Monday, July 23, 2012

For David B.

David (left) with my friend and my parent's friend, Jim

That's Borowy not Bowie

I’m really hating to find out about more and more people I care about either people whose music & art I’ve loved or people I’ve known dying in the last several months. The latter part of this came up this yesterday afternoon – when I got an e-mail from my dad about his friend from way back, David who was found dead in Golden Gate Park on July 8th. The story however, just got into the news via the Bay Area Reporter.
The tragic way he died mentioned in this article was in some ways how he lived but that’s not really the person I knew and and not really the person my family was friends with.

I first met David around age 12 – he was part of the circle of gay guys my dad would go out drinking with in S.F. and in Oakland. Their S.F. haunt was Sutter’s Mill on (Sutter Street in the Financial District not far from where I worked in the mid-2000s). In Oakland they went to the White Horse (at 66th and Telegraph). Funny thing was David’s full name sounded a LOT like David Bowie. So, my sister and I at first joked that our dad was now friends with the Thin White Duke. Turned out that David had a few Bowie records in his collection as did my sister (she had recently saw him play at the Day on the Green) so they instantly connected. 

  Darci, Darci!

David was from Chicago but oddly enough talked with a NYC accent. He worked for many years at an ad agency called Darci. Anytime we would pass a billboard on Highway 80 going on or off the Bay Bridge he could point out and say “Darci!”. Darci also did radio ads – namely the one for Oxy zit pads. Those ads were run a lot on David’s favorite station, KQAK (“The Quake”) which was the “Rock of the 80’s”/new wave spot on the dial.  The other funny thing was he had his own slang or at least used terms I never heard anyone else say. If he hadn't seen or done something in awhile it was "I haven't watched that show in days!" which meant years & years.  Or "I haven't had this ice cream in days!”

He was 24 when I first met him and was balding, which made me think he was more in his mid-30’s. (Then again I thought that 24 was “hella old” then). From 1982-84 he was a close friend of my dad’s and eventually got to know my mom pretty well.  Eventually he met my uncle, aunt, cousins and even my crazy grandma (Oy!).  He was there for both my sister and I’s high school graduations, and he was there when my sister married her first husband.

Familiar Values not "Family Values"

During those years that David and my dad were good friends -  my Dad was part of an organization in the Bay Area called Gay Fathers which was just that - a gay fellers support group who were dealing with issues of divorce, family, and life in general. While this sounds very normal nowadays - in the shadow of the iron fist(s) of Reagan and the religious right it was all too necessary. This group was VERY needed for kids like my sister & I. The group would meet on Sunday nights in various churches. You gotta love that about S.F. – even in the era of thickheaded televampires like Jerry Faldwell  - these churches had no issues with gay organizations. 

Another thing about the Father’s group meetings was how truly nice everyone was, how many friends and acquaintances my dad had there. (Also, the tons of food was nice). Additionally the meetings had a group for the real young kids (ages 0-12) and the 12 & up group which my sister & I were in. These youth groups were where we made several friends. Namely, my friend Zack who I played video games with (at Oakland’s “Gametown USA”) and watched a lot of football with. Whereas, my sister was friends with an older, late high school aged guy named Aaron, who had a bad-ass record collection and also friends with some nice girls from Foster City – one who was a year younger than me & the other was a year older than my sister.  All of us kids participated in the Gay Freedom Day Parade (now the GLBT Pride Parade) but I had to keep it a secret 'cause I didn't want anyone to know I was in any way associated "with a bunch of faggots!" as the braintrust of Pleasanton would often say. 

    Heavy Discussions

The youth group meetings were run by a 40-something former New Yorker named Marty. There were some heavy issues discussed in the group. The main topic was “have you told any of your friends about your dad?” I let everyone else go before me. I believe my sister said she was able to tell a few friends and they were OK with it. I think in part her friends having a positive reaction was due to her being part of the New Wave and Punk scenes. The fact that those scenes were OK with everyone from Bowie to Marc Almond of Soft Cell to Gary Floyd of The Dicks* was impressive. However, in my closed minded group of rocker dudes, I may as well have been in the Joe McCarthy-era and said my dad’s a friggin’ commie. This was still the time when I was getting in a lot of fights and I didn’t wanna give those shitbags at school another reason to taunt me. Sure this is now ironic ‘cause these dillrods loved Motley Crue, Judas Priest, and Aerosmith. But long story short, I had to live a “double-life” when it came to my dad’s post-divorce relations.

