Saturday, November 9, 2013


ith the wisdom of hindsight the year 1981 was pivotal.  Ronald Reagan took office as 40th President of the United States and 52 American hostages were released after 15 months of captivity in Iran.  In New York the Mudd Club closed and the Saint disco opened.  And little noted at time, the June 5 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report  included in a brief article entitled ``Pneumocystis  Pneumonia—Los Angeles'' which described five cases of previously healthy men about age 30 found to have biopsy-confirmed infection with this rare microbe.
The Centers for Disease Control's MMWR  publishes data on notifiable diseases from national surveillance programs as well as observations of special interest to its readers, public health workers, those that see the big picture.  Doctors deal with individual cases and only when enough are reported to the CDC does it warrant a mention in the MMWR .  A short editorial addendum to that article explained that the ``fact that these patients were all homosexuals suggests an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact.''
While this was the first public recognition of the syndrome people in the gay communities of LA, New York and San Francisco had already begun noticing something weird going on.
Three weeks after the article appeared San Francisco hosted the largest gathering of gays in the world at that year's International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade.

hey sat cross-legged on the oriental carpet, four young men in Ricco's living room in Chelsea all intently watching Larry lean over the mirror holding a rolled hundred dollar bill to his nose.  His head swept along one of the lines of white powder on the glass, the line disappeared, Larry raised up, inhaled deeply and passed the mirror along.

Joey, waiting his turn, idly picked up a small booklet from the coffee table with a medical illustration of an uncircumcised penis on the outside.  A forcep pulled at the shaft opening.  The packet unfolded like a map, the next page had a similar drawing but with the foreskin pulled open and held by three foreceps.
He continued and now had the paper lain out on the rug and ignored his turn as the mirror came by.  Drawings on the third and fourth pages continued the theme.  Joey looked up, ``What is this?''  Watching from the couch Ricco said, ``Find that interesting do you?''
Joey unfolded again to where the skin covering the shaft was sewn back in place and he shook his head, mesmerized, ``But what is it ?'' he said.
``Keep going, you'll see.''
Joey turned the final fold so that the complete series lay flat on the carpet and the last square showed that it was an invitation.
Joey looked up, ``Another one of those overpriced places for the disco queens, prissy little guys with glitter and feather boas, right?''
Ricco leaned back into the cushions and closed his eyes, ``Maybe if you didn't spend all your time at the trucks or out on a pier and socialized a little more you'd know about these things.''

he Saint was the most expensive disco in history, New York intensity melded with Hollywood special effects.  In 1980 there was no reason to think this human tsunami of gay freedom would ever retreat, a cavernous domed room with an enormous high-tech planetarium projector dominating the center like some alien spacecraft just landed, a sound system with over 500 hundred speakers.  Total immersion, the place could pack in 4000 men dancing together on a busy night with no reference to time or location anywhere in the universe except this space.  This was the future.  The future was now.

A private club that targeted the young and hot, males only, Pans only, those that could afford it, those that understood how the sex and the drugs and the music were so tightly intertwined.  Theme parties, especially at the solstices and equinoxes, the Age of Aquarius had dawned, sympathy and trust abounding.  Dancing shirtless for hours with only enough room to sweat between you and the shirtless men on all sides, thousands of men moving as one, as a flock, handing an amyl to the hunk who just appeared across from you, eyes locked, smiles, crushing one for yourself, feeling the thin glass shell shatter into the gauze mesh, holding it to your nose, a vapor chill, the sudden crisp clarification as a bracing Winter breath fills the lungs, then the soaring rush as a heart-pounding Spring drives vitality into the bloodstream, into the brain.  And down into the crotch. 

The music never, never stops, not once in however many hours you've been out on the floor, under this light show of a universe, you and that hunk now wrapped around one another, both shirtless, moving, heading for the stairs, knowing without words, up to the balcony.  Here everyone else has the same idea, you try to find an empty space among the moans.

