RIP, Dear Friend


Howard Semones
3 May 1967 – 5 August 2017

I don’t exactly remember how Howard and I first crossed paths, but it must’ve been through our respective blogs. I do know however, that we only met in person a few years ago when Ben and I lived in Denver. Howard was a member of Monkey’s Uncle, a small local improv comedy troupe, and seeing their live shows was always a joy.

We’ve known of Howard’s illness for quite some time, but being a cancer survivor myself, I’ve been in denial, hoping against all odds that he’d pull through it as I did. Howard, however, had a different type than I did and had no such illusions. This past January he posted the following on his blog:

I’m going to be uncomfortably honest and real right now. So much so that I’m not posting this to social media and you may just want to click somewhere else (SQUIRREL!) on the internet. I was not looking forward to 2017. As much as aspects of 2016 were horrible, the new year brought with it a hard, stern look at my mortality. Or in summary:

There’s a chance I won’t make it through 2017.

No, I’m not suicidal. Please do NOT worry about that. I will keep fighting.

I’ll let you catch your breath now.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been fighting Stage IV melanoma since the beginning of 2015. After two surgeries and four chemotherapies, I’m running out of options. All that’s left is trials (if I can get into them due to being HIV+) and a treatment so intense I’ll be in ICU for a minimum of 5 days. The trials are a shot in the dark. The treatment works for only 10% of patients. The good news with the treatment is, if it does work, I’ll be in complete remission.

The problem is those are pretty much the only options left and I’ve been told seven months is my worst-case scenario. Since I’ve not received any treatment for 8 weeks that seems the clock is technically down to five months. 

Add to that the pity party of what I’m pretty convinced is me being out of “love” luck, too. Man, what does it take to convince a guy to just cuddle on the couch and watch a movie? I could get laid 10x easier. 

I may be down when you see me and these are the reasons why. It’s hard especially since I tend to gravitate towards being jovial, happy, and optimistic. I don’t necessarily want to leave because there are still so many beautiful and wonderful things out there, but I also have to be honest with myself.

We all gotta go.

And now you have gone, my friend. You will be missed. I shall miss your wit, your smile, your exuberant sense of humor and your thirst for life. And I will never forget that sweet, unsolicited, off-the-wall comment you made one time after I’d posted a photo of myself from the mid 80s: “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d make out with you.”

Peace.

 

He Would’ve Turned 60 Today

And I find that harder to wrap my head around than the fact that he’s now been gone for more years than he’d been alive when we met.

Steve Golden, 7/18/57 – 1/23/90

I’m a part of that subset of Boomers who didn’t have to go to war. Too young for Vietnam, too old for the Gulf. Hell, we didn’t even have to register for the draft when I came of age.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t still suffer the loss of war; a silent, yet deadly war we fought in the streets, in hospitals and the halls of Congress that easily ripped as many of our finest from us as armed combat on foreign soil.

Thirty Years

Kent Kelly 15 November 1955 – 24 June 1987

I guess I’m kind of weird in that in addition to keeping friends’ and family’s birthdays in my calendar, I also keep note of their passing. (It probably stems from having lost so many to the ravages of AIDS in the 80s and 90s.) Today I noticed it’s been thirty years—thirty years—since my friend and mentor Kent Kelly departed this planet.

I was set to raise a glass and wax poetic about what Kent meant to me and how he influenced my life, but realized I’d already written extensively of our quirky relationship a couple years ago, so I guess that only leaves the raising of the glass and maybe posting a couple additional pix…

World AIDS Day

As is my tradition every December 1st, I remember…


Kent Kelly


Ken Cohen


Steve Golden


Dennis Shelpman


Jim Hagen


Chuck Krahe


Marty Kamner


Michael Nelson


Jim Nye


Kevin Ohm


Rick King


Ron Aiazzi


Grant Neilsen


Ric Hathaway


David Koston


Kim Holstein


Russ Alvarez

Ben Walzer
Ken Borg
Harold Gates
Jim Girard
Keith Roseberry
Tom Farrel
Peter Whitman
Chuck Mayer
Richard Gulliver
Scott Woods
Bobby Farina
Brian Lea
Fred Sibinic
Steve McCollom
John Trapp
Philip Ruckdeschel

A Scene That’s Undoubtedly Being Played Out Across The Country

As we sift through the rubble of Tuesday’s devastation, I fear one unreported casualty of Trump’s election is the destruction it is causing in relationships. The sheer divisiveness, the gaping rift this election has opened in the country has caused many a difficult discussion and unfortunately, I suspect, the dissolution of more than one long-term friendship.

