Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Life of an Artist

Tompkins Square Park was a little on the overlooked side, hell the entire neighborhood was, as were many in the city during those days. But Koch was going to revitalize it, there were signs of encroaching gentrification, not the galleries, not the locally run stores that we would frequent after brunch, not the closing of the baths on 8th St, no it was becoming about real estate, money, power and the mayor’s image. Time to clean up the East Village.

There was that one Wigstock that we attended, they were always fabulous, we were there till the end, just a few homeless people, us and Lady Bunny, she was alone sweeping the area around the band shell, the band shell that would be demolished shortly thereafter because people were using it as a place to sleep, or that day when I was home painting, the buzzer rang, it was Phoenix, he was extremely agitated, hurry come on, the city is here with bulldozers, they are evicting the squatters, but the icing on the cake was when the Gap store opened on St Marks and Second Avenue.

The landlords were away at their summerhouse, Jason and I would keep an eye on the brownstone till one of the sons came in a few weeks. One night outside across the street about forty cops in riot gear lined up, their commander was on his walkie talkie awaiting orders to proceed, they were going to raid the park. It was tense and the picture of force was brutal, I played Piggies by the Beatles full blast, stuck the speaker in the window. The got the call to withdraw, but they would be back.

The park became an encampment for the homeless, it was known as Tent City. I never felt at risk there or in any danger, it was actually kind of cool, the city would say that it was filled with drug dealers, sellers, buyers, I mean if you are selling to the homeless the profit margin isn’t going to be that great. These were people looking for somewhere to live, what about the poor?

Tent City grew and became just another facet of the neighborhood. I began befriending some of the street people, there was that one woman who would collect cans and bottles for redemption, she was obviously schizophrenic, she would speak in a man’s voice, respond in a woman’s, her rants about sexual abuse and family hatred, if I heard her out front screaming I would rush down with our empties, one of her personalities would politely thank me, then she would continue screaming.

Eddie and Ray were going to rent a house on Fire Island for the summer, asked if we would like to join in, sure, why not, Jason thought it would be a good idea, get out of the city, hit the beach, rest, I had never been to Fire Island. He made the payments, we never attended the house meetings that they held, it was a summer rental what rules would we need, get to the island, go to the beach, relax, no there were many rules.

We missed the meetings because we were doing coke, still it seemed like Ray was just being an ass, we paid the money, there was a house, a beach, we’d be very gay, it all would be. The schlep was a bitch, take the train, get a car or the bus, get to the ferry, that was nice, then land on the island. Eddie was there to greet us, we brought only a few things, swimsuits, sunscreen, my journal, the one that described in detail what it was like to live on coke, Eddie says you guys must have been partying, yes indeed.

Ray was not amused as we passed him while he was painting the marker on the boardwalk, oh there were rules and he was in charge. We had paid for half of the house for the summer, but that wasn’t the way it would work out. Nearly every room that could be rented was, there was someone staying in the spare room, plans for someone to crash on the couch, someone was staying in the tiny cabana out back, it was not the ideal summer retreat where Jason and I would detox, escape the drugs, the city. We overpaid for some groceries, everyone ate them, let’s go to sleep, relax. Ray would stay pissed at us, Eddie was all right, our new houseguests that we had just met were dreadful, welcome to Fire Island. We collapsed then went to the beach the next day.

The Island is very social, the doors to the house always open, everyone working to get invited to another party, it was noisy, people coming and going it was not at all what we had expected, and Jason is not one to sit silently while being disrespected. By the time we got back to the city that weekend he had had it, was very upset, called Ray, we want out of the deal, I want my money back. They would rent our room and pay us what they could. That soured the friendship, it was over, we left our things there including my journal, things that are never returned.  

My brother Leo was coming back for a second visit. Jason and I were doing a lot of coke, waking Bambi, annoying her neighbors, watching the video movies, porn, not sleeping or eating for days on end. Jason began going for walks, we would start tooting then he had to leave, he’d come back hours later, where were you, just walking, one night he came home with his pants ripped, he was in tears, what happened, nothing, nothing, I never knew.

I took the train to the plane to get Leo, I had my little bag of coke, had been up for several days, was bloated, sweaty, he had no idea what he was getting into. We took a cab home, here have some, we spoke of what he wanted to do, he worked in a casino in Vegas, wanted to check out Atlantic City, sure we could do that but first let’s go home and get totally wired.

We did make the trip to Atlantic City, I had been up for a couple of days, the jitney bus was hot, the restroom where I snorted was disgusting, the only thing missing was a half-naked junkie with a syringe dangling from his arm. We took a bag of spare change, the casinos would not cash it in, it wasn’t Vegas, they were trying to be sophisticated, so we wandered the dead jellyfish covered beach, let’s go home brother, we did, the coke was running out. Back on the bus, scraping the bottom of the baggie, by the time we got home the landlord’s son returned, we ran into him and exchanged pleasantries, he was very white and proper, very clean and polite.

