Thursday, February 28, 2008
Did you ever love an album so much you prayed you could will yourself into your stereo, in live in it's world? You close your eyes an pour yourself into the spinning vinyl to awaken into an auricularly born land. Every word creates a life and every note a breath. Each lyric is a meal, every song a home. And you don't care if you don't ever leave. Did you ever have such a need to do that?
In December of '88, B and I were failing miserably in our attempt to move on with our lives after Bob's death. That December of '88 felt like it lasted a year. B wasn't working, and spent all day sleeping, and would wake up after I got home from work. I decided to let him do whatever he needed to do to grieve for Bob. I would not judge or condemn his actions; I would partake in them. We spent all my money going out. We went were the booze was cheap or free, sometimes spending more on the bus fare there and back than on the alcohol itself, and we would drink, inhale, and snort every cent, not talking, with an occasional quarter in a jukebox. I tried to find songs that triggered memories of happier times from our boyhood.
"Remember when we would drive around with Crazy David blasting this cassette? What a mess she was! What do you think he's doing now? Still screaming at his parents?! Oh God, this song. Mike and Todd never went a second without this album on back then, remember?!"
He would smile a moment or two, but B was like a champion chess player when it came to drinking: his concentration lay in planning ahead as to how he was getting his seventh and eighth drinks of the night.
Even in the state he was in, a slight smile in any guy's direction would buy whatever he wanted. Whenever I saw him do that, I was reminded of the day a few years back when I met him downtown after he got his GED results. The man who gave him his grades told him he had the highest score he'd seen in a while, and he should go to school.
He can do whatever he wants, and he chooses this. I would think to myself.
This was the time I first attempted to read Neuromancer. (A book I still read once a year.)
"B, can you try to read this book for me? I get fifty pages into it and I don't understand what's happening." I asked him one night.
I couldn't 'get' how one character was able, via computer implants, to experience the world through another character's body. Then I didn't understand the concept of AI, and how, in that book, it was created with the memories of a dead man, and how the main character talked to him in a virtual reality situation.
"I can't read much any more, Brian. I just can't concentrate."
After hearing that, I would buy him comic books and magazines, and leave them laying about in hopes he would pick one up. One night I got out all the high school notes he had ever written me, for I saved them all, and we read each one. We got into the habit back then of writing each other on Sunday nights, during American Top 40, to fill each other in on what had happened over the weekends we weren't together. I was usually at Bodyshop, in Green Bay, an amazing, ahead of it's time, new wave gem of a gay bar, when I was in high school, and he was usually with Sean, his ex-football player, ex-hetero boyfriend.
Reminding each other of the recalcitrant times in our lives, when we rose above our problems, steeled us. Once upon a time, we could laugh at the invading armies hell-bent on our destruction, that lived in our homes and hometowns back then, because we knew something they didn't; we listened to our hearts and souls and embraced them; we instinctively trusted them. I guess somewhere along the way we forgot how to do that. I guess somewhere along the way we became our own enemies.
Hypnotize (over and over)
Those long nights of pollution wouldn't end when we came home. B couldn't really handle the things he snorted, and the extreme paranoia it created in him would make him position mirrors from his side of the futon, so he could see the front and back doors, because he 'knew' the police were going to crash in at any second. Coke heads are a nightmare to live with, especially bad ones. He would try to drag me into his paranoid fantasies, but I would make matters worse by conspiratorially whispering to the 'people' outside the apartment, or by shouting Drugs! or Illegal! out the back door as loud as I could. I would wake up the next morning to find him still awake, playing the stereo, or worse yet, ripping the closet apart to find the stash 'he knew he left somewhere...'
B's self-destruction, and Bob's death, reminded me of the destiny I was headed for, and my inability to stop it. That December I gave myself many pushes in that direction, to speed the process along, because the tedium of the second hand was maddening.
"What are you doing to yourself! What is all this blood!" B would scream at me. "Do you want to die that badly?"
I thought about it for a minute, and said "No. But I can't live like this."
I thought I was empty. I thought I couldn't take another step. But there was something inside of me I was barely aware of; an insatiable curiosity, an untapped vein of creativity, an unseen spring of love, building a momentum of energy, keeping me going, and I finally heard it's voice, and decided to listen to it for a while.
Links: Morrissey, Human League, Grace Jones, Scritti Politti
Monday, February 18, 2008
I talked to B everyday while I was away in Arkansas, that Thanksgiving of '88. He was indescribably upset. His friend was gone, and I know he blamed himself. I know he felt, as I did, Bob had nowhere to turn, and he saw no hope in the eyes in the two people left in his life.
"The hospital was so mean to me when I called to ask about him." B told me one day on the phone. "They just said: 'Oh, he's dead. O.D.' and hung up. The police were just as bad. I guess if you're an addict, you're worthless to them. When they saw his only possession was a backpack full of clothes and condoms, they dismissed him as a hustler, and left."
"Do you think they'll be back?" I asked. I had no idea what I'd be walking into once I got home.
"No, they won't be back." He said.
