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.
Then I met a boy
who lived a couple of miles away
and attended another school,
a "worse" school
where he was the butt
of abuse for being dark
and quiet with amazingly
expressive brown eyes.
The bullies loved to see
pain register in those eyes
and called him The Mexican.
That's Carl on the left
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.
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
would not accede to my Principal's request
to de-acquisition me.
I had to cut school and show up at his 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.)
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
Man, I wish I had film of THAT!
It was a men-only parade back then
(a whole culture: pipe fitters
in sequins playing banjos in the snow).
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;
Once, 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
and showed his pain and beauty to them.
Several of the kids were
"mainstreamed" after that.
But that was Carl.
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 drove 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.
Eventually, Carl graduated
and 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!
He 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.
the hearing audience was buzzing
about how they couldn't take their eyes
off 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.
Carl had had a lot of
emotional and physical
wear and tear in his life.
We talked about being
elderly together and
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 a lot of hope for the future.
Then lots of guys started to get sick.
Carl's kidneys failed;
He went on relief
and on dialysis.
His outer beauty
(so important to us then)
but his soulful eyes
grew only richer
I can close my eyes
and look into them still.
I visited him before moving to Hawaii.
But 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.
So much of each other, so many memories
and landmarks shared. . . .
My mom heard
from someone in Philly
that he had died.
This is years back, now.
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 and 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."
I often wonder how middle-aged me
looks to forever young and handsome Carl.
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
This was posted last year.
I decided to keep
all of the Wonderful comments.
Feel free to say, "hi'
I decided to keep
all of the Wonderful comments.
Feel free to say, "hi'