Chapter Five
             Conference at the Capitol Tamale Cafe
        At noon, the same day as I'd passed the Mountain Lion
   Bill, Alan and I walked across the Capitol Park to our lunch
   meeting with a UCLA law professor who had flown up to testify
   for our tax bill at the 3 p.m. hearing. We shared the walk
   with half the working population of the Capitol; a thousand
   or so people, but the grounds absorbed us all easily. The
   Capitol building itself, like most State Capitols, is modeled
   after the gold-domed building in Washington D.C. It's a blend
   of 19th Century grandeur and 50's granite-faced additions.

        The grays of the granite go well with the greens of the park
   and you can get lost inside the labrinth of the Capitol's
   cool tall halls just as you can lose yourself in the hundreds
   of trees and succession of lawns in the park.
        My son David wrote a Father's Day song for me in 1970,
   the opening verse of which refers to the dome--

   He was born on a prune ranch
   and he dug his way to a Sacramento home 
   when he's not laying stone 
   for the barbecue pit
   he's up reconstructing the Capitol Dome

        Remembering the beauty of the Capitol Park brings a
   feeling of peace, but also stirs up some longing. If I let 
   it, the longing could grow out of all proportion, 'welling up
   from the depths of my soul'. I could work myself into a
   lather over wanting to be back there, but I'd just be
   fighting time. Then, in march 1970, I was 47; now I'm 80--I'd
   still like to think 'the most important part of my life' is
   ahead of me, but in a certain sense, it probably isn't. As
   far as my opportunity to change the world is concerned, I've
   probably had it. But then, "my son the writer" reminds me as
   I say this, of the potential power of my book. "The Pen is
   More Powerful Than the Treadmill"??


        Still, I am a little jealous of the person I was then.
   (I guess that's a standard reaction to aging). I don't think
   I'd mind living that part of my life over again...this IS an
   option in fantasy literature, at least. I'd have a chance to
   hit the issues again--harder, with the confidence potential
   I'd then only partially reached. And I'd cherish my friends a
   little more along the way, and be the great father and
   husband I wasn't. In short, what I long for is to surmount
   (which means climb to the top of) the great wall of
   expectation which I created for myself, and become the
   perfect person I now imagine I might have been...if granted
   the power to go back in time, I'm sure I'd also be given the
   super powers I'd need for my mission...

        Actually, I don't waste much time longing for lost
   opportunities. It comes in (decreasing) phases.
   I suppose if I wanted to go back to Sacramento badly
   enough I might get the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms to hire me
   as a docent (docents are persons who conduct tours of
   museums, opera houses, and other places of public interest).
   I think I'd be better used conducting tours of the Capitol
   grounds than running the elevator or serving coffee to the

        "Ladies and gentlemen, in this park there are 2900
   botanical species, mostly native Californian, but there are
   specimens from all over the world. There, is the Junipero
   Serra Fountain, and There, is a plot of rare and unusual
   hybrid camelias, and over here's the bench my uncle the
   elderly Senator Coombs used to rest on when he fed the
   squirrels. He was 80 when he retired from the legislature.


         "These many long and crisscrossing sidewalks were where
   my youngest daughter Jane and her friend Erin used to skate
   when they came for a day's adventure at the Capitol. And,
   here's another bench: it's where Assemblyman Willie Brown,
   later Speaker and now Mayor of San Francisco, used to study bill
   briefings during noon recess of Ways and Means Comittee
   meetings (which he then chaired). I assume that in the rain
   and the snow he sat somewhere else--in a private corner of
   his office where he could shut himself off for periods of
   time, say. I know personally how effective Willie could be as 
   Chairman of Ways and Means--I remember he would occasionally
   cut an author's bill presentation short and explain it to us
   better, and more quickly than was being done. At every
   committee meeting he conducted he had read all the briefs on
   all the bills, knew the arguments for and against; sometimes
   I'm sure he knew the bills better than the authors
   themselves. I'd known him for 16 years when he was Speaker
   and knew he was smart as a whip but many other people didn't
   know him this well. Because Willie indulges in what one might
   call 'street talk', and because some people equate
   intelligence with use of the 'King's English', a few have
   underestimated Willie Brown's ability.

   Continuing the 'docent' bit:
        "This grass-covered area with the single bench is where
   I sat in the center of a large circle of students having a
   pow-wow when they marched on the Capitol in 1969, protesting
   the Vietnam war.

