aids

big thanks from a smalltown boy

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rod-boy

 

I have been blogging since 2006. I started about 2 years after I found recovery. I was often over run with anxiety and uncomfortable feelings and I had no idea how to process them. Blogging seemed a ready-made answer to help me manage my weirdness.  I began smoking pot and drinking at age 11 or so. I was already a misfit as I grew up a queer boy in rural Illinois and was a natural sissy and the butt of many jokes in the small town where I grew up.

I left home (ran away) at age sixteen and was a homeless gay youth for 1 or 2 years in Chicago circa 1974 and 1975. I managed to get work as a dancer which led to bartending and restaurant jobs. I tore through as many boyfriends, roommates,  circles of friends, and workplaces as there are headlines of the weekly world news.

By 1980 I met a circle of friends through working at George Badonsky’s “Brewery” restaurant. It was friend love at first sight and we became inseparable. I have posted a couple of pics from those days. We giggled and danced and learned about our own shortcomings. it felt like love to me.

Paul Pfohl had moved to NYC to go to Columbia and contracted AIDS while there. He became so thin, gaunt, and weak that he moved back to Chicago but wasn’t ready to be living at home. He and I decided to get an apartment together. We spent so many months searching and settled on a rare gem in Logan Square.  What followed only added to the shitpile of shame and trauma that I continued to carry until after I got sober in 2004.

Thanksgiving since 04 has been a far different experience than it had been for years. The stinging shards of memory have softened and shapeshifted into something much much softer. I have posted my first Thanksgiving blog post of 2006 on and off over the life of my blogs. It is melancholy and sad, but has also forged some of the empathy I have when working with others.

Gratitude continues to be the dominant feeling when I look back upon this part of my life. It was the hardest part of my life, but it was the most expansive part at the same time. Wishing all of you a wonderful and renewing holiday season.

Here is my post from 11/06- The Day I Stopped Dancing

i am working on my thanksgiving post a bit early as i have a full day on thursday. i am supposed to jog with my buddy first thing in that morning, but it is also supposed to be very, very cold and i don’t know if i will make it. i am cooking a turkey for the rocky mountain roundup speaker/dinner, dropping it off, and going to my cousin and his partner’s home for my actual meal. my mom, aunt and uncle are going and they haven’t done a home dinner in the last few years. they have eaten out because they don’t have to cook or clean up after which makes some very good sense to me.

i am looking forward to the whole day, and i’m spending tomorrow night at my cousin’s house. i’m sure we’ll hear some of the same old stories that usually get told at family functions. we were a pretty close knit crew in illinois and that has carried over to most of us here. it’s not the same, but it’s very familiar and that is a blessing.

one of the stories i will not hear this year is my last thanksgiving in chicago. i am going to write about it here and hopefully the tale will unravel itself a bit differently than it has in the past. i have spun this yarn on a few occasions, but i have always kept the focus the part where i am the victim. and honestly, thanksgiving still is a challenging emotional trek because of the drama on this day. it really is the day i stopped dancing. the last day that is until i started channeling velvet- but that’s a tale for another day.

in 1985, i had gotten an apartment with my best friend paul the previous year. we had shopped and hunted for 3 months for that beautiful soon-to-be condo on logan blvd. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, full kitchen, dr, front and back balcony. it truly was stunning. but on the day we were moving in, paul was completely tuckered. i remember him sitting on the back of the rental truck, saying he just couldn’t move any boxes. He was exhausted. and before we finished, he insisted he go to the hospital. we complied, and he was admitted and was in the hospital for about a month.

i went to visit him in that place every day. the first couple of days, i donned a hospital gown, mask, and gloves, but soon decided to put them aside after that. i wasn’t going to be looking at him dressed like an alien, or like i was afraid to be near him. i wasn’t. i loved him. still do. and i wasn’t going to cause him any extra anxiety. i would bring him meals from some of our favorite restaurants. the hospital food sucked, of course, and i knew he needed to eat. we had a very pleasant time being food snobs in there and would laugh together and became closer, without ever really discussing the elephant in the room. i couldn’t go there emotionally. i now know it’s called denial, but then i thought of it as survival. i remember one day going to visit him, and finding him in his room alone, with a fever so high that his body was convulsing, jumping up and down on the bed with no assistance. it scared the shit out of me, watching him jerking up and down like darryl hannah losing life in blade runner. i left in horror and came back a couple of hours later, never speaking a word to him about what i had seen.