Anyway, David was friends with several people in the father’s group and hung out and partied with a few of them. Along with my dad (and my uncle’s) friend from way back in high school – Cliff. Now, David was more on the for lack of a better term, “femme” whereas Cliff was pretty “butch”. For some silly reason I had a hard time thinking people like Cliff were actually gay. I think TV and movie stereotypes really wrecked my brain. But moreso it didn’t help that I played baseball on my street with this older kid named Jimmy that would get mad and shout “arrgh, you faggot!” anytime I’d get a good hit. Or equally dumb, he would make a limp wrist gesture and say “Miracle on Polk Street!”  when one of us would hit a homer. (“Jeez, if they’re really ‘in the know’ how come they don’t say ‘Miracle on Castro Street?!” I would say in my head). Though, overall my dad had friends that were a wide spectrum of personalities and so on. Among the many progressions that GLBT Rights movement has made, I have to say I’m VERY glad the “limp wrist = queer = wrong” nonsense has gone the way of Ollie North’s career.  ("Who"? Exactly!)

A Yellow House in Alameda 

David also liked weed a lot and bought some of the last batch of primo stuff that my uncle was growing on his property in the Sierra Foothills (the stalks got nearly 5 ft high!). When my uncle stopped growing “the hoon” (as he called it), David grew his own. From his Alameda house you could see the pointy leaves not-so-slyly shadowed by an overlapping fern. 

David’s place was a neat little yellow stone, 1 bedroom cottage in Alameda – on (or near?) Lincoln – which was a short trip from my Dad’s place on Broadway Terrace in Oakland. I really liked the drive over since we went through the futuristic looking Posey Tunnel which often went well with the synth-based tunes on KQAK. He also lived near a market called Ralph’s (not the L.A. one) where I’d got on errands buying bananas and milk for him (presumably while he made either phone calls to guys he wanted to connect with or something else more “adult” or clandestine? Other times when he was hanging out at my dad's place he wanted me to go down to "'da Oriental rug place and lemme know 'da price of the Persians" I had little clue what he meant - so I just stuck to running food errands for him. For these Alameda-based errands, it's usually get $5 (which usually went into my candy/soda/rock n' roll tape budget). 

I spent several Saturday afternoons at David’s eating food (lots of Sara Lee cakes and sandwiches), listening to Grace Jones and Kraftwerk records.  I wasn’t much into Ms. Jones' and Kraftwerk was then a "too weird" - those were some of his fave artists and hell, at least it wasn’t Quiet Riot!  As for the Sara Lee cakes he bought at least 3 of every few days yet he seemed to eat these in moderation and never got fat off of them. Plus, I did a lot of reading (comics, zines and the occasional E.A. Poe or fantasy novel). I also remember a simple, albeit pretty sleazy looking print he had up in the living room that was simply titled “Wet”. However, it was much more suggestive and wasn’t exactly pornographic. This was mixed in with in with several Patrick Nagel prints and a really neat poster he got when visiting his mom in Tucson that featured all the hot peppers of the Southwest. 

The summer of ’83 we went to the beach few times. The first trip was the Father’s group’s summer party thingy on Stinson Beach in Marin County. I hadn’t ventured out that part of the Bay before (unless I was on a road trip as a wee lad). On the drive over – David asked me some basic questions – if there were any girls I liked at school – I said “yes, but I’m too shy to ever really talk to them”. Just the fact that I had someone else that I could talk to about these things made me feel comfortable. Plus, we talked about some of the b.s. I was dealing with in school – being bullied and feeling out of place, etc. David also told me if I ever get offered weed to “just try it”. I told him, “I dunno – it might mess me up”. He said – “if you just do a little off a joint it won’t kill you”. (Granted, I tried it a year later and got into it for the following 2 years. But I eventually just, uh, “burned out” on it). This was’nt long after the kids in the Father's group were talking discussing drug experiences: mushrooms, acid and speed - so the talk about drugs and use of drugs was becoming more common among people I knew. 