        "And here, is Tulupis Grandeflora, or the Big Tulip Tree
   I used to look at out of the window of my diminutive second
   story "office-with-a-view" in 1967. And here--this good-sized
   oak with spreading branches--is a very special tree. In this
   tree my son David and his girl Robyn happened to have their
   picture taken when they were up on a limb kissing on a hot
   summer afternoon. David had visited with me that day and on
   the way home he told me that he and Robyn had climbed a tree 
   and someone carrying a camera had come over, seeming amused, 
   and asked in a friendly way for their names. He didn't tell
   me about the kissing or the photograph. I learned of that*
   the next morning when Janet called me on the phone to tell me
   David and Robyn's picture was on the front page of the Bay
   Area's most prestigous newspaper, The San Francisco
   *As did we all.
   The Chronicle might occasionally mention my activities
   in a minor way buried in the center of the paper. I'd been
   working my ass off for umpteen years and never came near page
   one, while David and Robyn hit the jackpot by doing just what
   comes naturally. Despite this goddamn irony I didn't feel
   jealous. I was a little uptight, because as a controversial
   legislator I preferred to appear personally traditional,
   maybe even a little dull. Consequently, when family members
   failed to follow the script, it made playing the lead a
   little harder. Suppose I'd been defeated in the next
   election--we'd never know if that was why. David and Robyn's
   fame, it turned out, did no harm--just went down in family


The chorus to David's father's day song goes:

   I think he'll follow
   in my footsteps (oh yeah)
   when I'm leading up the treetrail
   to the Future

   I.E. I might make it to the front page of the Chronicle
   sometime--or, a more general interpretation: that children,
   if they lead full lifespans, always lead the way into the
   future and are 'followed' in spirit by their parents.

        Alan and I had pioneered tax reform ever since we hit 
   the Capitol in 1967. Our ideas were far more earthshaking 
   than the traditional pablum served by Reagan, or for that
   matter than Jess Unruh's when he was Speaker. This year, we'd
   spent hours working on the details in our offices, and The
   Capitol Tamale Cafe, where we were headed for today's lunch
   meeting, had long since become one of our conference rooms.

        Back in 1967, Alan was 35, ten years younger than I.
   I had the same crewcut I'd had in lawschool, and wore
   relatively cheap storebought suits. My shirts were usually
   white, my ties conservative, though sometimes I had a pretty
   one. My favorite was sort of wooly-orange with white lines
   running through it. People would look at it, and admire it,
   and occasionally notice the small cloth label on it which
   said 'Fabric Content Unknown'.

        In 1967 Alan wore well-tailored expensive suits, the
   ultimate in conservative good taste. His shirts were always
   white. Anyone knowing us in 1967 might've said, "One comes
   from a cow county and the other from Beverly Hills, but they
   both look like the earnest young man applying for his first


        And in 1969, only a couple years later, here I was
   'sporting long sideburns', no longer wearing a butch--and,
   due to grow a beard in a couple more terms. At the time I
   went to the Senate, Alan had started having his hair styled
   and 'livened up'--actually, it looked good, once I got used 
   to it. In 1974, Alan joined me in the Senate, and by this
   time we'd both gone whole hog and out of forty senators were
   the only two with beards.

        In the early 60's, at board meetings of the California
   Democratic Council, Alan and I debated matters of policy as
   seriously as if we'd been on the Supreme Court and had actual
   power. In reality we were just two steps above Don Searle's
   and my conversations at home in the early 50's. Now, in the
   legislature, we may have still looked like beginners, but
   even in '67 we knew the assembly wasn't just another board
   meeting, and we had some knowledge of practical politics.
   Legislators usually work alone, like hunters--80 hunters
   in 80 offices. A bill belongs to its author just like a dog
   belongs to one hunter--trained to point, flush and fetch at
   one hunter's command-so, a bill is introduced, amended, and
   set for hearing at the direction of its author. Co-authors 
   are usually just along for the ride with no power or
   authority, but Alan and I piloted jointly.

        Sharing ideals and sharing method are necessary to
   cooperation between legislators. In January of '67 we shared
   both and knew we'd be working together in Sacramento. We
   didn't know our cooperation would become so close that the
   words 'Dunlap/Sieroty' would be synonymous with quixotic tax
   reform and the words 'Sieroty/Dunlap' would become a label
   for Coastal Conservation. We were about to become a unique
   pair--a true legislative partnership. I shared ideals with at
   least ten other legislators and method with at least half of
   them, but we didn't become legislative partners. The
   difference lay in the fact that Alan and I were able to avoid
   the almost inevitable ego conflict which made continuous
   close cooperation between legislators impossible. Jess Unruh
   said, "Politics is the art of taking credit." 

