Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Re-View

Nineteen years ago, my friend Barney called me to say he had a great record by a new band called Erasure. He put it on a cassette tape for me and we listened to it all the way to Fort Lauderdale. Then we spent the weekend lying by the hotel pool and dancing in our room to fantastic songs like "Who Needs Love Like That?" and our favorite song on the album, "Oh, L'Amour". When the DJ at The Copa played "Oh, L'Amour" as the final song of the evening, Barney and I sang it out loud, very loudly, and I think we scared people.

Oh L'Amour
Broke my heart
Now I'm aching for you
Mon amour
What's a boy in love
Supposed to do?


Eighteen years ago, Barney and I saw Erasure in concert for the first time, as the opening act for Duran Duran. We found a small knot of other homos near the huge stage and went crazy with them for the songs I've already mentioned, and the new hits "The Circus" and our favorite song for that year, "Sometimes".

Been thinking about you
I just couldn't wait to see
Fling my arms around you
As we fall in ecstasy



Seventeen years ago
, with a large group of friends, Barney and I attended the Hotlanta River Expo, a 3-day bachannal of gay dance parties centered around an exhuberant rafting trip down the muddy, icy Chattahoochee River. Erasure was continuing to dominate the gay scene, with their hit singles "Ship Of Fools", "A Little Respect", and their biggest hit to date, "Chains Of Love."

On the closing night of the weekend, the DJ at Backstreet played "A Little Respect", turning down the music at the right moments so that hundreds of gay men, Barney and I included, could sing the lyrics at top of our lungs, which remains one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Soul
I hear you calling
Oh baby please
Give a little respect to me
I'm so in love with you
I’ll be forever blue


Sixteen years ago, Barney and I returned to the Hotlanta event with our friends. We could not believe our luck when we learned that Erasure happened to be in town, touring to support their new album, "Wild". We blew off the Miss Hotlanta drag pageant, the opening event of the weekend, and took our group to the show, which was held in a natural amphitheatre, built into the side of a hill.

The show was fantastic, with a huge elaborate set. When lead singer Andy Bell took the stage in a blue sequined miniskirt, he asked the crowd, "Whaddya think of the NEW Miss Hotlanta?" We roared with approval. The band performed all the songs I mentioned before, plus singles from the new album, "Brother, Sister", "Drama", and "Blue Savannah." That night, after the show, we saw Andy Bell sitting at the end of bar in The Armory and made fawning fools of ourselves, despite of which, he was very sweet to us.

The next day, at a smolderingly hot t-dance at Velvet, when the DJ played "Blue Savannah", Barney pulled me up onto the speakers, high above the dance floor, to dance with him. I had never done that before and I never have since. Again, the DJ turned the record down during the chorus of the song and Barney and I joined the happy hundreds of men below us in singing, with our arms outstretched to each other.

Somewhere 'cross the desert
Sometime in the early hour
To the orange side
Through the clouds and thunder
My home is where the heart is
Sweet to surrender to you only
I send my love to you



Fourteen years ago, Barney and I were eagerly awaiting the release of the new Erasure album, "Chorus." The single of the same name, and the impossibly catchy "I Love To Hate You" had already been purchased as import singles and we took "I Love To Hate You" as a catch-phrase between us, when one was misbehaving. On my birthday, four days before the scheduled release of "Chorus", Barney arriving at my house, giggling with anticipation, because he'd manage to convince a record store friend of his to sell him the album early.

Barney couldn't bear to wait for me to open the wrapping and tore the package open himself. We sat on the empty living room floor of my new house and listened in bliss. After one listening, we agreed that "Breath Of Life" might be our new favorite Erasure song.

Oh I want life
Life wants me
To breathe in its love

Take me I'm yours
Now I'm comin' up for air
I'm gonna live my time
For the rest of my life
Then I'll be comin' back for more


Thirteen years ago, Barney and I spent the summer grooving to "Abba-Esque", Erasure's EP of ABBA covers. Barney and I hadn't been doing much together, ever since he got together with his boyfriend Jimmy, a couple of years earlier, but we always had our Erasure moments.

For Chrismas, I got Barney a very rare Japanese import version of "Abba-Esque." I was so excited to see his face when he opened it, but Barney never saw it. He died very unexpectedly of AIDS-related pneumonia that weekend. When I arrived at his house to console his boyfriend, I saw my gift under their tree, still wrapped.

I've never been able to listen to that album again. Even the super-dopey ABBA lyrics have a resonance I would never have allowed.

When you're gone
How can I even try to go on
When you're gone
Though I try how can I carry on


Last night, I went to see Erasure at Irving Plaza, here in New York City, on the final night of their 9-show sold out stand. They are touring to support their new album "Nightbird", which has already yielded a modest hit, "Breathe". While I've continued to be an avid fan of Erasure, I was worried about seeing them in person. To me, their music is irrevocably entwined with my memories of Barney. Each song, a milepost of our lives and our loves and our adventures.

The band opened with "No Doubt" from the new album. Andy Bell looked great, despite his near decade-long struggle with HIV. The band did all the songs I've mentioned in this story, plus some great new stuff like "I Bet You're Mad At Me" and "Don't Say You Love Me." The set was fun, the background singers were all smiles and gorgeous harmony. And Vince Clarke even did the rap part, when they covered Blondie's "Rapture", which blew the crowd away because Vince is famous for his impassive stage presence.

