Sliding Through My Hands

Holding it together for the sake of the child. 1984
Holding it together for the sake of the child. 1984

After 1968 closed, Jim moved out and we didn’t see much of each other for five years. We made a couple attempts at reconciliation, like when Marilyn was in town, but we didn’t really speak. Then in 1985 he called and told me he had AIDS. It was not a time for holding grudges, I became part of his life again.

I knew his temper and feistiness would play to his advantage. Dr. Conant, who was my doctor before the crisis began who became a leading AIDS expert, told me the ones who seemed to fare best were those filled with piss and vinegar.

Jim’s therapist advised him to join a support group which he resented. At one meeting he sauntered in 20 minutes late with an open can of Bud. In her best touchy feely tone the leader said, “now Jim, I think you know what you’re doing could be considered an act of hostility.”

Over those five years we were apart Jim had hung out mostly with the leather crowd south of Market. He had a string of affairs including one with the author Randy Shilts. I’m guessing the competitiveness over writing must have lead to some interesting resolution in the bedroom. He felt Randy was wasting his talent on his newspaper column and once asked him,  “so you’re content just writing ad copy for Macy’s?”

Circle of the Serpent
Circle of the Serpent

One Saturday night during our estrangement we ran into each other at Febe’s on Folsom Street. It was the oldest leather bar in the City and Jim’s favorite hangout. I was feeling the Cape Cods I’d had at the Stud a couple doors down and started running off at the mouth about how Aretha’s elaborate stylizations were ruining her music. Jim was laughing very hard, either because what I said was funny or because he was nervous and I was embarrassing him in front of his friends. That attempted reconciliation didn’t go very far.

The artist Chuck Arnett was one of the co-owners of Febe’s and had done several murals south of Market. He had befriended Jim and his artwork inspired him to write a play, Circle of the Serpent. It concerned a motley group of gay men whose disperate lives intersected in a dive bar. Kind of an Edward Albee version of Cheers. This time Jim was content just to be the playwright and left the production and direction to others. It was staged upstairs at the Ambush and it had a much better result than 1968.

As Jim’s energy continued to fade, it surprised me what he could accomplish with only two or three good hours a day. Besides writing the play, he maintained an extensive journal, and moved himself to three different apartments before finally ending up in one of those “Day of the Locust” U-shaped buildings in Oakland.

Chuck Arnett mural at the Tool Box. Photograph by Mike Kelley 1975
Chuck Arnett mural at the Tool Box. Photograph by Mike Kelley 1975

I went to see him at Kaiser when he had a bout of pneumocystis. As I watched him struggle to breathe I wondered if my visits did any good and if his other friends ever came to see him.

I’d only been there ten minutes when he was getting drowsy. I decided to make it a short stay. His back was to the door so he couldn’t see people entering or leaving. I tiptoed out, got to the door when he bolted upright and yelled “Chris!” He thought he was alone. I sat back down and waited until the meds knocked him out.

No one took better care of their own or raised more money than the leather community in response to AIDS. But there remained a segment obsessed with sex and drugs. If you were not available meat you were not of much use. I got the feeling that’s who Jim hung out with since I never met any of those friends.

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The Story of Jim

 

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Ar-magn-ac

A sea of Oriole orange reacts in unison. Not a person of color to be found. Baseball has become a portion of our nation's pasttime
A sea of Oriole orange reacts in unison. Not a person of color to be found. Baseball has become a portion of our nation’s pasttime

The City is abuzz with another World Series and it is fun to be here when that happens. I’ve been a baseball fan since Mazeroski’s home run broke my 10 year old heart. The national past time of my youth, however, probably doesn’t even beat out NASCAR these days. And Norman Rockwell images of little Johnny scrounging together $2 for bleacher seats have been replaced by ballparks filled with corporate expense accounts.

Today Johnny probably couldn’t afford the $82 seats, $50 parking, $19 crab cakes and $14 beers (if there is no pouilly fuisse to compliment the fish). And don’t forget the tiny container of flaccid garlic fries ($7). Those are regular season prices, who knows what they’re gouging fans for in the postseason.

I still enjoy the game though and will hang on every pitch in the Series. But because I cut the cable last spring I can’t watch it on TV (I was tired of paying $180 a month just for Fashion Police.) I will follow it on Yahoo Sports.