        It feels great to know that your name has been on the
   front page of every major California newspaper in relation to
   something you're proud of having done. You get the respect of
   your fellow legislators, and you get publicity--you keep up
   your public image as a winner, and this helps you get re-
   elected. But the greatest value of publicity is 'for its own
   sake'--it's like getting slapped on the back by your father
   who says, "well done, son"--it's like a dozen curtain calls--
   it's the greatest reward, the payoff. There's an awful ten-
   dency to try to grab it all for yourself--to take whatever
   you can get and not give any away by sharing credit with
   other deserving legislators/people. There's also an awful
   tendency to forget that publicity (the "art of taking
   credit") is a sidetrack and not the main line. Doing things
   which you can take genuine pride in ought to be foremost.
        Alan's district was strongly Democratic and liberal, so
   he didn't need publicity for job security. I didn't have it
   so good; my district was blue collar lunch bucket Democratic
   and not so liberal--some of my far out legislative activities
   were best accomplished without publicity. I still personally
   liked the limelight, and usually risked it. But along with
   Alan I believed it was more important to try to get something
   done than to bob and weave for credit and election. Alan's
   part in this can't be minimized. He was generous both
   dollarwise and personally. When we introduced our first
   Coastal Conservation Bill we held press conferences over a
   two day period in San Diego, L.A., Santa Barbara, San
   Francisco, and Santa Rosa. Alan paid for most of our plane
   transportation and hotel rooms out of his own pocket, and
   when we made appearances in Northern California, my
   bailiwick, he even pretended his sore throat was worse than
   it was, so I'd have to do most of the talking and get most of
   the press. Real generosity.

        Alan was an idealist. Cynical colleagues would say, 
   "Sieroty's so idealistic he doesn't know when to come in out
   of the rain." This is common language used by people who are
   trying to put down someone better than they are. Contrary to
   the criticism of his colleagues, Alan did know what the real
   world was like, but he was willing to appear as an
   uncompromising idealist if he thought it would enhance
   change. Sometimes things happened because he wouldn't
   compromise; sometimes his failure to compromise resulted in
   inaction--nothing--zero. But nothing is sometimes better than
   a bad bargain. You can always try again.

        Alan was almost too good for the legislature, which had
   its share of Machievellian opportunists and prima donnas.
   Alan wasn't hunting for money--because he had it. He grew up
   in a beautiful Beverly Hills mansion, with his family's real
   estate interests scattered throughout the L.A. basin. Alan
   didn't have to be centered under the Kleig lights all the
   time--he wasn't a prima donna. I met his parents a couple of
   times; their pride in Alan was genuine and obvious. I'm sure
   they gave him personal as well as financial security; he
   seemed as little interested in glory as he was in gold.

        I don't mean to paint him as a saint; he had creature
   wants and comforts like the rest of us. Though tall (he had
   at least four inches on my 5' 9") he was a little heavy but
   not fat. He had a sort of smooth full face and his hair was
   rigidly combed when we first got to the Capitol. Alan almost 
   always had dessert when we ate out, rarely turning down the 
   cream puffs, choclate strawberry shortcake, cheesecake
   mousse, or whatever else delicious was on the pastry cart at
   the Tamale Cafe. By the time it rolled around I'd already had
   my extra calories in a drink before lunch, or a couple
   glasses of red wine with it.
            During my 12 years at the  Capitol my own
   weight went up and down a lot, so I'm not really the
   one to talk. If you've seen pictures of me you know I bounced
   back and forth between being somewhat on the heavy side and
   being just about right.( My weight was between 165 and 195,
   depending on how hard I was working at holding it down.)*

        With us at lunch that afternoon was the UCLA Tax Law
   professor who Alan hoped would help us out as a witness on
   our tax bill. As we sat down, the professor said, "I finally
   read the details of your reform bill on the plane this
   morning--I'm a law professor, not an economist, but I can
   tell your bill would upset the Powers-That-Be in the business
   world. It's got some good ideas but you don't really have a
   chance, do you? You know more about your colleagues than I
   do, but I sure know the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary club
   bunch would be after your skins if your bill passes. Even in
   Beverly Hills, Alan."
   *Since 1976 I don't have calories coming from alcohol and I
   now get plenty of exercise. My weight hovers between 158 and
   165, only slightly above what it was in 1943 when I went into
   active duty in the Army Air Corps.

