Another One From The Vaults

Musing the Parade, Youth, and Growing Older in the Castro
26 June 1999

Once again the highest of holy days in the gay community is upon us tomorrow: Parade Day. And tonight is the infamous “Pink Party” in the ‘stro. I will not be attending either event.

Having recently passed into my 40s and—for all intents in the Castro “community”—now invisible, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, pondering how to adapt to several important changes that this number brings, most notably the fact that I’m no longer turning even the few heads I used to. Almost overnight I went from being, even with a few extra pounds—if not good looking, at least downright respectable—to completely invisible, and I have no idea how to redefine myself in the wake of this change. I know I’m not alone when I say that those of us hitting this age have no one to look to, absolutely no gay role models to emulate, and that’s making the whole transition doubly difficult. AIDS decimated my generation, and those of us who remain are charting unexplored territory. What exactly does it mean to be 40- or 50-something and gay in San Francisco at the end of the 20th century?

At the risk of sounding overly sorry for myself (and I’m really not), I am slowly coming to the conclusion that—at least in this particular community in this particular city, no one I might be interested in is going to look at—much less date—a 225 pound 41 year old guy whose life is as excruciatingly non-cosmopolitan (i.e. boring) as mine. I don’t travel, I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I’m allergic to cats, I can’t stand Barbra Streisand, I find the “bear” movement just as off-putting and attitude-ridden as gym-bunny culture, I don’t live for White Days at Macy’s Cellar, I don’t work out 5 days a week, I look even more ridiculous than most guys with a goatee, my sex life is almost strictly vanilla, and I’m a borderline, if not a full-fledged geek. And you know—after careful consideration—that’s okay.

The hardest part of this whole aging process is that I don’t feel any different than I did in my 20s or 30s. Okay, so I have a few more battle scars and several more pounds, I’m hopefully a bit more world-wise and mature than fifteen years ago, I have no desire to stay out all night and watch the sun rise, I have less patience for pretense, attitude and stupidity, but other than that, I still see myself as that wide-eyed young man who arrived on the strange shores of San Francisco thirteen years ago, and can’t quite figure out why the guys 27, 28, even 34 or 35—who I still see myself as—aren’t interested in even making eye contact with me any more.

Somewhat painfully, what I’ve come to realize since my return to Oz last year after a five month haitus is that The Castro is very much a place for the 20- to 30-something buff, steroid-assisted, “I want to be a model” chemically-stimulated crowd. And I am not at all surprised that carrying around a few extra pounds (which in the 80s indicated that you were healthy and almost had guys flocking to my doorstep) is viewed with such disdain by a generation that has not lost half it’s population to AIDS and defines beauty only in terms of porn-star pecs and six-pack abs. I will readily admit that I am totally amazed at what incredible shape most of these “kids” are in; I mean, even when I was 25, neither I nor my peers had bodies that looked like they were sculpted by Michaelangelo.

Anyhow, I’m slowly coming to terms all this, accepting it and at the same time realizing that in general I’m simply just pretty much over the whole gay “thing”. Yeah, yeah, I still love men, and I’d jump Ben Browder in a heartbeat, but I just feel this whole rainbow-bedecked-naked-men-dancing-on-floats followed by copious amounts of drugs and sex is getting so…tired…especially in San Francisco where being gay or bi or transsexual or sleeping with your neighbor’s iguana is so accepted and so well integrated into the fabric of life here it isn’t even an issue. C’mon folks…there are more interesting things about us, about me—even with my admittedly mundane lifestyle—than what I choose to do with my genitals. At least I would hope so.

Lest I rise the ire of the politically correct among us, I do have to admit that the parade and ensuing pre- and post-Bacchalian events do serve some purpose, and that is they’re tremendously thrilling and reassuring and exciting and yes, even fun for the newly-minted or newly-arrived gay boys and girls in our community. That’s a fact I’ve been trying to stress with a couple friends who recently moved here from the east coast since they apparently feel “bad” that I’m choosing not to participate in this weekend’s festivities. I’m certainly not trying to be a pariah, but c’mon—for us older or maybe perhaps more jaded souls, the parade lost its appeal after the fifth or sixth year (if even that long), and that’s not just my opinion. Ask anyone who’s been here any length of time and you’ll hear the same sentiments. At least I was able to convince myself to attend for a couple years after that usual cutoff point by telling myself there would be plenty of opportunities for photographing future painting subjects. Or rather, plenty of opportunities for taking pretty pictures of half-naked men…but how many pictures of sunlight accentuating chemically-sculpted pectorals does one really need anyway? Personally, just from the photos I took over the seven or eight years I attended the parade, I’ll have enough subjects to paint for the rest of my life.

Then there’s the whole other issue of the AIDS epidemic wiping out almost my entire generation of gay men. A month ago, while standing in line to buy tickets for The Phantom Menace, I realized that every one of my friends who might’ve been standing in line with me and interested in seeing this film were now dead. Everyone with whom I shared that special Star Wars magic from the very beginning was gone: Kent, Steve, Dennis—and no amount of big-budget special effects was going to bring them back. The same goes for my dance music collection. While I now certainly have friends who are familiar with a lot, if not most of the music I’ve managed to bring back into my life, they’re new friends who have totally different memories connected with the tunes; they aren’t shared memories, so the full depth of the music is somehow lost.

This has left me at times feeling very alone and very much out of place in the world, and this sudden “invisibility” in my own community hasn’t really helped things either. I thank God, or the Universe, or whatever you want to call the Is, for friends like Lei, who, after hearing essentially the same sentiments I’ve just voiced, have the uncanny ability to tell me exactly what I need to hear and put things in perspective.

From one of her recent e-mails:

“I like your lack of need to attend the damn parade to demonstrate—what? You know who you are and anyone who interests you will know who you are. Those in their 20 – 30’s are still growing into what they will be and need to make a lot of noise. That’s fine, too. It was something you went through in “old” San Francisco. We need to remember that we’ve been young before but young folk have never been old before. (Not that, from my vantage point, I consider 41 to be “old” by any means.)

“I am so glad that you realize you don’t like travel, drugs, booze, Barbra Streisand or Macy’s cellar. You can enjoy knowing folks who do, even if you consider them to be a bit nuts. Some of my best friends…

“Case in point: a friend of mine last Monday began rhapsodizing over his upcoming drive in a motor home to ALASKA where he will do his yearly fishing at some salmon spawning site. He recalls the year that he spent sixteen hours there, without eating or going to the bathroom, standing in one place wearing his waders in water up to his blue…. It was just SOOO wonderful. He caught his limit of three, weighing blank, blank and blank and then he got to clean and can them himself! Now how can you beat that for wonderful? (In my considered opinion, by going to Safeway and selecting a lovely pre-cut and boned fillet from the fish market.)

