“When I Worked
by Diana Ricci
This memory dates way back.
World War Two had ended and there
was a mass migration from the colder climes in the east to the pot
of gold at the end of the rainbow in California. A lot of soldiers
who had been stationed there wanted to return, remembering how much
they liked it and how much better the weather was and, I believe,
many went with their families to southern California. A lot of
recent college graduates with tendencies toward what we called
Bohemianism, went to San Francisco. I was one of them. North
Beach in San Francisco was the Greenwich Village of the west coast.
I got off the train in the fall of
1947. I was twenty-three years old, sans job and sans much money. But I and lots of others
survived some way, some how. I was a part time artist’s model. A
friend worked in a pawn shop. And another friend got a job with
Social Services in the relatively new Old Age Welfare Program. A
couple of years later, it became obvious to me that if you had no
particular training or skills which a BA in Liberal Arts didn’t
provide, that social work or teaching was the job market available
in those days. So I went back to school to get a teaching
The challenge was to come up with
enough money, for rent, food, and transportation, and the
occasional glass of wine at 12 Adler Place or Vesuvio’s across the
street, both on Columbus Avenue. I never was a big consumer of the
red stuff and there was always some kind man who would offer to buy
me a glass, so rent at $35.00 a month, food at about $1.00 a day,
and transportation to and from San Francisco State at ten cents each
way was all that I really needed.
I had a friend who was married to
an Italian waiter, who had made lots of money during the war, but
struggled in the post war years, and with two children, she had to
earn some extra money. That came about from a company who put a
Polaroid camera in her hands and told her to hit the nightclubs.
While working at one of them, Finocchios on Broadway, she found they
needed a program vendor, information she conveyed to me knowing I
needed a job. You, see, it was a famous club and had been for quite
a few years. The entertainers were drag queens and the patrons were
generally naďve mid-westerners who needed a program to assure them
that they were being entertained by men dressed as women.
To get the job, I had to approach
the boss – Mrs. Finocchio. An appointment was made to see her and I
had to go to the nightclub for an interview. I remember walking up
the stairs to the entertainment hall. There was a rather big stage
with all the accoutrements necessary like curtains and backstage
dressing rooms. The patrons sat at tables that stretched across the
lowered space in the front of the stage. I don’t remember how many
rows there were but I estimate there were enough tables and chairs
for 100 people. There was an admission charge to enter. Seating
was at a table and you ordered drinks from the liquor menu while
you watched the show. But I am getting ahead of myself. When I
got to the top of the stairs, I was met by a well-dressed older
woman. She wore expensive looking clothes that included a fur piece
that was popular back then. To me it was gross with a little fox
head that draped above her bosom on one side and a fox tail on the
other side. And a rather large bosom it was. She was top heavy.
Her legs were thin and appeared a bit bowed. She wore modest heels
that contributed to her matronly looks. She was short and not
attractive, but might have been in her younger years. Her husband,
Mr. Finocchio was not particularly handsome but very debonair.
I told her I could work nights,
including week-ends. She hired me, showed me the programs, and
informed me that my earnings were 10 cents for each program I
sold. I was to be there at 10 pm and at 12 pm – I seem to remember
that there were two shows every night.
So my work began that very night.
I walked between the rows of tables carrying a stack of programs –
they sold for 50cents each. Most nights I did okay, that is I left
the joint with a couple of dollars – don’t remember exactly – except
for one night – New Years’ Eve. That was when I sold many programs
and got lots of tips – working until the wee hours of the morning.
I made twenty-five bucks that one night!
The job also entailed answering
questions: mainly about the gender truth of especially one of the
more glamorous stars who wore a svelte ankle length gown with high
heels and a blond wig and sang songs. The persona happened to be
tall with a good figure and a pretty feminine face. Most of the
nightly audiences didn’t believe they were seeing a man. I assured
them that while I didn’t know the performer personally, I did see
the person leaving the theater in a man’s suit. Others in the show
sang songs, danced or had comedic acts. One older entertainer- who
I was told had been there for at least 12 years- was a good song
and dance act, and quite funny. The audience sure laughed when at
the end of the skit, out came the rubber tits and off they went
bouncing across the stage. Answering their disbeliefs was time
consuming and boring – it was always the same question, over and
over again and obviously by unworldly customers who had never seen
anything like that before. People flocked to the nightclub to see
the show having heard about Finocchios. It was a famous place in
San Francisco. People also came in tour groups. There were
different people every night – I didn’t meet any repeaters. It was
generally the same show time after time and for me it was just a
I survived the job for the school
semester. I never returned to see the show, not even with friends
of mine who came to San Francisco as first time tourists. But I
know that Finocchios continued to exist for years after I was long
I don’t know when it actually
closed its doors but I was in San Francisco, walking along Broadway
Street one day in 2005, when I turned a corner and noticed that it
was no longer there.
Bye, bye, I thought, to the unique
and wonderful spectacle which was …Finocchios!
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