Will the Real Barbara Boxer Please Stand Up On Her Box? Dinner With Babs

by Peggy Shaw, August 4, 2010

We didn’t usually have to leave the waterfront for entertainment. Waldo Point was its own ongoing movie and endlessly entertaining. But when Mark Whittington, the Independent Journal reporter for southern Marin, came over to my houseboat, The Toots & Toots, with an invitation to a dinner and musical revue at the civic cen­ter, I couldn’t pass it up. The entertainment was written, choreographed and directed by County Counsel Douglas “Baloney” Maloney, who, Mark said, produced such an event annually, using current events in Marin County as themes for the songs he wrote.

Since Mark had four tickets, I invited Bob Dollar and Victor the Silversmith to round out our foursome and we all dressed as waterfront as possible — Bob in his beret with the long, curling feather on top, me in a colorful ankle-length mud-hen skirt, Victor looking spiffy with his silver hair sleeked back and Mark with his little porkpie hat perched jauntily on his dark, curly hair — and arrived at the civic center just in time to take our seats at the worst table in the house. Right inside the door to the auditorium, way at the back of the room. We didn’t care. Everyone was in a good mood and ready to enjoy the show. And be part of it, too. No one expected a waterfront contingent to show up with the IJ.

There were only the four of us at our table for eight and another late-comer, a handsome young man, walked in shortly after we settled into our seats. “Mind if I join you?” he asked. “Please do,” we chorused, happy to have our table filling up. We all introduced ourselves. His name was Robert Young.

Suddenly — what a surprise! — Barbara Boxer was walking toward our table. Today, she’s a US senator and is “physically modest,” according to Wikipedia, standing just 4’11” short. Also according to the Internet source — just a cyberdream when the houseboat wars were churn­ing up the waters of Richardson Bay in the 1970s — she uses a box, known as the Boxer Box, for a height boost when speaking at the lectern.

When she won the US House of Representatives seat in 1982, her platform was focused on human rights, among other lofty issues, like protecting the environ­ment. Her slogan was “Barbara Boxer Gives a Damn.”

But she didn’t give a damn about us when she was a Marin County Supervisor and she made that perfectly clear both before and during the performance in the fall of 1977 at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed civic center where she moved into her first political office in 1976.

When she came over to our table to insult us, her lack of stature was less obvious than her lack of tact and grace. “Oh, Robert,” she chirped, ignoring the rest of us until she said, “What are you doing here, sitting with…” a combination of surprise and horror distorted her little face — “these people?” She then deigned to scan around the table at our group, waving a disdainful hand above our heads.

But Robert, bless his Promising Young Liberal heart, looked right back at her with dignity and a hint of disap­proval. “Well, Barbara,” he said, “I’ve got the house­boats on one side of me and the IJ on the other. I think I’ve got the best seat in the house.” I’d have stood up and applauded, if I hadn’t been so stunned by the whole weird scenario.

Barbara stepped back, a bit uncertainly, and fluttered something weak like, “Well, Robert, you can come and sit at my table if you want to.” She looked perplexed for a moment before turning around and walking back to her table way up front and close to the stage where she and the other supervisors would soon perform in Baloney Maloney’s ridiculous musicale.

In fact, her part, in the badly written unintentional par­ody of musical comedy that failed the meter test and forced the rhymes, was to prance about onstage in a chorus line of pot-smoking houseboaters, dancing to a best-forgotten tune, butchered for his production by the county’s public lawyer.

Also on the musical menu was a song about the still-unsettled fate of the soon-to-be-closed Hamilton Air Force Base: “There’s a Base for Us.” That, and other embarrassing perversions of perfectly good music, was met with enthusiastic applause by the clueless crowd.

When it was all over, Baloney came sauntering over to our table looking smug. “Are you going to sue me for defamation of character?” he asked with a self-satisfied, wolfish grin.

“Why bother?” Bob replied and the rest of us just looked at him in disgust until he shrugged and walked away.

These bombastic bozos were the officials who were to decide the fate of our waterfront community. We might have been dismayed, but the entire production was so horrible it was funny and we all left laughing, not with them, but at them.

Thirty-three years have gone by since that evening and Boxer has changed a lot on the outside, some of it modified by a plastic surgeon. But her attitude likely hasn’t changed at all. She’d need a personality transplant for that.

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