        Sieroty responded, apologizing for not making it more
   clear earlier, and definitely assuring the prof that we knew
   our bill wasn't going to even get out of its first committee
   let alone be passed by both houses and signed by Governor
   Reagan. "But," Alan continued, "the bill is right in
   principle and its policies need to be talked about seriously.
   Most of our ideas aren't brand new but they haven't been
   openly discussed and supported enough to catch fire with the
   public." The professor said that he agreed with us in
   principle, but that he wasn't sure it was wise to upset so
   many applecarts all at once. I said, "All we need from you is
   a few words attesting to the bill as a good lawyerlike job of
   draftsmanship, that it's enforceable and legally calculated
   to do what we say it does. You see, although we don't ask you
   to literally endorse our economics, we'd like to use your
   professional prestige to legitimate our innovation."

         "It wouldn't be the first time I'd been used for a just
   cause. I wanted to make sure it was just and was important.
   Maybe you can tell me something about your general theory of
         "Maybe I should tell you my 'Theory of Government'
         "All right."

          I spoke to the Professor approximately as follows:

       "To start things off, I could say something like:
   government presents a way of distilling the best of humanity, 
   and institutionalizing it. Government also has to curb the
   worst behavior--and not just classically recognized criminal
   acts. Excesses of Capitalism have to be controlled too. The
   representatives of Capitalism--Rotarians, Chamber of Commerce
   people, others--have the money, and own the land and capital
   goods. They pay the hucksters and the media to manipulate
   public opinion. They call the shots, they have the
   power...and if it weren't for government, Capitalists would
   have all the power. There are degrees of membership in the
   'Club of Capitalism', of course. And the adherents to the
   Creed vary in their rabid application of it. Some may
   consider Living ...Earning. Any points/dollars won in this
   game must NOT be forfeit. 'Share only when you have
   Everything'? One can forget ((or not learn)) other pleasures
   and values while stockpiling up money. The more subtle values
   aren't necessarily inate. Most people put off changing 'who
   they are' until it's too late to significantly.

        "As we've all been telling ourselves, there are a heck
   of a lot more working men and women than there are wealthy
   Capitalists, and the Constitution has given each one a vote.
   And if working people voted as a unit, government would speak
   for them. People who don't vote screw themselves--they
   believe that government does't work or is Against Them--and
   by not voting they make damn sure it's against them.
   Statistics will indicate that 70 percent of those with an 
   annual income of $30,000 or more register and vote. For those
   with an annual income of $10,000 or under, the figure is 25
   percent voting. 'The Masses', of course, are in this second 
   second group, and have the power potential to control the
   United States. This is why Reagan and other Republicans so
   often say 'that government governs best, which governs
   least'. The Republican party is the political standard bearer
   for the forces of Capitalism and doesn't want the working
   people, through government, labor unions, and consumer
   organizations--through numbers--to exercise their power."

        I might've continued my speech to the professor,
   "Government can have a restrictive power, saying No-No to bad
   capitalists when they exploit people and waste natural
   resources, and can also have positive or creative powers--
   creating Health, Education, and Welfare programs, for
   example...creating food programs to prevent malnutrition and
   mental and physical retardation in underpriviledged children,
   and decent education programs to give them a chance to earn a
   good living and lead productive lives. Programs such as these
   benefit ordinary people more than the wealthy, who can buy
   their own, if government isn't there.

        "But, these things do cost a lot of money--so, my first
   principle regarding taxes is that they be sufficient to raise
   enough money. And in a highly populated, highly developed
   country like the U.S., tax capital is an immense resource.
   My second 'principle of taxation' is that we should get
   a lot of the money from those who can afford to pay, the
   wealthy. Though they earn more by far, their effort is not
   necessarily greater than that of the teenager holding down
   two jobs to buy a car, one at Burger King and one at Taco
   Bell (and it could be less).
{invent chart or illustration demonstrating proper taxing of citizenry}

        "The wealthy may argue that they should be taxed in the 
   same proportion as the poor or poorer but (as I say in more
   detail later in this book) they benefit more from a number
   of public services...and can give a reasonable amount to
   government and still have plenty left for their luxuries.
        "Admittedly, this is a way of using government in a
   direction which tends to equalize wealth. However, it's
   oversimplifying to say that all we want to do is soak the
   rich; there's no need to punish the wealthy for their good
   luck or their persistent enterprising. It's clear to me that
   well-run Health, Education, and Welfare, are programs which
   in the long run will benefit all society. All we need to do
   is raise enough money so that government can do the job. We
   aren't talking about handing out ice cream cones, or taking
   tax dollars from the rich and casting them willy nilly into
   the slums for people to pick up in their tin pails.

        I noticed Mike Gage apparently leaving the restaurant
   and called him over to the table. "Mike, this is Professor
   Ernest Lernwell from UCLA--he's here to back us up on the tax
   bill this afternoon."