my drug use started to escalate after this. the cocaine use was incessant and i drank vodka to counteract the effects of the cocaine. numbing became my priority. this actually caused paul to move back in with his parents, and my friend robbie (foxy)moved in. poor fox- he had no clue as to the mess he was entering. but that’s another story.

fast forward to thanksgiving 1986. paul had been living with his family for a few months now. he had been in and out of the hospital. i had invited about 8 friend over for a holiday feast. i spent all day preparing the food. turkey rubbed with butter and tamari, baked with apples, onions, and cranberries, stuffing, brussel sprouts, home-made cobbler, etc. as the day progressed, the weather took a turn for the worse. a thunderstorm took hold. one-by-one calls with cancellations started to come in. it had become dark outside, and the last call came from my friend blue. i think he really had waited until he absolutely knew he couldn’t get there. no cabs were running etc. i remember sitting at the head of the table, looking at the fitz and floyd and the crystal candle holders and feeling stunned. the phone then rang again, and it was paul’s brother on the phone. he wanted to let me know that paul had passed a few hours earlier that day. he had gone peacefully and was no longer suffering. i returned back to my seat and looking over the empty but well laid table, clutched my wine glass and took a big swig. a huge lightning bolt back lit the entire sky, was followed by an earsplitting crack of thunder, and the power in my apartment was knocked out. there i sat in the dark, and found myself feeling more alone and more confused than i could remember. and i was a victim. and i had imprinted that pained mask onto myself and held it there for a good 20 years.

i have managed to let go of that branding i did. i honestly loved paul, and was completely a mess having lost him. i laughed so freely with him, and he understood so many things about me that i always felt shame around, and never did anything but expect me to succeed. we dined a lot, and we read a lot of books- mostly the classics, and the “gay” authors. we participated in salons of a sort with a few other friends, and would drink wine and read aloud from books like “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, and my favorite “Orlando” by Woolf as well. We talked about Vita Sackville West and Virginia, about Paul Bowles and his entourage, Kerouac and his mary-men lol, Stein, Toklas, and the ex-pats….

today, i am thankful i have let go of that old albatross that was choking me through the years. i have moved on to another perception of that time and that day. i am not frozen, i am living and participating again. i am again among the living, and am not in the throes of the walking wounded. i can celebrate today without anesthetizing. i can struggle and maintain. i can look forward and think of a future in practical terms, in lieu of living in a fantasy and only seeing the future as a sparkling illusion. i am so very glad paul was in my life. i am so blessed that he saw me

 

the day i stopped dancing

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image credit: ryan pfluger

(this post was originally published in 2007- 3 years into my recovery- i’ve worked through a lot of trauma and grief since then- but i still remember- and give thanks)

i am working on my thanksgiving post a bit early as i have a full day on thursday. i am supposed to jog with my buddy first thing in that morning, but it is also supposed to be very, very cold and i don’t know if i will make it. i am cooking a turkey for the rocky mountain roundup speaker/dinner, dropping it off, and going to my cousin and his partner’s home for my actual meal. my mom, aunt and uncle are going and they haven’t done a home dinner in the last few years. they have eaten out because they don’t have to cook or clean up after which makes some very good sense to me.

i am looking forward to the whole day, and i’m spending tomorrow night at my cousin’s house. i’m sure we’ll hear some of the same old stories that usually get told at family functions. we were a pretty close knit crew in illinois and that has carried over to most of us here. it’s not the same, but it’s very familiar and that is a blessing.

one of the stories i will not hear this year is my last thanksgiving in chicago. i am going to write about it here and hopefully the tale will unravel itself a bit differently than it has in the past. i have spun this yarn on a few occasions, but i have always kept the focus the part where i am the victim. and honestly, thanksgiving still is a challenging emotional trek because of the drama on this day. it really is the day i stopped dancing. the last day that is until i started channeling velvet- but that’s a tale for another day.

in 1985, i had gotten an apartment with my best friend paul the previous year. we had shopped and hunted for 3 months for that beautiful soon-to-be condo on logan blvd. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, full kitchen, dr, front and back balcony. it truly was stunning. but on the day we were moving in, paul was completely tuckered. i remember him sitting on the back of the rental truck, saying he just couldn’t move any boxes. He was exhausted. and before we finished, he insisted he go to the hospital. we complied, and he was admitted and was in the hospital for about a month.