Brother and I were heading out to Bambi’s place, suddenly the neighborhood was a war zone, police on horseback swinging their batons at anyone who happened to be in their way, helicopters flying low over head, we saw the landlord’s son running up from Avenue A, what the hell is going on he shouted as he was being chased by police, I shouted to the cop, you can’t touch us we are on our property, we live here asshole! The police with their badges concealed were losing their minds, people were being chased along the streets, there was no media presence, no news trucks, it was a nightmare, a police riot, one cop starts chasing the homeless people out of the park, then they all joined in and just started chasing anyone, no one was in control, it couldn’t be stopped.

I still thought that we should go to Bambi’s to get more coke, as soon as we stepped off of the stoop there was a cop on horseback chasing us across First Avenue swinging his baton through traffic, we ran, some guy was behind us, in the middle of the next block I said fuckit, I didn’t do anything and stopped, turned around in time to see the guy who was behind us get conked on the head then dragged away by his hair, everyone was guilty, the cops were judge and jury, welcome to New York City little brother. We did make it the dealer’s place, she did not answer the door, was probably hiding under the bed. We walked back as people ran from police, as sirens wailed, as traffic slowed, cops on horseback swinging their nightsticks, it went on for hours, Jason slept through the whole thing.

Some people in the neighborhood shot the scene on video cameras from second story windows, the police brutality was clearly evident and finally reported by the news, but because their badges were covered none could be prosecuted. The park was a disaster, it was razed by the city, the homeless didn’t go away, the drugs still flowed, but that building that was planning to sell condos would have a nice view of the park. People were pissed because they said that Madonna was going to pay a million dollars for the penthouse.

Leo left, returned to his life, his job and continued snorting drugs, would blame me for years afterwards that I made him a junkie, what magical powers I possessed, spend a few days with me and I will corrupt your life. Most likely it was the availability of the drugs, making cash money, his being recently single again and honestly if he really wanted to make me proud he would have been gay like me. Bambi became completely unreliable, one evening along First Ave we met Denise, she was different, clean, and had good stuff, had a beeper that we could call, she would get our number, call us from a payphone, she’d be glad to hook us up, she knew Bambi, said that the crack was killing her, if it wasn’t one thing it was another.

There was a neighborhood meeting that was posted on one of the telephone poles, what to do about the police riot, what about the lack of response from the Community Board, it was held in a gated yard on Avenue C, Jason and I dressed nicely, shirts and slacks, the organizers let us in then everyone stared at us, are you guys cops, no cops allowed, we’re not cops, you look like cops, they would not proceed till we left. So much for venting my fury, let’s do coke.

We got tickets to the hottest off Broadway show, Without You I’m Nothing, Sandra Bernhard’s one woman tour de force, I loved her in King of Comedy, everyone was talking about it, we got dressed, let’s do some lines, okay, we did then walked to the small theater on Second, it was packed and buzzing. After we sat down, I began feeling completely wired, too wired, my heart pounding, we have to go, we would see the video adaption later. We missed one more show, the Australian Ballet Company at Lincoln Center, a nearly naked version of Hercules, another hot show, no more tickets till we kick it.

I couldn’t paint, had become addicted to the porn, the coke, we’d do the drug, Jason would leave, I would watch the sex video being played over and over my everlasting boner. One night we ran out, actually it was at about four in the morning, we combed the neighborhood till we finally found a seller on Avenue D, man that was awful coke, tasted like packing tape. We ran out of money, Jason began selling his gold and diamonds, borrowing money from friends, he’d always pay it back.

I was working on a small piece, 18” x 14”, it just sat there for months, something had to give. I can’t live like this anymore, he said, can we get just one more, okay okay. Then I began hallucinating and thought that the interplanetary alien police were chasing me because I was an escaped extraterrestrial living in the wrong dimension, yup time to kick it. Gilda quit first, she refused to partake any longer, I thought if the cat could do it so can we.

I thought that a ceremony would help, we crushed all of the paraphernalia with a hammer then prayed on our knees, Jason being Jewish half heartedly agreed, but some divine intervention was necessary. We began detoxing, discovered that McDonalds food helped, two Big Macs strangely would ease the need, we did a lot of Nyquil to slow the desire, ate everything in sight, put on weight, kept very busy, life was slowly getting back to normal, some kind of normal. I finally finished the painting, but every now and then something would trigger the desire, booze, porn, we’d find Denise, just one, it would be fine, just one.

It became clear that I needed to do something to get out of the house so I volunteered at GMHC, went to the orientation meeting, it was held to see which volunteers would be good and in which capacity. There was still infighting about things that had no bearing on the situation, but it was decided that I would be a good Buddy, they would hook me up with a PWA, I would help him shop, clean, be there if he needed anything.

A small group of Buddies would meet weekly with a leader to talk about what was going on, what to expect and how to deal with it. The group of six men most of whom had been through much more, were not in tune with me, I was naïve, they were not very sympathetic. They set me up with a guy named Todd, he lived down the street, he was young, my age, sick, we’d go to the grocery store, he would cough loudly, pneumonic coughing, people would stare, is he contagious, what the hell are you looking at. Todd was sad, depressed, growing sicker, his family wanted nothing to do with him, he was alone, I was glad to help but his decline was rapid and brutal. One day I saw him in ICU, I the only one there, he was dying, it was a three-month process, it was ugly and fast, Todd died, I was devastated. I went to the following meeting, again outside of the group leader the support that I needed was non-existent.