        "Did he bring his shovel to help you bury it?"

        "Enough of your cynicism. As a matter of fact, I was
   just gonna tell Alan and the Professor that I saw Unruh in 
   the can a little before adjournment--he said he was gonna
   pick us up a couple of votes."

        "Glad to have his help," Alan said.

        Gage remained cynical and practical, "I'll bet. Count
   'em when you get 'em."

        "Have you had lunch, Mike?" Alan asked.

        "Is that an offer?"

        "Sure, join us." 

        "Actually, I brown-bagged it in the office before I came
   over here--but I guess I could sit and watch you guys eat."

        "You can watch," I said, "but don't touch."

        "I'll sit between Alan and the professor--you're mean."

        "That's the way it goes, Mike--the privileged class gets
   the prize plates." Mike did not bother to challenge this.

        "I've never liked how money separates people," the
   professor said--"where they live, what they wear, what and
   where they eat."

        "We were just talking, Mike, about how Alan's and my
   bill takes a step in the direction of equalizing things."

        "And so is this the first step in your program? Taking
   me to non-lunch?"

        "You have to start somewhere."

        "In Phase Two--I suppose the busboy and maitre d will
   join us?"

        "Like Martin Luther King..I have a dream," I said, "of 
   everybody eating at one big round table. And in a
   philosophical sense, that's already the way it is. We're all
   sitting together on the same big round world, all 'in the
   same boat'--we just don't see we're sitting at the same

        "Bullshit," Mike said. "I can see we're sitting at the
   same table."

        "But don't be too sure you're gonna get the same food,

        "I didn't order anything."

        "We have ordered or been ordered for--and according to
   the order of things, you, Mike, will have one moldy biscuit
   to eat; but that's not so bad, the professor doesn't have
   anything at all. Nothing. I have a bowl of tomato-rice soup,
   and an avocado sandwich with sprouts. And Alan, god bless
   him, has steak and lobster; beautifully prepared potatoes au
   gratin, asparagus with bernaise sauce, and a pot of the best
   English tea. For dessert he will have demitasse, and a
   meringue with ice cream and whipped cream."

        "I don't believe it was entirely coincidental that you
   picked me for that role, John."

        "Okay, Alan, consider yourself well cast."
   "All right, I'll accept my role. Get on with the action,
   Mr. Playwright."

        "The only further fact that we need to introduce is that 
   the four of us are all blind--four blind men sitting at a big
   round table, each with only a vague sense of others being
   present. We can smell something good coming from Alan's side
   of the table--we can hear eating noises--but if we're blind,
   nothing happens, except we eat. Mike eats his biscuit. I eat
   all of my soup and sandwich. Alan with the bountiful repast
   may eat it all or leave a little here or there. (Actually, in
   keeping with his class, he would possibly only eat half.)
   The professor, with nothing to eat, won't eat anything--I
   don't know what he'll do--he may leave.

        "And if we aren't blind--or if the blindfolds are
   removed--my guess is that there'll be some sharing. I think
   that Alan, if he's confronted, across the table--immediatly,
   personally, with our plight, professor--would do something
   about it. He wouldn't wait for the pickings from his plate
   to be rooted from the garbage can later;  he might more
   energetically back programs to divide the meat
   and potatoes in the kitchen. But you've got to remove the
   blinders for this to happen. And the first situation--four
   blind men--is more true to life--the rich and the poor, at
   distant tables, do not percieve each other in any detail or,
   usually, in any penetrating way.

        "If Alan, as the lucky man at our round table, had
   happened to order a light meal for dietietic purposes, he
   wouldn't have had food to share, but he might've made a gift
   of his jeweled watch or diamond tiepin, knowing it could be
   converted to food--a lot of food." 

        Alan's and my tax program was a push, to try to do what
   rich people might well do on their own if they really
   understood the other guy's plight. I think they'd be willing
   to settle for a BMW instead of a Rolls Royce and let the
   difference in price go to worthwhile government programs.

        This is putting government in the role of moral
   overseer, of course--but it was never anything less than that
   (a stoplight is a 'moral overseer' with an obvious
   practical/protective function).
       The 'four hungry men at a table' parable actually
   occurred to me in 1984, sitting in a diningroom in Mendocino.
   I was recently retired and working on this book. I lied about
   the time and place, adding some lines to our dialogue 
   at the Capitol Tamale Cafe----but it is the kind of conversation
   that could have happened at our lunch meeting thirteen years
   earlier, particularly with Mike Gage or John Harrington
   present to act as foils.