How I Spent My Twenties

rainbowflagIn this Season of Pride, I Offer the Following…

Coming of Age
Ten Years after StoneWall
How the Older Men looked at me with such envy
I was oblivious to what their struggle had bought me.
I took my Freedom to Love quite for granted.
I looked at them just as Old Men who understood nothing
of what I and the other Young Men were capable.
I saw no connection between what they had been through
And my Freedom to Love whomever I chose.
What could they know of what I had yet to discover?

I remember my first Kiss
I remember the World opening to new possibilities
And the long awaited Dawn of my Sexual Coming of Age.
The World Awakened.
And a new decade begun.
I remember falling in Love with a Boy named JOHN.

John, 1982

John, 1982

I remember sleeping in the same bed one night, after I had missed my last bus home, and he invited me to stay.
I so wanted something to happen.
He said to me, “I can’t do that with you.
I Love You.
And when I have sex, it is something anonymous — something cold.
What we have is more Beautiful than that. We have an intimacy that’s real.
And I don’t want to give that up for one night of physical pleasure.
If we do that, you will be to me like all the others.”
We held each other that night
In intimacy
In Love

It was only two or three years later he was living back in Florida with his GrandMother — His StepMother having thrown him out of the House when he was just a boy;
She moved in, put him out for being Gay,
and his father tacitly agreed to a cruelty the lowest animal would deem unworthy.
Even animals who eat their young care for the young they keep.
JOHN became another Homeless Gay Kid
(In 2014, the number of Homeless Kids is estimated at 22,712 in New York;
1 in 45 Nationwide. And 40% of those identify as LGBT Kids)
JOHN made his way from Florida to New York,
presumably through the very methods that made him unable
to be physically intimate with me when we fell in Love.
I called him on his Birthday (All phones were landlines then; they had cords)
I sang out Loud:
‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU…” rushing the last line of the song into the question, “What is a Beautiful Guy like you doing home on your Birthday? Why aren’t you out celebrati…”
“Arnold, I’m sick,” he cut me off.
In 1984, what that meant was that this would likely be the last time we would ever speak.
It didn’t take long then.
We talked about that night two years earlier when nothing happened between us, and never knowing the experience of physical intimacy with one another.
He wryly commented, “And they say what you don’t know can’t hurt you!”
We talked every night the next few nights, until he couldn’t anymore.
We laughed a lot — about life and having fallen in Love.
And he was gone.
JOHN defined himself as a Taoist.
I talked with friends in New York who knew him, about having some kind of memorial.
I looked in the phone book and found some Taoist temple.
I called to ask about a memorial, and the cheerful man with the thick Asian accent at the other end of the phone replied in a slightly sing-song voice,
“Oh, No. Taoist like Buddhist. When someone die, it doesn’t matter!”
and he hung up the phone.
My friends and I contributed what we had and came up with a hundred dollars to donate to the then fledgling, barely two years old, GAY MEN’S HEALTH CRISIS.
And then I went to work.

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I became a volunteer Safe Sex Facilitator with GMHC, sneaking out of my apartment (I still lived with my parents.) carrying a wealth of materials — posters, condoms, bananas, charts, legal pads, pens, easels…
Travelling to Universities and Community Centers two or three times a week
to teach people how to have Safer Sex…
I became an expert in all the details and I wanted to make sure every person in the world knew them:
Never floss before a date, because that opens access to the BloodStream, and if you share a Kiss or anything else, it could pose a risk…
Little things people might never think of.
I set out to keep Every Gay Man Alive!
I failed.
Miserably.
This thing was growing fast.
More and More of my time became about taking care of those who were dying
Such horrible deaths
Huge Purple Sores — growths and malignancies everywhere.

I decided I would train as a volunteer to help Children with AIDS.
I went through days of orientation and training sessions,
Was issued my Hospital ID,
And lasted precisely One Day.
I was not strong enough to handle that.
NICKY, a small very thin African American boy — maybe 7 or 8 years old.
Walking up and down the hallway of the pediatric AIDS Ward,
Carrying him in my arms.
And as he threw up,
A Nurse looking at me with a panicked stare and slowly mouthing the words, “Be Careful!”
So little was known then about transmission, causes, and what was going on.
I blame RONALD REAGAN
and ED KOCH
and what GREG ARAKI so aptly called,
“A Great Big White House filled with Republican Fuckheads”
These Men murdered a Lot of People
Probably not JOHN or NICKY, as they died so early on, not much would have yet been known even if we had had a Government interested in protecting the lives of its own people.

Would Not Utter the acronym "AIDS" during his eight years as President

Would Not Utter the acronym “AIDS” during his eight years as President

But the slaughter of so many undesirables is always tempting…
Imagine that!
A disease that only attacks Gay People
People of Color
Drug Addicts
And Some Women…
Imagine what Himmler, Goering, and Goebbels would have been able to do with that?
Would it surprise you to learn that during World War II, lethal serums that could do such things were being tested by American War strategists?
It surprised me.
Would it surprise you to learn that the tests for such serums were done on the Green Monkey in Africa?
It surprised me less.