And overall I did pretty well, holding myself together. Of course, as the opening notes of each song rang out, I instantly flashed to a scene of Barney and me somewhere, laughing...dancing...singing.

The crowd was the usual curious mix of Erasure fans, white gay men and Asian women (which I've never understood). Each hit was greeted with a roar of recognition, following by enthusiastic singing along. I bounced a bit, and smiled a lot, and took a few pictures, but overall, it was the most reserved I've ever felt at an Erasure show, including the several I've been to since Barney died.

Then, taking the stage for the encore, Andy Bell appeared naked, save for a silver sequined bikini and two huge blue-feathered fans, with which he coyly covered himself. At that moment, with that vision, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Because, oh my fucking god, Barney would have loved it.

And for the first time last night, I sang along, loudly, smiling, unembarrassed by my wet cheeks.

Thanks, Erasure.

And thanks, Barney.


Ooh sometimes
The truth is harder
Than the pain inside
Ooh sometimes
It's the broken heart
That decides




.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Prophecy

And as it was foretold in the Book Of Doom, on this day in 2004 was born a blog.

And it was weird.

And I know it's supposed to be uncool to mention your blogiversary these days, but fuck it. From hereon, announcing your blog birthday is the new not-announcing your blog birthday.

And fat is the new black.

And I've added Haloscan, so now I can "manage" the comments and y'all can enter comments without being "anonymous".

And the reruns are over.

After this one. Here's my first post:

April 26, 2004
I was born and raised in rural North Carolina.

My fondest childhood memory is of playing in the dense, acrid, poison fog that was belched out by the county mosquito control truck, during it's daily dusk-time trip down our dirt road.

The cry of 'Smokey! Smokey!' would fly up and down Nine Foot Road, once the first faint sound of the pest control truck's generator was detected in the distance. Trailer screen doors would slam open and kids would pour into the street for 10 minutes of gleeful, giddy, mad dashing around in the thick white clouds of DDT. We would smash into each other with full force in the blinding swirls and just scream and laugh hysterically, pick ourselves up and start running again.

Parents had not a whit of concern about their children playing directly behind the spewing pipes of a pest control truck. In fact, NOT being allowed to play in the poison fog was often held out as potential punishment for misbehavior.

I think this explains a lot about me.

Friday, April 22, 2005

This Town

This morning I got a seat on the subway. An unusual occurrence on most days, so I puzzled why, until I realized that it's Passover time again.

Then I puzzled why it is that I've been in New York City for four years and still haven't been invited to a Seder. It's not like I'm lacking in the Jew-friendliness department. My own mother, who cannot answer a question without asking one, is often mistaken for Jewish.

"Mom, what time is it?"

"Where do YOU have to be, Mr. Bigshot?"

And it was in the fall of 1988 when I scored a 29 out of a possible 30 in the Miami Herald's "Test Your Yiddish Vocabulary" test, a perfect score brought down by "schtettle."

But no Seder for me this year. My last one in San Francisco was hosted by my hilarious friend Ben, whose four questions began with "What makes this night more fabulous than any other?" Oh, and instead of leaving the door open for Elijah, we left it open for Sylvester.

I was sitting there in my Seder haze, when at 51st Street, where lots of United Nations staffers get on, a tall Muslim man wearing traditional Muslim clothes boarded my car. He moved over as if he were going to sit between me and a small elderly lady when the old lady suddenly barked at him.

"No! No! Don't sit down!"

The Muslim man looked at her, looked at me, and seemed at a loss of what to say. It seemed for a moment like this little old lady was not about to have some Muslim person seated next to her.

But the the old lady pointed vigorously at the empty seat, "See! See! There's some bubble gum on there and I dint want youse to get yer...yer...um, um...DRESS... all messed up!"

Then she flushed with embarrassment.

The Muslim man nodded his head and smiled down at her, "Yes! Yes! Very kind. Very kind."

This town.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Name Game

We were discussing a condundrum of fag nomenclature at the Eagle last week. It so happens that we have two Todds in our loose circle of friends. One is white, one is black. Logically, they became White Todd and Black Todd. Luckily, Black Todd is not only unoffended, he thinks it's hilarious to call and leave me phone messages from "Black Todd".

This sort of verbal shorthand as visual ID is not uncommon in my circle. We have Spanish Robert, New York John, Not Right Richard, Stinky Ed, Tall Jim and others.

A few weeks ago, our friend Steve appeared at beer bust with the guy he'd been dating from New Jersey, another 'Todd'...and also black. The new Black Todd is a personal trainer to high-powered execs/CEO's who chopper him in to Manhattan for in-office sessions. No, really.

As you might guess, trainer Black Todd has the type of body that looks like it came from the Circuit Party World Headquarters, from the "Compared To This, You Look Like A Mean Joke From God" division. And his ass! Freekin hell! His ass! His ass arrived at beer bust about 3 minutes after HE did, in a separate cab.

And so naturally, the new Todd was named Black Ass Todd. To review: White Todd (and never do we drop the 'White'), Black Todd, and Black Ass Todd now crowd our All Todd world.

Well.

Sunday afternoon, Black Ass Todd was drinking beer with us. At one point, over the music, he heard my buddy Ray say, "Here, hand this beer to Black Ass Todd." And Black Ass Todd immediately got a bit agitated.