“I don’t feel the least bit sorry for you. I’m delighted you know yourself—as much as anyone ever can hope to—and in no way are you close to being a geek, so forget that! (I am in charge of the geek list.)

“What is sad to me is women/men who are so afraid of not being ‘with it’ that they torture themselves to look, act and think like those they consider to be the ideal. They try to replace their own pleasures with what they hope is the most current. Y’see, life is set to music. You find the music that fuels your soul. Why learn all the lyrics to the latest rap song that you don’t understand just to prove—what?”

“You can be sure that there are many men of your gentle age, who are going through the same wonderings you are. You’ll find him—or he will find you. ‘Just being you’ ain’t bad, y’know.”

Throwback Thursday

It’s amazing what you find when you go rummaging around in old hard drives…

August 2000, over a year before my cancer diagnosis and still thinking I understood how the world worked. Hell, I hadn’t even started going hoarse yet (that wouldn’t happen for another three or four months). Bill Clinton was closing out the last bit of his Presidency, the Twin Towers were still standing, things were relatively stable in the Middle East, and the world—or at least the United States—was still sane. And then everythting jumped the shark…

Hard To Believe It’s Been Thirty Years

1645 Folsom Street, #7. My first—non-shared—apartment in San Francisco. September/October 1987.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was one of those places I immediately think of when I hear the word “home.”

At the time, the area was still very much industrial/commercial in nature. The building was a half block from Hamburger Mary’s and just around the corner from the SF Eagle. At $745 a month, this one bedroom plus den stretched my budget but I loved it. #7 overlooked the extremely shallow paved back yard (that was never used by anyone). It had a good southern exposure, even though the equally tall buildings completely surrounding the yard sometimes made it feel like it was at the bottom of a light well. It also had an easily accessible roof deck where you could throw a lounge chair and catch some rays or the wonderful views at night.

About eighteen months after I moved in, #9 opened up on the top floor, and I jumped on it. It wasn’t quite as big as #7 (no separate den), but it was bright and airy, had a charming—if non working—fireplace, and a decent view of Twin Peaks if you stood in either of the bay windows.

The biggest adjustment moving upstairs to the opposite side of the building was the noise. Sleep was impossible with the windows open for the first few nights I was there because I was now facing Folsom, and even then it was a busy thoroughfare. But when the winter rains started sound of drops hitting the pavement and the woosh-woosh of cars passing on those wet nights more than made up for it. Parking (or lack thereof) continued to be a problem; I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of dollars in $10 overnight street-cleaning parking tickets I racked up. But this was still home, and after I struck an arrangement with one of the business owners a few doors down to rent a parking space in their lot for $25 a month, the parking problem all but disappeared.

Then there was the stove in #9. It apparently hadn’t received a proper cleaning since it was originally put in place from the looks of it. I made the mistake one night of lifting up the range top, thinking I’d only have to wipe up a few spills under the burners, but I ended up spending the entire evening—with a putty knife—scarping off god knows how many years of accumulated gunk. But it shined thereafter!

This is where I was living when the Loma Prieta quake hit in 1989. The building came through with nary a scratch, but it pointed out the disadvantage of living in that particular area; probably because of its zoning and demographics, it was one of the last areas of The City to regain power. Even so, if I hadn’t made a very poor decision some months earlier and asked an even poorer decision of a romantic partner to move in with me, I might’ve stayed much longer. As it was, we transferred the lease into his name and I moved out in 1990.

1645 today…or at least as of last April, courtesy Google.

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Four

LEARNING THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKUPS

I have a ready answer whenever I’m asked that infamous interview question, “What was the biggest mistake you ever made at work and how did you fix it?”

H&M did a variety of work, but our bread and butter income came from tenant improvement projects (a client leases space in an existing building and creates offices to their design specifications). Of these, the building at 30 Van Ness (at the corner of Market and Van Ness) was primary. One of the first CAD-intensive projects we undertook was to completely measure and draw up all four floors (plus underground parking garage) of the building since these shell drawings could be easily used again and again when it came time to build out any particular area.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I must’ve been fucking around with something on my system (the one where all our drawings were stored) one day and all that work was gone. Might’ve reformatted the hard drive, or updated the OS or god knows what, but all I knew was that all that data was no longer there. I checked for copies on the other two machines where we had AutoCAD installed and came up empty handed. I was in a panic. After scouring every location I could think of, I put my tail between my legs and told Nick.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t angry. All he said was, “Well, you’d better get back to work and recreate them.” Wow.

Fortunately, we still had all the measured sketches we’d done, so it wouldn’t involve physically measuring the building again, but I was looking at a lot of work nonetheless. I sucked it up, went back to my desk and started drafting.

I happened to glance over at a stack of banker boxes against the wall and noticed the FedEx mailing envelope we used to take diskettes back and forth to the blueprinters (this was before we had own own plotter on site). I walked over, looked inside, and let out a yelp that was undoubtedly heard down the street. In that envelope were three diskettes containing all the plans of 30 Van Ness. They were several days out of date (we’d started a new TI project), but damn…a few days out of date was infinitely preferable to having to recreate months of work.

My ass was saved.

Immediately thereafter, we bought a tape backup for each of the PCs and began a thorough backup routine.

SEOUL

The biggest project H&M was ever involved in was the design and construction of a new school in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve long since forgotten how this particular project fell into our lap, but it was the one thing I am most proud of during my time at the firm. Jack and Nick were pretty much hands-off as far as design was concerned, giving Neill free reign and he definitely thought outside the box on this one. Very “post modern” (it was the mid 90s, after all) I remember the main multi-story facade being a diagonal black and white checkerboard with horizontal red brick accents. The client loved it.

I didn’t travel to South Korea with Nick, Jack, and Neill even though the invitation was extended because—reasons. I didn’t have a passport, dreaded the thought of a twelve hour flight over the open ocean, and frankly, simply didn’t want to be away from home for the two weeks this visit was projected to take. So along with Cerese, I stayed back and “held down the fort” until they returned.

I just emailed Nick, hoping that he has some photos of the project he can send me. If I hear back from him I’ll post them.

SAYING GOODBYE

August 1994. I’d reached the end of my rope with many aspects of life in San Francisco. Still smarting from the breakup with Rory a year earlier, it seemed life in The City had lost all the magic it once held. Two unplanned trips back to Phoenix to deal with parental health emergencies showed me that life in Arizona really wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered—although I still had no real desire to move back to Phoenix; if I returned to the Grand Canyon state I’d definitely head south to Tucson. After much thought a particularly nasty run-in with a meter maid downtown (the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back), I decided it was time to leave. I gave notice on my apartment and at work.

They were devastated.