i went to visit him in that place every day. the first couple of days, i donned a hospital gown, mask, and gloves, but soon decided to put them aside after that. i wasn’t going to be looking at him dressed like an alien, or like i was afraid to be near him. i wasn’t. i loved him. still do. and i wasn’t going to cause him any extra anxiety. i would bring him meals from some of our favorite restaurants. the hospital food sucked, of course, and i knew he needed to eat. we had a very pleasant time being food snobs in there and would laugh together and became closer, without ever really discussing the elephant in the room. i couldn’t go there emotionally.i now know it’s called denial, but then i thought of it as survival. i remember one day going to visit him, and finding him in his room alone, with a fever so high that his body was convulsing, jumping up and down on the bed with no assistance. it scared the shit out of me, watching him jerking up and down like darryl hannah losing life in blade runner. i left in horror and came back a couple of hours later, never speaking a word to him about what i had seen.

my drug use started to escalate after this. the cocaine use was incessant and i drank vodka to counteract the effects of the cocaine. numbing became my priority. this actually caused paul to move back in with his parents, and my friend robbie (foxy)moved in. poor fox- he had no clue as to the mess he was entering. but that’s another story.

fast forward to thanksgiving 1986. paul had been living with his family for a few months now. he had been in and out of the hospital. i had invited about 8 friend over for a holiday feast. i spent all day preparing the food. turkey rubbed with butter and tamari, baked with apples, onions, and cranberries, stuffing, brussel sprouts, home-made cobbler, etc. as the day progressed, the weather took a turn for the worse. a thunderstorm took hold. one-by-one calls with cancellations started to come in. it had become dark outside, and the last call came from my friend blue. i think he really had waited until he absolutely knew he couldn’t get there. no cabs were running etc. i remember sitting at the head of the table, looking at the fitz and floyd and the crystal candle holders and feeling stunned. the phone then rang again, and it was paul’s brother on the phone. he wanted to let me know that paul had passed a few hours earlier that day. he had gone peacefully and was no longer suffering. i returned back to my seat and looking over the empty but well laid table, clutched my wine glass and took a big swig. a huge lightning bolt back lit the entire sky, was followed by an earsplitting crack of thunder, and the power in my apartment was knocked out. there i sat in the dark, and found myself feeling more alone and more confused than i could remember. and i was a victim. and i had imprinted that pained mask onto myself and held it there for a good 20 years.

i have managed to let go of that branding i did. i honestly loved paul, and was completely a mess having lost him. i laughed so freely with him, and he understood so many things about me that i always felt shame around, and never did anything but expect me to succeed. we dined a lot, and we read a lot of books- mostly the classics, and the “gay” authors. we participated in salons of a sort with a few other friends, and would drink wine and read aloud from books like “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, and my favorite “Orlando” by Woolf as well. We talked about Vita Sackville West and Virginia, about Paul Bowles and his entourage, Kerouac and his mary-men lol, Stein, Toklas, and the ex-pats….

today, i am thankful i have let go of that old albatross that was choking me through the years. i have moved on to another perception of that time and that day. i am not frozen, i am living and participating again. i am again among the living, and am not in the throes of the walking wounded. i can celebrate today without anesthetizing. i can struggle and maintain. i can look forward and think of a future in practical terms, in lieu of living in a fantasy and only seeing the future as a sparkling illusion. i am so very glad paul was in my life. i am so blessed that he saw me for exactly who i was and loved me because of it. this is something that will never be replaced. and something that will never be lost.

today i see that life is a banquet, and i spent way too much time
starving myself. there is more to life than one singular sensation.