I talked to Erin everyday while I was away, too. She empathized with Bob, and told me some of the terrible things he experienced growing up, and really didn't know how anyone could survive what he did, without intense therapy, which Bob hadn't got. Then she started to bring up the idea of me telling B to move out.
"He's a bad influence on you, and he knows it. B told me himself. He does love you, but you can't have him in your life and expect it to go anywhere." She said.
Part of me knew she was right, but part of me couldn't accept this person, who had saved my life so many ways and so many times, and on so many levels, could turn into a destructive force to me. I couldn't change me perspective of B over night.
"Spend time with him, talk to him, keep loving him, but just don't live with him. I'm afraid what will happen if you do."
I made up my mind I would try to help him. I would try to get him to go to NA or AA or where ever I could. I saw him heading down the same path as Bob, and I wanted to do my best to try and stop that. I would quit doing drugs. I would drink less. I would spend more time painting and drawing and making clothes.
I bought Erin a tiny blue sapphire ring, at the JC Penny in Little Rock, for Christmas, as a way of showing her how much I valued her in my life.
I told my family what had happened, but kept it vague: B's friend died. They didn't press me for more details, I'm sure out of fear, but had they, I probably would have spilled my guts; I was so at the end of my rope.
Erin picked me up at the airport, and went to my apartment with me. I talked to B the night before, and we promised each other we would get through Bob's death together, get through everything together, make some changes, and find some happiness; find something other than what we were finding. I thought we were on the same page. I thought he understood...
I walked into the apartment to find him in bed with a trick, drugs everywhere.
I lost it. I freaked out.
"How could you do this, with Bob death just a week ago? What are you on? How much have you taken? Why do you want to die like he did!!" I went on and on, to the point the guy in my bed ran out the door naked. I was crying in the kitchen after my outburst, and Erin came in to console me.
"Do you want him to leave now?" She asked.
"No. Just talk to him, Erin. Get him to understand. I don't know what to do." I said.
After a while, to lighten the mood, I gave Erin her gift early.
We talked through the night about everything: what had happened to Bob, our futures together, and what we would do next to make our lives better. I didn't believe a word B said, nor a word that came out of my mouth.
In a Manner of Speaking
Links: Duran Duran, Cassetes Won't Listen, Babyshambles, Nouvelle Vague
Sunday, February 10, 2008
In 1988, I wrote a silly story about a memory I had about watching my parent's lives before I was born, and my excitement about my future adventures with them. I also wrote a story about what would happen if I fainted while turning up the volume on the TV, and how my neighbors would react. B read them, and liked them, and thought I should write more.
Even though my life was crumbling around my ears, I heeded my creative muses, and painted, drew, designed and made clothes, and wrote. (Being able to do this drawing of Boy, in early 89, gave me a reason to keep fighting the good fight.) Sometimes it's good to spend some time on the right side of the brain, and forget, for a while, logic, and the pain and illogic of drug and alcohol abuse.
Some of us get lucky, or blessed, or helped, or whatever the hell it is, at the right time, and find a way to make it to the other side of our addiction; to make a life with some moments of serenity and self production, versus self destruction. I am happy to say I am one of those people.
Some of us make it. Some of us...
"Brian! Bad Brad's here to see you! Hi Bad Brad!" My boss's nickname for B was Bad Brad. He came by the salon to pick me up, the night before I left to visit my family
"Brian, I'm worried about Bob. He's taken 8 of those green pills. Eight. Those things stay in your system for days. If I had taken that many, I'd be dead now. I don't know what to do." He said.
"If you can't make him stop, who can? Besides, Bob knows what he's doing. He knows what he can take. He's a big guy, too. I'm sure everything will be fine." I said, and believed.
For a month, B worked tending bar, and quickly developed a little fan base of patrons, of which I was one. We were a close group, letting the tanned, be-quiffed, sparkly thin queens (it was the 80's, after all) rule the dance floor, while we and huddled in our rumpled, unwashed all black, in our dark corner, every weekend. Watching videos, while B gave me shots, the irony of The Way that You Love Me, was not lost to me. (The video bar in front, where B worked, had a very limited selection of songs us music snobs could stomach. We each had one, and that was mine.)
I had a crush on one of our group, Jim, and would I pray to someday to have what it took to be with him. He had dark brown hair, big brown eyes, perfect white skin, and a beautiful shadow of pathos. I can still see him there, in the run down bar, in his thrifted black mole hair sweater, and Doc Martins:
"Why are you throwing your life away here?" I thought as I looked at Jim that night. "You could be anywhere with anyone you wanted..."
B had been with Jim for a while, but Jim still wanted to be with B, so he was around a lot.
(Jim made it to the other side; I ran into him one night in the late nineties, looking older and wiser, but still good.)
Oh god, the things we did in the Windy City bathroom. It was endless. Steve, one of the group who had a crush on me, started kidnapping me to the suburbs, to Hunters, and I happily complied, to escape the black hole that was Windy City. The first night this happened was after seeing a revival of Hair, down the street at the Vic, where my salon went for an early Christmas outing.
