John Schwada: A toast to Prop 8, changing times and mistaken identity

David Shankbone/Wikipedia Commons

Attorney David Boies

UC Davis

Alexander (Sandy) Harcourt


It couldn't have been a better place or time to be mistaken for David Boies.

The time: less than 12 hours after the announced U.S. Supreme Court decision that reopened the doors to same-sex marriages in California. The place: a posh French bistro in Beverly Hills with more than a few celebrating the ruling. As for David Boies, one of the attorneys who argued to protect same-sex marriages from Prop 8?  It just so happened Boies — or at least his lookalike — was one of the six revelers at our table. 

And that mixup explains why a $168 bottle of Moët & Chandon arrived unexpectedly.

“But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Turning to my left, I saw my friend Sandy Harcourt protesting as a hovering maître d’ and sommelier were presenting him, in the classic manner (white-towel, inclined to show the label), with a bottle of champagne.

“Is this a gag? I did not order … .”

“But you are Mr. Boies, are you not? From the Proposition 8, gay marriage case? And those people over there wish you to have this bottle, with their compliments.” At this the maître d’ nodded toward a table of diners behind us.

“No, I’m not Mr. Boies,” Sandy insisted, his British bearing and accent starting to take command.  Sandy was putting his foot down, perhaps thinking Battle of Britain. I was thinking General Lee at Appomattox.

"Hand over your sword, Sandy," I wanted to say, eyeing the label. "Accept fate ... and the bottle of champagne."

The maître d’ now quickly retreated to confer with our benefactors, at the other table.

“What was that all about?”

“It seems those people over there” – Sandy indicated the table, two away from ours – “ think I’m an attorney in the Prop 8 case. Someone named Boies.”

By now, iPhones were solving this mystery.

The maître d’ returned. “They wish you to accept the bottle the bottle anyway,” he said, smiling triumphantly.

Well, in that case ... Sandy accepted, and we clapped loudly to thank our mysterious benefactors. I believe they nodded and smiled.

“Cheers, to mistaken identity!”

“To hilarity and charity!”

To brushes with fame!”

By now an iPhone image of the real Boies, the gay rights attorney-champion, was circulating. Yes, a resemblance. But very little, my wife averred. Should we show our champagne benefactors the real picture of Boies? I asked.

“Better not, they’re probably feeling a bit foolish about now,” Sandy said.

As we drank David Boies' victory champagne, feeling lucky, not guilty, it was noted that gay marriage was unthinkable in our youthful salad days in the '60s and '70s.

“Yes, we’ve come so far,” one of us said.

But were we really?  Earlier that very day I had been challenged to believe that we were, in fact, stuck in many ways in the '60s and '70s. A friend, a retired Harvard University professor, with a long record of engagement in social issues, had emailed in the morning, asking me, as a former newsman, for advice about a proposed op-ed he was writing.

His attached commentary expressed his deep disappointment with President Obama – in whose administration he had served. My friend concluded that when it came to foreign policy and national security, in particular, Obama had promised us change but was delivering us Richard Nixon redux.

Nixon had his secret invasion of Cambodia, he wrote. And Obama has his clandestine drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Nixon had Watergate; Obama is Hoovering terabytes of phone records and Internet messages.  Nixon had Daniel Ellsberg; Obama has Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

His thoughts were still with me as the dessert menu was being inspected – and rejected. But it was no time to get morbid.

After dinner we introduced ourselves to our delightful champagne-benefactors, among them, Hammer Museum director Annie Philbin and attorney Alan Hergott, during which it was revealed that Hergott had been involved in the making of the Dian Fossey bio-flick "Gorillas in the Mist," in which Sandy and his future wife, Kelly, played a part!

Still later, going to the subterranean garage, I briefly shared the elevator ride with two young, pale girls in high heels and mini-skirts. They snuggled and kissed briefly as they turned to get off, the floor above mine, their legs and gait like young giraffes learning to walk. One glanced back at me.

“Very interesting times,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, with a smile.

As the elevator door closed on them, I wondered if we were really on the same page. Even reading from the same book. Probably not, and maybe it was just as well.

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