The people at GMHC realized that it was too much for me, that I should never have been put in that situation knowing that I had so little experience, they suggested God’s Love We Deliver, or the service that would deliver pet food to sick people with animals, yeah I’ll do that, good. I would be hooked up with a driver, we’d be assigned an area in the city, it would change depending on need and who survived.

I went to the first delivery session, was late, met the fellow in charge, he was older and very cranky, he hooked me up with a woman from Queens, she had a small hatchback, we loaded her car with pet food and drove off. We had a map, a list of names, phone numbers, she would park out front, I would take the pet food into people’s homes, she would wait in the car. Some PWA’s were doing all right, some were really sick, some had help, many did not, many were very depressed. I’d be admitted into their apartments, chat briefly, store the food, see the ways that people lived, some apartments were average, others incredible in fading glory. There was one apartment, it must have been fabulous once, but the owner was laid out in his bed, wearing nothing but a diaper writhing in pain, his friend thanked me, I left.

I worked on paintings that were based on rocks, branches, bones, there were no straight lines, no masking off of the color, still precise but more nature inspired, my palette remained minimal. There was a show called Art Around the Park, Tompkins Square, I submitted an application, was stressed to hell, I would show one of my recent works, but the trigger went off and we got coke. Jason helped me get to the park, I found my spot, he left I set my painting down and sat across from it and watched as people passed then I ran into the public restroom and did my blow. It was one of the most difficult things that I had ever done, I couldn’t stand it, felt too vulnerable, exposed, I left early and proceeded to get fucked up.  

We began quitting the coke and socializing more, having people over, we confessed to our friends what we had done, everyone understood were sympathetic, we were not the only cokeheads in the group and our Southern friends said, back where we come from you put the crazy ones out on the front porch, we don’t hide anything. They would stand beside us, love us, be there, as we would for they, our friends weren’t ashamed or accusatory, and they would help me come out of my shell, that would take a while.

I went to the doctor last year, the local clinic, the doctor was really nice, would spend at least an hour with me, we spoke openly about everything, he ordered all of the STD tests, couldn’t believe that I hadn’t had sex in three years, never hurts to get them anyway, checked me out, looked up my nose with that little light and says, did you know that you don’t have a septum, do I need one, did you do cocaine, yeah, it was the eighties, the East Village, everyone did cocaine, you must have blown it out, oh that’s what that was.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Life of an Artist

Gilda, our kitty, my baby, used to eat off of my plate, she would drink milk from my mouth, ate anything, just a taste. One day Jason and I were doing coke, the cat kept insisting that I let her see what I was putting in my face, after a toot not realizing that there was still coke in the straw, I put it under her nose, she inhaled and flew around the house, after that she would do coke with us, my kitty was a cokehead.

I minimized my painting palette to red and black after being influenced by an exhibition of Chinoiserie, spare minimal lines, simple art deco patterning, the paintings were a contrast to the apartment in which I painted or adorned everything inspired by the chaotic influences of the neighborhood.

Our regular coke seller vanished, they would get busted every now and then or change locations, perhaps she became an addict herself, or simply changed professions. Jason and I were walking down 11th street one day, someone sitting on a stoop says, weed, coke, we walked past then turned around, do you have a dime bag, sure, you guys look nice, my name is Bambi, this is my boyfriend Jose, we can help you with whatever you want, our new dealer’s name was Bambi.

The streets were decorated with graffiti, the telephone poles lined with announcements for performances, protests, news, there were stickers everywhere, I began collecting it all including the business cards for hookers that were scattered on the sidewalks and then pasted them into my journal, it became a living testament to the time, not just my words but the voices of many.

Becky and Patrick moved to Carroll Gardens, moved into a brownstone with very strict landlords, we would visit every now and then, go out for pizza, some of the best anywhere, but their landlords rules were vigorously enforced, our socializing was minimized, still Becky and Jason worked together at Blass, Patrick and I would meet up for coffee, I would visit his studio at NYU, our friendship would grow, of course they knew we were cokeheads. Friends can be so polite when you are an addict.

Jason and I went to the ACT-UP meeting thinking that we should look nice, not business attire just respectable. We stood out like undercover cops, the assembled crowd was tattooed, pierced, wearing their anger on the outside. The meetings were rambunctious and filled with dissent about what to do how to proceed, everyone was shouting and while necessarily passionate it wasn’t our thing, we agreed to attend every protest but the meetings were not for us.

The first thing we did was attend the National March on Washington, DC. People passed out flyers by the subway exits announcing that there would be buses leaving the city early in the morning, again it wasn’t my thing, we’d take the train. The demonstration was incredible, it was immense, act up, fight back, fight AIDS! Naturally the media hardly paid any attention, the crowd size was underplayed, the government remained silent, the community so diverse had great difficulty unifying, it was a gay man’s disease, the leadership was justifiably angry, we all were but the infighting was one of the biggest challenges. Still it was a great moment in our culture when we all did come together and stood on the battlefront, this was a war, we’d need to continue to fight.