This hit home on Wednesday when I received a text from one of the few real friends I made during our tenure in Denver, a guy I worked with at DISH; someone we’ll call Kasey.

The text contained an image of Chelsea Clinton’s face with the caption that said something along the lines of, “With that face, receiving oral from her would look like anal.”

This wasn’t the first time Kasey had sent me a rude image. We constantly ribbed each other—at work no less—by exchanging IMs that would probably have gotten us both fired if we’d ever been caught. Kasey would send me animated gifs of jiggling boobs, and I’d return the favor by sending him pictures of hirsute chests, each of us responding, “Ewww! Gross!” We had many lunchtime discussions over cheap Chinese food about philosophy, our place in the universe, our supervisor (“La Chupacabra”), and the untenable positions we found ourselves in at work, forming an unlikely bond that managed to survive even after my departure from Colorado. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that as a friend I came to love him (Ben called Kasey my work husband), but I hold a definite fondness for the guy and admire and definitely care about him.

Anyhow, I texted back and told him “Not cool, man—especially in light of yesterday.”

He responded, “Wow…Mr. Sensitive over politics!” followed by, “I voted Trump. I didn’t think he’d win!”

I was gobsmacked. How could this guy—a pot-smoking Colorado native who regaled me with tales of his absolutely wild youth growing up in Littleton, vote for someone who seemed to be the antithesis of who I thought he was?

I was speechless. I didn’t even know how to respond. Several hours later I sent him this, which probably summed up the sense of betrayal I was feeling at the moment:

His response? “Bold. But isn’t that the same type of ignorant rhetoric—just from the other side? Honestly my political affiliations aren’t strong either way. Bad presidents come and go. Life goes on.”

I didn’t immediately reply. I needed time to gather my thoughts. It was clear to me that Kasey (who has never displayed an ounce of racism, misogyny or homophobia for as long as I’ve known him) didn’t really understand the importance of what had just happened to our country. And being a straight, white, married male in a well-paying job, life for him under a Trump regime probably would go on as it always had. That point couldn’t be argued.

While I was mulling my response, I ran across This Is Why We Grieve and realized it summed up exactly what I wanted to say. I emailed it to him, adding, “I’m sending you this because I was truly and deeply saddened when you told me you’d voted for Trump. You are a dear friend and a valued part of my life, and I could never shut you out, but I want you to understand what half the country (at least the half who bothered to vote) is feeling right now and why.”

I was hoping this might give him some idea of why this is such a big deal; that it’s not just politics, that it’s not business as usual, and why quite frankly, I’m feeling more than a little betrayed by someone I considered a friend.

I received his response a few hours later. I read it and immediately deleted it. It stung even worse than his initial texts. I don’t remember his exact wording now, but he was justifying his conservatism (where in the fuck did that come from?!) and in essence what I’d sent him was just left-wing garbage.

I guess this answered the question of how this man could vote for the anthesis of who I thought he was. Despite our many deep conversations over the years, I didn’t really know him at all.

And that’s what hurts the most.

To Absent Friends

One of the great truths revealed to those of us who have lived long and colorful lives—and which should be impressed upon the young even though they probably won’t believe it—is that friendships come and go.

Stop and think of five people who you consider your good friends, your “squad” in today’s parlance. Now think of how many of those five have been consistently on that list.

In your twenties, you think that the people you hang out with will be there for you for the entire journey through life. If you’re very lucky, when all is said and done, maybe two or three will still be there as you loose your mortal coil. The vast majority however, will have disappeared either through attrition, misunderstandings, or simply by drifting away.

This is a lesson that still stings when I think of that one particular friend in Tucson whom I’ve written about before. But I realized while going through my address book recently that I have dozens of names and phone numbers listed, but precious few of those names are of people with whom I have active, ongoing relationships.

I guess you could call them zombie friendships.

Interests change. Passions ebb and flow. You’ll always have that one friend who knows where all the bodies are buried (and who probably helped you dig the holes), and one or two who you can call on a whim to meet for coffee and no matter what they’re doing they’ll will put it on hold to rush out and meet you. Then you’ll have the casual friends, the third-party friends-of-friends, and the work friends who you don’t mind spending 8 hours a day with but wouldn’t dream of seeing after hours (but who occasionally transition into that first or second group). Then there are the internet friends—some of whom you feel closer to and seem to know better than the flesh-and-blood buddies sitting across the table from you.