"What did you call me? I know I just didn't hear you say that!"

Joe to the rescue. I patiently reviewed with Black Ass Todd the chain of events that lead to the naming of White Todd and Black Todd. And how he could see our problem when we very improbably gained another Black Todd.

He said, "So I gotta be Black Ass Todd because I'm darker skinned than Black Todd? You think that's funny? If I hear that shit again, I will slap that racist name right outta your head!"

Everyone began apologizing and stammering and laughing nervously.

I said, "C'mon Todd. We're not saying 'Black Ass' the same way people say 'big ass truck' or 'ugly ass bitch'. Ass is NOT an adjective in Black Ass Todd. It's a NOUN."

Black Ass Todd stared at me.

I continued, "We call you 'Black Ass Todd'...well, because ya got that damn big fine ASS, Todd!"

Silence.

Then, "Do you think AOL would let me have 'BlackAssTodd' as a screen name?"




Originally posted May 4, 2004

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Deal Breaker

It took me forever to find parking on Harrison Street.

By the time I finally found a space, rummaged quarters for the meter, and walked the six blocks to the Eagle, I was hot, cranky and in desperate need of beer.

San Francisco's Eagle Tavern had those annoying rubber strips hanging in their doorway, a pointless exercise when you have no air conditioning. I batted them away from my face, stepped inside, and paused while my eyes adjusted.

The beer bust on Sunday afternoons was the only time this place was busy, and the warm weather had brought out a huge crowd. Most of the guys preferred to stand out back on the huge patio, enjoying the sun and the crush of bare skin. Didn't hurt that they could smoke out there too.

Customers on the patio were being served drinks through a large walk-up window, and the bartenders were swamped, taking orders at the bar, then whirling around to attend to the outside customers through the window.

I got in line behind two tall, thin leathermen.

They were dressed right out of the Castro Clone style guide. Knee-high Wesco boots, with their tattered and faded jeans bloused inside. Heavy chain belts. White wife-beaters under leather vests. Their vests were covered with affinity pins from various motorcycle clubs and leather events.

One of them had a flogger attached to his belt. I noticed his vest had a silver name tag that said 'Sir'. Sir's friend had red and orange hankies stuffed into his back right pocket. They both had elaborate goatees and shaved heads. Sir had numerous tattoos covering his skinny arms. The tattoos were mostly faded and illegible.

I guessed them both to be in their mid-50s. As I waited my turn, Sir grabbed his companion's arm.

"Hey! You see that guy? Right there? Talking to Randy?"

He was pointing out the window into the crowd on the patio. The bartender turned to take their order, blocking the view through the window.

"Who? Where? I don't see Randy."

They both moved to the side a bit, to see around the bartender. The bartender shook his head with annoyance and turned back around to serve someone else through the window.

I was pissed. These guys were holding up my beer.

"OK, look right now! See him? See him? The big guy with the Civil War cap?" Sir pointed again.

"No, I don't. Who the hell are you talking about?"

Now I could see the other guy's name tag: Boy.

Sir was getting exasperated.

"Do you remember me telling you about that play party I went to at Freaky's house, back when you were visiting your mom?"

"Yeah, you said it sucked and you didnt even play with anybody, said Boy.

"There! There! Standing next to Tony! See him? See him? He's scratching his neck right now!" Sir said excitedly.

Boy didn't even look out the window, instead giving Sir a reproachful look.

"Did you MEET someone at Freaky's party that you didn't tell me about?"

The bartender again turned to face us. Sir and Boy ignored him. Ordinarily, I'd have pushed them aside to get my damn beer, but I'd gotten caught up in this little unfolding drama.

"Oh, don't EVEN start with me! I'm just showing you the guy that I told you I met, the one that was leaving the party when I got there. Remember? The guy from Dallas? When I got to Freaky's, he was leaving with Wally?'

Boy nodded, relieved. "Oh, yeah right. You did tell me."

"Anyway, I was chatting online with Wally yesterday, and I found out a little tidbit about the Dallas guy that you are going to find in-ter-est-ing!"

Sir sang the word 'interesting.'

Boy asked, "What about him?"

Sir reached out and clenched Boy's elbow, stepped closer and lowered his voice.

"He's a MAJOR scat pig."

Boy's eyebrows lept up.

"WHAT? REALLY? Which one is he again?"

Boy craned his neck towards the window.

"I thought that might get your attention, HAH! And you are in luck, because that's him, right now...getting a beer on the other side!" Sir said triumphantly.

A handsome and muscled middle-aged guy, wearing a Civil War cap, was being served at the window.

Boy growled, "Woooooof. He is a hot hot Daddy!. AND he's into scat? Be still my piggy heart!"

"Yes, and Wally said he was real fun. Should we go outside and talk to him?"

"Oh, HELL yes. Mmmm, mmm. What a body, too! And you know how I like...," Boy stopped in mid-sentence.

"Oh, FUCK....wait a minute....forget it," he said disappointedly.

"What? Why 'forget it'? What?" said Sir.

"He smokes."




Originally posted May 24, 2004

Friday, April 15, 2005

Decorating Tips With Mike And Joe

JOE: So I saw this thing online where a taxidermist will make your dead pets into throw pillows.

MIKE: Oh, cool! You mean like you can have your tabby turned into one of those bearskin rugs? With the head all snarling?