Emile began to make money at his new job, he was a salesperson at Bergdorf, and was back out in the dating scene, he hooked up with some guy and was snorting heroin, it was out of character and while Jason and I were doing more blow the heroin thing was too much. He was into his pirate look, I was wearing my skateboarder outfits, Jason was still in the 1940’s inspired getup.

Some work was being done on Emile’s apartment, he would spend a couple of days with us, he went out, Jason and I went to bed. The landlords were away, they would leave us in charge of the building. We were awakened by some noise coming up from the stairwell, Jason and I jumped out of bed and rushed out to find Emile getting a blowjob near the basement door, Jason was furious, scared off Emile’s trick and then it was Thanksgiving.

Kim’s Dry Cleaner and Video opened on Avenue A, oh Mr. Kim, he was beautiful, charismatic and worked with everyone in the neighborhood. Jason and I asked Bambi for an eight ball, sure, you guys look very respectable, come up to my place, one of the Ramones lives in the building, my uncle is a famous 1950s crooner. She lived in a tenement building, fourth floor walk up, we’d chat, she and Jose were very nice, took care of their clients, sold us our coke, then we’d go to Kim’s rent three video cassettes from knowledgeable and handsome Matt, oh Jason, what about getting a porn movie? We watched every cult movie, every foreign film, snort the drugs with the cat, play Scrabble, then I would say, let’s put on porn.

The menthol cigarette smoke would fill the room, we could hear the landlords walking up and down the stairs, we’d grind the eight ball into the powder and sniff, let’s put the porn on. We never had sex during this time, but sitting on the floor as we played the game, my erection everlasting, the 80s porn playing, the coke running out, can we get another eight ball, fine, you go, goddammit, Jason would leave and return shortly but not before I watched the sex tapes playing. Be kind, rewind.

We began doing a lot of the drug, just one more, fine, you go this time, or at least come with me, we’d stand at Bambi’s door, knocking, Bambi, hello, they would open up and help us out, we had the cash, she was our seller. We went in one time, they were cooking it up, crack/cocaine, you wanna try, they loaded the pipe and began smoking, Jose blew the smoke in my face, the air was filled with the smell of the devil, no thanks, we had better go.

Jason began going to work high on the drug, he’d take an hour long shower in the morning, blowing his nose and talking to himself all the while, I’d sit there with the drug bloats, painting, snorting, my work became frenetic, still not many colors but more than just red and black. He would dress and leave for work, I would write and paint like a madman. He would return home after work, maybe we could get just one more, no we have had enough and we better rest, eat then sleep, I would pout and go through withdrawals, we’d do shots of Nyquil and pass out.

I began counting, counting my brush strokes, counting the number of steps on the way out of the house and down onto the street, I was washing my hands over and over, it was becoming more difficult for me to leave the apartment unless I had Jason by my side. Things would trigger the coke need, just little random things, we’d go to Bambi’s place, sometimes you could hear her and Jose snoring through the door as the neighbors came and left giving us dirty looks as we stood there knocking, they never said anything, we’d knock until she’d awaken, sorry guys, sure come in, we might as well get two, okay, sit down for a minute, I’ll be right with you.

Patrick invited us out to see his friend Steve’s studio, it was somewhere in Brooklyn, a huge massive place that he rented for next to nothing. It was fabulous, Steve was a sculptor, very serious, very talented, also part of the Cajun Mafia. We met a few other artists who were part of the crew, all white, all southern, we spoke of our artwork earnestly, sincerely and with passion. Nothing would ever prevent us from forming a body of work, finding a space to exhibit, we’d share whatever information we could find, form a community that would thrive and continue to inspire each other. Steve says, you need documentation, take photos, slides, that is a priority, okay, oh yeah and you’re lucky because you’re Latino, you can get accepted into anything, white guys don’t get nothing anymore, take pictures, apply, you’ll do fine.

I began shooting the paintings. While I had been using a camera for ten years by then I didn’t know anything about lighting, someone suggested that I shoot my paintings outdoors. Jason, come on, one by one we took the canvases out of the house down the stoop and onto the sidewalk. It was an affront to my sensibilities that anyone just anyone could see my work. Hold the painting there, don’t let it touch the ground, move to the right, no a little to the left, someone would walk past, are you the artist, a cold sweat would break out on my face, yes, good work man, thanks.

I applied to and got into the Lower Eastside Printshop, they had a minorities program, a scholarship for people of color. The small student body was like a rainbow of ethnicities, the Native American guy, the Cuban woman, the Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx, me. Their facility was on 4th street, the buzzer didn’t work, we’d stand on the curb and shout up, the key would be tossed down.

We were all young, twenty something, some took to the process immediately, I did not, I hated it, first of all it was too messy and then the exactness, lining up the print, squeegee, repeat. While my paintings were very meticulous, I used masking tape to block off the geometric configurations, everything very precise, the printing process had too many steps, but they had just acquired a new tool, all one would need was scan a sketch or photo, then at least some of the work was done.