During the following two weeks while boxing up my life (Annie Lennox’s Diva is forever burned into my mind as the soundtrack for those weeks), strange things started to happen. San Francisco was not going to give up her grip on me so easily. The magic started returning: a cool ocean breeze, fog spilling over Twin Peaks, friends all but begging me not to leave, more than one encounter with a handsome stranger after exchanging glances…and discovering the joys of a newly-opened sex club South of Market called The Playground. (Pet Shop Boys’ Relentless will forever associated in my mind with that place and its wonderful wanton memories.)

I suddenly found myself wondering why the hell I was leaving San Francisco.  Was it really too late?  My buddy Stan was fond of telling me it wasn’t.  I wondered if he might be right.

One evening I sat down to write in my Journal, hoping to sort this all out, but I didn’t get more than a paragraph completed.  I started writing about everything that had happened during the previous week; the men, the realization that I really did have friends there who didn’t want me to leave, the magic that had come back into my life in various forms—and I wrote, “I can’t leave!”  I broke down and cried.

And then, at 12:15 a.m. that night, I made a decision.  I wasn’t going to leave.  No matter what it cost, I was not going to say good-bye to my beloved San Francisco.  The only problem was the financial Catch-22 I found myself in.  I had to leave Hogg & Mythen in order to remain in San Francisco; I needed the severance money they were going to be giving me in order to pay the two month’s rent I now required in order to stay in my apartment.  I didn’t relish the thought of leaving the guys, but at the same time I knew from my conversation with Nick a week earlier that because of the however-misplaced sense of betrayal was feeling, staying on was probably not an option.  No matter.  It would force me to find a position doing more computer and less (much less) architecture, which was my ultimate goal.

What I was not prepared for when I told him of my decision to stay was the fact that he wanted to keep me on—and—would be willing to loan me the money to pay my rent so I could stay.  Now that is something you just coudn’t find in any workplace. Needless to say, I accepted.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective, this magic didn’t last. It was all a ruse by San Francisco to get me to stay. Once I’d signed that dotted line, life returned to “normal.” A year later, I was packing again—and this time it was for real.

The only picture I have of the four of us together. Amazing, considering I worked with those guys 8 years!

The folks at H&M at first didn’t believe me, but as the clock ticked town to the last couple days I think it finally sank in that this was goodbye. On my last day, we all went out to lunch and returned to the office where we had a very tearful goodbye. They even let me keep the infamous bright red desk chair that I’d picked out a year earlier…

Tucson lasted only six months (another story for another time), but when I found myself back in San Francisco again—and gone, and then to return again—I didn’t approach H&M other than to offer my services as an independent contractor. We’d all been through so much, and if I was ever going to make a clean break from architecture, this was the time to do it. As it turned out, I ended up at a major architectural firm for a few months following my first arrival back in The City out of necessity, but thankfully that gig was cut short by an opportunity to dip my toes into the then-exciting career of PC Support. By the time I’d left San Francisco and returned again three years later, my previous architectural career was already but a fading memory.

Would I go back and change anything if I could? Not a thing. Everything that’s happened in my life has brought me to the place where I am—and who I’m with—now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Three

REBUILDING

323 Fremont Street
We found a new home for the office about a half mile southeast of our old location. It wasn’t the one of the several we looked at South of Market that I liked the best, but then, it wasn’t my firm. It was another older building—albeit one that passed its earthquake inspection, was entirely wood frame, and for the rent offered an incredible amount of space (we occupied the entire upper floor). It was kind of a lofty space, although not really a loft as strictly defined, even though the entire rear half the office had a structurally-exposed two story ceiling. We eventually added a bunch of color to the space—as well as painting the front door a bright canary yellow on which we overlaid the company logo in black. We also put up track lights (it was the 90s, after all) and bolted the shelving units to the wall. Lesson learned.






My work area after a good cleaning

Our workload swelled—and then crashed—as the years passed following the move.  After the infamous Black Wednesday of 1992, things got so bad Nick and Jack were forced with either laying us all off or asking that we voluntarily go to four day weeks. Since they had done so much for both Neill and I over the years and neither one of us particularly wanted to look for work in that kind of economy, the decision was a no-brainer. When everything snapped back, not only did our workload necessitate the hiring of two more drafters, but it also resulted in raises and bonuses, the likes of which we hadn’t ever seen. Neill and I even convinced the bosses that in addition to the already paid vacation and holidays, to stay competitive they also needed to provide health insurance. Done and done.

To say that we were like a family was an understatement. When the owners exchanged words, Neill and I would retreat to the kitchen, whispering to each other that it was like when our biological parents fought.

CELEBRATIONS

We always did something special for the holidays. The first year I worked for H&M, it was a ferry ride across the bay to Sausalito for lunch. The second year was much more exciting, and not necessarily in a good way. Nick decided that we needed to go fishing on the bay. He contacted a longtime friend with a boat and off we went—during some of the worst weather we’d ever seen in December.

As I wrote in those infamous Journals (and amended some time later):

Today we went out on San Pablo Bay to go fishing in lieu of having a regular Christmas Lunch.  It was interesting, but not something I think I’d jump at again.  I’m still very uncomfortable on small boats, and even though the water is supposedly only about thirty feet deep where we were, it was murky enough to make me uneasy.

The weather today was awful.  It was bitterly cold, windy and raining.  The bay calmed down for about an hour, but heading back to the marina (in Richmond), it was very choppy.  Neill caught a 40 lb. sturgeon and we all  ended up with sturgeon steaks. I threw mine out upon returning home (I wasn’t going to eat anything that came out of that bay), and after seeing Nick bludgeon the poor thing to death on the dock, it caused Neil to become a vegetarian.

3 almost-drowned rats: Neil, Jack, and Your Host

Mike, the unfortunate sturgeon, Your Host, Neill looking a little green, and Jack

Subsequent holiday lunches were either spent in The City or down the coast, anywhere from Pacifica to Santa Cruz. One memorable lunch was had at The Shore Bird in Half Moon Bay—where I had the most delicious halibut I have ever eaten. Sadly, the restaurant has long since closed. Another year we drove down to Capitola for dinner at a Shadowbrook, a restaurant that you entered via a small tramway. (Nick got very drunk that night and while I was designated driver and responsible for driving us back to The City, it was Nick’s minivan and we had to listen to the soundtrack from Twin Peaks on endless repeat all the way home.)

(to be continued)

Memories of San Francisco

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Two

WILD WEST COMPUTING

About six months into my employment at H&M, one morning I arrived at work to find a brand new IBM XT PC sitting on that fold-out conference room desk. Okay, it wasn’t a real IBM; it was a no-name locally-grown clone, but still…it was 1987 and this was a personal computer! It sat there for several days until I asked, “Is anyone going to do anything with that?”

Nick replied, “We were hoping you’d ask. It’s all yours.”

And so began my descent into the madness that would lead me to my current career.