In terms of identifying the virus,
LUC MONTAGNIER identified the LAV virus at the Pasteur Institute in France, publishing his findings in 1983.
ROBERT GALLO’s team in Maryland, a year and a half later declared the discovery of the HTLV – III virus, using a sample of the HIV virus which they had requested from MONTAGNIER’s Group at the Pasteur Institute.

Meanwhile, we ground soldiers were in the throes of taking care of one another
and fighting for our lives.
I remember telling my parents that this was not that different
than being in World War II.
My Father, who had served in World War II, laughed at me.
But he knew no more about the details of what I was experiencing here
than I knew about the intricacies of what he had experienced there.

I remember making countless Large Pans of Lasagna and Macaroni & Cheese and Eggplant Parmesan and Manicotti…

Lasagna
I could cook so I cooked for my Friends with AIDS,
And being my Mother’s Son, always cooked plenty
and we would freeze it in portions so they could have homecooked food
in their freezers for meals in the future.
I remember one time cooking for BRADLEY
who would be moving from his apartment at the end of that month
Yes, back then people with AIDS would often find their leases not renewed
or unexpectedly and illegally terminated.
Do you remember the bullet that was fired through the living room window
of RYAN WHITE’s home in Kokomo Indiana?
That was the same year the RAY Brothers’ home in Arcadia Florida
was burned to the Ground
by their Neighbors.
When TONY and I were freezing individual servings of Homemade
Macaroni & Cheese for BRADLEY, TONY wryly pointed out,
“You know we’re gonna’ have to move this!”
And there were the trays of Manicotti taken over to LOUIS
who lived just down the street from me.
There were huge pots of spaghetti boiling and sauce simmering
for people at Casey House I didn’t really even know.
There were the letters written to MICHAEL
who moved back to his family in Minnesota, or somewhere like that —
it was West of 12th Avenue,
and that’s as much as my New York City Boy mind could process.
There were the long phone calls with JEFF in LA.
He was such an Amazing Man.
How I Loved him!
Had more style than anyone I have ever known.
He never told me.
We talked on the phone often.
And then one day the phone call came, “Hello, My name is [something — these are not the names you remember, as they are people you have never met, don’t know, and will never talk to again]. I am a friend of JEFF’s…”
So many of those calls.

And the Colleagues.
It became a part of daily office business.

And the Memorials.
For the world famous like MICHAEL BENNETT…
A Chorus Line PlayBillDo you know that the night he died, JOE PAPP called the cast of A CHORUS LINE to the theater an hour early and had them run “What I Did For Love” — they all broke down crying and couldn’t get through it.
He got it out of their systems
just so that they could get through the performance that evening.
I rushed over to the theater to see the performance that night.
I asked the Box Office for the cheapest ticket they had.
Twenty-Seven Dollars at Full Price.

The Somewhat Famous like AJ ANTOON and WILFORD LEACH

And the Less Famous, like DAVE LEIBHARDT and MICHAEL KINGMAN

The Friends and Partners of Friends whom you only knew by First Name:
JIM
FRED
MILT
DAVID
MICHAEL
ERIC
JOE
ANDRE
RANDY
ROBERT

And Colleagues at GMHC:
RAYMOND JACOBS who headed up the Education Department — a Round and Delightful Man.
The following summer, I saw him on Commercial Street in Provincetown.
He was emaciated.
He saw the look of shock on my face, and he looked me in the eyes and said,
“I’m all right. Really. I’m OK with this.”

There was so much pain
So many tears
There were Heroes:
ELIZABETH TAYLOR
MATHILDE KRIM
MICHAEL CALLEN
TROY PERRY
PAT BUMGARDNER
LARRY KRAMER
BARRY BROWN
HARVEY FIERSTEIN
BARBARA GRANDE
And Literally Thousands of others whose names you will never know, long taken from us, in a raging battle, bound together by panic, fear, death, sex, love and the Creation of a Community which did not exist before this and might never have existed if it hadn’t happened in just this way.
Men discovering a Community of Sisters we didn’t know that we had —
Lesbians and Straight Women there to help,
understanding and caring compassionately.
A Community was Created, Strong and Powerful —
the kind of Community strong enough to eventually turn Supreme Court Rulings
in our favor;
elect a new kind of President, Governor, Mayor;
Change the World…
And yet we would ask ourselves
Ask God,
Did it really require an event of this tragic proportion to create that?
Well, apparently it did.
Because that’s what happened.

Survivors Guilt.
Why them and Not Me?
We all experienced it.
But with such limited time, energy and resources,
it was impossible to address this pain.
There were too many priorities ahead of it.