JOE: Oh, that'd be too small to lie on. But maybe you could put it outside your front door, you know, as a welcome mat? Anyway, this place just turns your pets into throw pillows.

MIKE: Wow, that really opens up some decorating opportunities!

JOE
:I know! It says they do cats, dogs and horses. Although, I really can't see using a horse pillow. Not in Manhattan.

MIKE: Ew, no. Not unless you were doing some sort of Western motif, you know, with wagon wheels and cow skulls.

JOE: And even then you'd need a Palomino to really make it work.

MIKE: True. Personally, I'd probably go for something subdued, that would go with my new Mitchell Gold chaise lounge. Maybe something from the Setter palette.

JOE: You think? I'd probably go with something brighter, maybe a Golden Retriever.

MIKE: Ooh, how about a Standard Poodle? They could dye it to match!

JOE: Too gay. How about Doberman or Mastiff? That seems solidly masculine.

MIKE: Oh, honey. Queens would think I'm trying to prove something.

JOE: What about for my place? Everything's all solids, I'd want something bright, with patterns, you know...like maybe a Calico or a Maine Coon?

MIKE: No, those things would always be shedding or pilling. You definitely want something short hair and stain resistant, like Siamese or Burmese.

JOE:(musing): You know.. I've seen some Beagle shades that might work.

MIKE: We should tell Randall about this. That tacky place of his could use some work. All that tired 80's glass and chrome, all that cliche' black and white. Although, with his taste, you KNOW what he'd pick!

(TOGETHER): Dalmatian!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Voice Mail

Shortly after I moved to New York City, my buddy Ken and I had a crazy, wild Sunday night at the clubs. We danced for hours, we boozed, we schmoozed. I met a hundred new guys and most of them hit on me, it seemed.

Ah, to be new meat.

As the night wore on, I cautioned Ken over and over that I had to be at work in the morning. I was still very new at my job, definitely too new to be taking license with arrival times. Each time, Ken nodded, "Right, right. We'll wrap it up soon."

And then we'd go to another club.

Finally, at 3AM, I put my foot down. "This is our LAST drink, OK? As it is, I'm only gonna get about five hours of sleep, maybe!"

"Right, right."

And then we went to another club.

This last place ("Gawdammit Ken! This better be the LAST place!") was more crowded than any of the others had been. We weren't there ten minutes, and we'd been hit on by four or five guys. Who were all very hot. Who were all together. Who were leaving for a sex party, and did we want to come with them?

Yes. Yes, we did.

At 4AM we arrived at an unspeakably fabulous Soho loft. I accepted a line or two of cocaine, which I don't even like, just to be sociable, you understand. At 430AM we'd had another drink and were naked in a pile of men on a massive shag carpet in front of a fireplace.

The fucking went on for hours. I think I had three more beers, the last one at 7AM. At 730AM I pulled Ken to his feet and into the main bathroom, which was larger than my apartment.

"Look, I know YOU don't have to be anywhere, but I have a NEW JOB. I have to go."

Ken just laughed. "Oh, yeah..RIGHT. You are going to go in to work now. Completely hammered. Smelling of booze and men. Honey, if you shower for an hour, you'll still be sweating beer and lube for the rest of the day! And plus, you look like hell. You have to call in sick, there's really NO other option."

He was right, of course. I sent Ken back out to fetch his cellphone and waited in the bathroom while I pondered what lie I might tell my boss. When Ken came back, I told him I couldn't think of anything.

"Well, how do you feel?" he asked.

"I feel like shit!"

"And how much sleep have you had?" he said.

"You know I haven't had any."

Ken put the phone to his ear and said "Hello Joe's boss? Joe doesn't feel well and didn't get any sleep last night, so he's not coming in."

He handed to phone to me, "Now YOU do it."

I fumbled with his phone a minute and was very relieved to get the office manager's voice mail. Which made sense, of course, since it wasn't even 8AM.

I left the office manager this voice mail: "Hi Diane, this is Joe. It's about 8am, and I just wanted to let you know that I'm not going to make it in today. I'm really, really sorry, but I'm just not feeling well. I have a headache and I'm all sweaty and I really didn't sleep at all last night. I'll give you a call at the end of the day and check in. OK, thanks. Bye."

I looked at Ken reproachfully. "I hope you're happy. I just had to lie to that fat old bitch and I've only been there for two weeks. Although actually, it really WASN'T a lie, I do feel like shit, which is what happens when you stay up all night doing drugs and fucking lots of strange men."

Ken snatched the phone from my hand and punched a button.

"And NOW, the phone is hung up!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Insert Sally Field Reference Here:

As a few clued-in readers mentioned in my comments last week, I did indeed win the Diarist Award, my nomination for which I mentioned here recently. Yesterday I got the official notice from the Diarist Cardinals after they ended their conclave.

Didn't anybody notice the white smoke?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Disguises

The West Village. Christopher Street.

It's a glorious Sunday afternoon and I'm wearing shorts and sneakers. The streets are thick with happy people reveling in the warm, cloudless weather. Dog walkers, joggers and young couples, gay and straight, have exploded out of their apartment prisons.

I'm heading for the Dugout, where large hairy men gather to swill beer and rub bellies. The Dugout is the east coast focal point of bear culture and on this beautiful day will be packed with unshaven gay men fiercely affecting their best blue collar postures and costumes. The place may indeed be populated by bankers and lawyers, but to the uninformed it will look like a convention of plumbers.

