below is a written piece by jacob arnold recently published in resident advisor and reposted here. jacob was even kind enough to quote me a couple of times.
i saw this photo of gilda radner (aka candy slice and the slicers) today on fb and i experienced a delicious stir of echoes. at some point during the 1970’s in chicago, some friends and i created a literary street gang as an homage to the movie “warriors”. at the time we were working at george badonsky’s “brewery” restaurant. sometime during that period i was downgraded from badonsky’s “tango” restaurant after having rolled a shopping cart with a brewery bartender through the kitchen and into the lower level of the dining room in the middle of a packed saturday night- that dining room was silhouetted by chocolate brown walls that were studded with warhol’s marilyn prints along one side. there was a warhol mao tse tung on another wall. the restaurant resided on the ground floor of the belmont hotel. tango was uber chic with marble floors, live jazz late night, smoked sturgeon and olives stuffed with roquefort, and 350 wines on the sommalier’s list.
that time was a renaissance period in my life. i was a poet, a comic, a fashion icon, a scorned lover, a dancer, and bohemian. i modern danced through disco and punk, rockabilly and retro, leather and scag drag. i remember life seeming as full of possibility and my friendships were fast and very “st. elmo’s fire-ish”. i ran with the gang for over a year- learning to love kerouak, ginsberg, burroughs, wolff, stein, and lessing and spent the wee hours reading the classics, imbibing heavily, speaking with words of violet and midnight. we howled at our poverty and our lives seem now to be not far from the urban backdrop of the musical “rent”- la vie boheme.
during those days, badonsky had a relationship going with a japanese clothing designer named noriko. there were artists and designers coming out of the woodwork in the badonsky orbit.. noriko had acquired an apartment in old town on wells street. she needed some help getting the place together and badonsky hired paul pfohl and i to help her get some baseline cleaning done. we were lowly servers and welcomed both the extra cash and the adventure.
it just so happened that on a particular day gilda radner was in town with her one woman show tour. her career was stratospheric at that moment and the show was a hot ticket. saturday night live had catapulted a bevy of circuit players into the limelight and gilda had a blaze that still glows in my heart- ooops i get lost in the sweetness. her tour manager’s name was dennis. noriko and gilda has some weird intersection and dennis showed up at her place in old town on the day paul i and i were there. we chatted, we three, chatted, cavorted, snorted, and giggled.
the irony of the day for me was the messaging later that night at our prospective restaurants. my manager mentioned to me that dennis had found us very entertaining and was interested in dating the cute brunette. paul had really been a warrior in my life. he had breeding, intelligence, perspective, and charm. he was a stunner in my mind- a complete package. so when i heard that dennis wanted to date paul it seemed to be nature’s way. as i relayed the story to him, he had an identical twin reaction. my surprise and delight though, when i then heard that dennis meant me and not paul, rivaled my first gaze upon “the bearded lady” swinging from the ceiling of the bistro in 1975. i never dated dennis, but it didn’t matter. the folklore was cemented that night.
my writing feels frozen lately when it is pointed towards today, but i feel warm and comfortable when the rear view is lit. maybe the terrain of my brain and my heart were tilled and textured during that time. my imagination was ignited and images and memories were branded into my memory bank with the heat of original sin. i am completely grateful. the memories and the innocence of experience invoke a time when i was not yet able to touch my childhood struggles. only when i overdrank or used would wounds uncover. no this time was exploration and discovery. the creation of a larger world view.
as i peruse these images, i am gobsmacked by what a geek i was. i have been holding this alternative memory of living on the edge and as a trailblazer.well- pop goes the memory bubble. all that is left are the sweet stirs of memory and any polaroids.i might have left of the veedubs…( vw’s- our gay and lezzie street gang- hat tip to the movie “warriors”) all of us gay. in 1978 we started out quoting woolf and kerouac on the street corners by diversey and clark and our fetes transitioned to fuzzy-seeped happenings and pre-happenings at the barbie motel (abandoned 3rd floor apartment located on clark just north of diversey) and paul and jim faucetts place further north by belmont- they had a cat they named renfro which was given cuz he liked to eat flies. our crew got involved with a zany labor strike at the brewery with our main adversary being quincy the assistant manager there. paul, ellen, and i transitioned to a french patisserie located on madison street downtown chicago. that’s where we met sue and joe mondlak, kate janotta, kat camera, our gang – and the need for it- dried up like spilled cider on sundrenched cement- so sweet then- all gone now… most of the polaroids are from the 70’s. the medusa’s shots (with the horse half) are from early 80’s- the last time ellen and i were able to see paul together- he would be gone within 2 years of those colorfu shots- with one of those years being spent in and out of the hospital with aids-related complications.
it’s the laughter…… we will remember… whenever we remember….. the way we were….
august 26 2012 i will have my 54th birthday. it seems very surreal to even be walking in this truth. i am living well today and manage to find contentment most of time. i am happy and at peace. i went to the wedding of a friend (alone) and was reminded that deep in the recesses, there are some things i believe will never be part of my journey. for some reason i have found myself a little weepy this week.
in 1984 i was at the precipice of something remarkable in my life. i lived in chicago and held court at an after hours dance club in chicago. the party had been going for a decade, but some unexpected turns had begun. boys were disappearing like cattle in the darkness being abducted by aliens. in my world, it started with john bennet. i remember him talking with my friend blue in the loading dock recounting his fears of this virus thing. john was gone within a few months. and soon it was almost like he was never there. then there was hot rod- a dj friend of my friend mark stephens. hot rod left earth early on. i will never forget the night that mark spread his ashes on the dance floor at medusa’s per hot rod’s request. it was at once pagan, macabre, as well as celebratory..
