But first, there is the book signing. Lugging big tote bags crammed with books, mother and son spill into the steamy afternoon and pile into a New York taxi. The driver goes a couple of blocks and pulls over with a scowl. There's no way he's heading into the collective insanity of crowds and police barricades around Madison Square Garden -- not even for a fragile-looking elderly lady.
Thus begins the Great Trek down 34th Street.
After a few crowded blocks loaded down with books, the walk seems like an extreme sport. But Phyllis Schlafly, the Olympian of the conservative movement, won't even duck into Macy's for refreshment. Finally, she spots the hotel ("Oasis!" she says) for the signing of the anthology "Thank You, President Bush," to which she has contributed.
"The aggression of the whole sexually activist community to present sodomy as the equivalent of the Holy Sacrament -- we can't leave that up to the states," a speaker, Star Parker, is saying as the Schlaflys walk into the hotel reception room where the event is in progress.
Parker, the only African American on the panel, is "a former single Los Angeles welfare mother" and author. ("As I point out in my book, 'Uncle Sam's Plantation,' the pulsating primitive rhythms and rhymes of rap music simply reflect the truths that are transmitted to blacks through the wafer-thin veneer of popular American culture," reads a passage from her chapter in "Thank You, President Bush.")
"I understand the left, and I am here to say they are wrong," Parker tells the very small gathering of faded-looking people who made it through the Darwinian obstacle course of heat, barricades and locked hotel doors to attend the event.
A quiet presence
Schlafly's son hovers nearby. He doesn't like to discuss his sexual orientation.
He was outed in September 1992 by the New York gay magazine QW, just after the Republican convention in Houston at which Pat Buchanan declared "America's culture war" and where his mother debated a gay Republican.
"There is no way to control your adult children," Phyllis Schlafly was quoted as saying at the time, in a reaction story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "They have their own lives to live. I still love them.... He's an adult. What am I supposed to do? I can't control what he says or his behavior."
She also said at the time that she supported the plank in her party's platform that opposed extending civil rights to gays or allowing them in the armed forces. She said, "I don't believe in sex outside of marriage," and since homosexuals couldn't marry, she disapproved of the homosexual sex act.
Today Phyllis Schlafly is unfazed by questions about her son, though she'd rather talk about the "beautiful" building the Eagle Forum has purchased in the tony St. Louis suburb of Clayton. "I get asked all the time," she says with a shrug, as she takes $20 bills from buyers of her books and counts the change herself.
Today, the hotly contested specter of gay marriage is on the table in America. So is the idea of a ban, which has just been passed by Schlafly's home state of Missouri. What does John Schlafly think?
"It doesn't prevent gays from living their personal lives any way they choose," he said quietly, as conservative fans of his mother pushed past him. "Gays have all the same civil and political rights as everyone else. The rights guaranteed by our Constitution."