One of the advantages of having our contacts in electronic form these days is that we’re not reminded quite as often of this unending churn happening in our lives. It’s easy to delete names of anyone you’re no longer in contact with and years from now you’ll be hard pressed to remember who they were (although it’s an admittedly difficult thing for me to do; I still have info for people I worked with five years ago, even though I know I’ll probably never reach out to any of them ever again).

It’s not as quite so easy to forget the souls who have passed through your life if you have a physical, hand-written address book. When I pull out an old flip-up rolodex I have from the 80s, it saddens me to look through it and realize how many people I’ve lost contact with, and—having lived through the AIDS decimation of the 90s—how many of those people aren’t even alive any longer. But yet I hold onto it, if only to keep their memory.

I think that’s one reason that as we get older we treasure the friendships we have even more than we did when we were young—especially the ones that have spanned decades—because we never know if they’ll last another week, another year, or until our dying breath…

Ten Years Ago

Something I wrote almost ten years ago. Sometimes I need to be reminded…

Several years ago, emotionally adrift after being forced to relocate to Phoenix and only months thereafter receiving a cancer diagnosis, I was beginning to feel that—if not literally (because even then I wasn’t going to cede my body over to a clump of cells less than half the size of a pencil eraser), then at least symbolically—my life was coming to an end. Everything had a “been there, done that” quality to it, and while I still had my long term support groups in both San Francisco and Tucson, I’d yet to make any new friends in Phoenix. I was beginning to wonder if was even worth the effort to try because at the time my long term prognosis—while good—was still not guaranteed. And furthermore, exactly how I was going to pull off meeting anyone with a plastic tube in my throat and a badly mangled self-image shadowing me everywhere I went was totally beyond my comprehension.

Fortunately, time does heal all wounds, and after a year or so I’d finally made peace with the plastic tube and everything it represented. My self-image was still pretty much in the toilet, but at least my hand wasn’t resting on the flusher any longer.

After receiving another year or so of positive reports from my doctor, I started realizing that yes, maybe my life really was going to continue, and that—coupled with a permanent job offer—started me thinking that maybe I could return to the land of the living and start making plans again.

As I began to end that self-imposed exile, it became abundantly clear that in many ways, my old life had ended in 2003. I look back on the Mark who existed prior to those events, and I scarcely recognize him. I know it’s me, but it’s like peering back through a past life regression—and to be honest, a whole lot of it wasn’t pretty. But still I am thankful for the Mark who came through that crucible and has grown from it.

Now that I was actually able to think about the future—about having a real, viable future—I started wondering what I still had to accomplish; what I still wanted to accomplish. And I also started wondering who were the still nameless, faceless souls that would unexpectedly come into my life and accompany me on this strange journey.

Out of nowhere, Cindy—one of those souls—entered stage right about a year ago, and until tonight over shared Mexican food, I’d all but forgotten what an absolute joy it was to cross paths with someone and suddenly realize you’re not meeting a stranger for the first time but actually reconnecting with a long lost friend.

Better Late Than Never

Last weekend Ben and I flew down to Phoenix for our very belated wedding reception. Since we got married under the friends/family radar a year ago, we both thought some sort of celebration is due—not only for ourselves, but also for those same friends and family.

He somehow got me on an airplane.

Since the vast majority of the people we wanted to share in our special day lived in Arizona, we decided that Macayo’s in Phoenix would be our venue. Since we haven’t had really good Mexican food since we moved to Denver, this was a no-brainer.

Obviously, we went for a Doctor Who theme, but only the die-hard fans got the fez…

Bowties are cool.

I think everyone had a good time…

Besties. I love these women.

We had to run a few errands the next day before we left…

Feels like home.

And of course we had to visit one of our old (and hopefully future, in 2-3 years) stomping grounds…

Then we met a few of our friends at Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles for brunch before heading to the airport. Absolute heaven…

I miss these women more than words can express.

Blogger Meetup!

It took nearly seven years, but I finally met fellow blogger Erik and his husbear in person tonight.

Erik and Robert are on a semi-cross country adventure to Las Vegas and they made a small detour through Denver to meet up with Ben and I.

It was fun, but much too short of a meeting. Ben and I had been talking about making a road trip next summer down to Pea Ridge so Erik could ink both of us; I think it’s now a definite plan.

Ode to a Friendship

As I lay awake this morning at 3:30 am—yes, again—I started wondering what causes two people, who have been friends for decades, to drift apart.