Twenty minutes later you're back down on the floor again jammed in with all the others, dancing furiously and reaching into your shirt pocket.

pening night at the September equinox, lines of men around the block and then packed inside this futuristic dome, waiting, the anticipation, could this possibly live up to the hype.  The house music stopped, the lights flared briefly and then the room went completely dark.  After some seconds the minor triad that opens a Chopin prelude sounded as the full planetarium display illuminated and filled the space with stars, a night sky as the ancients must have seen it: wondorous and alive.  Someone there that night told how a unison gasp came from three thousand men who then stared in awed silence until the voice of Donna Summers began a breathy, sexy moan ``Oh baby . . . '' which became an imploring ``I want you to come . . . come, Come, COME! ''
Is this real or could this be magic?
When the drums kicked in it seemed that the brief prelude music had been the funeral march for the pre-Stonewall world, their heroic struggle was ended and a dawning, a celebration had begun.  The volume level exploded and the thousands of young men there broke into a long, sustained cheer because of what they were witnessing, what they were a part of, this new world they were making.
Six months later, at the March 1981 equinox, the whole known universe spans the enormous dome, a billion stars, constellations, galaxies, the great wheeling zodiac turns to Spring, locks in place, the fiery ram roars into the cosmos from his winter cage, horns gouge the firmament, unleashed now he cannot be returned, the fish, wet cold winter, is banished forever.  The stars have aligned, there will be no return.  Those thousands dancing looked up to the heavens, to a bright promise in the explosion of stars but their fate was marked in the darkness of their blood by a tiny strand of nucleic acid.  In a far corner Prince Prospero whispered a line from Psalms, ``the pestilence that walketh in darkness, . . .'' which went unheard.  It was time to party, it was innocent fun, it was already too late.  The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The future seemed so bright, how could it not be, it was written on the stars.

oey is still staring at the invitation spread out before him on the rug as Ricco explains, ``There's to be a ritual circumcision, an altar in the middle of the floor, an Aztec sacrifice, you know, one of those pagan things.''

``I want to go to this,'' Joey says, ``This looks like my kind of place.''

ess than two years after The Saint opened those expensive invitation packets began to be returned, stamped ``No Forwarding Address.''  Initially they couldn't understand why someone would spend so much money on membership fees and then not leave a forwarding address.  And as more and more of the invites began being returned they saw a parallel with the increasing numbers cited in the newspaper stories and they began to understand why.

ach October the Centers for Disease Control publishes an Annual Summary of ``Significant Public Health Events'' compiled from data and reports for the previous year.  The 1982 issue began, ``For 1981, one of the most significant public health events in the United was not an epidemic or the appearance of a new disease, but the marked decrease in the occurrence of a well-known illness.  The reported cases of measles for 1981 reached their lowest level since 1925, the year that communicable disease reporting on a weekly basis was instituted in the United States.''

The future is written.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

fran lebowitz

In late September of 1987 as they prepared for DC the following appeared in the Sunday paper:

The Impact of AIDS On the Artistic Community


Fran Lebowitz, the author of ``Metropolitan Life'' and ``Social Studies,'' offers a dozen short reports from a world attempting to cope with pain and loss.

1.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that when a 36-year-old writer is asked on a network news show about the Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community, particularly in regard to the Well-Known Preponderance of Homosexuals in the Arts, she replies that if you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture you would be left with "Let's Make a Deal."
    The interviewer's lack of response compels her to conclude that he has no idea what she is talking about, and she realizes that soon many of those who do know what she is talking about will be what is generally regarded as dead.

2.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that on New Year's Eve Day, a 36-year-old writer takes a 31-year-old photographer to get a chest X-ray and listens to him say with what can only be described as a certain guarded hope, "Maybe I just have lung cancer."

3.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-year-old writer has a telephone conversation with a dying 41-year-old book editor whom even the most practiced verbal assassin has called the last of the Southern gentlemen and hears him say in a hoarse whisper, "I'm sorry, but I just hate old people. I look at them and think, 'Why don't you  die?' "

4.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that an aspiring little avant-garde movie director approaches a fairly famous actor in a restaurant and attempts to make social hay out of the fact that they met at Antonio's and will undoubtedly see each other at Charles', and Antonio's and Charles' are not parties and Antonio's and Charles' are not bars and Antonio's and Charles' are not summer houses in chic Tuscan towns—Antonio's and Charles' are funerals.