Bernie (my ex, with whom I was sharing that flat with) was working as a legal secretary/assistant/word processor and had more experience with personal computers than I had. (To this point my only exposure had been with a Commodore VIC-20 about five years earlier.) I told him what had been loaded on the machine: DOS 3.1, Wordstar and some database program whose name eludes me. I’d started teaching myself Wordstar when Bernie said, “Fuck that. You need WordPerfect, and promptly supplied me with a set of 4.2 installation disks.

He was right. WordPerfect was much more intuitive and allowed me the opportunity to start creating fifteen years of obsessive, self-absorbed Journals that are at this point cringe-worthy reading.

Prior to moving to San Francisco, I had worked for a firm in Tucson that was on the verge of converting to AutoCAD. They brought Autodesk in to demo their product, and even then in the prehistoric days of 8088 processors and CGA displays, I knew this was the direction architecture was headed. Unfortunately converting the entire office was so cost-prohibitive (not to mention the initial loss of productivity that was expected) the project was shelved. But that spark of “the future” had taken hold in my imagination, and when the opportunity to obtain a copy of the program presented itself to me in San Francisco, I jumped on it.

Two roadblocks stood in the way of converting H&M to this new way of doing things: (1) I had to gain enough expertise with the program that my productivity wouldn’t be measurably impacted and (2) sell the whole concept to the bosses.

By this time I’d gotten my own PC at home, so teaching myself AutoCAD consumed me. Prior to this you would find me at the beach most every weekend (weather permitting) and sometimes even after work. That—and my meticulously curated tan flew out the window thereafter.

(As an aside, one of the things I most loved about this firm was on the first sunny day after a long, wet winter, Nick would often just close the office and say, “Go to the beach! Enjoy the weather!”)

All that came crashing down once I welcomed the electronic demon into my home. I was literally moving objects in my dreams by calling out cartesian coordinates—that’s how thoroughly and completely AutoCAD had consumed my consciousness.

But it paid off. After I felt comfortable enough putting my own set of architectural floor plans together, I suggested to Nick that on our next project we try it live. If it works, great. If not, then we continue drafting the old fashioned way.

He went for it—and many more instances of pushing the envelope—allowing me a degree of freedom to learn and explore that has been unmatched in any position I’ve held since.

The office’s original XT class computer had only a monochrome “Hercules” display. It was unbelievably crisp, but differentiating layers in AutoCAD was difficult and time consuming. I convinced them to buy a color monitor to make life a bit easier and offset the amount of money we were wasting on plots that didn’t come out looking the way they should because items weren’t on the correct layers. It wasn’t a high-res setup, but the colors at least cut down on the errors.

As time passed, the four of us settled into certain roles. Jack was the one who brought in the work, Nick managed the projects, the office, and the accounting. Neill became the de facto firm designer (he avoided doing CAD for years), and I was the guy who created all the production drawings. Life was good.

As the years went by, my knowledge and expertise increased. DOS gave way to Windows. AutoCAD and Wordperfect were purchased and regularly upgraded. We finally gave up on WordPerfect altogether after their initial foray into Windows crashed and burned spectacularly, forcing our hand to MS Word. I also somehow managed to teach myself Excel during this transition, something that’s paid off many times over the years. After spending hundreds of dollars to have our drawings printed at the local blueprint shop, we bought our own plotter. The original XT-class PC was replaced by a 286, then a 386, and by the time I left in 1995, a 486 machine. It was augmented by three others, eventually being crudely networked thanks to Windows for Workgroups.

EARTHQUAKE

On 17 October 1989 I left work about fifteen minutes early. I don’t remember why; only that I did. I was about three blocks from home, walking down 12th Street, when I rubbed one of my eyes and the contact lens rode up onto the top of my eyeball. As I was struggling to get it repositioned, the ground started shaking. “That’s odd,” I thought. And then I realized what was happening.

As my contact lens finally made it down to where it was supposed to be, the shaking continued, and I looked up to see the cantilevered billboard at the corner of 12th & South Van Ness wobbling vertically. I heard glass breaking and people screaming. The shaking stopped. A few errant car alarms could be heard wailing.

I arrived home to find my then-roommate Frank, mopping up water from the fish tank that had sloshed onto the floor. That—and the fact we were without power for several days afterward—was the extent of the damage we suffered.

The same could not be said for the H&M office at 2nd & Mission, however. Nick (who was the only one in the office at the time) related that when the shaking started, the shelves (which had not been secured to the wall) began to fall and he sprinted for the exit.

The building was red-flagged.

If I’d left work at my usual time, I would’ve been on the underground when it hit.

Like a lot of places in the aftermath of Loma Prieta, the office was closed for an extended period as the Bay Area dug itself out. But Jack and Nick—being the type of folks they were—continued to pay us as the search for new office space began.

(to be continued)

Memories of San Francisco

An old coworker/friend from my days in San Francisco whom I haven’t heard from in ages in popped into a dream this morning. Seeing Neill again after all these years left me with such a wonderfully warm feeling—as if to remind me that the world hasn’t always been the shit storm we currently find ourselves in—that I decided it was way past time to start jotting down memories of my time in The City before they slip away completely.

(Even now I must publish this caveat: they may or may not be a hundred percent accurate; such is the nature of the human mind and while I can go back and read my journals from the period, I only started writing them in 1987 and I didn’t record everything.)

Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part One

When I first moved to San Francisco thirty one years ago this month, employment was not immediately forthcoming. I didn’t expect to just walk into a job, but I had a desirable skill set, and knew it would just be a matter of time before I got settled.

After about a month, a landed a job working as an architectural drafter in a small firm in Japantown. The only downside to this was that I was working as an independent contractor, i.e. paying all my own taxes and had no benefits whatsoever. It didn’t take me long to realize the office was filled with “independent contractors,” all of whom had the classification but none of the perks of actually being independent. We were expected to work in the office with fixed hours and all the tools we needed to perform our tasks were supplied by the owner of the firm. And did I mention there wasn’t ever any sort of contract for services signed by either party?

The owner was in the midst of renovating a three unit Victorian about two blocks from the office and my second partner and I (we’d moved to SF together after splitting up, go figure) ended up renting the bottom unit. That is another story for a different post.

Anyhow, as the months dragged on, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with this employment arrangement, especially how I saw how we were all being taken advantage of. I brought up my concerns with the grizzled old bitch of an accountant who came into the office periodically (another “independent” contractor, no doubt), and I was told in no uncertain terms, “Everything we are doing is perfectly legal.”

By the time January rolled around, I’d had enough. I sent out resumes to every San Francisco architectural firm listed in the phone book. A few days later I received a call asking me to come in for an interview.

Hogg & Mythen Architects was located on the third floor of a building on the southeast corner of Mission & 2nd Street downtown that had obviously seen better days. As I entered the rickety elevator and reached the third floor, greeted by a locked gate that cordoned off the lobby from the offices, I seriously thought about just turning around and leaving.

2nd & Mission Streets, 1987

But I didn’t.