sunday kind of love… new order

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Same-sex love, once “the love that dare not speak its name,” has been affirmed by the highest court in the land. With its decision in Windsor , the Supreme Court established that the federal government cannot deny the “personhood and dignity” of legally married same-sex couples. It’s a stunning turnaround for a court that 27 years ago said gay sex was not entitled to legal protections, even behind closed doors. It’s a moment gay rights advocates deserve to celebrate. But in our exaltation over wedded bliss, we are forgetting another kind of “til death do us part”: the bonds that tie us together as a group, across social strata, race and generations — the same bonds that helped us fight AIDS. During the worst years of the AIDS crisis, from 1981 to the advent of effective medications in 1996, the gay community forged a new definition of love: It encompassed traditional romantic love, but it went beyond the love between two people. Often shunned by our biological families, we created our own, complete with brothers and sisters who cared and fought for one another and elders who mentored the young. You only had to be at the 1987 meeting when ACT UP was formed — as the 52-year-old playwright Larry Kramer looked down on a packed hall of people half his age, exhorting us to fight for our lives — to know that we were about to embark on a remarkable journey together. Today, though, we’re so caught up in the giddiness of the marriage-equality movement that we’ve abandoned the collective fight against HIV and AIDS. And yes, it’s still a fight. HIV remains the largest health issue facing the gay community. From 2008 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new HIV infections remained steady overall but rose a startling 22 percent in young gay men. At the current rates, more than half of college-aged gay men will become HIV-positive by the age of 50.... Peter Staley -Washington Post 2012
Same-sex love, once “the love that dare not speak its name,” has been affirmed by the highest court in the land. With its decision in Windsor , the Supreme Court established that the federal government cannot deny the “personhood and dignity” of legally married same-sex couples. It’s a stunning turnaround for a court that 27 years ago said gay sex was not entitled to legal protections, even behind closed doors. It’s a moment gay rights advocates deserve to celebrate.
But in our exaltation over wedded bliss, we are forgetting another kind of “til death do us part”: the bonds that tie us together as a group, across social strata, race and generations — the same bonds that helped us fight AIDS.
During the worst years of the AIDS crisis, from 1981 to the advent of effective medications in 1996, the gay community forged a new definition of love: It encompassed traditional romantic love, but it went beyond the love between two people. Often shunned by our biological families, we created our own, complete with brothers and sisters who cared and fought for one another and elders who mentored the young. You only had to be at the 1987 meeting when ACT UP was formed — as the 52-year-old playwright Larry Kramer looked down on a packed hall of people half his age, exhorting us to fight for our lives — to know that we were about to embark on a remarkable journey together.
Today, though, we’re so caught up in the giddiness of the marriage-equality movement that we’ve abandoned the collective fight against HIV and AIDS.
And yes, it’s still a fight. HIV remains the largest health issue facing the gay community. From 2008 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new HIV infections remained steady overall but rose a startling 22 percent in young gay men. At the current rates, more than half of college-aged gay men will become HIV-positive by the age of 50…. Peter Staley -Washington Post 2012

 

insect as metaphor

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“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous bug…”  ― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous bug…”
― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis\

i just came across this review of the 1986 remake of “the fly” and found it quite curious. what thinks ye?

 

DAVID CRONENBERG’S “THE FLY”

David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986) is among a very few movies that give me a sense of hesitation as soon as the credits appear. I’ve owned a couple of home video versions since its release twenty some years ago, according to the technology in favor, but I doubt I’ve played them more than a handful of times (including that for the purpose of this review). For such a well made and entertaining movie this is particularly odd but among the great horror flicks (it certainly fits the bill) this one hits you a little bit below the belt for enjoyment’s sake.

“The Fly” deals with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), an eccentric inventor who meets reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science convention and (somewhat unwillingly) spills the beans about his latest creation, one that will “change the world as we know it”. The contraption in question is a teleportation system for inanimate objects, which is basically the same concept used for getting characters on and off the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek“. With Veronica alongside him to document his progress Seth is able to take the next step, giving his invention the ability to transport live beings. After a failed attempt (that’s putting it mildly!) with a baboon that should have given him some pause, Seth unwisely decides to rush testing the system with himself as passenger, unaware that a seemingly innocent house fly has hitched a ride alongside him (at least they weren’t joined by that other baboon!). After the initial apparent success, an oblivious Seth will find himself gaining incredible agility and strength but will progressively become a mean, selfish, stench-filled and tragic individual, illustrating in the process the nature of those insects in much higher detail than we would ever want to learn. By film’s end we’ll end up seeing these creatures in a very different light and Seth will not be able to regret enough the fact that he did not provide his device with an UNDO command.

read the rest of the review here

 

i love lesbians

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The crisis, as well as the opportunity, of our time is to surrender our ego and conditioned fear mechanisms to the primary torsion energy of unconditional love that is seeking to evolve us and is calling us as a species home.... Sol Luckman
The crisis, as well as the opportunity, of our time is to surrender our ego and conditioned fear mechanisms to the primary torsion energy of unconditional love that is seeking to evolve us and is calling us as a species home….
Sol Luckman

one thing i forgot to mention in yesterday’s post was the scene in “the normal heart” with the lesbian estelle who came to volunteer at gmhc after her best friend died. she cried and declared that her lesbian friends all told her “what have they ever done for us?” but she didn’t care. estelle  wanted to do something. it was for her friend.