5.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-year-old writer is on the telephone with a 38-year-old art director making arrangements to go together the following morning to the funeral of a 27-year-old architect and the art director says to the writer, "If you get there first sit near the front where we usually sit and save me the seat on the aisle."

6.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 24-year-old-ballet dancer is in the hospital for 10 days following an emergency appendectomy and nobody goes to visit him because everyone is really busy and after all he's not dying or anything.

7.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-yer-old writer takes time out at a memorial service for the world's pre-eminent makeup artist and a man worth any number of interesting new painters to get angry because the makeup artist's best friend and eulogist uses a story she has for years been hoarding for her book which she can't write anymore anyway unless she writes it as a historical novel because it's about a world that in the last few years has disappeared almost entirely.

8.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-year-old writer runs into a 34-year-old painter at a party and the painter says to the writer that he is just back from Los Angeles and he says with some surprise that he had a really good time there and he asks why does she think that happened and she says it's because New York is so boring now that Los Angeles is fun in comparison and that's true and it's one reason but the real reason is that they don't know the people who are dying there.

9.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-year-old writer has dinner every night for eleven nights in a row with the same 32-year-old musician while he waits for his biopsy to come back because luckily for her she is the only one he trusts enough to tell.

10.   The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that a 36-year old writer trying to make plans to go out of town flips through her appointment book and hears herself say, "Well, I have a funeral on Tuesday, lunch with my editor on Wednesday, a memorial service on Thursday, so I guess I could come on Friday, unless of course Robert dies."

11.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that when the world's most famous artist dies of complications following surgery at the age of 61 it doesn't seem like he really died at all—it just seems like he got off easy.

12.    The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community is that at a rather grand dinner held at a venerable New York cultural institution and catered by a company famous for the beauty of its waiters a 39-year-old-painter remarks to a 36-year-old writer that the company in question doesn't seem to employ as many really handsome boys as it used to and the writer replies, "Well, it doesn't always pay to be popular."


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DC 87 - preparation

I N the Workshop the machines drum round the clock now as the deadline for DC approaches, the sounds rise and fall in overlapping waves as eight people hunch over the tables and sew.  They had made a promise that quilt panels received by the deadline would make it to Washington.  No matter what hour people are pulling cloth under a pulsing needle, talking or concentrating or singing mindlessly.  At three a.m. all the shops on the commercial strip outside are dark, the sidewalks and streets empty, stools are upended on the bar tops awaiting the swamper.  At the wide intersection where Market and Castro intersect the bank of stoplights appear abandoned as they rotate through a purposeless cycle.  In the distance downtown San Francisco dims away to smudges under the fog cover of August but from in here light pours out the glass front wall, music pounds, people move and laugh, in here there is life.
The deadline date was arbitrary, they just assumed that giving themselves a one month lead they'd have time to get panels received by mid-September sewn into the quilt to be part of the March for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  They didn't know.  In early August they barely had one hundred, were hoping for 1000 and and the idle comment was made that it would hardly be noticed on that enormous length of grass mall that stretches from Capital Hill to the Washington Monument.
The Neiman Marcus at Union Square let them display quilt in its main windows, by 1987 the store had already lost too many young employees to the epidemic.  Some days a few volunteers would trek down from the workshop just to watch how people responded, none of it had ever been publicly shown and they'd never even seen it outside of the workshop.  Cafe Flore hosted a small opening which generated some local interest but not what they'd hoped.  The whole quilt, the panels sewn into 12x12s, could at this time fit in the bed of a small pickup and was stacked in a closet space at the rear of the workshop.  Some afternoons Cindy would go back there and lay on it for a short nap.  But volunteers showed up, each day someone new found the workshop, they'd stand just inside the doorway with that distant stare of one who had cared for a lover alone in those last months as that person decayed and now has nowhere else in life to go.  They want to help, they're willing to do anything for however many years or weeks or days they themselves have left.  This space would become their home, the people here their family, loss is a great unifier.
Still, packages would arrive postmarked from out in the hinterlands and someone on their way to the workshop would check most afternoons at the Castro branch Post Office on 18th.  The parcels would be hand carried the few blocks to Market Street.  Throbbing machine sounds trail off as people stop sewing and gather to watch them opened.  ``Kansas, this one's from Kansas!'' marveling that anyone in Kansas or Ohio or Georgia had even heard about their effort.
Each new panel would be unfolded and held out for view and the accompanying letters read aloud.  The people became real, a name, a little something about their life, about how they had touched other humans.  Letters would explain why various design elements were chosen—why a bag of foam rubber french fries (his restaurant in Amsterdam had been famous for them) or why dozens of brightly colored birds strung alone wires (his favorite hobby) or why a yellow rose (he'd arranged for one to be sent to each of his coworkers upon his death).  Letters described talents of the individual, letters were written by siblings, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, letters were from coworkers, neighbors, too many letters told of the enormous suffering at the end and most gave a date of birth and death so that simple math told how young they were when they died.
One letter, after describing the final days, ended simply, ''At last there was peace.''
These were the people, the ones whose names were on these bolts of cloth, that they'd promised to carry to DC.

