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.

***

The Story of Jim

Graceless Lady

Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore
Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore

After we left Bloomington, Jim immersed himself in Zine culture. He was most influenced by VILE and Egozine. And by the Dadaists through his correspondence with people like Anna Banana, Ray Johnson and Lazy Nickles. He decided he wanted his own magazine.

He called it White Arms. The title represented the sheaths of paper that made up the magazine and the unpredictable reach they would have around the world.

His first edition combined local Fort Wayne art, poetry and prose. He also published my journal of a cross country trip I’d taken in a Lincoln Mark IV. Future editions evolved from including me to being solely about me.

One of the high points of  life in my early San Francisco days was the mail. Every couple of weeks I would get a package from Jim containing long letters, stories, magazines, cassette tapes or photos. I sent the same back to him. He said he waited for the mail “like some wait for god.”

White Arms was primitive and raw. Our primary pre-computer age tool was the xerox machine which we used whenever we could scrounge up enough dimes. If we had a really good idea and could come up with more money, we’d do something on a high speed press. Otherwise it was pretty low grade.

When we were together in Fort Wayne, we used the time to strategize at Henry’s, do photos, or make guerilla theatre appearances that could be turned into material for the magazine. Our stories were based on truths, half-truths, and untruths. If it fit the image we printed it.

The November 22, 1976 Edition
The November 22, 1976 Edition

My drag name was B. I was so famous they named the second letter of the alphabet after me.

Whenever I made an appearance or was photographed I could come across as soigne or remote. But get me involved in a conversation and the crude mannerisms mixed with the mouth of a Longshoreman quickly destroyed the image. I loved to keep people guessing.

Unlike some drag queens I had no desire to be a woman. I just wanted to capitalize on the fact that I could look like one. I was young, androgynous, skinny but fine boned, and had good skin. It did not take much in those days to get me looking good. But I had no falsetto and no act. A friend’s six year old daughter once told her, “when guys get in drag they start acting funny and silly. But when B gets in drag he doesn’t change.”

It took a couple years of coaxing but I finally convinced Jim to visit me in San Francisco. Rather than a brief vacation he turned it into a major expedition. Greyhound offered a 30 day Kennel Club Pass that allowed unlimited bus travel. He took his time traveling via Austin, Taos, and Santa Barbara, stopping to see his new Zine friends who he hoped to interview.

When he got to San Francisco we did all the sightseeing basics. Things you only needed to do once in your life, like Fisherman’s Wharf, and those you had to do habitually like Castro Street

Hanging at the Hound with Tacky Jackie
Hanging at the Hound with Tacky Jackie

The night we went to North Beach we drank French 75s at the Savoy Tivoli. Afterwards we walked the flatter streets back to the Financial District. Muni was on strike, there were no buses and I wasn’t going to climb that hill.

At the base of California Street I stuck out my thumb. A black stretch limo pulled up and asked where we were headed. “Just to the top of the hill.” They said hop in.

Our host was Mayor Alioto.  He talked about all the headaches he was having with Muni and the fits the dig on Market Street was causing him. I was usually confrontational with authority in those days but Jim said I remained the model of decorum telling him, “these things take time. It will all work out in the end.” In my own humble, megalomaniac way I may have saved BART.

Jim stayed with me a couple of weeks then headed off to Guerneville and Santa Cruz. He returned to the City then it was time to go home to Indiana. He bought another Kennel Pass and made plans to travel via Oregon, Boulder, and Iowa.

On the day he left we had an awkward face off. We stood for a moment struggling to say goodbye. Then KSAN played Wild Horses. We looked at each other and laughed. He took off.

***

The Story of Jim

Sensitivity Training

 

Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.
Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.

In my Margaret Mead mode I remained obsessed with the queenie old school claque. I even moved in with them for about a month. Then, one day I realized “it’s not a game, they really believe this shit.” As funny as they were, they were really quite offensive. There was a heavy strain of misogyny in their humor, like the buffoonery of breasts, that I didn’t like.  So I backed off but remained friendly with them.  I needed good turn-outs for my parties, after all.

What intrigued me more than their acts were the superficial accoutrements they thought made you a woman: hair, makeup, fabric selection. It made no sense that genitalia dictated whether you could wear eyeliner or not. It either looked good or it didn’t. Being young and androgynous, I made a spectacle of myself. Everyone loved it. And once I had an audience there was no stopping me.

Jim and I hooked up daily, usually in the evening in Dunn Meadow with a bottle of Boones Farm.  He tried to nurture my appreciation for poetry but it was like jazz, I just didn’t get it. So he brought me along slowly with things like Bird on a Wire. I got that.

In turn I offered up the Stone’s latest single Wild Horses. He agreed that it was a beautiful song and reluctantly conceded it had “a certain” poetry to it. The Stones were more commercial than Leonard Cohen so we would hear Wild Horses on jukeboxes, on the radio, wafting from stereos out of open windows. It became the backdrop for the summer.

There was a sexual tension in our relationship that both of us were too naive and too shy to act upon. It was strange having such a strong infatuation that was never consummated. He later had an affair with a kid he fell for on the first night. What sealed the deal was when they woke up in the morning and he saw my name tattooed on the guy’s arm. Our relationship was kind of sick. And not in the fun way the kids use that word today.

He was working on a novella about me called “Image of Veta.” He insisted that I was going to become a star. I asked, “doing what?” I couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, I didn’t think I had any talent.

He replied, “your talent is being yourself. Become famous and the rest will follow.”  It was a formula used successfully by Madonna 10 years later.

Where Fort Wayne's elite meet
Where Fort Wayne’s elite meet

Jim left Bloomington for Fort Wayne. I moved to San Francisco. We hadn’t known each other growing up but Fort Wayne was my home too. We would see each other whenever I was there.

When he needed money Jim would tap into his local funeral home connection. The director loved his poems so Jim would dumb it down and churn out pap like  “autumn’s road to winter’s stillness.” Even I knew it was bad. We would take his earnings and the latest edition of Funeral Memories down to our favorite bar, Henrys. Sitting in the mahogany booth we drank and laughed as we read the poems to each other.

Jim was feeling the limitations of poetry. We both wanted more.

***

The Story of Jim