Sunday, August 21, 2011

To Lost Friends


Today I re-post a tribute.

It is a tradition for me to share it every August.
Many of you have been visiting less than a year,
and I want you to meet someone
 who was/ and is,
very special to me. 

A great friend that I lost a long time ago. . . 

I never fail to think of him during his
 birthday season, 
and smile at his "issues"
 about sharing it with
 National Clown Week !

You were no clown Carl.

I'll never forget you.

"Keep true to the dreams of your youth. "
Friedrich von Schiller

"The youth,
 intoxicated with his admiration of a hero, 
fails to see, 
that it is only a projection of his own soul,
 which he admires "

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Forty is the old age of youth;
 fifty is the youth of old age."

Victor Hugo

"What though youth gave love and roses, 
Age still leaves us friends and wine."

Thomas More

" The love we have in our youth
 is superficial
 compared to the love that an old man has
 for his old wife. "

Will Durant


I was 15 in a new neighborhood.

The High School I attended was a big, modern red brick factory, a "good" school. But I found it rather dehumanizing.

While the Beatles sang,
 and I attended the first Earth Day in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park,
 my school was run by crew-cutted,
 career educators who believed in instilling certain values in the boys and girls
 in order to stem the tide
 of psychedelic social rebellion
 that they abhorred.

School was all about proving them right,
 and the independent, inquiring student WRONG! 

Criticism had not yet been supplanted by
 "self esteem yet"

 Athletes were idolized,
 artists had better focus on some REAL career
 and choose a college
 before they threw their lives away. . .

North East High School
seemed like a strange anachronism
 to be stuck in.

Famed doumentarian Fredrick Weisman
 thought the same
 and used my school
 as the setting for his cinema verite` documentary

"High School."

Audiences laughed,
 but I had to take off my love beads
 and low slung bell bottoms
 and go to school there!

Then I met a boy
 who lived a couple of miles away
 and who attended another school,
 a "worse" school
 where he was the butt of abuse
 for being dark and quiet
 with amazingly expressive brown eyes.

The bullys loved to see pain register in those eyes

and called him 'The Mexican.'

He was actually Jewish,
 with a grandfather who had escaped poverty,
 sanctioned abuse,
 and a forced 20 year stretch in the Russian Army,
 by leaving Russia on horse back; 
and who had a picture of himself
 smoking a hookah 
with some sepia Turkoman traders.

 "Fuck the Czar" he always began
 when asked about those days. 

I cannot hear anything about the Czar 
on the History Channel
 or anywhere else
 without muttering
 "Fuck the Czar" under my breath 
in tribute to the old man.

One time, Carl (my friend)
 tried to shock grandpa
 by inviting him to smoke some hash
 with us.

"Hashish?! He asked incredulously.

"You want to smoke hashish!? - Hashish you EAT!!!!!"

We laughed about that for years.

Heck, I still do!

Carl's family was blue collar too,
 and we soon became inseparable.

We were both carrying some baggage, 
OK, full baggage cars 
FULL of baggage.

We hid out together in his bedroom
 and he taught me everything about classic films,
 though people called them "old movies" then,
 and they papered late night TV 
clotted with commercials.
TCM hadn't been invented yet.

He showed me the classic movie goddesses
 and heroes.

We learned about history, sociology, and culture.

Together we gasped at Busby Berkley's choreography,

and Cagney's style.

We especially loved the film noir of the 50's
 which spoke well to the lingering, sooty Philadelphia that we lived in.

Our lives entwined.

I had a chance
 (as a thoughtful troublemaker)
 to get into a new alternative high school 
that was a progressive experiment of the times,

Carl, moored in high school torment
 applied among thousands and got in fairly! 
A bonifide miracle!

But Parkway's head master, a charming Englishman called John Bremer (sp?)
 would not accede to my Principal's request
 to de-acquisition me.

I had to cut school
 and show up at Dr. Bremer's desk
 to articulate my absolute need
 to be in MY new school-reality.
He took a liking to me
 and I was the only part-time student
 in the 150 student school.

 Mornings in prison regulated by bells,
 afternoons in the modern world of education.

 (Kevin Bacon was one of our stairwell card players,
 a fellow student that I was kinda scared of.)

Perhaps this is daily bifurcation of my High School days explains why I am such a hybrid bridge builder. 

Ultimately I became full time,
 and ultimately we graduated from Parkway.

Carl and I went to school together every day,
 & spent all our time together. 
We schooled ourselves in mind expansion
 and film culture
 at night 
as the adults slept.

Sometimes we'd drive to Chinatown in his mom's Mercury at 3 am for Wor Shu Op (Pressed Duck) at the old South China on 10th street. One night, Jerry Stiller walked in to get take out; he was performing in town with his wife: Stiller & Meara. Their kid, Ben, was in footsie pajamas - not comedy movies back then.