nitially the work load seemed manageable with the small group they had, with almost two months until the march people could do their day jobs and still find time to put in a few hours at a machine stitching eight panels together into twelve foot by twelve foot sections and handing them off to volunteers who would fold and pin long strips of heavy canvas around the perimeter.  This edging would be sewn on and the 12-by-12 would get a number and the names and panel maker data would be filed.  This gave a master list so that anyone wanting to see a specific panel could find it.  During the day other volunteers would pound metal sail grommets into the edging so that on the mall four 12x12s could be mated and layed flat between a walkway allowing 32 panels to be viewed at a time.
They'd given little thought to a procedure to open it for display or even how it would transported across America, they had enough to do just sewing.  If no other option appeared they'd rent a large truck or put it on a train or form a car caravan.
Jack had come up with the idea of folding the corners of four mated 12x12s to the middle and then repeating from the resulting corners until they had flat bundles about four feet square.  These could then be packed for transportation and the process reversed as an opening ceremony.  Once they figured out how to get it to Washington, DC.
They had planned to have the full quilt sewn by the Castro Street Fair, the first Sunday in October, and use the fair as draw for help in getting 7000 pounds of cloth itemized and folded and boxed.  And then packed onto a rented truck or put on a train or carried in a car caravan.  Or something.

uilt that had not made the deadline was hung as a backdrop to the stage of the Fair, it was behind Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys when they played their set that Sunday.  Singer/ guitarist Buck, his drummer brother and another guitarist had recently moved from Omaha, they felt that in quirky San Francisco they might find an audience for their Cramps-style rockabilly, that ``Teenage Pussy from Outer Space'' and ``Bend Over Baby and Let Me Drive'' might find an audience, unaware that this quirky San Francisco had been dying for about five years.
In 1992 Buck was a bartender at the Paradise Lounge (he arrived in SF too late to have ever been in FeBe's) and he'd walk his dog in the Panhandle by his apartment in the wee hours after closing the club.  This eight block tree filled stretch bordered by high Victorians was a City Parks Department designated pigeon-feeding area where tourists find quaint photo-ops and where the Health Department fined the neighbors because their yards and homes and drives and sidewalks are covered in pigeon shit.  Typical San Francisco, one department says come feed our pigeons, another makes money off residents because of it.  Seems that a little Pigeon Man would bring ten-gallon pails of seed and toss it to the now enormous flocks that waited daily.  He would threaten to shoot people and dogs if they bothered his birds.  He was out there at 3 a.m. when Buck's dog took out after some so Pigeon Man shot and killed Buck.

