Wooster High School, Reno, Nevada

Written Nov. 3, 2020

If you are assigned to a high school for poll monitoring and arrive early, you’ll have some time to peruse the trophy cases to learn a little bit about what makes the school shine. Wooster is all about football and basketball; the Rifle Team, on the other hand, hasn’t won anything since 1992. You’ll also get a glimpse of some of the remarkable people who once roamed the halls, and oh boy, Wooster doesn’t disappoint. Glenn Carano was a Wooster student and he went on to quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. And, incredibly, so was Greg LeMond, three-time Tour de France winner and one the greatest American cyclists of all time, if not the greatest.

Today Wooster saw no shortage of remarkable people, starting with the volunteer poll workers. The Wooster polling location was formally “adopted” by The Holland Project, a youth-founded organization promoting the arts and music. They adopted the polling location and staffed it with young people not only to do their part in the election, but to alleviate the need for older volunteers who would be more vulnerable to COVID-19. The poll manager proudly announced that we were at an adopted polling place when it opened at 7 a.m. And then came the voters. Maybe because today is so momentous, they seemed particularly remarkable in their determination to vote. An elderly man who couldn’t hear and struggled with a cane came to drop off his ballot, worried it was too late for the mail. Parents lugged babies and toddlers. A mom and dad brought their daughter and announced she was a first-time voter. In fact, whenever a first-time voter was checked in, the poll workers would yell “first-time” voter and everyone would clap. There were lots of them, probably former Wooster students. And then a man came in wearing hospital garb, no hair, thin as a rail, only able to walk because he was holding onto someone’s arm, smiling though, determined. It was clear he would be going back to the hospital after voting. In these moments, your mandatory mask can be used to dry tears.

The polling place was organized, efficient, busy, and friendly – all the things a news crew wouldn’t be interested in. One did show up; they captured some stock footage and left quickly. Honestly, the only dark cloud was a grumpy poll observer from the RNC who showed up only briefly but made a big impression, accusing a sprightly young volunteer of telling voters how to vote (completely without basis), grumbling some complaints about fraud to someone who would listen, and then leaving the school but not before plastering Trump stickers all over a voter information sign. That was quickly reported and the poll manager went out to remove the stickers.

A friend asked me yesterday if poll observing was more like watching paint dry or playing golf (an unfair dig at a sport, which, by the way, is one in which Wooster has shined – in both men’s and women’s). Today it felt like a privilege to watch democracy unfold in one small corner of the country, in this case a high school gymnasium in Washoe County Nevada. Even though the Wooster gymnasium was scattered with voting machines instead of basketball players, the “Citizenship Guidelines” posted on the wall seemed particularly apt for this voting year.

Leon Lord


Leon was a dear friend. He was born in Baltimore in 1941. He was a musician in the US Navy from 1959-1963. Somewhere along the way, probably at a gay dive bar in Baltimore in the 1960s (actually, almost definitely at a gay dive bar in Baltimore), he met my uncle, John Yantis, and they became life-long friends. On Thursday, Leon died in the San Francisco house he shared with my uncle for decades. Leon is the most memorable of characters. He was always the tallest guy in the room, 6’2” in flats and 6’7” in heels, not that I ever saw that, but I can imagine. He was the funniest person in the room too, and sometimes he was the drunkest, or the highest, until he decided to do something different. That’s the thing about Leon—he just decided what to do and then he did it, always without help. When he retired from the GSA in 2003, he made a lot of decisions. He decided not to smoke, not to drink, to be organic, then vegetarian, then vegan, then not. He decided to become a long-distance runner in his late 60s, so for the last many years of his life he collected ribbons and medals and rows and rows of running shoes. Tony and I ran with him once, a 5K for charity, and he lapped us. Bay to Breakers was his favorite.

Leon decided to live life to the fullest after retirement for a reason—you see, COVID-19 was not his first pandemic. There is one other current pandemic, HIV/AIDS, and it has killed 32 million people so far. Leon and John lived in San Francisco in 1981 at the beginning of that pandemic and it was as personal and cruel as it could have been, killing over the course of years nearly everyone they knew. Imagine that. Leon was never infected, so his long life was a gift in many ways, but it meant he lived with death for the better part of 20 years—not just through personal loss, but as a caregiver who helped his friends transition from living to dying, one after another, including my uncle who Leon cared for until the end. These are not easy things to do. So after my uncle died and Leon retired, he just decided. He decided to do what he wanted when he wanted and that’s the precise extent of what he did. I’ve never met another human being who got to live so many years doing only what he wanted, to an annoying fault.

COVID-19 was cruel to Leon in its own way, the same way it is cruel to so many older folks. It left him at home alone out of caution. It should feel indescribably tragic that he died alone in his house, cause not known at this time, but that’s actually exactly what he wanted. Leon didn’t fear death; he talked about death with the same casualness someone else might talk about a hangnail. Leon feared having to be taken care of, because he saw what that looked like. It’s just that more lunches and more hugs these last months would have been better. And less Trump. He would want nothing more than to see the approaching blue wave.