One year,
 after a full night of ritual drinking,
 Carl went to South Philly to join the Clown Brigades of the New Year's MUMMER's PARADE.
 If you are at all interested in folk life,
 you MUST see the Mummers Parade in Philly!

 Carl, drunk as regulations and custom demand,
 lurched up the street 
with a mob of other civic-minded inebriates
 doing the "Mummers Strut."

Man, I wish I had film of THAT!

It was a men-only parade 
(it's a whole culture: 
pipe fitters in sequins playing banjos in the snow).

Man, I want a Philadelphia treat:

(Spell Check offered: "Testicle" as in: 
"Man, I want a testicle!" LOL!!!!)

Carl and I learned about life together.
 We grew up a bit. 
We sold pot for bus fair (allegedly). 

"Your boyfriend's gay" 
my helpful parents pointed out.

 Guess I'll hang out with a football player;

 he accompanied me on a driving trip
 with another friend of ours to Vermont 
so I could interview at Goddard College.

 Carl interviewed on a whim. 

Two weeks later we heard:
 they wanted to give him a scholarship.

 They sent me a regrets letter.
 Just like Parkway!

It changed his life.

He "came out" and became a campus star.
 Faculty member (and famed lesbian author)
 Rita Mae Brown told him:
 "Carl, if you were a woman I'd marry you." 

He started interpreting Joni Mitchell songs 
in American Sign Language,
 bringing the lyrics alive to hearing
 and deaf alike.

Then he got an internship
 working with warehoused autistic kids.
 No one cared what Carl did,
 as long as no one got hurt
 or loud. 

He taught them sign language!

The loved his deep eyes
 that looked into their souls
 showing his pain
 and his beauty to them.

 Several of the kids 
were "mainstreamed" after that.

 Unheard of!

But that was Carl.

I guess he helped me the same way.

I went to college at Franconia in New Hampshire
 (for a year, long story) and we saw each other
 when we could, but by then we knew that we'd always be close. 

Before Facebook and Tweeting, 
we communicated
 by driving around northern New England
 in old Volkswagen's and Volvos.

30 Miles through a crystal cold night
 to St. Johnsberry for all-night Duncan Donuts
 sounds very good when you are lonely 
and young 
and free and eager to meet.

And talk.

When Carl graduated,
he moved to New York City
 as he had always dreamed. 

He was a professional sign language interpreter
 in the courts - learning everything 
about a fascinating reality.

Superior Court Judges mothered him.
 He was free of his abusers, 
had respect,
 and had learned to respect himself.

It was the best time ever to be a gay man:

The 1970's in Manhattan!

Carl was so excited 
when they asked him to be
 one of the first sign language interpreters
 to perform on the front of the Broadway Stage.

There he was in the playbill!

Chopinsky had been shortened to Chopin.

He was beautiful, 
sought after, and sharing the stage
 with Tommy Tune, Honey Coles and Twiggy
 in "My One and Only."

Just one of many productions that featured him.

During intermission, 
the hearing audience was buzzing 
about how they couldn't take their eyes 
off of the guy signing.

And Tommy Tune was dancing at his peak then!

When I went back stage,
 Twiggy was swigging booze straight from the bottle. . . . Sure wish I could find that Play Bill.

 We talked about being elderly together 
and reminiscing about the "good old days."

Bette Middler and Barry Manilow
 were performing to gay audiences
 at the "baths" before she was discovered.

 Bruce Springsteen
 was playing a bar in Philly every weekend;

Disco all night,
 and liberation,
 and a lot of hope
 for the future.

Then, lots of guys started to get sick.

Carl had had a lot of emotional
 and physical
 wear and tear in his life.

His kidneys failed, 
and he had to go on relief,
 and on dialysis.

His outer beauty
 (so important to us then)
 dimmed -

 but his soulful eyes
 grew only richer and deeper.

I can close my eyes 
and look into them still.

I visited him before moving to Hawaii.

We would always stay close.

In an instant, 
a pause, a look,
 a note, a phone call,
 we were instantly closer 
than any two people could be.

We shared
So much of each other,
 so many memories,
 and landmarks. . . .

About 15 years ago, my mom heard
 from someone in Philly
 that Carl had died. 

A famed psychic once told me
 that two friends who have passed 
accompany me through life.

Perhaps I'll tell you
 about the other friend
 on another occasion.

Carl & I used to say: 
" If I close my eyes,
 you are still there; "

There is more to our friendship 
than what can be touched
 or heard."

So true.

I sometimes wonder how middle-aged me
 looks to forever young
 and handsome

 Some day we'll laugh about it.

If your friend(s) of adolescence 
are still in this world, 
call them today. 

Tell them Carl and I say

 " A L O H A "

           Thanks for visiting, warmly, cloudia