iracle of miracles, through friends, the kindness of strangers, the Flying Tigers air freight service would ship the whole thing to DC and back for free.  Only everything had to be packed and ready a week earlier than they had allocated for.  As if they didn't have enough to do.  Now with one less week to sew than scheduled things became even more hectic.
Those already working overtime put in overtime, Cindy and Evelyn and others used day job vacation time, young men on disability who should have been pampering their immune system stayed all night, the quilt had to be sewn and packed and gone now before the upcoming Castro Street Fair.
They had hoped to have at least 1000 panels to take to DC but with three weeks until the deadline had received only about 400.  Most were single panels sent in by individuals but gay groups in some cities organized sewing events and collected them to mail all at once, they wanted to keep their friends as long as possible.  Houston did that and sent 240 as a batch, waiting until the very last.
The Monday of that deadline week, swamped with work now, with unsewn panels piled and waiting by each machine someone walked from the workshop to the P.O. like always to ask if there was any mail.  He stood by the little metering scale as the postal worker looked up and said, ``Lemme check.''  The postal worker turned to the doorway that lead to the sorting room and called, ``Any packages for the Names Project?''  Another worker came to the opening and peered out, ``Yes I do believe we have some packages here for the Names Project.''  He then looked straight at the guy at the counter and grinned real big, ``You didn't by any chance happen to bring with you a very large truck?''

n the workshop the machines drum round the clock now as the deadline for DC approaches.  They had made a promise.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013


D an can't tell if he's breathing.  It doesn't matter, ability even to ponder the question means he must be breathing.  It is a bother to open his eyes even a small bit, that must require more effort than breathing.  He can raise his eyelids slowly raise a few millimeters and then they slowly shut, vague outline of a curtained window, a dark room.  There is cool fresh air entering his nostrils without him even breathing.  Nice.  Pleasant.  Relaxing.  A nice, pleasant, relaxing room.  He could stay in this place a while, a little nice, pleasant, relaxing vacation.
Funny how breathing is barely necessary if you don't move at all.  Dark shapes float against what little light seeps around the curtain edges.  His eyes must not have completely shut.  Too much effort.  The first shape has stopped and moves aside like a guide presenting, ``Here you will note how the members of this ancient culture used deep mediation to lower their metabolic rate and survive the long, long winters.''  One of the other shapes leans over, a closeness Dan associates with familiarity.  ``Danny, it's your mom and dad.  How are you feeling?''  Dan takes a breath through his mouth and exhales, his way of saying, ``Hi mom, hi dad.''
``Can he hear me doctor?  Does he know we're here?''
``Most likely, though he needs to be kept sedated.  He had a seizure and was in a lot of pain when they brought him in.  And the CMV has destroyed most of his vision.''

n the earliest days of the epidemic political gays opposed a separate AIDS ward fearing it would be a quarantine area, an inhouse leper colony, maybe even with a separate elevator.  But it quickly became obvious that consolidation of resources was medically sound.  The initial AIDS ward on the 5B quickly became swamped and was moved over to the larger 5A unit where the chalkboard behind the nurses station displayed first names only for privacy.  The less severely afflicted were placed on the other fifth floor wards in rooms with the traditional hospital patients.  And had their full name displayed.
That was how one afternoon while passing a doorway a visitor heard, ``Lee, get in here and congratulate me!  I made it to the big time this trip—5A!''
The visitors lounge was called the Liz Taylor room, because the actress would show up unannounced, with no publicity, and chat with patients.  She'd donated a piano and others brought in stereos and VHS players and televisions and record collections, expensive top quality items, the best, possessions the owners no longer would need.  The room was decorated for the various holidays, Rita Rockett gave Sunday brunches and visitors and the mobile patients communed there.
Others were just bitter and became even more so in late December hearing piano and singing from the lounge, ``. . . home for Christmas . . . if only in my dreams.''
The second wave of the epidemic brought a new type of patient, the IV drug users from the Tenderloin, and their visitors had different priorities from those of the first wave.  They might look in at the patient but their interests were focused on other things.  Visitors were allowed onto the ward round the clock, 24 hour access with little oversight, hmmm, an IV drip bag of morphine connected to a comatose AIDS patient?  No problem.  Soon everything of value in the Elizabeth Taylor room had disappeared.  After that the TVs and radios and video players were all locked down with thick metal cables.