Tucson, January 1983: I had just arrived home on a Friday evening after stopping to pick up some groceries after work and, looking to the east, saw the most beautiful full moon I had ever seen rising over the Rincon Mountains. I had originally intended on staying in that night, but a little voice popped into my head that kept saying, “You really need to go out tonight.”

For once, I heeded that little voice (because it would not let up) and later that night, I met Lee and Floyd, two very different men who ended up entering my life and accompanying me on this strange journey far longer than I think any of us had ever anticipated.

I will save Floyd’s story for another time.

I had been introduced to Lee a few weeks before that night by a mutual friend, but we really didn’t click. (To be honest, I think I just blew him off; I was no doubt in hot pursuit of some piece of ass and didn’t want the distraction. I could be quite a prick back then.) Anyhow, I don’t remember what caused us to gravitate to each other that night, but we struck up a conversation. The one thing that still sticks with me is that one of the first things he said was, “I didn’t think you liked me.”

Ouch.

I apologized, and clarified that no, I didn’t dislike him at all. Our conversation sort of stumbled along after that until I happened to mention something about my first (life) teacher, and Lee’s interest immediately picked up. We soon discovered that we were both on a spiritual journey of exploration, and became so engrossed in our conversation that we ended up closing the bar. While there was no physical attraction, the next night we had dinner and ended up back at my place—where we continued the previous night’s conversation until nearly 4 am. And thus a friendship was born.

Lee and I, April 1983

Lee arrived at a time in my life when Dennis, my first partner, and I had been on an extended separation. After Dennis’s return to Tucson from Dallas in June of that year, I came to think of us as The Three Musketeers. When Dennis and I did finally split for good (remaining best friends until his death in 1991), and I got together with Bernie, my second partner, we became the Four Musketeers.

Lee was part of our grand migration to San Francisco.

Babe in the Woods, December 1985

While he remained several years, San Francisco never really agreed with Lee, and after nearly a year in Denver, I can now finally understand where was coming from. Some places just don’t fit, and for Lee, San Francisco was one of those places. He returned to Tucson in the early 90s.

Ten years later, after I’d returned to Phoenix, Lee stood by me through my cancer treatments, driving up every week to provide welcome relaxation assistance by way of some Reiki sessions.

But then something happened. Late one night, after one of our final sessions, his car broke down in the dark between Phoenix and Tucson and he was stranded by the side of the road until a good samaritan happened by with a cell phone and was able to call for a tow.

I think this spooked him to the bone, because since that happened in late 2003, I was unable to get him to ever come north again.

Still, we would get together whenever I went south (which was happening pretty regularly for a while), and things were as good as ever between us.

I should note that Lee is not the big tech nerd that I am. He has a computer, and for a while we were emailing back and forth pretty regularly. But he started using it primarily for online gaming, and soon my emails were going unanswered.  I asked him about this and he explained that there was now so much spam in his inbox that he didn’t even bother checking it any more.

Okay. A hundred different ways around that immediately sprang to mind, but from his tone I could tell any solution to this was going to be more trouble that it was worth to him.

Lee doesn’t have a FaceBook account. He doesn’t Tweet. Hell, as far as I know the man still doesn’t even have a cell phone.

The last time we spoke—about 18 months ago—everything was fine. All the old connections came flooding back and he wished Ben and I well on our upcoming adventure to Colorado. Since that time I’ve called and left messages on his answering machine, but they haven’t been returned. My last ditch effort at staying in touch has been snail mail. I’ve sent a couple letters since we’ve been in Denver, but still I’ve heard nothing back from him.

I know he’s still alive. Bernie certainly would’ve let me know if something had happened to our dear friend, so I’m at a loss.

I have no way of knowing if he ever reads my blog, but did I happen to post something that so annoyed him that he’s cut me off after all this time? Did my relatively newfound Atheism betray all the years of our spiritual questioning?

I just don’t know.

Maybe it’s just one of those questions in life that will never be answered.

In Memoriam

Russ Alvarez
20 August 1960-25 August 2010

Russ and I both emigrated from Arizona to arrive in—and subsequently depart from—San Francisco at approximately the same time, yet didn’t actually meet until we both ended up working for the same company in the same department after our respective returns to Phoenix. Witty, intelligent and possessing a wicked sense of humor, Russ was one of the few people I trusted enough to call up and vent with, knowing full well that anything I told him would not go any further.  The sharing of our similar, yet amazingly different histories in San Francisco was always a source of wonderful stories and—despite those differences—continual amazement that our paths had never crossed [in some alley or sex club]. He shall be sorely missed.