Yahoo’s primitive feed tells the story with minimal text and graphics. I like the moments when I hear the neighbors yell then ten seconds later I read what all the commotion was about. On the night they won the pennant I could tell from the noise on the street they’d done it. But it took almost 20 seconds before I read about Ishikawa’s walk off homer.

It’s made me realize that instant information really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It also reminds me of the ’85 season when they lost 100 games and I first became a Giants fan. Laid up with a bum ankle that summer, it was just the radio, the sparse play by play of Hank Greenwald, and my imagination.

Not having a TV or radio means I’ll miss the incessant analysis of Krick and Krup during the Series. It also means I can tune out the treacly human interest garbage that’s endemic in sports broadcasting.

The worst schmaltz offenders are the college announcers, like their pandering on the Penn State child molestation case. They are obsessed with the poor football players who are being penalized, “through no fault of their own,” because of the sanctions on their school. “No fault” other than that they chose a corrupt program that had been under suspicion for years.

They want us to feel bad for this bunch of late teen frat boys having the time of their life boozing and fornicating on campus. Sadly, they are being denied the opportunity to play a game. No mention on how we’re supposed to feel for the group of pubescent boys sexually molested by a member of the coaching staff. They carry a lifetime of emotional scars because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ABC Sports looked the other way in support of a winning program and higher ratings.

When one of Bob Knight’s players was praising Jesus after a big win, proclaiming it God’s will, the Coach observed, “then God must have wanted the other team to lose.” If we were to adapt Knight’s thinking there is probably another side to the inspirational death interview that is a mainstay of sports programming.

“So your Dad recently died, how has that affected you?”

“Hasn’t really. He was a nasty drunk. Abusive to my Mom and us kids. Shot my dog on Christmas once.”

“Really? What’d he die of?”

The best sports cover ever
The best sports cover ever

“Cirrhosis. It was a slow, agonizing death. We watched him writhe in pain those final months. The screaming and obnoxious demands. Could barely stand to be around the jerk. We were all kind of relieved when it was over.”

“So no parting words from him, nothing inspiring to take away from it?”

“Not really.”

“Wow. Sounds like a pretty selfish guy, thinking only of himself.”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like your record number of interceptions and poor performance this season can be attributed to your Dad’s cowardly death.”

“Only thing I can think of.”

“Hang in there, maybe someone you’re closer to will kick soon and get you back on track.”

“Hope so.”

Next: Sliding Through My Hands
Previous: Centerfold
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Centerfold

From the trash heap of history
From the trash heap of history

When my upstairs neighbor Jim was in the final stages of moving out last June we decided we couldn’t ignore the store-room we shared downstairs any longer. We spent an evening pulling out stuff, laughing and tossing. And marveling at a couple of discoveries we made like his Tahitian grog bowl and this picture of me.

Mark and Charley did this as the centerfold for the 1968 program. I had the original framed with all the printers marks intact and gave it to my friend Brian. He wanted to redo it and glam it up, take off the markings and put it in a glitzier frame. I wouldn’t let him. I liked exposing the process.

As natural as the image may seem, there’s a lot that goes into making a legend. It’s not as easy as it looks.

 

center3

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The Story of Jim

Life at Sterling Cooper

 

"What's the date? 1968" was the mantra the choruses repeated over and over
“What’s the date? 1968” was the mantra the choruses repeated over and over

We sold ads for the 1968 program and somehow I ended up being featured in all of them. Except one, I threw a bone to my co-star for her make-up business.

We were in the last vestiges of the Zine era. This was an homage to one of our favorites, Egozine.

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The Story of Jim

Alone With Art

ad7The 1968 program that became the focal point of our discord was the most polished thing Jim and I ever did. It also turned out to be the last thing we collaborated on.

35 years later it still makes me laugh.

What the Critics Say (pdf)
Well received if only in our heads

Synopsis (pdf)
The Cliff Notes

Behind 1968: The Celebrants (pdf)
Cast bios

Beyond 1968: Eros and Civilization (pdf)
An interview with J. Jordan and B

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The Story of Jim

What’s the Date? 1968

“What’s the date? 1968” was the mantra the choruses repeated over and over

Jim moved to California in 1978. He’d liked the area down by Santa Cruz so he rented a place in Capitola.  To get away from White Arms and up the ante a bit he started writing a play that would star me and be produced in San Francisco.

It was called 1968 and it was about the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. I was to play Valerie Solanas, he would play Andy. He wanted it to be called an opera even though there was no music. It was written in verse and both Andy and Valerie were backed by a Greek chorus.  The only real musical element was the drummer who pounded out a rhythm which we tried to keep up with and project over.