eizure, Dan heard the doctor say, such a pleasant sounding word.  Sei-zure.  Sea-azure, an azure sea.  To float in a nice warm blue ocean, pleasant, relaxing.  Sea-azure, a warm azure sea.  He was four years old, he wanted to play in the yard but his mother said no.  ``And you can't go outside barefoot, it's too cold and I'm not going to put your shoes on for you.''  He stood there holding his little red sneakers and glared at her, frustrated, chocking tears.  He moved to in a chair in the den and placed the little canvas shoes by his feet and looked down.  He took a laces of one in each hand, crossed them, pulled, looped, four year old Dan figured it out.  ``Alright you can go,'' she said when he returned to the kitchen to show her, ''but stay in the back yard where I can see you.''
``What son?  Say that again, I couldn't hear you.''  Leaning over the bed, her ear tilted towards his face,  ``Shoes?  You want your shoes?  Is that what you said?  You want your shoes?  You have to stay here darling, you can't leave the hospital until you're better.''

ess awoke frightened.  He couldn't find his glasses, he didn't know where he was and he became even more frightened once he realized.  He did not want to be alone when he died.  He didn't want to die of course but that part he had little control over, the being alone part, well, now he saw that Larry was there, Tess had just missed him.  ``It will be alright,'' Larry said, ``if I can't be here I'll have one of our friends fill in.  Promise.''
Pinky swear.
That was why there are three guys in chairs in the hallway by the room door, soda cans and white Chinese take out boxes at their feet, and two others in the room.  Someone there at all times.  Tess would not be alone.
When he had awoken in panic that first day Larry had found his glasses and said, ``Always put them on the same spot on the bedside table so you'll always know where to find them.''
Tess gazed at him, myopic eyes through the thick lenses imploring, ``Always?  You mean I'm always going to be here?''

arm water.  The first time Dan vacationed in Hawaii that's what he remembers the most.  The warm water.  And the cute guy he saw each afternoon lying in the sand at Queen's surf that stared at him.  On morning Dan awoke with a rash across his back and down his thighs that sent him to the ER, with no immune system you never know, there the guy was at the main desk.  ``Go in that room,'' pointing, ``remove your clothes and put this on,'' handing Dan a folded pale green gown.
The air conditioned room was chilly as he waited, barely covered by the thin fabric of the open back robe.  The guy came in and shut the door and told Dan to lay on his chest so he could examine the rash.
After the inspection the guy said, ``OK, I'll go get the doctor.''
Dan raised up, ``You're not the doctor?''
``No, I'm admissions, but I've been staring at that cute ass of yours at the beach all week and just had to know what it looked like.''

andy  told his lover to bring the address book and he sat up in the hospital bed as they went through the names to find those still alive that he wanted to come visit, all on the same afternoon.  Seven met in the Liz Taylor room and discussed what this request must mean before they walked the hallway together to find Randy asleep.  They debated, then Terry gently shook him awake, ``We're all here Randy.  We're all here.''
Randy pushed the button that winched him upright and looked at his friends crowded into his little world.  ``I'm so glad you came.''
Randy smiled looking to the one nearest, ``Terry,'' he said, ``remember that time we . . .''  He chuckled at a memory, smiling even more before fading.  ``I'm so glad you all are here.''
Terry took hold of his hand, ``It will be all right Randy, we're here.''
Randy shut his eyes and relaxed, still smiling.  ``Go to the light Randy,'' someone in the room said and it was echoed by others, ``Go to the light Randy, go to the light.''
Randy opened his eyes wide and sat up when he understood what they were doing.  Everyone was now in a circle around him and seemed to be performing some ritual, ``Go to the light.''
``Hey!  I'm not dying just now!  Is that what you thought?''  He shook his head, ``I just wanted all of you together so I could tell you how much your friendships have meant over these years, how much I've loved all of you, how much fun it has been just knowing each of you.''
Randy shook his head again as he lay back, ``I may have AIDS but you're not getting rid of me that easily.''