The instructor was very adamant about attendance and participation, if you missed more than one class you would be kicked out, something triggered the coke urge, knocking on Bambi’s door, come in, they were falling apart, the crack thing, their apartment becoming a pigsty, still the customers came, still they always had wads of cash, and still they had the drugs to sell. I was too wired to go to class, I called from the 1950’s phone that we bought and that I had painted, the sound quality was terrible, surely the instructor would believe my story, family emergency, in Vegas, unable to come, okay see you next week. We rented three movies, one porn, played Scrabble, got wired with the cat. I would see some of those students years later, we had survived.

We decided that Gilda needed a playmate, there was a flyer on a telephone pole, home needed for kittens, we called the number, yes sure come over, knocking on some stranger’s door, small NYC apartment, cluttered, dark, a cardboard box with a nursing mother cat, we fell in love with one of the kittens, okay you look respectable just take care of her okay, of course, of course. Gilda was not amused but eventually learned to love the younger kitty who would jump over her insisting on playing, Gilda relented and they would become best friends. We named our second cat Lucy, after Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy would play at seven in the morning as Jason took his hour-long shower, she was funny.

In the back of the Village Voice, where I found out about the LESP program there was a call for artists, The Bronx Museum, some program called Artist in the Marketplace. Send slides, a resume, statement. The pool of artists in the city wasn’t immense then, and if you were an artist you wanted to paint on the streets, hell fuck the system, do it yourself, galleries are for fools, we weren’t making art to make money, and then some artists like Steve were already certain that the system was set up against them anyway, so with my slides where you could see Jason’s fingers and feet, and with the required paperwork that I hand wrote, I submitted an application.

By then we had a 1960’s space age phone that we bought at Love Saves the Day, our friends all were getting modern phones that had answering machines, hell no, I ain’t going to accept technology. Patrick and Becky called one day, they were very giddy, Jason pulled me aside, you might be on speakerphone, they are joking with you, technology. The space age phone rang one day, hello, this is the Bronx Museum calling, we have reviewed your materials and would like to set up an interview.

The sun was shining through those massive parlor floor windows reflecting off of that impeccable expensive wallpaper that Ken had plastered onto the walls, the exposed brick in the main room, the marble fireplace where the Astor brides must have sat around as someone played the piano, the gentlemen smoking cigars as the women blushed at some off color Victorian humor, my paintings lining the walls, oh I am so sorry, I am unable to attend your program now due to a family crisis, sure we understand, please apply again, goodbye.   

One night I had to get out, it was late, Jason was passed out, I went to Save the Robots, they let me in, drink bartender please, everyone was wasted, it was fantastic. I went to the restroom, opened the door, there was shit everywhere and sitting on the toilet was a guy, nearly naked, a syringe dangling from his arm, I’ll be right out he said, I closed the door, finished my drink, left the club and went home.

This Town

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Life of an Artist

Love'll get you like a case of anthrax
And that's something I don't want to catch
Gang of Four

Leo, my younger brother, did come to NYC to visit us. He and I were born just under a year apart from each other, were very close as kids, endured the agony and the mysteries together. But like I have said I was always different, it was obvious, he would never turn against me although there was that period where he was an altar boy and I became a stoned artist that we did have our differences, but being so close in age he would bear witness to the cruelty that I would face at school, the years of brutality, my coming out and quest for love, we both knew very early on that we would take very different paths in life.   

I took him to see the Mets, Jason got us great seats behind the home base but all that hetero testosterone made me anxious, the gay bashings were still going on regularly, brutal attacks, the stadium wasn’t necessarily a very homo-friendly place and it didn’t help any when I refused to stand up during the national anthem, why would I stand as the government let us die.

 Mookie, Mookie, everyone chanted, Strawberry! The irony of the song We Are The Champions being blasted over and over, Freddie Mercury, Queen, to me it always symbolized a gay anthem of survival, Mercury died from AIDS. We left before the game was over, the thought of riding the subway with all those revved up straight people was frightening, the Mets went on to win the world series that year.

We did the sights, The World Trade Center, The Empire State Building, ate slices of pizza at my favorite places, walked through Central Park, that was when the squirrels were crack crazed, went to the Met, saw a Broadway show, then bought coke and pot on 8th Street. Jason and I had found a reliable young woman who would procure the drugs for us, that was after she saw us dealing with some shady characters and insisted that she become our primary provider. His trip went by quickly, he was a great guest, we invited him back, he would return the following year he promised.

Jason had brought the look book home one day, it was the sacred screed, like something that came from the holy mount. One of his co-workers would be picking it up later at our place, Bryan. He was tall, handsome, wearing a grey pinstriped suit, and he was positive. Again I did not have very many gay friends, many friends at all and was never sexual enough to fit in with the gay tribe, I tried my best, but he was the first person that I met who had the disease.

I felt that anyone who had it was worthy of adoration, and I also did not know how to act being that Jason told me in private, so I flirted like a cheap hooker. Luckily for Bryan he was one of Blass’ favorites and Bill helped him in any way that he could, he was on every early trial drug, the ones that could be worse than the disease, the drugs that could kill you first, or if you were lucky you lived till the next experimental trial which might keep you going. Some survived, many were dying.

He told us about this group that was forming, it was called ACT-UP, that they were planning to hold meetings at the gay and lesbian community center, that we should consider going once they kicked off, The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, of course we would go, everyone should, we’d participate in any way that we could.   