I think it was Leon and my uncle, and that house on Capital Avenue above Ocean Avenue, that purple house with the rainbow flag, and the whole of San Francisco really, maybe more Castro Street specifically, and Folsom and Market Street on Gay Pride, and the hilarious stories of Leon and my uncle and their friends staying up all night in the 70s and then trying to maneuver the flower shop’s van to the Flower Mart for the good picks on an early Sunday morning – yes, these things that gave me a sense of who I am and where I came from, in part. I learned from Leon that it is out of our commonality and our shared fight for equal rights that we gay men and women and others in our community have an expansive definition of family. Leon was family, much loved family. But what he’d really want you to know is this … that on nearly every single one of the thousands of days he spent caring for his lush, postage-stamp-sized garden he could smell the Pacific Ocean, even hear the roar of the waves on some days. Indeed, Leon left his house open to let the fog roll in, like every true San Franciscan. 


A short fictional account, inspired by a true story from “Pit Bulls and Parolees”

On a July afternoon in 1993, Emily’s parents made the fateful decision to take their eyes off their daughter just as a 95-pound pit bull, easily four times her size, lunged at her stroller. The sleek grey dog, all muscle and mouth, was already on top of the stroller with its enormous head covering Emily’s face when her parents turned around. By the time the owner managed to pull the dog back, it was too late. Emily had been licked. She wheeled around to look at the culprit trotting away, and the culprit looked right back—his wet tongue still dangling from his pink mouth. Emily squealed.

There was 80-pound Poncho and 102-pound Scout and then Ginger with the big white paws who really broke Emily’s heart, which Treason very much helped to heal, before Emily left home and pursued her veterinary career. She loved all dogs but she was fascinated by pit bulls because of the strong bonds they formed with their owners; she also saw first-hand the struggles of finding them homes. Emily believed that by carefully observing and listening to dogs we can understand what they are communicating and learn how best to care for them. She built a successful practice in New Orleans on this philosophy. But there was one dog that Emily would never forget, because he reminded her that even the most highly skilled caretakers cannot always make sense of a dog’s behaviors.

Domino bounced from shelter to shelter in New Orleans as a puppy until he finally found Lacy. Described as a “terrier mix,” Domino was all pit bull in appearance with brown eyes and black and white fur covering his pudgy body. Lacy and Domino were immediately connected and spent seven years together. As Domino reached his eighth birthday, things had changed. There were fewer walks, fewer cuddles, and almost no visitors to sniff. Lacy confused Domino by laying motionless for hours until one night in a haze of lights and noises Lacy was gone and Domino found himself loose on the streets. After more than a year looking for his home and fending for himself, Domino was caught and behind bars again, this time at a shelter that specialized in pit bull rescues.

The shelter gave Domino almost five months but still could not figure him out. He came with no history. He was going blind. He showed injuries, maybe from the streets or maybe from abuse. And he was aggressive—very aggressive. He barked and snapped uncontrollably when people approached. He could not be trusted outside a pen without multiple handlers. They tried everything but the decision to have a vet euthanize him was necessary to make space and resources available for another dog.

The handlers took Domino (they called him Siren) to the vet. That vet was Emily. When the handlers brought Siren into the examination room, Emily recognized him immediately as Domino, a gentle pit bull patient of hers for years. But this was a different dog. He was out of control, showed signs of physical trauma, and was going blind. Emily went straight to her files and made a call, to no avail. And then another call and another, until Lacy was on the line. Emily explained the situation and Lacy frantically told her what happened, her heroine addiction, her overdose, losing Domino, months in recovery, and then a year heartbroken unable to find him.

Lacy hardly remembers driving to the veterinary office that morning though she would never forget the moment Domino recognized her—his feet dangling above the floor, paws gripping shoulders, desperate to lick Lacy’s face. It was Emily, though, who broke down in tears. She now understood what had happened, and what almost happened. No one could have known that Domino’s aggression was his way of trying to communicate his predicament. I have someone. I have to find her. You have to let me go. She needs my help. Having found Lacy, the handlers were no longer needed.

This story could end on any one of the many evenings Lacy and Domino sat enjoying the outdoors in their neighborhood park. On this particular October night they had the park to themselves, the only ones willing to brave a chill in the air. Unbeknownst to Lacy, Domino was now fully blind. He was leaning against her. She was thinking as she often did about how her recovery had brought hope and peace, and Domino, back into her life. She then turned to look at him and noticed his head bobbing up and down in the breeze, his eyes shut, his mouth open in that unmistakable pit bull smile. Domino was possessed of a magical power—the magical power of all dogs—to experience the world in the full spectrum of its brilliance using only his snout.


In contemplating this story, I learned of another pit bull story about a dog that had been abused and tortured by its owners. They set him on fire, cut off part of his genitals, shot him three times, and then left him for dead in a field. But here’s the thing. This pit bull was found. He was treated and made a full recovery. With a caring owner, this gentle dog now lives the life of most pit bulls, relishing the affection of humans and looking for love in all passersby—even though he has every reason to mistrust and fear them.