an floated back from his Hawaii vacation to hear his mother, ``He's smiling doctor, he must know we're here.''
``It's difficult to say, most of his eyesight is gone and he's not responding to the pentamidine so there's really no way to tell what he's aware of.''
``You mean there's nothing more you can do?''
``I don't want to get your hopes up, some people do recover briefly, but he only weighs about eighty pounds and he'll never walk again or see again and the pain will probably just keep increasing.''
She looked at gaunt form, barely recognizable as a human, lying there in a nest of tubes: breathing tubes and feeding tubes and infusion tubes, and she tried to match what she was seeing with the lifetime of images of her son.  ``There's really nothing more you can do?'' she asked.
Dan tried to laugh when he heard the word ``stopcock,'' the infantile snicker in high school science lab, as the doctor, before leaving them alone there, explained its function, how it regulates flow.  ``You turn the valve to here and he will be out of pain for a while, you turn it to here,'' he paused, ``and he will be out of pain forever.''

ranz checked in at the nurses station when he came on for the evening shift and then made first rounds, the floor quiet, a hospital settling in for a hopefully uneventful night.  That's how most of them go, quietly, uneventfully, a graceful transition from one world to another.  Forms to fill, discharge papers, but rarely urgency or crisis.  The ordinary sameness of one day routinely following the next, this methodical efficiency of the epidemic.  Sometimes a patient might rally and appear in the dark hall pulling his drip bag pole, moving towards the light, ready to go home.  And sometimes Franz will come on to see a nurse stand to face the chalkboard, reach to smear out a name and write in a new one.
The flat green chalkboard every schoolkid spent years staring at, first names and room numbers over the palimpsest smudges of previous patients, dead or recovered enough to go home to die.  AIDS roulette, pick a number, the house always wins.
It's the Filipino nurses that get him, you volunteer to be here, they could be on any other ward, house staff is never forced to work 5A.  Franz knows these patients, these women don't.  They sit quietly conversing in Tagalog, above them the endless supply of names San Francisco provides, first names only just like the chalkboards you used to see on entering the baths.
The wheel never stops, barely past childhood, these innocents rushed to the circus that was San Francisco before , the glorious midway, all in fun, place your bets folks.  ``We were too young for this,'' Franz wants to scream down into the empty hallway.  The house always wins.
He turns the corner to see a lanky blond woman midway facing the wall with her head bowed.  He's seen her up here before.  Gert had stopped by to visit a friend and while looking in the rooms found that she knew two other people on the ward.  Now she's gently banging her head against the concrete in a slow methodical rhythm.
As Franz passes behind her holding the clipboard with this night's list of names he mutters, ``Feels good doesn't it.''


Friday, January 4, 2013


T ypical June day  for the Pride Parade, luminous fog overhead, jacket weather chill, basic summer in San Francisco.  On Market Street the parade continued but she wanted to beat the crowd to the underground so was cutting across wide Civic Center plaza when she saw it.  At the far end of the enormous open space surrounded by granite buildings a smudge of color leaked over the City Hall facade.  Hung from the outdoor balcony was quilt and there was David, her David.
Cindy hadn't heard anything more from these people after that first meeting.  She stared above the tall doorways where large cloth squares billowed and flattened with the gusts.  Eight panels in each square—so this is how they would do it.
Someone told her they'd seen Roger at a booth back across the plaza and she headed there.  A wood frame braced panels mounted behind a table.  The guy she'd sat next to at the meeting, Jack, was standing there staring as well.  ``Sure we remember you two,'' the person at the table probably thinking they were a couple.  ``We just signed a lease on a storefront on Market Street so have a place to sew to get ready for the march in Washington.  Stop by, we can use all the help we can get.''  Handing a flier headed with a phrase she'd never seen, ``The Names Project.''
By Pride day in 1987 the epidemic was a permanent fixture, the playful insouciant  joie de vivre  that was everywhere a decade before was gone, as irretrievable as the people whose names now hung from the balcony.  You were aware of it not just in the twenty or more obituaries, small headshots of young men in prime of life, that ran each week in the BAR  or in the framed photos of faces displayed in shop windows on Castro Street, employees everyone had known, or in the increasing number of memorials but in every little aspect of daily life.  You were surrounded by the epidemic.
It was there in snippets of casual conversation you might overhear, ``He moved back home, someplace like Indiana.''  Or ``I should have known something was wrong, if there was a choice he always bought the cheapest; this time he didn't bother.'' Or simply, ``He was diagnosed.''
It was there in the exchange of friends upon running into one another,  ``Tom, love your new look, you've trimmed down, lost weight, that shirt looks fabulous  on you.''  Tom all but shouting, ``I Have Not Lost Any Weight!''
It was there on the sidewalk as you move aside for the scrawny guy coming towards you, baggy wrinkled clothes, matted hair, who halts as head turns and deep-set eyes lock in a long stare that follows as you pass.  You hear a weak rasp that almost sounds like your name.  A few more steps before you stop, Larry ?  That can't be Larry—I just saw him a few weeks ago.  That's when you realize the guy must still be behind you gawking.  By the time you turn he has continued down the sidewalk leaning a bit unsteadily on a cane.
The Castro Street Doubletake.

