Richard Rodriguez found it oddly provocative that the gingerbread Victorian row house for which San Francisco is famous has become the domicile and avocation of homosexuals.

Two decades ago, driven into seedy but affordable enclaves like the Castro, "gay men found themselves living with the architectural metaphor for family. ... Within those same Victorian houses, homosexuals were living rebellious lives to challenge the foundations of domesticity." From this acute observation, Rodriguez develops an expansive and perhaps overly ambitious essay (in Harper's for October) that seeks to explain certain stereotypes about the life of gay men in his home city.

"The gay male revolution had greater influence on San Francisco in the 1970s than did the feminist revolution. Feminists, with whom I include lesbians ... were preoccupied with career, with escape from the house in order to create a sexually democratic city. Homosexual men sought to reclaim the house, the house that traditionally had been the reward for heterosexuality, with all its selfless tasks and burdens."

Rodriguez himself, who has written probingly (in "Hunger of Memory" and elsewhere) about language, ethnicity and identity, is a shadowy figure in this essay. He is at once a part of the culture he describes and, as he puts it, "the dinner-party skeptic, a firm believer in Original Sin and in the limits of possibility."

It is in the latter public voice that Rodriquez is most confident, and most caustic. "The age-old description of homosexuality is of a sin against nature," he writes. So it is that "society's condemnation forced the homosexual to find his redemption outside nature. We'll put a little skirt here. The impulse is not to create but to re-create, to sham, to convert, to sauce, to rouge, to fragrance, to prettify. No effect is too small or too ephemeral to be snatched away from nature, to be ushered toward the perfection of artificiality. We'll bring out the highlights there."

The other voice, the counterweight in his ambivalence, speaks more timidly, and more tenderly: Death, it seems, is less intellectually tractable than ornament. As Rodriguez's meditations drift to the friends and many strangers felled by AIDS, he seems nearly ashamed of his skeptical posture. His friend Cesar, lying in his deathbed, predicts that Rodriguez will be "spared" the same fate -- "You are too circumspect," Cesar tells him.

Rodriguez ponders this. "So I was going to live to see that the garden of earthly delights was, after all, only wallpaper -- was that it, Cesar? Hadn't I always said so? It was then I saw that the greater sin against heaven was my unwillingness to embrace life." And, implicitly, this life's high probability of death.

"Late Victorians" is the outsider's strange comeuppance, yet another absorbing and disturbing chapter in the continuing public autobiography of Richard Rodriguez.

In the Cockpit The way pilots talk to one another and to air traffic controllers is of lugubrious interest to anyone who flies. J. Mac McClellan, editor of Flying, thinks loose talk in the air is harmless enough most of the time. But in the September issue he intimates that more linguistic precision might have averted the Avianca crash last January, when the doomed pilot evidently never said in so many words that he had a fuel emergency on his hands.

Telling controllers your fuel is short, McClellan confides, is a common complaint of pilots stacked up in bad weather, trying to win sympathy and the earliest landing clearance from harried tower jockeys. Using the words "emergency" or "Mayday" -- which immediately puts an aircraft at the head of the line -- is considered an admission of helplessness, not to mention an automatic invitation to FAA investigators to ask a lot of questions on the ground.

In response to Conde Nast Traveler's damning July survey of pilot error in fatal airline crashes, pilots wrote to tell their side of the story (anonymously, of course) in the October issue. "Pilot error," according to one sarcastic definition, "is when six people sitting around a table get three weeks to come up with what you should have done when you had five seconds to make a decision."

A lot of the pilots faulted the newest jets' overly sophisticated technology, which puts a greater premium on "head-down flying" -- working on a computer keyboard -- than on old-fashioned stick-and-rudder skills. Crews in these so-called "glass cockpits," goes the standard joke, "have forgotten how to fly but have learned how to type 60 words a minute."

Storm of the Eye "The Mickey Mouse Network," by Jennet Conant in the October GQ, is at its heart a profile of Jay Kriegel, the former John Lindsay aide who is now minister-without-portfolio at CBS and has the blessing of CEO Larry Tisch to call the shots -- Tisch's Bob Haldeman, in one doubly unflattering description. "His job description is purposefully murky, his influence pervasive," Conant writes of Kriegel. "His name is also attached to the most important rumor of the moment: that Disney, one of the most successful and aggressive Hollywood studios, wants its own network."

Liars, Victims, Partners In "Women Who Lie" (Self, October), psychologist Claire Douglas defines the pathology -- "compulsive (usually daily) lying {and} elements of narcissistic (self-infatuated), schizoid (unconnected), histrionic (floridly dramatic) and antisocial (amoral) behaviors" -- while portraying, in one sad case, the spiral of mendacity that ends when "the friends she did have seemed slowly to fall away until, in her old age, only salespeople and hairdressers were her audience." ... If you missed the first issue of the new and improved and ad-free Ms. -- which sold out in a week -- the second (dated November) is just out, with a special package on violence against women and an interview with Tiananmen Square leader Chai Ling. (Subscriptions: one year -- 6 issues, $30 Write Ms., Box 50008, Boulder, Colo. 80321-0008.) ... Harvard Business Review's case study for September-October explores the dilemma of elevating a superbly qualified part-time lawyer (and part-time mother) to partnership: What sort of message will either decision send?