After two decades wherein AIDS-related wasting made anyone of a slender frame immediately suspect, heavier men began to seem healthier men, giving at least a partial impetus to the "bear" movement. And since fat is the new black, bear bars are always a popular destination.

Crossing Hudson Street, I fall into step with a young black man. He's wearing a shiny black do-rag, worn under an askew baseball cap. His clothes are hugely oversized, his pants sagging down, his boxers pulled several inches above the waistband. His gait is polished and swaggering and he's got his right hand cupped over his crotch. He ignores me and I pretend to ignore him.

In front of the PATH train station, I see four teenaged black girls. One of them has pink hair woven into her own, giving her the comical appearance of an exploded firework. The girls are animated and giggling, emitting piercing screams at each other's clever jibes. Then they see the young black man at my side, and for a moment I wonder if they think that he and I are together.

We pass the girls and are about ten feet away when one of them shouts.

"Hey, he a girl!"

I glance back to see them all looking at the young man. He stops and turns around.

"Wazzup?" he asks, hands raised in the familiar pose seen in rap videos.

I fade into the crowd outside the pizza joint and watch.

"You a girl, right?" another one of the girls asks.

I look to the young man, who nods. Only then do I detect the faintest hint of breasts, likely strapped tightly, under "his" sweatshirt.

I expect the girls to say something insulting or obscene to this young handsome drag king, but quite unexpectedly, they become coy, even coquettish. And one of them apparently finds the king quite attractive because there's a bit of schoolyard-like teasing by the other girls, as they push her towards him.

The drag king waits, confident, serene, and pardon the pun, cocky.

His admirer finally approaches, her head down, embarrassed.

"You a girl, right?" she reconfirms, examining him closely.

"Yeah baby, wassup?"

"How old you are?"

"Twenty-one," he replies, boldly putting his arm around her.

"OK, cool. Me too."

"Waz yer name, hotness?" he asks, pulling her tighter.

"Chantelle. What's yours?"

"Ripper. Cuz I fucks the ladies so hard, I rip her."

The girl lets out a peal of laughter, "Ooh! You so bad!" and she playfully hits him, but pulls away from his embrace.

The king pulls her back, "Where you goin? I can get your number?"

The girl looks back at her friends, who have lost interest in their conversation, and gives him her number, which he punches into his cellphone, and they separate.

The young girl pretending to be a man swaggers off towards the Christopher Street pier, and I head towards the Dugout, where actual men are pretending to be plumbers.

Friday, April 08, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 4

continued from Part 3

When Vasco opened his eyes that day, he began to have his first dim awareness of what had happened to him. He didn't communicate with us, but seemed to acknowledge us with his eyes, before closing them again. Eddie and I left his room, exhilarated.

Over the next few visits I made, Vasco slowly began to come out of his fog. At first, he'd nod to questions I asked, although his attention span was slight. After a week, I walked in to find a laminated card on his bedtable, with words like "pain", "hungry" and "doctor" printed on it, for him to indicate when necessary. On the reverse side were names...his aunt's, his sister's, his friend Donn. I also noticed the name of his ex-boyfriend was on there.

The respirator prevented him from talking, but soon he was writing me notes to ask questions about this and that. I told how concerned everybody had been for him, about my BlogJam experience, the election results, the Red Sox. Mostly, Vasco nodded or shrugged to indicate that he was interested or not. He also let me know that someone had broken into the apartment of the person guarding his possessions, and stolen his beloved iBook.

Three months after he'd been in St.Vincent's, I arrived with a bag of magazines for him. He was gone. Somehow, I'd missed the communication that he was being transferred to Goldwater Hospital, on Roosevelt Island in the East River. Goldwater was another public hospital that specializes in "long-term and sub acute care with centers of excellence in areas such as: geriatrics, rehabilitation and ventilator dependence."

I was told that Vasco was worried that he wouldn't get many visitors out on Roosevelt Island, so I was determined to visit him at least once or twice a week, as they weaned him off his respirator. When I first visited him, I took the tram over the East River and waited at the station for the shuttle bus to the hospital, which turned out to be a little silly, because the hospital was about 500 feet away. But I guess when you can't walk, 500 feet might as well be as far as the moon.

Goldwater Hospital was a nightmarish, massive series of interconnected low-slung buildings, joined by interminably long yellow hallways, which were littered with the human detritus of New York City. On the long walk to Vasco's room, I saw paralyzed drug-dealers in wheelchairs cursing at each other, ranting toothless deranged men cursing at no one, vacant-eyed women sitting alone in plastic chairs, staring out the windows. Each time I visited, an elderly man rolled up to me, pleading "Dame un peso?" The place was spotlessly clean and well-staffed, but still I hoped that Vasco had been unconscious when they brought him through those halls to his room.

And in that room that he shared with 3 other seriously ill men, they began to wean Vasco off his repirator. Sometimes he'd struggle to talk to me, but I'd shove a pad and pen into his hands, because I couldn't understand him. He had a small tv which reached out to him on a long, jointed arm, and sometimes I walked in to find him sleeping, but on his pad were notes taken while watching the news...small reminders to himself of the outside world, as he began to re-engage his brain. Phuket. Thailand. Tsunami. And, hilariously, "Fashion Week".