I rang the bell, and was greeted by Nick, one of the owners. He showed me into the long, narrow office space and told me to take a seat at the fold-up conference table nestled up against a wall of bookshelves containing product catalogs and reference materials. A few moments later, Jack—the other owner—joined us and we started talking. The interview went on for over an hour. I showed the examples of my work, went over my background, and asked about the type of work they specialized in and what they were willing to pay. Despite the rather dank environment, everything sounded great and I liked these guys. It was an easy commute via a single bus line and as I left I really hoped I’d get a call from them.

By the time I’d arrived back home, there was already a message waiting on the answering machine. “We like you and would like for you to come work for us.”

And so what was to become an almost decade-long relationship began.

I started work at H&M the following Monday, giving my current employer next-to-no notice (after all, I was an independent contractor) and shortly thereafter turned the bastard into the IRS. They nailed him to the wall. He ended up having to pay back taxes on all his “contractors” and I didn’t owe a penny that year.

I was not H&M’s only employee. They had one other drafter, a guy named Neill who had been on vacation when I’d interviewed with them. We met about a week into my employment. He was a tall, lanky ginger lad who had dual US/UK citizenship and had recently graduated from UC Berkeley. We hit it off immediately, but we really didn’t bond until one day we were out measuring a building and he said something about cocksuckers. Without missing a beat, I replied, “Hey, some of my best friends are cocksuckers!” and he replied, “So are some of mine!” And that was the moment I came out to him.

Neill, Your Host, and Nick, on the Ferry to Sausalito for our Christmas Outing, 1987

Neill wasn’t gay, but being a resident of San Francisco, he was still a staunch ally. While we butted heads on several occasions, to this day I still have nothing but affection for Neill and my only regret is that over the years we’ve lost touch with each other. He successfully got his architectural license the last year we worked together, and as I understand it has long since moved to the UK, gotten married, and now has kids of his own.

(to be continued)

(NSFW) This Reminds Me of a Story

June 1983. Tucson, Arizona.

I had taken my truck into TuneUp Masters (or whatever the chain was called at the time) one Saturday morning and was sitting in the waiting room waiting for the service to be completed. I glanced out the window and noticed a convertible Firebird pulled up and a drop-dead gorgeous stud got out. Blond, tan, hairy, around my age…probably a frat boy from the University, he casually tossed a basketball in the back seat and came into the waiting room. My eyes must’ve burned a hole into him as he walked past.

After he’d spoken to the attendant, he sat down on the row of chairs on the other side of the room directly across from me. He was dressed in a tank top, sneakers, and those infamous short nylon athletic shorts that left nothing to the imagination and were so popular at the time. Even though he kept his sunglasses on it seemed we were making eye contact over our respective magazines with increasing frequency.

In one of those moments when time seemed to stand still, we suddenly found ourselves alone in the waiting room and I noticed the tip of his cock beginning to poke out the leg of those shorts. As my gaze locked on, it continued to lengthen until it was obvious I wasn’t imagining things. I was wearing jeans, but by this time I was also quite…aroused…so I sat to make sure he got a full view as well. His hand casually moved down and started manipulating that beautiful thing and I returned the gesture.

Our cars ended up being finished at the same time, so we paid and walked out together. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but we ended up walking over to behind the bleachers at the nearby high school. This did NOT afford the degree of privacy we needed, so we ended up back at my place.

The rest, as they say, is history. His name was Mike (didn’t get a last name), and I never saw him again. He never appeared at any the gay bars (and at the time Tucson didn’t have many), so he may have just been one of those many horny “straight” college boys looking for release.

Down The Rabbit Hole

When I’m not otherwise occupied at work, I’ve found that an excellent way to make time pass in the blink of an eye is to get on Google Maps/Street View.

I spotted this photo over on Shorpy the other day. It was labeled, “Card Alley, San Francisco, February 1936.” I’d never heard of Card Alley, so I figured it was either one of the multitude of half-block long streets that dot downtown, or it was no longer in existence.

The former proved to be the case, because I hopped on Google Maps and found it almost immediately, Surprisingly it still looks very similar.

Once in San Francisco, however, I started exploring. First it was all the places I’d lived. (It looks like many of the buildings had changed ownership because they were actually being kept up now.) From there I started visiting all my old haunts, my workplaces (the small architectural office where I worked 8 years is now a vacant lot adjacent to a condo complex), my daily commute (I actually walked that much?!?). And from there I moved out of the city proper to visit a few of my other favorite places: the Marin Headlands, Sausilito, and then points further afield.

I found myself awash in a curious mix of emotions, a lot of which I can’t even find words for. Obviously there was sadness, a sense of loss tinged with regret at having never done all the things I’d wanted to do (because there was always next week, next month, next year)…but there was also joy and that feeling of “home” I always experienced when I was there. I’ve always said San Francisco was a very jealous mistress, but one that would welcome you back in a heartbeat with open arms should you stray and then return.

I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone back since my departure in 2002. I fear that Siren will grip me and demand my return to her bosom as it did the last time I left. (Granted, that was only an absence of about six months, not fifteen years, so my fears may be groundless.)

And—perhaps most fortunately for me to resist that siren song—as I noted even while living there in my 20s and 30s, is that it remains a city of and for the young…and most recently, a city of the insanely wealthy young, a demographic that I decidedly do not fall into. I remember balking at having to pay $1300 a month for a one bedroom apartment with off-street garage parking and a view of downtown on Twin Peaks in 2002. Nowadays, $1300 might get you a mother-in-law studio apartment in the back of a garage in the Outer Sunset.—if you’re lucky.

But it was still a fun little virtual visit and I plan on returning for further exploration the next time I’m sitting at work with nothing to do and waiting for the day to end.

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…

George Michael Was A Filthy Gay Fucker And We Should Honor Him For That

From Noah Michelson:

Last night, after word spread that pop star George Michael died at the age of 53, I sent out several tweets honoring the man who meant a lot to me as a queer young man who came out in the late ‘90s. My first tweet instructed those unfamiliar with Michael (and the brilliance of what he created) to seek out his music. This was my second tweet:

I was referencing Michael’s well-publicized history with cruising for sex in public places (he was arrested by an undercover policeman in a Beverly Hills men’s room in 1998 and again 10 years later in London). While I was being cheeky in a way that I thought he would appreciate in the big Wembley Stadium in the sky, I also meant it. It was my way of paying tribute to how open, outspoken and unapologetic he was about who he was (once he came out in 1998), his sexuality and looking for gay sex in what could be referred to as non-traditional locales.

But shit soon hit the fan. People who thought I was being “disrespectful” and “tacky” and “tasteless” flooded my Twitter mentions. A few people commented “too soon.” Others couldn’t believe that this was the only aspect of his life that I had chosen to concentrate on (which means they obviously didn’t read my aforementioned tweet). How dare I! One person called me “the 2016 of people” (which is actually kind of amazing) and another promised to “piss on my grave” when I died (I mean… don’t threaten my corpse with a good time, right?).