I had seen quite a lot of theater during this time, and experienced the odd phenomenon of the fourth wall being broken down in my face, most every show. To the point of teasing by the friends I went with. Just when I thought could relax, and an actor wouldn't talk to me, they did. Maybe they knew something I didn't: if you would have told me back then I would one day in the future have more than 10 years of stage acting experience in Chicago, I never could've believed it. Yet I do.
Steve always had way too much to drink before we drove back to the city, and by some miracle, I'm still here.
Bob, I was to find out later, was hitting bottom. He hadn't a real job, but sold himself at Man's Country, where he lived. If you call a room with a bed, rented by the night, living.
Whenever B and I talked about Bob, which always ended in a shouting match and me begging him to cut him out of his life, he would tell me Bob had a rough life growing up, a life I could never imagine, and he was the only one he had left. I felt for Bob, but I only saw his destructive influence on B.
I flew to Arkansas for Thanksgiving, letting Bob stay at my place while I was gone, making them promise not to do H, or burn the place down.
My mom woke me early my first morning home, saying B was on the phone:
"Bob's gone, Brian. Bob's dead." He said, crying.
"What! What happened?" I said.
"We got some, and after he shot up, blood came gushing from his nose. I called an ambulance, but I was too late; the hospital just told me he died."
B.L.O.: july 10, 1958. november 30, 1988.
p.s. I uploaded a picture of that Doug I was pining over, complete with Steve Diet's hand written nickname.
Links: Magazine, Paula Abdul
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I just never get sick of listening to that (arrow pointing upward) song...
B moved in to my apartment on Pinegrove on Halloween, 1988.
There is something depressing about the telling of tragic love affairs that precludes my ability to write out a full name, even in an ancient tragic love affair, like this one. You know who B is. I wrote about him before.
But what makes a tragedy? Let's find out...
It was odd that B moved in with me on Halloween that year, for on a Halloween, ten years prior, is when I fell in love with him.
It's seems a little silly saying that I 'fell in love' when I was 13, but I knew. You know when you know. The way you see the world is altered forever, because of the way you feel for someone. It doesn't seem to matter how old you are.
I had a slight understanding as to what it meant to be gay, in 1979, but I hadn't an ability to put a label on how I felt for B. I loved him. Period. I loved the soul that occupied that person that was B.
I ask myself now (because I have a long standing bad habit of over-analyzing the sea of minutia in my life) what, exactly, did I fall in love with? Was it the way he looked, and how he perfectly fit the part, of a 50's greaser, in his slicked-back, black hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket, blue jeans and white t-shirt he wore for our Junior High's costume day? Or was I in love with him for the fact he refused to 'hide' from our classmates any more, classmates who, for the most part, labeled us 'fags' and ostracized us. I would never have dared to dress up that day, for when you already get way too much negative attention for how you look, you tend to try to not look any weirder.
I've found living in a material world, while wishing to be immaterial, can create problems. Even though I had found a way to embrace what made me different from my peers, it didn't change how they perceived me. Growing up in that intense of an environment can create an addiction to an intense life. You just get used to it. So used to it, it becomes the norm. B and I found anything and everything to fit that bill.
I can honestly say that now I don't care how I'm perceived by the people around me, because I refuse to ever judge people by how they look. Through my experiences with people from all over the world, my perceptions have been proven wrong too many times.
I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen when B moved in with me. The first couple weeks were great, but I soon found out he didn't move in to be my boyfriend. I guess I thought that would happen? Maybe it would have helped had I mentioned that. But all I ever wanted to do was to possess him completely every minute I was ever with him, and that scared me. And I didn't want to scare him off. I saw him as deer in the woods sometimes: any little thing could send him flying away. I thought if I inched out my true feelings a little at a time, over a couple months, we could both handle it. It doesn't work that way.
and, hmm, again.
I was to also learn when B moved in, he brought his H habit with him. I knew this because his friend Bob was back in the picture, and H was the only reason he would be around. B embraced his craving for a life of intensity, and let it rule him back then. He acted on the immediacy of his emotions, and fed them whatever they wanted. I hated Bob and what his presence meant, but he did save B and I a few times by shoplifting food for us at the White Hen, because we constantly spent every cent on drugs. No one could shoplift like him. Give him 3 minutes in a store, and you could eat for a week.
After a few days, B found a job for a while tending bar, at Windy City, where DSW on Halsted is now. It was a crummy old building that had a long staircase leading up to it's den of blow, and I climbed it every weekend. By this time B and I had had a talk about our future together, and while he loved me, we couldn't be boyfriends, but we could still sleep together sometimes. Friends with benefits, as the kids call it nowadays.
I drowned my sorrows in Billie Holiday, the future promises of Viva Hate, and scotch. For hours at a time. I can't imagine behaving like that today, so that's a good thing, I guess. I still can't bear to listen to her though, and tonight, while writing this, is the first time in 20 years I've deliberately played any of Billie's music. Which is too bad. It's good.
As November drew to a close, I was spending more nights with Bob at B's bar, where B was getting dangerously close to losing his job. Little did I know one of us wouldn't live to see 1989...
Links, in order of appearance: Replacements, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Morrissey, Billie Holiday