Death, sugar, ancestors, and taboo converge when I’m called out in a podcast
I’ve been a fan of History Dweebs – a podcast that “takes a lighthearted look at the dark side of history” – for a few years now. I am known for my exuberance in my devotion to podcasts, but as my personal responsibilities have demanded more of my time over the last couple of years, my overt expressions of Dweeb fandom have become infrequent.
So I was delighted to hear host and writer Tim Scott call me out by name in the latest episode. The topic is The Doodler, a serial killer who murdered gay men in 1970’s San Francisco. The identity of The Doodler is still unknown. But the context of that call out surprised me, as it came just after the mention of a name and place which are personally significant to me.
Co-host Brandy Hermann was talking about the discovery of Doodler victim Joseph “Jae” Stevens’ body, along the shores of Spreckles Lake. She went on to say that Mr. Stevens performed at Finocchio’s in North Beach, at which point Tim mentions that I live in San Francisco.**
Now, my ears perked up at the mention of Spreckels Lake, because it was named after an heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune. When my mother was a young woman, she spent a summer in Hawaii attending college. During this time she befriended the woman after whom I am named. Mom’s friend was also a member of the Spreckels family.* So I was already thinking of my namesake when Finocchio’s came up. I never made it to Finocchio’s, but my mother had drinks there once – with her friend and my namesake, Stephanie.
This is a satisfying synchronicity in itself, with clear connections of meaning. But students of the circumstances in which uncanny events arise will notice right away certain themes which so often envelop these events.
These themes include sex/gender transgression (Mr. Stevens performed in cross dress), sexual taboo (surviving victims of the Doodler refused to testify as it would mean outing themselves as gay), unavenged death, and humor (not only is History Dweebs a comedy podcast, but Mr. Stevens also performed as a comedian).
What’s more, though Mr. Stevens’ body was discovered on June 25, 1974, witness reports suggest he died on the 24th. On June 24, 1947 Kenneth Arnold spotted a group of enigmatic objects in the sky over Washington state, which kicked off the modern flying saucer era with all of it’s attendant weirdness.
While the History Dweebs podcast itself is definitely not safe for work, and many would even call it tasteless, it has attracted one of the most sincere, heartfelt fan bases I’ve had the chance to be a (small) part of. Weirdos, misfits and freaks are all welcomed to the online group and the many local and national meetups. But the true heart of the group shines when any member meets misfortune – divorce, heartbreak, disease, job loss, betrayal, tragic death – in all of these circumstances Dweebs will share their hearts, their time, and open their wallets.
Dweebs remind us that although death, cruelty and despair haunt us all, we each can choose to treat our fellow creatures with sweetness. It’s a beautiful reminder as we approach Halloween and the Day of the Dead.
* I suspect this has something to do with my rampant sweet tooth.