I tried to explain that as a queer, sex-positive man, this part of Michael’s life―these moments of queer sexuality and his sex life that were made very public―helped to reorganize and shape how I saw and embraced my own sexuality, which was nothing short of a miracle considering the homophobic and sex-negative culture we live in.

My tweet wasn’t a joke and it wasn’t rude or disrespectful. If you read it that way you’re implying that gay sex―public or otherwise―is shameful. I don’t and neither did Michael.

Continue Reading

A Wise Open Letter To Young Queers

As we note World AIDS Day this December 1st, I think it’s worth remembering that the untested but potentially devastating incoming Trump administration is not the first time our community has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. Jicama Fine posted a wise open letter to young queers this week and you need to read it no matter how old you are. His breathtaking history lesson will inspire you as our community works our way through the grief spawned by this year’s election.

There’s really nothing else I can say about his powerful open letter. Other than cleaning it up a bit for ease of reading, it’s being reprinted in its entirely as he wrote it.

Letter to my Queer community

I would like to speak to my younger Queer community. Those of you who weren’t around during the darkest times of the AIDS plague. Some of you call me elder. It’s a title I often want to run from. It scares me. Most often because I will have to live up to any advice I give you.

Since the outcome of the election I’ve been in a dark place. I’m scared, I’m reduced to tears at times. My hands shake. I want to hide in my house with the doors locked. I’m in pieces. Yet through my own grief and fear I see you. Your faces come to me, some familiar some unknown. I see your pain and fear and they are valid. They are not imaginary. The threat is real. I want to comfort you and tell you things will be alright but I’m not sure of this.

Many of you are estranged or have a tenuous connection with your birth family because you are Queer or HIV positive or because of this last election or other circumstances. Many of you don’t have an elder to turn to. Many of you feel alone.

I’ve been waiting to feel stronger or whole or for when my thoughts are more organised to speak to you but I’m unsure of when that will be. One thing I do have to share with you now is my experience.

I’ve been in this dark place a number of times before. One of those times was during the mid 80s through early 90s. AIDS was decimating our community. Loved ones, friends, strangers and ourselves were suffering and dying from this horrible disease.

I, myself, tested positive for HIV in 1985. I cried, I hid, I spun around and around. Effective treatment was still about 9 years away. I thought I had 2 years to live tops. Luckily I had the support of the Queer recovery community and the larger Queer community in Seattle.

The government was doing nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. Some so called Christians were calling for mass interment for people with AIDS, telling us that we should die and go to hell. Even some medical professionals were refusing to touch patients. Families were torn apart and sons and daughters were abandoned, stigmatized and left to die alone.

Our community members were broken physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We were in pieces.

We started taking care of ourselves and each other. We didn’t have time to wait to feel better or get ourselves together. We took care of each other the best we could. We used the skills we had. We built community using the broken pieces of ourselves. Many new skills were learned by doing. We made mistakes, we cried, we grieved, we buried our loved ones, we kept going somehow.

I had an elder who would often say “Do the next obvious thing.” I had just gotten my massage license in 1985 and decided to use this to help. I started massaging one or two patients in my home once a week and eventually joined the massage team that went into Seattle hospitals and hospice to comfort the sick and dying. I massaged emaciated bodies sometimes covered with KS lesions. I did things I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

My fingers still hold the vivid memory of what that feels like. Sometimes these people were loved ones but often they were strangers. Some had no birth family support others did. There were mothers and fathers and siblings that took care of their loved ones amid the fear and stigma. Some died alone. We tried to catch the ones falling through the cracks. We often failed.

From this basis of love and care organisations sprung up. We washed dishes, cleaned houses, wiped asses, made food and fed each other. We organised protests and actions to bring attention to the lack of government response. Real people of faith came forward and helped. Some of us ran for political office.

I tell you these things not because I want to be called hero or feed my ego but to give you the benefit of my experience. Many others did a lot more than I did in the face of greater fear. I went to the hospital to comfort a dying friend and instead he was the one comforting me. He died clean and sober and faced his death with grace. He was a hero.

I cannot talk about these times without acknowledging the women that came forward to help. They were the backbone of this movement. A lot of us men were broken and sick. Many times I fell into the arms of women who were there doing the work. They held me up literally at times. We came together from different gender identities, color and economic background.

Though the circumstances are different today I see many similarities. Hate is hate and fear is fear. Hate is a powerful dark spell fed by more hate. Try not to feed it. This thing called courage is not something I carry around with me that I can give. Real courage comes from within oneself at the time it is needed. It doesn’t come with flags waving and trumpets blaring that is something else. It often comes with tears and shaking and the urge to run and hide. Courage isn’t the absence of fear.

I see you, the younger members of my communities and I am given hope. You are bright, strong, energetic and loving. I am honored by your presence in my life. I see the work you do and the risks you take and I am humbled. I have often looked at you and have seen the faces of Queer ancestors I have known. Your Queer ancestors are with you in Spirit and also in more tangible ways. They survive in the rights and organizations we benefit from today.

This is a stressful time. The pull of addictions is strong. If you need help, get it. It is there. I love you. We need you. Mend your broken fences; we need everyone. Take good care of yourself and others, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Strengthen those bonds. The work will present itself if we are ready. If you are feeling down look around you. There is always someone else hurting more than you, Reach out to them.

Other communities are under attack. I cannot speak for them. I can only tell my story. You can find their stories elsewhere.

I offer you these words and the broken pieces of myself. It’s all I have.

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

Thirty Years Ago

Thirty years ago today I started my San Francisco adventure.

It had been a long time coming. While one of my dearest friends in the world moved there in 1979 and regaled me with stories of wonder and debauchery that simultaneously enticed and repulsed me, a little voice in the back of my head kept telling me that city was off limits until further notice. I’m glad I heeded that voice for once; there’s no telling if I would even be here today if I’d emigrated there any sooner than I did.

In May 1985, my partner at the time had some frequent flier miles that he needed to use or lose. He announced he was flying to San Francisco for the weekend. “Not without me you’re not!” And thus the seed was planted.

The following Christmas, we returned for an extended visit. By the time June the following year rolled around, my friend Lee had already secured employment there and our entire tribe was making preparations to leave Tucson, none of knew exactly when this was going to happen.

At the beginning of August, my supervisor called me into his office and announced they were laying me off. I started laughing. “That’s the oddest response I’ve ever gotten from anyone after being laid off,” he said. “That’s because the universe is telling me to move to San Francisco now.”

On August 15th, I threw a couple of well-packed suitcases in the back of my car, and along with a rather attractive boy named Jim Girard whom I’d met a few weeks earlier (my partner and I had split up earlier that summer), began the journey west to begin an adventure that was to leave an indelible mark on my life.