For first time in almost four months, Vasco ate. He drank. He stood up briefly, and made a few tentative steps with the aid of a walker. Most of this, I missed. My erratic drop-ins to see him always seemed to coincide with a "procedure", and I'd be unable to enter his room, a couple of times just giving a wave from the hallway, as they pulled the curtain around.

He spent Christmas in that bed. In that terrible place.

In early January, I stopped in to find him quite alert and talkative. I had brought him a huge pile of magazines, which he told me he'd probably never get around to reading, because they were talking about releasing him. He was fully weaned off the respirator and undergoing physical therapy. I secretly reveled in the fact that his old familiar sarcastic personality was returning.

And finally, in February, Vasco left Goldwater Hospital. It was almost six months since that fateful evening and his GHB "accident". He'd lost his job and his apartment in that time, and the plan was for a few weeks of rest at his friend Donn's place in Manhattan, then he was to return to the care of his aunt and sister in Brazil, for an indefinite period.

Jose Vasco, my BlogDaddy, the man who went by his last name because "there were too many damn Jose's in New York", the man who enabled the words you are reading right now, made his return to his own wonderful, insightful, informational blog, "And Now, Jose?", with this post.

A month ago, Vasco and I had a "goodbye, for now" lunch at a diner in Chelsea. I could tell that he was apprehensive about returning to Brazil, to his hometown Belo Horizonte', a place he'd described to me as "the Pittsburgh of Brazil." I mean, this was the man with an insatiable passion for New York City, a man who nearly jumped with excitement when he pointed out streets and buildings to me, and related their history, sometimes hundreds of years old.

That afternoon, sitting across from me in the diner, he said, "You know, people are expecting me to be all judgmental and negative about drugs now. But I can't be like that. I made a mistake, and I paid for it. I can't go around judging people because of something I did."

After eating, we walked to the corner and made our goodbyes. Vasco was leaving the next day, and said "I should go home and pack, but I don't really have anything to pack." I think I was a bit too forcefully cheerful, as if I were seeing him off on a vacation. I might have even slipped out one of the few southernisms I still employ sometimes.

"Hurry back, ya'hear?"

When I got across the street, I turned and watched him move slowly down the sidewalk, taking extra care on the snow and ice. He turned and waved to me, then disappeared around the corner.

For an epilogue to this story, written for my readers by Vasco himself, please click here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 3

continued from Part 2

The next day, I got more information.

Vasco had indeed rolled on his back and vomited into his lungs. His breathing had just about stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital. He was in a coma, his breathing being done via respirator. Condition: still critical.

And it turned out Vasco had not been at a sex party, he was at a pre-Alegria cocktail party, and that his ex WENT to Alegria after taking him to the hospital. And it wasn't logical, but it made me even madder to hear that his ex went dancing, not knowing if Vasco was dead or alive.

After work I headed down to the hospital again. I knew Vasco was still in a coma, but I just wanted to go in and hold his hand, say something to him. As I walked up to the 12th Street entrance of St. Vincent's, I ran into my friend Stephen, a fellow blogger and also a friend of Vasco.

Stephen looked ashen. "Joe, it doesn't look good. You better prepare yourself."

"OK. Do you want to come back in with me?"

He shook his head, "No, sorry. I...can't."

I watched him head down the subway stairs. Later that night he made this post.

When I walked into Room 1042, Vasco's sister and aunt were there, from Brazil. I made a little small talk with them before I dared walk around the curtain. His sister spoke a little bit of English, his aunt none at all. His sister was friendly enough, but his aunt seemed displeased to meet me, which seemed fair enough considering the circumstances. I was thinking she probably wasn't loving the gays right then.

After shaking their hands, I said to his sister, "So, what happened?" I wasn't sure what they knew.

The sister said, "He drank something," making a drinking motion with her hand.

I nodded, "Right. Can I say hello?"

She nodded, "Yes, yes," and waved me towards the curtain.

I held my breath and stepped around the curtain. Vasco face was dark and swollen. His chest rose and fell with the steady whooshing of the respirator, a large tube down his throat. There were several various IVs and hoses attached to him. I wanted to take his hand, but I hadn't washed mine since I'd arrived, and I didn't want him to get any germs from me.

I spoke to him. "Hey buddy, it's Joe. How are you doing?"

OK, that was stupid, I thought. I tried again, leaning in closer.

"Hey Vasco! Wake up man, I need some help with my blog!"

I stood there for a couple of minutes feeling useless, then walked around the curtain and made my goodbyes with the sister and the aunt.

The next day I sent out an email to everybody that I knew was acquainted with Vasco, advising of his condition. Days went by, and as others visited him, they did the same. Eventually, I had about 10 guys on my list. We all kept each others spirits up, but none of us had anything positive to report. We learned from Vasco's sister that the doctors had placed him in a medically-induced coma, in order to both maximize his potential to recuperate, and because (as they put it) he would be to "in too much distress" if he were to awaken while on life-support.

Over the next few weeks I visited Vasco again and again. Once, I took my friend and neighbor Rich, a former nurse. Rich took Vasco's hand and spoke softly to him while I examined various cards and notes posted around the room. One of them said "Congratulations! You did it!", a hopeful message for Vasco to read should he awaken. Rich looked at the medications being fed in via the bleating machines and mused, "Man, they really have him under."

At the end of September, I visited Vasco with our friend Erik. We stood there and made silly small talk to him with his aunt looking on. Erik went home and made this post.

