchestrated O’Connor’s every move. The deconstructed text is an easy read. Maureen’s foray into poverty was a vehicle for personal exorcism. Her demon: the male power elite – the patriarchal Roman Church, the phallus dominated world of politics. Her obsession with/revulsion at male homosexuality is obviously a reaction to the phallocracy it implies (see: The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2, Michael Foucault, viz, Greek homosexuality as system for excluding women from the political power base). At the same time, her faith has denied her the same femininity it requires its adherents to embrace (see above: tomboyish outfit; Rosary High; high heels, clicking of; etc.). Hers is the plight of every thinking woman in the modern world today. By symbolically divesting herself of wealth/political power, by shedding her expensive suits, by leaving her throne to wander among the masses, O’Connor has attempted to draw nigh unto a new, female-oriented spiritual center. Thus, her dalliance with the Elephant God, son of Shiva the Destroyer – goddess of rebirth. Thus her close association with Joan Kroc/archetypal Earth Mother/food provider/life (world peace; see above: Communist plot) giver. DaRosa, posing as scribe/journalist, acted as the Objective Other, recording and thereby giving validity to the mayor’s experience. By publicizing Maureen’s self-imposed humility, DaRosa has provided the voting public an opportunity to witness the shamanistic process-in-action, to lives as Maureen lives, and to be born again with her through Elephant Death’s throes.

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