We heavily researched every assassination detail and stuck to the facts. To a point. The verse was broken when Valerie delivered her SCUM Manifesto to the adoring masses. And after her trial she was given electric shock treatments to set her straight. The play ended with me lip synching “Chain of Fools.”

As things started to come together and it looked like we were going to pull it off, Jim moved up to the City into a rooming house across the street from me. A few months later he moved in with me so we could save money and share expenses.

We lived 1968 night and day and constantly bickered. He wanted Valerie to be true to life, scruffy and plain. I knew if my followers were coming they would want to see glam. I fought for something more mod and, even though it ended up a modest mod, it was not the realism he wanted.

Bette Davis Eyes. We weren't on until June but they used my image anyways
Bette Davis Eyes. We weren’t on until June but they used my image anyways

Jim took on the roles of producing, directing and acting. He had no experience in any of them. It didn’t help that he was also so indecisive. Sometimes we’d gather for rehearsals and he’d have no plans on what we were to work on, still mulling it over in his head. Most of the cast were friends of mine and I felt guilty we were wasting everyone’s time.

As the opening approached we fought over everything; graphics, staging, mailing lists. He would not delegate, I would not compromise.

His biggest accomplishment was securing the The Fab Mab. It was the hippest venue in town and the home of San Francisco’s punk scene. He talked the owner Dirk Dirksen into giving us early evenings on the weekends in June, 1980. At one rehearsal some English group was unloading their equipment and I heard one guy say, “ah, it’s just some fluff doing a play.”

Things finally came to a head over the program. I arrived home one night after he had been to the printers. He told me my cover design was technically not feasible. He seemed pleased about it because he hadn’t liked it in the first place. I said something catty like I’m sure he’d worked really hard to find a solution.

He snapped. He started yelling I always had to have my way, I was impossible to work with, I never supported him, etc., etc.  For emphasis, he put his fist through the plaster with such force the fountain pen he held splattered all over the ceiling.

I’d seen his violent side before but it had never been directed towards me. I shut down and started to phase him out. During the month-long run of 1968 communication between us was terse and only when necessary.

Mercifully, the play ended but our relationship was destroyed. We could barely stand to be together.

Deadly. My slightly modish version of Valerie.
Deadly. My slightly modish version of Valerie.

***

The Story of Jim

With Extra Tartar Sauce

The old Carl Jack Jr.'s
The old Carl Jack Jr.’s

I stumbled on this startling reincarnation of the Jack in the Box on 7th Street the other day. Or maybe it was a Carl’s Jr. I used to go in there in the middle of the night walking home from the clubs. If I hadn’t spent all my money and could scrounge up $2 , I would buy a fish sandwich. It was probably all I had to eat for the day.

I originally thought someone had done a great top to bottom on this corner. After a few seconds I realized it was way to thought out and precise for that. No way kids with a couple of spray cans running from the cops could come up with this.

30 years ago that would have been the only way something like this would have happened. Today any Fortune 500 company would underwrite it. Considering it lacked the spontaneous/illicit element made me like it less.

The tech industry is leading the revival of this mid-Market area so it was probably part of the campaign to make them feel welcome. Part of the techies’ conspicuously conscious crusade to be un-corporate cool. They really do try too hard sometimes.

After much deliberation I went back to my original impression. I liked it. The Carl Jack looked great in the context of its surroundings. I should just leave it at that and stop over-thinking things. (But then what would I blog about?)

My neighborhood barristo. He starts my Americano when he sees me a block away. So sometimes I order a soy latte.
My neighborhood barristo. He starts my Americano when he sees me across the street. So sometimes I order a soy latte.

Divine once said there are two kinds of people in this world, my kind and assholes. I would never, ever correct her but when it comes to the youth in the City I think there are three kinds: techies, trust-funders and bohemians. I prefer the latter. Like the ones at my corner coffee shop.

I’ve had to adjust to hearing someone 40 years younger than me call me “buddy,” but these kids are kind and genuinely cool. And a lot of them are art students. They might have worked on that mural.

I don’t know them well even though I see them daily. I am always wondering what their lives are like: their favorite drugs, how many roommates they’re crammed into a flat with, if they have enough money for a fish sandwich.

It’s just nice to see that spirit is still alive.

Next: What’s the Date? 1968
Previous: Life on Dirty, Filthy Nob Hill
The complete saga, From the Beginning