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We wore Red Ribbons for AIDS Awareness and Safety Pins as part of the Safer Sex Brigade

There was Drug Smuggling
And there were Angels
There were Miracles
And there were the meetings with the Guys in the Mafia-Owned Porno Houses on 42nd Street trying to get them to promote the use of condoms
And accept the free bowlfuls that we would place on their counters and replenish
at no cost to them.
There were the meetings to infiltrate the porn industry and get them to use condoms during intercourse in gay porn films.
We were not greeted with open arms on this one.
They thought this would destroy their industry.
We continued to strategize
And Beat Down doors
Just trying to find the filmmakers and producers…
this was a world without an Information SuperHighway
Entering those dark warehouses on the Lower West Side by the River
and into offices barricaded by enormous metal garage-type doors,
Finding these Large and Powerful Mafia-Type Men behind their desks,
one felt much like DOROTHY and her friends quivering before the Great OZ…
Politely offering a bowl of Complimentary Condoms,
Just as they offered the BroomStick of the Wicked Witch of the West,
Bowing and hoping they would not hurt us (or ask us to audition)…
But RAYMOND JACOBS held us to the Belief that this achievement would set an example to other men;
that it held the potential to be as or more effective than all the lectures and workshops we could schedule.
Today it is not uncommon to see condoms used during intercourse in gay porn…
In fact, it is pretty standardly done.

Now it is 25 or 30 years later.
How the Younger Men look at me with such scorn.
They are oblivious to what our struggle has bought them.
They take their Freedom to Love quite for granted.
They look at me just as an Old Man who understands nothing
of what they and other Young Men are capable.
They see no connection between what I have been through
And their Freedom to Love and Marry whomever they choose.
What could I know of what they have yet to discover?

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11 Comments

  1. Wow Arnold – so powerful and visceral, as your wonderful writing always is.
    You are such an eloquent voice, and such a shining light,
    Em xx

    Reply
  2. Share

     /  June 26, 2014

    Thank you my friend – for assisting a community so many forgot and for remembering all of those incredible souls we loved and lost. I am moved to tears at your incredibly poignant words. Thank you for your compassionate service when the country was blinded by ignorance and fear. We Must Never Forget – it is critical your experiences are shared with the next generation.

    Reply
  3. Whoa, so MUCH passion and LOVE here. I tip my hat to you, dear one!!! Loving you from here, Denise (a SARKie)

    Reply
  4. Flo

     /  June 26, 2014

    Brilliantly and beautifully said… My love to you always

    Reply
  5. CJ

     /  June 27, 2014

    Incredible.

    Reply
  6. Joe R

     /  June 27, 2014

    Not having come out until my 30s was a mixed blessing. I’m likely alive because I watied that long. But I saw, even in the “last’ stages of the rage of the epidemic some people leave me that were talented, smart, funny and genuine. They were also catty, bitchy, snarky and opinionated….which is why i guess I loved them more. Steve Karp helped me come out. I remember visiting him in his apartment, filled with elegance and years of collection of fine things from around the world. And as I was leaving after I visited, the one thing he was most grateful for was that I hugged him. He told me no one seemed comfortable hugging or touching him anymore, So I hugged him again. It was the last time I saw him. He’s protected me since then, and I his and many others like him who were gone too soon are remembered because people like you, Arnold, remember them so eloquently and powerfully. I’m proud you’re my friend.

    Reply
  7. WOW…poignant…powerful…heartbreaking…heartwarming…truthful. Your writing cuts right through to the core, bringing tears and goose bumps and sadness and hope and as you always say…GRATITUDE! You should be PROUD of who you are and all you have done! I AM! And by the way…you are NOT an old man! I love you Arnold xoxox Lisa

    Reply
  8. Susan Chilvers

     /  June 27, 2014

    Wow Arnold I feel honored and humbled to know you! Thank you for sharing all those memories.Your loving FH friend.

    Reply
  9. Stuard M. Derrick

     /  June 27, 2014

    Thank you, Arnold, for remembering. And THANK YOU for your anger: your righteous anger, which fuels change and creates movements and progress, not the self-righteous anger of egoists, which all too often only infames bigotry and intolerance.

    Reply
  10. Joey Landwehr

     /  July 9, 2014

    Arnold, thank you so much for your words. It is so true how strong words are. I have only gone through a very small portion of what you write about being just a few small years your junior and growing up in the Midwest but I know how important it is to tell the tale, and more importantly to listen and learn and grow. I want everyone to learn from our history. I love you my friend! Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Anthony C

     /  September 12, 2014

    Wow. what a posting Arnold. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience in a time of fear and uncertainty. As one of the younger men of the culture, I could never take for granted the struggle people went through, rather I look forward to hearing their stories and learning from their past.

    Reply

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