Life of Brian

In the span of three years I lost three of my closest confidants to AIDS. Brian was the last in 1991.

We were not partners but we were both hypersexual so on occasion, out of necessity, we’d shag. Though we were never mushy. We loved to cause trouble and we were good at it.

The pictures of him passed out are from 1982 on the night I returned from my first trip to Europe. My friend Giorgio had given me two beautiful bottles of ancient Chianti. He insisted they were purely ornamental, they’d gone bad years ago.

Brian never met an order he couldn’t defy. We drank them both that night.

 

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The complete saga, From the Beginning.

I Know I’ve Dreamed You

As the disease and the heavy doses of AZT ravaged Jim, it was to the point he could no longer manage. He was moved to the Garden Sullivan Hospice. The dementia was getting much worse so our visits were mainly me filling the air with words hoping he’d pick up on some of them. There were so many absurd hospice moments I wanted to laugh about with him but I couldn’t get through.

One afternoon I was there and a person in his ward had just died. Two scruffy women were wrapping the corpse in black plastic and tying it with rope not bothering to close the curtain for privacy. There was a grizzly earnestness to what they did, a 19th Century workhouse feel to the scene. “Call the fishmonger’s wife! She’ll do it.”

Another time he was thirsty. He reached for his water bottle but picked up the urine container instead. I quickly grabbed it, “no, no! not that one!” Did the attendants even notice these things? Why would they place them so close together? Maybe they were Hindu and considered this an accepted practice.

On one of my last visits I let him do the talking. He thought he was looking at someone’s family portrait and he went down the line explaining to me who each person was. When he got to the imaginary guy on the end he said, “now that one, that one’s fuckable.”


Jim would not have wanted a memorial service but one of his newer friends Rachel was insistent. She lived a few doors down in the Day of the Locust complex. They had become friendly because she wrote poetry too. She was a needy and sensitive lass though I’m not sure how well she wrote. But Jim could rise to the level of the competition. With someone talented like Randy Shilts he could be brutal, with the neighboring naif I’m sure he was encouraging. Most importantly, her visits had added routine to his dwindling personal life.

I kept putting her off hoping to wear her down. I knew she would make any service more about Rachel than Jim but she wouldn’t give up. So I finally relented and agreed on a Sunday afternoon in Golden Gate Park. We would meet in front of the DeYoung at 2:00.

I thought of calling in sick or just not showing up but I forced myself to go. I drug my feet the whole way. Leaving the apartment late, taking unnecessary transfers on Muni and walking very slowly the final blocks, I arrived at 2:25 hoping it would be over. They were all waiting for me on the steps. We decided to go sit in a grove over to the right of the museum

I didn’t know any of the ten people there except his artist friend Steve who I liked. We engaged in light conversation as we walked towards the trees. In the distance there was a hippie minstrel playing guitar and singing Imagine. A nice coincidence even if it was a bit hackneyed. Jim would have liked the live music echoing in the bandshell amphitheatre. As I continued chatting with Steve I thought ‘wait a minute, that’s not Imagine, it’s Wild Horses.’ I felt a jolt. The song was not that popular, no one but the Stones ever sang it and even they rarely performed it. But now?

I sat silent and distracted through the ceremony catching only snippets of what Rachel was feeling. When the group dispersed some wanted to go have a drink. I demurred. I told them I wanted to walk, which I did, thinking of Jim on the three miles back to Jones Street.

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The Story of Jim

The Happiest Days

The happiest days are the days babies come.
The happiest days are the days babies come.

Like Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious, I tend to chew and spit life my way. In the 1980s, not many gay men had a lot of straight friends but I did. Most of my gay brethren didn’t really like children. I loved them. And you didn’t hear of many gays throwing baby showers. I had a couple legendary ones in my apartment on Jones Street.

In 1988 I held one for my friends Teresa and Gary. Teresa and I shared a fascination for Gone With the Wind. She brought a Miss Melly gone awry level of energy to our friendship while mine was more Belle Watling, the sadder but wiser aging whore. Beyond the invitations I didn’t take the GWTW theme too far. I did add my own touches like the 1/2” cupie doll babies frozen in pink and blue ice cubes. And the male stripper from the Campus Theatre who I dressed in a diaper to serve drinks. He was a big hit and obviously enjoyed his work.

When his shift was over he went into the bedroom to get dressed. I followed to thank him and give him his money. He wanted to get frisky and told me “it comes with the rate.” Although I try to live by Gore Vidal’s dictum that you should never turn down an opportunity to be on television or to have sex, I just couldn’t ignore the 20 guests in the other rooms. I smiled, said sorry and sent him on his way. Despite that, it was a memorable evening.

The memories began 20 minutes before the party started with a call from Garden Sullivan Hospital telling me that my friend Jim had just died.  He had lingered for months in hospice care and far exceeded the doctors original prediction that he would only be there a few weeks. In a moment of panic I called our mutual friend Marilyn in Australia to ask if she could notify the sister.

The family had remained at arms length and of little support during his illness but still they needed to be the first ones to know. I told her what was happening with my party. Marilyn told me to focus on the task at hand, she would make the call and we would talk again in the morning.

As the guests arrived I realized a couple of them knew Jim, some knew of him, but most didn’t know him at all. With so many AIDS deaths there was actually a protocol developing that I’d experienced a few times. If you were at some function and able to maintain your composure through the evening, you would carry on normally then quietly tell others who knew the person as you all left. So that’s what I did.

Jim
Jim

In the days following the baby shower I felt guilty for partying down after such devastating news and for not having a more emotional reaction.  I’ve since learned that there is no right way to grieve, each time is different and, despite what made for TV movies teach us, there is no precise continuum for mourning. Even humor, alcohol or sex can work to get through the first awful days.

Two years before Jim died I visited him during a stay in San Francisco General. As I left he gave me an envelope of documents that he wanted me to read and keep for him. On the bus ride back downtown I opened it up. The first one I pulled out was his Will.  As I started to read all I could think was what it must have been like for him to write the words that seemed to accept what was happening to him. And at only 35. There was nothing I could do about it. I rode home a sobbing mess on the 19 Polk.

 

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The Story of Jim