a year or so later my best friend, paul pfohl, who was living in nyc and going to columbia was unexpectedly returning home to chicago. when he arrived back in town he had lost so much weight it was shocking. for so long we had spent so much time trying new restaurants and basking in conviviality, but upon his return and a gnarly case of thrush, food made him cry in discomfort as his tongue was unable to take the stimulation.
he continued to deteriorate over the next 13 months or so. he died on thanksgiving in 1985. but one month before he did, after nearly fainting in an aerobics class, i was diagnosed with that new virus and dr. bernie blau put a check mark in a column next to my name just in case quarantine might somehow become reality. i went numb that year. not until these last few years did i realize that some old trauma was reignited and new trauma was unleashed. but paul’s death that next month really sealed the deal.
i had been dating a young man named todd thennes from mchenry through about 6 months of this 1985 drama. he was sweet and definitely a welcome distraction. my drug use had already begun to morph from fun to frightening. todd was sweet and a rascal- which was kinda perfect for me. but of course with the diagnosis and the terror that came with it, i cut that relationship out just like a benign mole at the dermatologist. it sealed the deal as he informed that he had tested positive as well. he had befriended my entire social circle by that time though and he became part of the family of choice that was ours at medusa’s.
1985 signaled the onslaught of the tsunami that was the holocaust of our time. hot rod, mark stephens, todd thennes(who did a lot of the holiday decor at the club and for david), neil adams (nealina), bruce bliss and rick(who did much of the styling for the club the first couple of years), paul pfohl, sugar(medusa doorman), michael hamburger, jc, chicky are only a handful of the medusa boys who went to carousel. there’s a scene in the beginning of “hereafter” where a tsunami hits a beach town in thailand and washed over people and takes them with it. some are gone and some miraculously are not touched. this is precisely how it felt. once we were all there, but in what seemed an instant they were gone. and there i stood in a holding pattern.
it took awhile for the fear to recede – about 12 years actually. research, science, and advocacy changed the course of that story. after i started meds, i found myself really angry. angry because i didn’t have a plan, i had spent 1/3 of my life waiting for that tsunami to take me. and it fucking didn’t. out of that anger came a decision to move to san francisco. albeit an incredible city without compare, it took me on a darker path than i had traveled. and it left me like wicked witch of the east, crumpled up silently by the weight of a dark empty house.
in my recovery- which started in september 2004, i have made a conscious decision to not be like some men i know in my long-term position. i don’t want to be bitter, burnt out, sarcastic and cranky queen. it wouldn’t seem respectful to all those boys that got swept away. what would it say if i was a complete asshole when i had been granted an opportunity that they were denied? no better to embrace joy and work for happiness and to give care and love to others. besides, with all my experience in the darkness i can understand fear, denial, and drug abuse in a real and connected way. so that is what i do.
i was 27 years old in 1985. that was exactly 1/2 my life ago. i have traveled the world, laughed out loud, cried in silence, made messes and cleaned them up, engaged in 2 careers, gone broke, started over more than once, and still i am here.
i have been weepy this week, mostly thinking about those boys i loved that went missing 1/2 my life ago. i don’t ever want to forget them. it is by grace that i am still here. that is the only explanation that makes sense. and believe me boys- i haven’t at all forgotten about you. this much i know is true.
finished packing this morning and will be heading to chicago after work. i go there every couple of years just to clear some of the cobwebs out of my head. i lived there until 1986 and met the individuals who really shaped much of my adult brain (what little i had then). i moved there in 1974 and spent the next 12 years immersed in a culture and a city that still stirs memories.
the fact that i have been living in denver 20 years seems quite unbelievable. this city has been very good to me. it has helped me find grounding and stability – both emotionally and financially. my health has really thrived. but for as long as i can remember, i have always missed the array of “communities” and diversity that Chicago boasts- culinary, the arts, jazz, classical music, theatre- and i have especially missed the matter-of-fact honesty and up-front friendliness of midwesterners.
so i will immerse myself into an updated version of this city once again. i have plans for 6 of the 9 nights i am there. dinner, 2 plays, 2 parties, etc.. much, much more than i normally do in a week. plus i am attending a conference for work and have 4 full days of activities with that. i will be learning much more about opiate replacement therapy- i.e. methadone, suboxone- and the parameters and pitfalls of that therapy. this is the godfather of all harm reduction models as hiv and hep c are understandably spread through the sharing of needles. reducing that particular practice by individuals indeed cuts back on the chances of infection as well as the wear and tear that iv drug use takes on a persons body, mind, and soul.
iwill be staying at my best friend’s condo on north lake shore drive. i am still considering a last minute cancel of my hotel downtown for the 3 nights of the conference and just commuting from lakeview. it could save about 1k and be less transient for me. i need to make a decision today. but i know i am going to have some really big moments that my heart opens a bit more this week. my friends there have really stuck by me during the darkest and most difficult times i have had. of course, they did not have to be around me either, which i am sure has an influence.
no doubt i will post once or twice from there. there are many giggles and ghosts that still swirl around me there. and i hope i will remind myself and my hometown friends that some things really get better with time.