We didn’t take the quickest route to the City. Since we didn’t know if we’d “ever come this way again,” we eschewed I-5, overnighted in Santa Barbara, and took Route 1 up the coast.

We reached Monterey mid afternoon on August 16th. At the time, thinking that Monterey was only “a few minutes” south of San Francisco, I noted that the Aquarium was one place I definitely wanted to see after I got settled. Funny thing is, after all the years I lived there, I never did see it. It was always a case of “I’ll drive down next weekend.” Next weekend never came.

Late that afternoon, we finally arrived at our destination. Lee had been staying with friends of his in the Lower Haight. They were renting two units on a single floor of an old Victorian and had plenty of room for guests, opening their doors to yet another Arizona transplant.

811 Page Street, my first—albeit brief—San Francisco domicile

Not realizing that August weather in The City was decidedly different from June, I had neglected to pack appropriate outerwear, and I found myself shivering in the damp fog that rolled in like clockwork every night. Thankfully when Jim’s ex arrived a week later (talk of reconciliation was in the air) he brought my jacket and all was once again well in the world. Jim and Dave returned to Tucson about a week later, leaving Lee and I to wait for the arrival of the rest of our crew in the subsequent weeks while being told by Lee’s friends nearly every night over dinner that “The City will chew you up and spit you out.”

To be fair, the City was hard on us. Of the five of us who initially moved there, I was the only long-term survivor—and even then The City had the last word when I was forced to leave after the dot-com bust.

LOL

“As if we don’t have enough things to worry about in our lives, now we have to worry about the torque of the screws holding our hard drives in place!” ~ me, January 1989 from my Journal.

Oh, how things have changed…

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time I was going to write a novel. Once upon a time I was going to do a lot of things, but for the purpose of this post, let me try to stay focused on the Great American Novel.

Like many young adults of the time, I was enthralled by a little movie called Star Wars that came out in 1977. It fired my imagination in ways precious few other films had done, sending me off on a spiritual quest as well as igniting a love of writing that—while perhaps not as all-consuming as it was to begin with—survives to this day.

The genesis of the idea for my book came about as a direct offshoot from the double sunset scene in the movie. It was something I had seen before; obviously not with these eyes or in this lifetime, but it was something that so resonated in the fiber of my being that it sparked a desire to learn as much as I could about belief in past lives and reincarnation.

“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Souls may incarnate on Earth, and souls may incarnate on worlds other than Earth.” ~ Edgar Cayce

And there was the quote that I was hoping to find somewhere—anywhere—to back up my own budding beliefs.

And thus Reunion was born.

It was to be a monumental undertaking; a story spanning two separate lifetimes on two (later three) different worlds. The past life chapters would be based in the Star Wars universe, but not be a part of that story. There would be a desert world with a double sun, landspeeders, and ‘droids. But ultimately it would be a love story—a gay love story—of epic proportions that was going to set the world on fire.

Okay, I was 19 years old. Cut me some slack.

At that point in time the only real gay novel to make it anywhere near mainstream acceptance was Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runnerand one of my best friends warned that if I ever hoped to get my book published I might have to change the sexuality of the main characters and the sex of one. I told him that if that were the case the book would never be published.

The original plan was to almost write two different stories, presenting them in alternating chapters, switching back and forth between present and past lives, ultimately reuniting the main character with his long-lost love.

When I finally gave up on this endeavor some six years later and tossed it all in the dumpster, I’d gotten most of the past life part written (including the death of the two main characters), but it was floundering. The biggest criticism I’d received from everyone I’d shared my early drafts with was that while my descriptions of the environments in which the story was taking place were beautiful and they felt like they were physically present there, the story lacked conflict. “It reads like a travelogue.”

I tried to come up with some sort of conflict, but it felt forced and it wasn’t my truth of the story. It wasn’t until many years later, long after my initial draft was at the bottom of some Phoenix landfill, that I hit upon an idea for resurrecting the book—and would also provide the vehicle to neatly tie the reincarnation theme together and provide a organic source of conflict.

Fortunately, I’d written and rewritten the first few chapters of the book so many times that it was indelibly etched in my memory and recreating it on the newfangled computer thingie that had entered my life was easier than I thought it would be. But again, as I progressed, I got bogged down. With a few additional years of life now behind me, some things just didn’t feel right any longer; there were new themes and a couple new characters I wanted to introduce. Before long it seemed as if I had lost sight of the original thrust of the story.

That being said, I did make a lot of progress on Reunion 2. I introduced the new characters I’d wanted, changed the writing style from third person to first person, and even got the foundation laid for the much-needed conflict (and a reason the main characters died the way they did) that the original story was lacking.

I had the bones of the story laid out—if not on paper at least in my head. The problem was adding flesh to those bones. As the years continued to drag on, I tried returning to the story several times, but I never seemed to make much progress. It didn’t help that I was slowly developing the attention span of a gnat, completely precluding the kind of dedication writing a novel requires.

Just to see if I could jump start the original story, I even briefly flirted with writing another novel, tied to the same storyline, but providing the past-life backstory of the soulmate of Reunion’s protagonist. I soon realized that would be an even bigger endeavor, since the character was part of a galactic survey force, conscripted into service for a period of four years. (Think something vaguely resembling Star Trek in scope.) Needless to say, that never got anywhere beyond the first dozen pages or so before—squirrel!

I still fantasize that someday Reunion may come to fruition, but the original vision is drifting further away with each passing day. I can no longer write about love, relationships, or indeed the world—as the 20-something college student who dreams of that man from another lifetime, feeling the impossible ache of longing that goes along with knowing a part of himself is missing. I have learned that love—true love—is far more complicated, messy, and ultimately fulfilling and wonderful than anything imagined in one’s young adulthood.

And why did I write this? Jean-Michel Jarre’s Chronologie. While I wrote the majority of the first draft of Reunion listening to his Oxygene and Equinoxe, I ran across Chronologie a few days ago, and as I put in my headphones, closed my eyes and started the music playing, I was immediately back in that landspeeder, skimming over a sea of golden dunes…

The First Time

Nearly half a century later I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Fourth grade, alone in my room as was often the case. Where was my mom? Probably in the kitchen. Where was my sister? Outside the in the back yard or watching television in the family room; details elusive and unimportant.

It had stood up on its own unbidden before; many times in fact. The first time I recall it happening I was only three or four years old, and scrambled to explain to my father why I was naked and sprawled out of the floor, rubbing my body against the rough carpet. “I was looking for something under the bed,” was the remembered excuse. But this time it was different; it demanded attention and could not be ignored.