My niece Adrianne graduated from high school, her mom agreed to send her to spend up to a month with Jason and I. While I relished the idea Jason was not as thrilled. She was eighteen, her mother, my oldest sister sternly told me that I had better take good care of her baby, that she was trusting me to keep her safe.

Adrianne had been my protégé growing up, I taught her about Punk music, fashion, art, and I would have the opportunity to teach and show her so much more. She came with an open airline ticket and a few hundred bucks, she also brought some speed and ecstasy. She had a dyed pink spiky boy’s haircut, dressed in a mix of New Wave crossed with a touch of girl glam rocker, she wasn’t necessarily a good girl to begin with, not a very bad one either.  

We never withheld anything from each other, I was her fabulous gay uncle and she was my amazingly talented and bright niece. Jason and she did not become instant best friends, there definitely was tension between them, I attempted to soothe the waters but also let them hash things out on their own. Shortly after her arrival Jason threw his back out, it was bad, he couldn’t climb up into the loft bed, we laid the mattress on the floor where he would spend days in agonizing pain.

There really was nothing that I could do for him in that condition, and I had to tour my niece so off she and I went into the city. We’d buy weed from the sellers that stood out on First Ave and 8th Street, they would ask as you passed, weed, coke? We found a guy further up the street who said that he had fresh hash, just off the plane from Afghanistan, sure why not, then we found someone who had acid, okay let’s.

Adrianne had a fake I.D., sure lots of kids did, but she also had charm, was very attractive and could assure any doorman that she was legit and anyway she was with me. We went to the Pyramid club one night, high as kites, we ended up smoking weed with some guy that she had met, we sat cross legged beneath the stage smoking a joint as a band played loudly over us.

When I was a kid I would spend a month with her family in what always was some rural safe to raise kids town. I’d get stoned with her parents as we rocked out to Jethro Tull, while that was an education that I am grateful for it wasn’t like we had a big city to enjoy, I would show Adrianne all of it.

Jason’s back eventually healed and he was able to join us on the weekend for an excursion to Central Park, The Whitney Biennial, the theater, and the Gay Pride Parade. Jason and I had joined the march a couple of times, arriving early at the starting point, once we marched with someone running for city council, an early run for office by any openly gay person, in my skin tight black jumpsuit with my cock ring bracelets I carried the candidate’s handmade sign and we marched all the way down 5th Avenue. Afterwards we’d become spectators cheering on every group that marched past.

Adrianne loved the parade. After spending the afternoon on the piers we returned home, bought some coke, Jason went to bed, she and I wandered the streets at dark. It was hot as hell that summer, we weren’t allowed to have an air conditioner in the historic apartment, Ken said the wiring in the building was too old.

She was dying to see Lords of the New Church, they were playing at some club that was located around 14th St. As we shut the door to head out into the night we swallowed the ecstasy, I had never tried it, it would be great, she says, all that you will feel is love. By the time we got to the club, got inside, situated near the bar, drinks in hand, she was reveling in the feeling, the music, the scene, all I felt was tired, kept yawning, was seriously feeling like I would drop at any moment, I gotta go, I want to stay, okay, just be careful, here’s a twenty for the cab ride home, you remember the address right, yes, the pill did nothing to me but made me sleepy.

The buzzer rang early in the morning, she was stoked, had an amazing time but may have chipped her front tooth in the mosh pit, we won’t tell you mom about that just yet, get some rest we’ll have some more fun tomorrow.

We dyed her hair in the kitchen sink while getting stoned, her pink was fading and our time together was coming to an end. I sat her down and said, listen, we are incredibly close now but there may come a time when we grow apart, live our lives separately, she didn’t understand, didn’t want to, began sobbing. Hey you know what let’s take some acid and go walking.

The trip was wonderful, everything was magnificent, the world was opening up around us, we understood the propaganda posters that were posted around town speaking out about how the government was secretly abusing it’s powers, we were one with the homeless people, the graffiti came alive, we danced through the dark streets of lower Manhattan, walked to the Brooklyn Bridge noticed a strange cloud that became orange lit by the city’s glow, then it began to look like a portal, a way for us to jump through to any time and place. In our stoned out of our minds gibberish she would become known to me as Nurse Schizo, I became Unkie Psycho. 

It was time for her to go, to face her mom with her chipped front tooth, she would have to explain, I would have to defend myself. My life with Jason would return back to normal, I would get back to work in the studio, I would pluck Gilda’s cat hairs out of the still wet paintings, Jason and I would have dinner while watching TV, I would seduce him, we’d have our weekends, he’d go to work, I would paint.

But first I had that left over acid and coke to deal with. So I took the acid and did a toot. I would get these weird inflamed pustules behind my earlobes, as I stood there looking at myself in the bathroom mirror confronting my humanity, the history of man and woman kind, the horrors that we have all brought upon each other, I began picking at my pustule, soon it began to bleed profusely, there was blood everywhere. I cleaned the sink that still had pink hair dye stains. 