More weeks passed. Everytime I visited, I spoke more and more to Vasco's aunt, who was becoming very nice to me. Not speaking Portuguese, I communicated mostly through pantomime.

Somewhere in the 5th or 6th week, Vasco developed a terrible infection in his lungs, doubtless from the inhaled vomit. The infection ate away at his left lung and it developed a leak and the respirator blew air into his abdomen, which swelled up grotesquely. The nurses kept an electronic cooling blanket on him to quell his raging fever. His lower legs were wrapped in compression stockings to prevent blood clots from forming.

Only the aunt was getting information from the doctors and she relayed the data to us as best she could. The doctors had changed Vasco's condition from critical, to "stable, but guarded." The hope was that the infection would subside, and they could slowly bring him out of his coma, and begin to assess what brain damage there might be.

Week 8, Halloween weekend. My buddy Eddie and I went down to see the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which Eddie had never attended. It was a beautiful night and the crowds were massive. Somewhere around 7th Avenue and 16th Street, we gave up trying to push through packed sidewalks and decided to blow off the parade and find a bar.

We were somewhere near 14th Street when I said, "You know, we should go in and visit Vasco as long are we're right here."

"Is the ICU open at this hour?" Eddie asked.

"It's pretty much open all the time, no matter what the visitor's hours are, I think. I guess they feel like people who are near death should be able to be seen at any time," I guessed.

We pushed through the streets and made it to St. Vincent's in about 10 minutes. The front desk attendant hardly looked at us when we came in, she was used to seeing me. We didn't see Vasco's aunt in the waiting room, nor was she at her familiar position at the window in his room. The beeping and whooshing of the machines seemed especially loud.

Eddie and I took position on both sides of the bed, and I was about to say something to Vasco when Eddie spoke.

"Hey, why is the TV on for someone in a coma?"

Vasco opened his eyes and looked at us.

-To Be Continued-

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 2

Continued from yesterday - Part 1

Finally...on the next Thursday, I got a call from Donn.

"Hey Joe, got your email, thought you'd want to know about Vasco."

"Donn! Thanks for calling. What's the story?" I asked, my heart sinking.

"He's in St.Vincent's. Critical condition," he said flatly.

"Fuck. What happened?"

"He overdosed on G."

"Shit. This happened AT Alegria?" It was now 12 days after the party.

"No, I think it was before. I mean, I don't know where he took it, but apparently he was at some sex party at a hotel, and he passed out," Donn said.

"Shit. Did they call 911 to the sex party? I bet that was a scene."

"No, I think his ex took him home and then went back to the party and then later, when he got back to Vasco's, he found him lying on the floor, totally blue."

I couldn't believe this. "His ex LEFT him at home alone? Unconscious?!"

When someone passes out on GHB, it's extremely important that they be put on their side and not left alone, because if they were to roll onto their back, they could vomit and aspirate the vomit into their lungs. This is how most of the GHB-related deaths occur.

"Yeah, I guess so. Apparently when his ex found him, he was just about dead. He got him to the ER just in time," Donn explained.

"Well, did he tell them at the hospital what was wrong? So they knew what to do?" I asked.

"The way I'm hearing it, his ex just sorta dumped there and took off. I mean he probably had stuff on him, and there's always cops in the ER."

I was furious. "He just fucking LEFT Vasco there? Pushed his unconscious body out of the taxi and TOOK OFF?"

"Yeah, I guess. Joe, Vasco's in really bad shape. I mean, I'm just hearing about this myself, and it's been 12 days."

After Donn hung up, I sat down and sent out an email to anybody that I thought knew Vasco. A few of the guys emailed me back immediately. Almost as big as their concern for Vasco was their rage at his ex-boyfriend. Anybody who has gone out clubbing in the last 10 years, whether they do GHB themselves or not, has seen at least a few guys go down on it, and everybody knows that you never ever leave that person alone.

Whatever your opinion about recreational drug may be, to leave a person in crisis alone is simply unforgivable, I don't care what your relationship to that person may be. And if you're worried about the cops finding drugs on YOU, then you should throw that shit into the garbage.

I left the office early and went to St.Vincent's. At the front desk, the woman didn't even have to look up his room number for me.

"Vasco. Yes, 1042."

She handed me a large red laminated pass that read "Intensive Care Unit, Floor 10".

On the way up, I wondered if she knew his room number because so many people had come to see him, or if she knew it because it was such a terrible case.

On the 10th floor, I found a large central area that immediately reminded me of NASA's Mission Control. There were a couple of dozen patient rooms arranged in a horseshoe-shape around central staffing area, where nurses and doctors buzzed about between the computers and monitors. Outside some of the patient rooms, small groups of friends and family gathered in tight circles, speaking in hushed tones.

Almost in defiance of the somber mood of the worriers, was the cacophony of beeping life support machines and the whooshing of respirators. I immediately developed a blinding headache.

Room 1042 was swarming with people. The curtain was drawn around the bed, but I could see lots of legs and movement behind it.

I stopped a nurse, "Hey, I was wondering....I mean, my friend is....um."

She stopped for only a moment, "1042 is having a procedure. No visitors."

"OK, thanks."