I slipped my pants off, climbed onto the bed and on all fours, straddling the fuzzy faux leopard-skin pillow that had adorned it for many years, started rubbing against it. I thought of the how the new P.E. coach’s nipples prominently showed through his too-tight T-shirts and his chest hair poked out at the neckline. I thought about the man’s bushy mustache and his fresh-out-of-the-Marines high-n-tight buzzcut. As I rhythmically rubbed against the pillow and thought of these things, it felt good. Too good. Suddenly my body was wracked with convulsions; I felt like I was going to piss. The pleasure centers in my brain exploded and I scrambled for my shorts, hoping to stem the flow long enough to get them back on and down the hall into the bathroom before everything was wet. But then it was over. No stream of urine; in fact, nothing at all.

Of course, that would soon change as the days progressed and that urge returned again and again. Quickly I realized that while the initial rush was similar to the feeling of emptying my bladder it was only because I’d had nothing else prior to compare it to; in actuality it very different. And when I realized I wasn’t going to wet everything, I was actually able to enjoy the feeling.  The first time the milky fluid came spraying out—as I stood naked in front of the hall mirror rubbing the pillow against my crotch (where was my mother?)—I thought I’d broken something, yet it did nothing to prevent me from doing it again.

“Why did you take that pillow into the bathroom with you?” my mother eventually asked. “It smells. I want to throw it in the washer but I had to pee first,” I’d respond.

Soon I discovered I could wrap my hand around it and achieve the same result, giving that poor pillow a much-needed respite from the washing machine.

One day I captured some of the milky fluid onto a glass slide and put it under the microscope I’d gotten for Christmas the year before. Slowly the little squiggling things came into focus, confirming what I’d been surreptitiously researching. Nothing was broken.

And so it began—and the Sears catalog was never looked at the same way again.

Sucked Down Memory Lane

I’ve fallen down an internet rabbit hole. This was prompted by waking from a dream a couple nights ago wherein I was in the studio of the interior designer my mom worked for in the 1960s and then wracking my brain trying to remember exactly where on Central Avenue it had been located. I can only assume that as yet another example of mid-century architecture it was leveled decades ago to make room for one of the new condo complexes that now line the Central Corridor—or more likely for the I-10 deck park tunnel. All I can remember is that it was on the west side of the street and the tall palm trees that used to line both sides of the boulevard were out front. There was also a small grass lawn separating the sidewalk from the studio itself. In case anyone is interested, it was called Kay Baden Decorators.

The last time I was there I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.  They relocated to a small storefront in Biltmore Fashion Park shortly thereafter. The funny thing is, I can easily remember the smell of the studio more distinctly than recalling anything specifically visual in it—except that the front part of the studio/showroom was a dark labyrinth of furniture, accessories, and stuff—a lot of it completely inaccessible. In short, it was a mess. A fascinating mess for a young person to explore, but a mess nonetheless. (It wasn’t really a showroom; it was used more as a storeroom.)

While I was eventually able to file this unexpected memory and fall back to sleep, the first thing I did upon waking the next morning was to begin Googling for old pictures of North Central Avenue.

I still haven’t found anything that even remotely looks like what I remember, but it led me two two websites that have consumed me for the last couple days. The first is The Rogue Columnist, who is an amazing trove of Phoenix history, and has posted dozens of photos from the time when Phoenix was just a sleepy little desert town (or at least not the car-obsessed asphalt jungle it has become). The second is a discussion forum called How Do You Remember Phoenix? Stories from Long Time Residents. At 850+ pages, it’s going to take me quite some time to wade through it, but it’s already triggered memories of long-gone places that I didn’t even realize were gone until they were pointed out. This has emphasized how much I want to document places around town now—as mundane as some of them may be—to help future residents remember places that are just as likely to be razed in the future as Thomas Mall (just one example) was in the past.

I Can So Relate

“Bobby was enjoying this new brand of paint. The fumes were stronger than anything he had ever sniffed before, and the hallucinations seemed stronger, and wilder. Never again would Bobby see his old paint supplier, from now on he was sticking to the hard stuff like the big boy he had become.”

Most people associate Christmas day with the smell of freshly-baked cookies, or turkey and stuffing cooking in the oven. Not me. What takes me back is the smell of plastic model paint. Being a geeky child of the 60s, nothing recalls Christmas to me quite as much as building plastic models, whether they were commercial airplanes, movie monsters, anatomical displays, dinosaur skeletons, or spacecraft. And they all required painting.

Memory Jogged

While watching Helix the other night, one of the characters mentioned “Goofy Grape.” Oh my god…I hadn’t heard that name in years.

A quick internet search provided me lots of warm fuzzy, cyclamate-filled memories of childhood:

I also remember two other flavors…

…that apparently were promptly renamed because even back in the 60s they were considered way too racist.

How sad is it that I can still vividly remember what each of these tasted like?

Worlds AIDS Day

As I do every year on December 1st I take a moment to remember the men who have touched my life and sadly are no longer with us…


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

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

Blast from the Past

My sister is still going through our Dad’s belongings, and over the past few weeks she’s been sending me the detritus of his electronic life. Boxes full of diskettes, CDROMs and Zip (!) disks have been arriving with disturbing regularity. They’re all coming Priority Mail, which makes no sense whatsoever, other than by spending an exorbitant amount to ship this stuff to me (instead of waiting until September when I’m in Phoenix and can ship the stuff myself), it’s her passive-aggressive way of guilting me for not being able to come coming down for Dad’s ash scattering last fall.

The other day a banker box arrived and I still don’t understand why the postman decided to stuff it into one of the parcel boxes instead of leaving it at the leasing office. I was barely able to get it out and by the time I finally freed it from the box, I was cursing out my sister for spending $25 to send this…whatever it was.

It turns out I shouldn’t have been so quick to judgment. While I was initially disappointed when opening the box and seeing Dad’s old wool Navy blanket (something I’d told her repeatedly I didn’t want), I dug deeper and found a small oil painting Dad had done of me as a baby and—this was an OH MY GOD moment—my old commercial aviation scrapbook from when I was a kid.

This was something I’d completely forgotten about, but seeing it’s bright orange cover jogged that memory in an instant. As I gingerly opened the cover and saw the very first page plastered with Airline logos from the late 60s and early 70s, it all came flooding back.

Among the newspaper clippings, hand-drawn airplanes, airline advertisements, box covers from the models I’d built, boarding passes and printed paper schedules, were a dozen or so photographs I’d taken from the observation deck of Sky Harbor Airport. (This was pre-jetway Sky Harbor, when you actually got to talk on the tarmac to get on an airplane; back when there was an outside observation deck!) Being 40-plus years old, the photos were faded and discolored, but through the modern day magic of Photoshop, I was able to return them to their former glory.

Remember PSA?
Remember Western?
That’s a Delta DC-9 and a Frontier 737 behind that Western 727.
Air California, acquired by American in 1987,

And then there was the day the first 747 landed in Phoenix. It was a very big day as I recall, as the mayor came out to greet it as well the full media complement. I had seen a PanAm 747 from a distance when we’d flown through O’Hare earlier that year and I was in awe. How could anything that big actually fly?