Adrianne’s mom was pissed at me, whatever, come and get me, hell you got me stoned when I was thirteen. Adrianne enrolled in college, moved into a artist’s commune in San Francisco, she was fine, had the tooth repaired, I am surprised that I never got the bill.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Life of an Artist

There was a theory about a Canadian flight attendant, he would be known as Patient Zero. He brought AIDS/HIV back from some trip to Africa and the infection would spread through his very promiscuous sexual activities, now how did he get the virus in Africa? People said it was because he had sex with a monkey, you know how the gays are.

Jason went to work, I painted, had his dinner ready when he got home, the apartment was clean, I played with the cat, Jason went to work I redecorated, I painted. Once in a while we hosted small gatherings, we’d go to the movies, eat at the diner, he was tired, I was bored. I began going out with Walter, he brought a lesbian friend into the picture, Robin, she was from Brooklyn, deep in Brooklyn, not very attractive, lonely for a lover glad for the company and funny. Robin slowly inserted herself into Jason’s and my life, we’d hang out on Sundays, do the brunch thing, while she was smart she was also very whiny, had that nasal pitched voice that could become grating, but we took her in and accepted her for what she was, still she was rather on the depressing side.

Walter lived with his twin sister who was always away somewhere on business, they shared an apartment on the Lower Eastside it was a nice sized place for the city. If she wasn’t around Walter, Robin and I would go there and do coke, the cut straws that we’d pilfer from the newsstand or the fast food place.

The conversations went on about everything and nothing, the question of why there was so much coke readily available and easily obtainable, did it have anything to do with Reagan’s guns for drugs program, America’s involvement in Columbia, the  War on Drugs, how the gay community was dying and fighting back at the same time, Reagan’s lack of concern, Koch’s silence, what should we do, what did we do, sit around and have some more white lines.

Walter’s and my banter began to become flirtatious, Robin would roll her eyes and tell us to get a room already. One night it was just he and I, we were wired, it was late, we took a cab to Save the Robots, the illegal after hours on Avenue A. In the taxi I looked at Walter, checked him out, what’s that I said, what, well it looks like you have a big dick I responded pointing to his crotch. The after hours might or might not be open, they may or may not let us in, they did. Everyone was fucked up, there was a typical bar, a lounge area, one restroom, drinks were cheap, the place was filthy, some more coke in the restroom with graffiti scrawled walls, another drink and it was time to leave before the cops busted the place.

Emile was still working for Alice but she had closed the store and was focusing on a wholesale business, he was incredibly devoted to her, he was putting everything into making the business thrive, but she began to stop paying him, promising him his wages soon. She made sure that he had enough to get to work and get by, barely. He was very silent about it, but we knew that something was up.

I paid him a visit one day in his Fort Greene apartment, neither of us had had anything to eat, I suggested that we get some beer and hang out. I told him about my experiences with the exhibitionist neighbor when I was living with him and Hamlet, the conversation became about sex. We sat in that room where I had once slept, look out the window, is he still there, he was, the beer went to our heads. Let’s jack off, we both agreed, you stand in the window he said, I did, he sat in a chair behind me, pull your pants down, okay, I did, he pulled his to his knees and started pounding his dick, I was hard but it was weird, or so I thought in the back of my mind, I could hear my best friend beating off. I grew self-conscious, Emile came quickly, I did not and pulled my pants back up, then I hurriedly left.

His affection towards me never stopped but it was obvious that we would never be lovers again. As I walked to the train I knew that I could never stop being there for him, that was impossible, that the scenario that had just played out would be best forgotten, that we would never speak of it, but no matter what we would always be friends, best friends, till death.

His finances were growing slim, he hid it well, but I found out that he was living on popcorn, Jiffy-Pop, I was furious with him, Jason was upset, we have to feed him even if it is an affront to his pretense. Jason and I invited him over one night for dinner, he had yet to admit his need, was growing thinner, still a gentleman, but seriously darling what the hell is going on?

He told us everything, I had already bought several bags of groceries for him, we already know honey, you have to get out of there and find another job, here is some money, we’ll pay for a cab home, take the food, eat, and please let us know if you need anything. Between Hamlet and Alice, Emile was bankrupt, he consolidated his debt, found another job and slowly began working on rebuilding his credit.

Walter and I went out one night, more coke, it always made me so very horny, not that I wasn’t already. We ended up at the Pyramid, drinks, cut straws tips filled with coke, it was the night that he had bought a painting, I said $200, it was for his dealer, the geometric painting based on some modern architectural wonder, the dealer’s birthday, oh just give me an eight ball. Walter was hesitant about the trade, I insisted, he relented, but I said I needed the dealer’s number, I had to keep track of where my paintings were going and I wanted to deliver the piece.

Our community was facing death and we still knew how to throw a good party and have fun even if it was obvious that almost no one outside of our community cared about AIDS and the dying. It was a time when the survivor’s guilt began to settle in, certain that we would all die, still relishing life and enjoying ourselves even if there was a disease that we just hadn’t gotten yet, a disease that we would, as people died, we partied on. It seriously was a very surreal and dark time.