I stood there for a minute, then walked out to the small waiting area, past the large swinging doors. All the chairs were full of unhappy people. The TV was playing mutely in a corner, ignored. There was a small cluster of Spanish people clustered around an elderly woman as she prayed her rosary, eyes closed.

I paced in front of the elevators for a few minutes, then went back inside. Room 1042 was still draped off. I saw a nurse roll a large machine behind the curtain. The same nurse I stopped before was now behind the counter, so I approached her.

"Hi, sorry to bother you again, but can you tell me anything about the patient in room 1042? His condition, I mean. His name is Vasco."

She hardly looked up from her paperwork, "Are you family?"

It's funny now, but the very first thing that came to my mind was, "Well, YES!", because of the way that gay folk tend to identify another gay person by saying, "Oh, HIM? Yes, he's family."

Instead, I said, "No, he's a friend."

"I'm sorry, but I can only release medical information to immediate family members."

"Yes, I know about that, I totally understand, but can you tell-"

She cut me off, finally looking up, with sadness in her eyes, "Your friend is very, very sick. I'm sorry, but that's all I can say."


-To Be Continued-

Monday, April 04, 2005

BlogDaddy

September 2004

I was beginning to wonder why Vasco hadn't responded to my last couple of emails. The last I'd heard from him, he was asking if I was planning on going to Alegria, the big circuit party that takes place every month or so in Manhattan. I told him that I'd BEEN to an Alegria, thank you very much, and that once was enough, but to let me know if he was doing anything else and maybe I'd join him.

Vasco and I were just starting to become close. I'd seen his handsome face around various NYC bars and parties, smiling and glad-handing his way around the room. He seemed to be quite popular, but I didn't really get to know him until he began quoting from my Manhunt profile on his blog, saying that what I was doing on Manhunt was "literary performance art", because instead of posting the usual crass physical details and interests that are seen on sex hook-up sites, I would attempt to humorously deconstruct the various personalities and strategies concocted by gay men while cruising for internet sex.

Encouraged by Vasco and others, I began writing a weekly "column" in my Manhunt profile. Where other members talked of their interest in finding a "straight-acting" guy, I talked about self-loathing. Where others posted pictures of their assholes, but not their faces, I talked about self-respect. I mixed up these sermons with a lot of silly limericks about sex gone wrong and other nonsense that jabbed at the phenomenon of online sex. Some of the other members thought I was hilarious, but lots of them thought I was a judgmental jerk.

Vasco and I went clubbing on a few occasions, to hear Frankie Knuckles and Susan Morabito at Cielo, or Paul Ferrer at The Eagle. He knew everybody, and after awhile, it was feeling like I did too. A mutual friend of ours told me that Vasco was a "like a pixie", and when you were in a club with him, it felt like a nonstop ride of dropping in on one group of friends after another, but never actually planting yourself anywhere, and I found that description to be quite apt.

We had one quite spectacular Sunday last March, going directly from the Saint-At-Large Black Party, to the Body & Soul Reunion party. After we left Body & Soul, we bought some falafels and sprawled exhausted on one of the Chelsea piers, where we talked for hours about our families and our childhoods. It was amazing that we had so many similar experiences, considering I was brought up in rural North Carolina, and he was brought up in suburban Brazil.

The next week, I finally succumbed to Vasco's urging that I take my writing bug off of Manhunt, and start blogging. I met Vasco at his favorite coffeeshop in the Village where he spent four (seemingly endless) hours setting up this blog, agonizing over the minutiae of fonts, borders and backgrounds, as my eyes crossed at the impossible complexity of the coding.

After I launched this blog at the end of April, I began referring to Vasco as my "BlogDaddy", a term I'd seen tossed around by others when referring to the person who inspired them to blog or the person who had set their blog up. In my case, Vasco was both. I spent the summer experimenting with my short stories here, but often sending the posts to Vasco first, to get his insight.

So I was concerned, but only a little, when Labor Day weekend passed without an email or phone call from him. I asked around, but none of our mutual friends had seen or heard from him either.

-To Be Continued-

Friday, April 01, 2005

Hah!

He steps into the elevator at the 15th floor.

That's the floor entirely populated by a law firm that specializes in handling estate and probate issues for the wealthy of Manhattan. A few times I've been in the elevator when the doors opened to heated family arguments in their lavishly appointed lobby.

He looks like all the senior executives in Manhattan, sagging and defeated in his trenchcoat, bowtie, dark suit. His back is slightly stooped, his face is craggy, and his hair is grey and wild. A little bit Andy Rooney and a little bit Walter Matthau.

I'm fiddling with the display on my iPod, which for some reason has decided that it's 3:15 in the morning. I see the old man speaking to me, and yank my earplugs out.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"What's that you got there? Is that that iPod thing I keep hearing about?" he asks.

I hold my iPod out to him, "Well, it's one of them."

He examines it without taking it from me. "So THAT'S the thing that the bad guys are yanking outta people's hands on the subway?"

"Yeah."

He looks at me over the top of his glasses. "Well, you don't look like any guys would mess with YOU!"

I look at him and give him a wink, "And more's the pity."

He stares at me, expressionless.

Then, he lets out a whoop. "HAH! That's great! Hah! You almost got me! Hah!"

The elevator doors open and he turns and gives me a salute, "And Happy April Fool's to YOU, too!"

I think about correcting him, but he just seems so pleased, so alive, that I don't have the heart.

Just before the doors close, I hear him one last time, "Hah!"