Sunday, August 15, 2010

Carl Chopin

Aloha, Friend

Today I re-post a tribute (from LAST August)
to a great friend that I lost a long time ago.

I never fail to think of him during his birth month, and smile at his "issues" about sharing it with National Clown Month!

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." 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 it 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 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.

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, Parkway.

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 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.)

Perhaps this is daily bifurcation of my High School days explains why I am such a hybrid bridge builder. (freak?)
Ultimately I became full time and ultimately 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 Tastykake!
(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; thanks.

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. Unheard of!
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.
And talk.

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.

During intermission, 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 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's kidneys failed and he went 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.

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 when she tried to find him for me.

I guess all of the reminiscing of the past weekend (Woodstock) and all the looking at old performances on video, has brought Carl closer than he usually is.

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.

We 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 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



Reader Wil said...

What a beautiful tribute to Carl! Some friends are always with us even if they have gone. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Cloudia --
Thanks for sharing. I truly believe the stars at night belong to the spirits of our friends, family and animals before us.
Carl would be delighted with all you've done in Hawaii.
Aloha, DrumMajor

the walking man said...

A hui hou

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

Click here for a surprise

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this personal story- you have written a beautiful tribute to a very special friend.

I was thinking how much I like the Hugo quote now that I am on my way to the youth of old age.

Hilary said...

Cloudia this is beautiful. It's a lovely tribute to Carl, to the times and to friendship. I suspect that "forever young Carl" sees only beauty in middle=aged you.

Chuck Dilmore said...

a beautiful story - thank you!
and stunning, prophetic quotations.


Chuck Dilmore said...

PS major Congratulations on your book!

Jenn Jilks said...

Amazing writing, again, Cloudia. I love reading your work so much! I raise my coffee mug in a toast. The cormorant whizzes by as I gaze out at the lake. Nothing like your waters, but we must be kindred spirits!

Unknown said...

Beautiful post -- you are a wonderful writer.

Carl sounds very special.


Deb said...

...thanks for sharing...very nice

Daryl said...

I am crying .. really .. but not sad tears, happy tears because I know Carl read this over your shoulder while you were typing it.

Aloha, sis!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully done Cloudia. I can't help but believe Carl is smiling. Aloha.

Sandee said...

Carl sounds like he was one special guy. You are fortunate to have known him. I'm sure you will meet again. Thanks for the smiles.

Last night I had a very long conversation with a high school classmate. We graduated from high school 40 years ago. It was great to hear her voice again.

Have a terrific day. :)

Cloudia said...

Wil: You are so lovely, thank you for being my blog friend.

Drum Major: I feel ya!

Walking Man: Perfectly appropriate, you!

Bhavesh: Namaste!

Cinnamon:You as so very welcome here. Yes! It's the truth, let's enjoy it.

Hilary: You are lovely. Thanks.

Chuck, Thanks! Really. Do come back and visit. We party here every day!

Jenn. Aloha, Ontario Sky Lark!

Susan: Lovely to have you here. Mahalo.

Deb; Appreciate your visit, don't be a stranger.

Daryl; love ya!

Tricia; Aloha Sistah

Sandee: Wonderful, thanks.

Teresa said...

Cloudia, this was such a beautiful post. I read it this morning, and it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life and enriching ours!

Marguerite said...

Such a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. I have lost close friends, too, and I feel that they are still with me, also.

robert said...

Amicus alter ego.

A friend can truely become a second 'I'. Wish to be in the position to have a Carl on my own, being impressed of yours.
Salute you on your (once again) beautiful writing.

Abby said...

What rich memories to have and so generous of you to share! Thank you.

Astrologically we've just gone through a time of reviewing the "old stories" of our selves.

You're the 5th person I know who has recently reviewed high school and the years just after that. Even I went through a box of photos from then just this past week.

I love you and would have loved to be there with you and Carl.


Cloudia said...

Teresa: Nihau, my sistah.

Marguerite: You bring joi de vivre where you go ;-]

Abby: That's VERY interesting- Thanks lil Sistah!

Feisty Crone said...

I wish I had know Carl; what a beautiful soul! And thanks for more of your personal history. Aloha!

Junosmom said...