Walter and I continued with our provocative conversation, dancing, drinking, more coke inhaled. I wasn’t in love with him, I just wanted him to want me, we could work it out, I would convince Jason, the gay triad, the perfect family. I told Walter that I wanted him to come home with me, to see my new painting, I lured him back to the apartment, just another line, just another line.

I was in heat, he was willing but had reservations, come in, we entered the darkened apartment, Jason soundly asleep in the loft bed, come to the studio Walter. It was hot and humid, the windows opened, I turned the studio lights on, he had been chasing me for months, something had to give. We began kissing, give me more coke, come look at the painting, I needed sex, Jason hadn’t been very responsive lately, I was young, hot, horny and sexy.

Let’s do it Walter, I cannot wait another minute. He stood at the studio doors, watching me as I slowly began undressing. I was 25, Walter a few years older, our peak time, this is good, we can do this, I began shivering, hold me, kiss me, I pulled him close, give me another toot, he did, I took my pants off, my underwear, he stood there watching.

I can’t do this, your lover, one of my best friends is just a few feet away, stop, I was undressed, my erection severe, come on it’s not a problem, Jason is asleep, stop, I have to go, he said, if you do leave now you will never be invited back, I can’t. Walter found his way out to the door, I was still shivering and furious, mortified after exposing myself, humiliated. I crawled into bed next to Jason, he woke up, are you okay, no, I never want to see Walter again, what happened, I don’t want to talk about it, all I know is that Walter is banished from our lives, okay okay, go to sleep now, you’re shaking.

Jason held me till I came down, everything will be all right he whispered in my ear. I fell asleep. Walter was cut off, he was gone, Robin would follow suit. I wouldn’t see Walter for many years, no communication, Emile told me that he had walked through Bloomingdale’s one day, that Walter was a salesperson in the men’s department. I just happened to be walking by the loading docks near the employee entrance on 60th St years later and there was Walter, he was joking with one of the employees, lighting a cigarette, he had survived, I had, he did not see me, I walked away.

I did deliver the painting to the coke dealer, a respectable guy, just sold small amounts, didn’t want any more clients, but he took the painting and I asked if he could sell me just one more eight ball, sure but that’s it, he didn’t want people knocking on his door night and day, how much, $120, Walter had been making a profit of eighty dollars every time he bought for Jason and me.

It was time to visit mom in Vegas, I booked a flight on People Express Airline. It was a radical business concept, lower prices, no free food, you had to pay for pillows and blankets, big planes, kind of like a Greyhound bus with wings. I entered through the back of the plane from the airport tarmac along with the other passengers who were seated in the rear of the plane. I sat in my aisle seat, there was a man in the window seat, no one sat between us, we both agreed that that was very nice and began a conversation, the plane lifted off.

During the flight to our first stop, Denver, he said, go look in the restroom on the left, on the Kotex dispenser you will find something I left for you. I did as told and what I found were two big lines of coke, I gobbled them up returned to my seat and continued speaking with the stranger. Later there would be another line, same restroom, more conversation, we finally landed and I was wired as fuck. I had a three hour layover, and soon started coming down, I walked throughout the airport, surely I would find this guy and he would give me more, I did not and sat on the floor as the drug wore off.

The trips to see mom were fun, everyone wanted to party with me, especially mom. I would come with money, we’d get booze, the kids would get high, then it was time to negotiate the casino time. My sister Charlotte could be a real buzz killer, her religion, her attitude, and she was becoming addicted to gambling, so mom and I would get out somehow alone and go hit the slots. We would circle the smaller casinos till she found what she thought was a lucky machine, she’d park there, set up her space, her purse in between two machines, her cigarette lit, I’d sit next to her and feed the machines with cash.

She always had a theory on what would bring luck, hated anyone watching over shoulder, would wear her purple or pink shirt, and if she was losing it was because of my energy, so she would ask for more money and move to another machine to play alone. The cocktail waitresses would bring drink after drink, she never tipped, just ignored them as they put her drink down, if she wasn’t winning she would find me, I would place money in her coin blackened hands and we’d play till the cash I brought was gone. We’d always go home with a story and pockets filled with matchbooks and her purse jingling with hotel ashtrays.

We’d visit her twin Louise, they had started a housecleaning service together, I’d see the cousins, go out to some buffet for lunch, gamble, win sometimes, lose mostly. I would call Jason, hi darling, everything’s fine, can you send me some more money please? He’d send a couple hundred in an envelope folding the cash in newsprint. Then it was time to party, I would drink till I was incapacitated, passing out on the sofa where I slept, and soon enough the trip would come to an end, but I had convinced my younger brother Leo to come and visit Jason and me, he promised to do so soon. I would return back to NYC as mom stood there watching me board the plane, she would always cry, pulling some old balled up Kleenex from her purse.

I always turned back to see her face as I was readying to board, I love you mom, just be careful son, see you soon, I love you. The plane would carry me home to Jason, our kitty, our life together, the East Village, NYC, the 1980s, life would go on, Jason would work, I would paint, Jason went to work I painted.

There was a woman in the jungle
And a monkey on a tree.
The missionary man he was followin' me.
He said "stop what you're doing."
"Get down upon your knees."
"I've got a message for you that you better believe.

Eurythmics, Missionary Man, 1986