The Man Who Came to Dinner

Tom Ammiano

Back in December our little mayoral write-in runoff prompted some local speculation. Could America's first openly gay almost-mayor actually be an in-the-closet ... vegetarian?

On behalf of the public's right to know, and in hopes of bolstering Tommy's chances next time around, I went undercover to uncover the candidate's true position on this key political issue. Does he merely press the flesh? Or ingest?

Tom had invited me to meet him at It's Tops, the circa-1930s Market Street diner. Joining us were two of his longtime friends, Diane and Judith, who were visiting from out of town; after the introductions were made we all squeezed into a small booth on the raised platform beside the old-time counter. Tom looked very President of the Board-ish in a corduroy jacket, black slacks, and colorful tie.

I've always appreciated It's Tops for its genuine, tabletop-jukeboxes atmosphere and late-night, hangover-averting chow. But I take great exception to the "SF's Best Hotcakes" sign permanently displayed above the entrance. To It's Tops' credit, on a good day, the hotcakes are good. But I'm afraid Boogaloos is the clear and rightful heir to the "SF's Best" honor.

Nonetheless, I went for the Touchdown (two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, and two blueberry hotcakes). As I ordered I eyed Tom closely to see if my pork rations might elicit a wince or a nervous look of uncertainty.

Nothing.

Instead, the skillful politician maintained his perfect poker face while Judith and Diane ordered their meals. As the waitress rounded the table toward Tom he debated between the liver, onions, and bacon, and the No. 7, aka the Pig Burger. "But wait," I thought: "Could this be some textbook politician's ploy? Dangle two attractive options in front of the constituents, before sticking it to them with a last-minute substitution? The ol' bacon and switch?"

The moment of truth had arrived. The waitress slowly lowered her pen to her pad. What's it gonna be, Supervisor?

"I'll have the California Pig Burger," he announced. "And an Anchor Steam, if you have it."

In one fell swoop my faith in our modern political system was fully restored.

"So, you come here a lot?" I asked.

"Yes. When I can," answered Tom. "During the campaign in particular I had an affection for the Pig Burger. We worked up big appetites putting in 18- to 20-hour days."

With my first order of business put to rest, I turned my attention to the ladies, fishing for some inside dirt on the would-be ruler of our little burg.

"Judith has a lot to tell about Tom," Diane said.

"But she doesn't," answered Judith. "Which is why she's still such a good friend." Tom and Judith met back in college, as counselors at a summer camp for disabled kids.

"We've been friends ever since," said Tom. After school all three of them headed to Southeast Asia, where Tom spent two years in Vietnam volunteering for a Peace Corps-like organization.

Suddenly our little table was covered with enormous plates of food. My Touchdown overflowed with hotcakes and hash browns, and meat and more meat, all glistening under pools of lip-smacking grease. Oh boy. As I started to make a dent, Tom dug into the Pig, heavy with avocado, bacon, and cheese. On the side was a healthy pile of long, natural-cut fries.

Our meal was briefly interrupted by a colleague of Tom's, the producer of his TCI Cable show, Ammiano Reports, who stopped by to introduce his three children. "They all go to public school," he said proudly.

"Good. Which one?" asked Tom.

"Hoover," the kids cheered in unison.

"Ah, Hoover. Is it still freezing?" asked Tom. "The boiler was broken."

"Thank you for making it such a great six months," said the children's father. "You're such a courageous man."

He was so excited, he almost forgot to pay his check.

"Give it to Mr. Ammiano," joked Tom. "That was part of my platform."

"A pancake on every table?" I asked.

"No, latkes," he answered.

That helped introduce the subject of dessert. "See if you can get her eye," asked Tom. Our waitress stopped by to rattle off a long list of choices, leading to a round of halfhearted dietary denials -- "Oh, no. I couldn't" -- all around the table.

"If you get it, you'll eat it," she told us. "You see, I'm not really a waitress. I'm an observer of human behavior."

We went with one slice of pecan pie. And one slice of pumpkin.

As we all clashed forks over the whipped cream-covered desserts, I asked Tom for some more information on his illustrious comedy career. "It was very, very difficult," he answered. "I didn't get started till I was 40. And being gay -- openly gay -- those were two challenges, in addition to the challenges of any career. It's a very difficult field for anyone." Particularly on the road, he said, many audiences (and fellow comics) were homophobic. "I used to tell my partner to wait in the car. And keep the engine running.

"And I knew Ellen DeGeneres," he added. "Everybody knew she was a dyke. Not publicly, of course. I remember seeing her at Comedy in the Park and she said, "I'm leaving. I'm leaving for L.A., today.' And she did. She got in her Volkswagen after her set and left for L.A. And I thought, "Oh, yeah. She'll be back.'"

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