this is very much a part of my 80’s memories. gay women became the glue that held our emotional bandages together. they brought food, ran errands, went to protests and marches, helped us believe we could survive, and gave gay men love when there were very few others doing this.. even ourselves. and in the process, they carved out a completely new lgbt community and agreement field.

instead of strictly separatist living, we began to learn that were stronger together and also that maybe we just needed each other.

so in a way, the gay cancer created the space for our community to heal. and the lesbian community- the beautiful and buxom and butch and lipstick and country and city lesbians were the the thread that connected our torn and tattered rainbow flag.

i love lesbians. always have. always will.

 

forget me not

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“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.” ― Marcel Proust
“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of
life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they
continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It
is as though they were traveling abroad.”
― Marcel Proust

 

memorial day weekend 2014, hbo brought us ryan murphy’s film adaptation of larry kramer’s play “the normal heart”.  memorial day indeed.

1981 heralded in what is the most prolific alarm of my lifetime; a mysterious gay cancer that was leveling the souls of a once small number of gay men in american urban meccas with the voracity of weed whacker on a summer day on cul-du-sac. the real difference however was that the force behind the whacking seemed at once mercurial, invisible, and personal. and as hiv machete(d) a path through our lives those early years, it left deep and cavernous scar tissue that remains tender now and will remain so most likely to our end of days.

the first in our circle that i can really recall was john bennet. and i behaved like a complete ass towards him. he was a friend of blue’s and he was whispering in a loud darkened corner of the manhole about his diagnosis. i remember reacting to the news with complete and caustic judgement. how dare he pick such a place to disclose? so inappropriate. john slipped away within weeks. i saw him a couple more times and silently screamed at the horror of his weight loss and the onset of a death mask that became so damn common in our circles.

the biggest trauma for me was twofold. my bestie paul had moved to nyc to attend columbia. he was such a cutie-pie; handsome, intelligent, funny, awkward, and loving. he was buff and beautiful. he was ready for the 80’s. 2 years later he moved back to chicago having lost 1/3 of his body weight while learning to cope with constant diarrhea and thrush. we had become friends through restaurant work and soon moved on to food nerds and wine snobs as well. i remember upon his return going to dinner at a new tapas restaurant on halsted and witnessing his tears as the food we shared seared into his über delicate tongue like a branding iron.

i tested positive the same year paul died. the war front atmosphere of life for this gay man became too much to even pretend to handle. cocaine and vodka acted like a key to the door of my cellar of ignorance and i went there as often as i could. please don’t read this as “oh woe is me”.  i don’t know many gay men and women who don’t still carry trauma from those years. it was much like that movie inception where the world starts to fold up on itself like a fold up chess board but with us as the pieces still remaining in play.  that sort of experience takes time to comprehend, let alone move beyond.

i found the  hbo production to be a beautiful gift. i think it is enormously thoughtful and detailed. it captures the essence of that time for me. i remember viewing actup the same way i reacted to john bennet. with judgement and avoidance. frankly, i don’t do conflict well. i learned early on that tuning out was my drug of choice and so faced with these hard realities, i did the only thing i knew.

but thank goodness for larry kramer, actup, and the revolution. i am so indebted to their ability to be present in that amazing crisis. i cared for people who needed it, but to have the where-with-all to scream at injustice like a scene from “invasion of the body snatchers” seems prolific and monument-worthy. as a culture, we were not prepared for any of this. we snapped and bitched at each other out of terror. it took years to find common ground and resolve. it took thousands of memorial services, funerals, and volunteer hours.

it was a complete loss of innocence for our people. there was a very short and immensely beautiful adolescence before we were thrust into adulthood. then there is ptsd, chemo-like medication, survivor’s guilt, repressed anger, and aging.  don’t get me wrong. i love my life today. i love being sober. i love my vocation and being able to offer support to others. but i do still miss those days and those beautiful souls. and i would step back for a minute. even knowing what was coming.

Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols… Thomas Mann

thank you larry kramer. thank you peter staley. thanks to so many of you for guiding the ship while i threw up over the side. i honestly regret not seeing your inner light back then. i needed you. we needed you and never were able to recognize it, let alone appreciate how important expressing our anger would be and how far that would help us travel. and we helped our community and our world step into a new century with insight and understanding beyond imagination.