June '83 at the Gay Freedom Day Parade with David, my sister and my dad. Zack (left) and I are on (plastic) horns

Sometime around ’85 my dad wasn’t talking to or seeing much of David – apparently he had been hanging out with strange men in strange situations. Since A.I.D.S. was really big in the news then my dad and his friends got tested. Luckily none of them came up positive. However, David refused to get tested. Prior to that it seemed like he was just with various guys that were “just a little weird”. His refusal to get test was really scary – especially knowing that In the around ’87 (when I was 17) asking my dad “hey, what happened to_____” from the Father’s group? 9 times out of 10 the answer was “he died of A.I.D.S.” Meanwhile, I was feeling uncomfortable hearing A.I.D.S. jokes from comedians (i.e. Sam Kinison) and metal bands (i.e. - Metallica's “Master of Puppets” liner notes and the song “Anally Infected Death Sentence” from knuckledragging thrash act, M.O.D.).

Also, around this time, David getting into what my dad called “nose candy”. While I had heard about drugs in the gay scene such as weed and amyl nitrate (or as I heard them called “poppers” which sounded like something they’d get out of a vending machine at Lucky’s). But I never heard much about anyone getting into coke until then. I associated it with warmed over hippie-era bores like Jefferson Starship and closer to home - one of my former BMX racer friends who I knew around the time I met David. I saw him a few more times around age 15 when I suppose he had been bouncing back & forth with drug issues. Though, he seemed OK a few years later when I was 16 and didn’t show signs of an addict but my dad and his friends were more privy to these adult matters.

Out in the (Northern) California Sun

Going back to the trip to Stinson Beach - when I asked David about how he knew he was gay – he told me this really interesting story about being attracted to seeing the boys in high school in the swimming area. His school had a glass bottom swimming area that was apparently built over one of the hallways. So, he often would go over to the hallways and check out the guys swimming in their Speedos and Hang Ten trunks.

Later that same summer, David, my sister and I took a few trips to the Crown Beach on the Bay side of the Isle of Alameda. The Beach was fun although we more waded in the water than swam. It was here I discovered the strange jellies – not full-on jellyfish that were scattered by the thousands along the shores. When I realized they weren’t poisonous I immediately checked them out and soon enough began throwing them at my sister and David because that’s what dopey 14 year old boys do. 

The Power of Bea Arthur

The following summer of ’84 –  David was over my dad’s place quite a few times. My dad would make cheeseburgers like a beefed up (pun intended) version of our favorite junk food dive in Dublin, CA (Fandango’s). The one time we got to watch TV during dinner was when David was over and we got to watch his favorite shows: The Jeffersons and Maude. Regarding the latter show – he David would say of Bea Arthur “Maude gives great attitude and dishes it out!”

The funny thing was anytime we would watch TV with David, he’d make an “oooh-ooh” sounds anytime some hot guy was on screen. One time particularly he did this while the Atlanta Falcons’ lineman Bill Fralic walked to the ring when we were watching battle royale during Wrestlemania II on Showtime (I was watching for the storylines and I think he was watching it for the oily dudes).

In summary, David was one of those people who come into your life that is simply unforgettable. He was often a very welcoming presence when times were not good. Certainly he lived a very complicated but interesting life and I thank him for being such a good friend to myself and to my family.

ENDNOTES: Contrary to what anti-gay obsessive’s would have you think – every gay guy my sister & I met NEVER did anything weird or creepy to us. Occasionally I’d hear at the Father’s group someone say to my dad “you have really good looking kids” or “your son is gonna look really good when he gets older”. But nothing was ever insinuated and I always felt safe in that environment. Later in life, it was great to be able to talk with these issues with my friends who’ weren’t ANYTHING like those dickweeds by my high school who were always frothing with rage at anything “gay” or “faggy”. Again, even though I did have to live a “double life” whenever I got the question “hey, what’s up with your dad – is he meeting any women?” - I do feel like I gained a lot of experience from people like David and the Father’s Group.

*= Rather good early 80’s punk group from S.F. (via Texas) who’s openly gay singer. I’m pretty sure my sister saw them a few times at The Mab. Vocalist Gary Floyd wrote great classic & sarcastic tunes such as “I Hope You Get Drafted”, “Hate the Police”. In recent years got back together and played gay bars such as The Eagle and have had their early records reissued.