Well, Cloudia, just how many lives have you led? Seems like dozens at least. Carl is still there - he's part of you.

Cloudia said...

Gran; Thanks for visitng, Gal pal.

J-Mom, I love visiting your life too. thanks.

Rajesh said...

Very interesting post with lovely snaps.

Glennis said...

What a wonderful story. Wonderful memories. A great guy, before his time, it sounds like. I was in New York in those years, I remember what it was like. I hope he had a marvelous time, however shortened his life was.

I remember the friends I lost at that time.

Wonderful that you had that friendship, and that you wrote such a lovely tribute to Carl.

magiceye said...

wonderful tribute to a friend!

namaste /\

Dina said...

I'm really glad you saw fit to tell us this story from your life and Carl's.

I just might go in search of my good old friends from the Old Country of Chicago.

When my kids complained about dumb teachers, I urged them to try and get a good education in spite of those teachers.
Aloha Coudia.

Kay said...

This is such a beautiful tribute to your friend, Cloudia. Thank you for sharing it with us. How sad, though. I've got some friends I've lost, too. It's hard.

Country Girl said...

I have chills.

I. I don't know what to say, but what a wonderful tribute so your soulmate. Yes, he was. My gosh! What a story! I know some of the places you spoke of, too.


Cloudia said...

Thank YOU folks as well!

Lucy said...

wonderful detailed account that I will admit is beyond my comprehension. Really gives me something to ponder, however great work on this.

Joe Dunn said...

what an amazingly eloquent story. i can identify with a lot of it. i miss my "carl" very much; you captured my feelings perfectly. i love you big sister!

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Deeply moving tribute Cloudia. What a special, enduring friendship.

magiceye said...

a beautiful post and a lovely tribute to carl...

thank you for your warm wishes

amaste /\ from mumbai

Kavita Saharia said...

Beautiful friendship and a beautiful tribute ! To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.

Thanks for sharing this Cloudia !

Junosmom said...

"I often wonder how middle-aged me looks to forever young and handsome Carl."

After all you wrote, do you not think the real Carl would see the "real" you?

I remember this story. Guess I am following your life, too.

SandyCarlson said...

I love what you have to say about a loyal friend. Beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

How poignant! True love never dies!

Brian Miller said...

those friends that carry on even after they are gone..a fine tribute...

DeniseinVA said...

I always enjoy reading what you have to say Cloudia. I'm glad I stopped by today to learn about Carl. Thank you for sharing him with us.
An English Girl Rambles

Marguerite said...

Lovely tribute to your dear friend. I lost my best friend, earlier this year, so I understand how you feel. Hugs, cher.

Jingle said...

love the peaches.

Jingle said...

two awards on the bottom for you,
the most creative blogger award,
u r a rare friend award....

JTG (Misalyn) said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend Carl and I must say that it is well written...full of emotions. Thanks for sharing Cloudia.

Indeed, this is a beautiful post.

Full-On-Forward said...

Hugs to Carl and Cloudia. I would have loved him!

Thanks Friend.


Dinesh chandra said...

good post many thing to rean and experience.


dinesh chandra

bichonpawz said...

I do believe that Carl would be proud of your accomplishments too Cloudia! Sounds like you two were the very best of friends. We don't meet many like that in a lifetime. I have a girlfriend from high school that I still to this day can call day or night and it's like we just talked...guess we are soul mates! Aloha from NY!

Akelamalu said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend. He sounds like a very special person. x

Cloudia said...

Thank you for sharing with me

SandyCarlson said...

What a powerful post about such a good friend. You sure got through some big challenges together. Beautiful.

who said...

get rid of the plate that says "horseless" or just the "less" four letter word and I would give you anything you want for that fuchsia ford AND promise to take care of it :)

Cloudia said...

Thanks for your kind words

My Unfinished Life said...

wat a wonderful tribute and remembrance!!!

Am sure, he is looking down below and smiling at you...for being such a good friend!!

Robert Dunbar said...

Thank you for this, sweetie. You know I thought I'd die when we lost him. I couldn't imagine life without him. Sometimes I still can't.

SandyCarlson said...

A beautiful tribute. The backdrop of public education hits home with me.