She had a day off the following Wednesday, standing there in front of this booth where Roger was displayed she and the guy Jack made a date to check out this new place on Market Street.

n 1979 a contingent representing San Francisco charted Amtrak to carry them to that year's March on Washington that commemorated the tenth anniversary of Stonewall.  A piano was installed in the bar car and essentially they planned to take the San Francisco party through the hinterlands, singing and drinking as America slid by outside the windows.  The train had barely crossed out of Nevada into Utah before they completely ran out of booze.  Fully stocked at departure and now nothing, not a drop.  Then true divine intervention, in Ogden a fundamentalist lay on the tracks to block their passage.
``The Lord works in mysterious ways,'' was yelled as they piled out running to the grocery across the tracks, guys in leather chaps raced guys with mascara smeared eyes, feather boas elbowed ahead of lumberjacks, all with a single destination: the liquor aisle.
``Thank you Baby Jesus!''
Clark was one of the first in line, honey blond curls nestling on his shoulders, rainbow tie-dye tee, a quart of vodka in each hand and he heard the woman in front of him say to the cashier, ``MayBelle, you should have seen what just got off of that train out there!''
Maybelle paused her ring to lean over, ``Don't look now but they're all  in line right behind you.''
These were the Baby Boomers, children of people who had lived through the Depression and then the War and wanted little more than an uneventful life, a peaceful Leave It To Beaver existence.  Job, house, family, the little black and white images on the set that dominated the living room was all the excitement the parents needed.  Stability, if June said, after vacuuming the already spotless rug in her heels and pearls, ``Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver,'' you knew it wasn't going to be anything like, ``How so, dear?'' laying down his paper to look up.
``He's been trying on my lipstick and jewelry.''
``It's just a phase honey, went through it myself, he'll outgrow it.''
These Boomers didn't outgrow it, their war, the one that tore America apart, Vietnam, had finally ended, and they were in the extended liberated celebration.  Growing up with only three TV network stations almost all of them had the exact same experience most nights no matter where in the country they lived.  Most could remember when color came into the living room and all could remember where they were when they heard Kennedy had been shot.

indy met Jack at a bar down the street and after a drink they walked to 2362 Market.  They stood in the glass doorway and peered into the empty room, a wide area with a floating staircase at the far end leading up to a mezzanine level.  The space had been an apartment furnishings store, a business that couldn't compete now with so many Everything Must Go sidewalk sales.  The walls and carpet were gray (the color taupe if you were gay), track lights crossed the ceiling and the mezzanine ran around the left side above them.  ``Well, what do you think?'' Jack said.  ``Sure seems big,'' she answered.
In the weeks that followed, as word got out and panels began coming in for the display in Washington the room filled, with sewing machines, with piles of cloth, with volunteers working at almost all hours.  People just showed up, John Anthony appeared one afternoon, he'd left his home at the River forever with no place to stay, nothing but his plaid shirt, construction boots and jeans, waving about twenty Post-Its, ``Anybody want to help me make panels?  These are names of all my friends, they're all dead.''
He wasn't the only one.  Outside this room the epidemic had circled and settled, a harsh gray world, four or five young men died each day, the realization that everyone was infected and had next to no hope.  Inside there was laughter (``We who are about to die. . .''), color, enthusiasm; where death was so present here was life, for how ever little of it they had left.  Just to be able to do something, anything, in the face of this enormity was enough.  For many who would sew there this place would be their last real home, it became a warroom, here they were mounting a campaign and this place was the Alamo.