Friday, February 19, 2016

Tales from the Road: Good Times - Bittersweet Memories

Normally I wouldn't post photos where people's faces are featured so prominently, but these guys won't mind for reasons you'll see.

The other day, during a cleanup, we ran across this first photo and it stirred a lot of memories.

It was the late 80's in Houston's Montrose district. My wife and I were renting the upstairs flat of a duplex and for a few short years there we were living the most socially active period of our lives, mostly due to being inexplicably befriended (Adopted?) by a number of guys in the community.

Despite the growing horror sweeping Montrose at the time, Halloween, Mardi Gras and the Garden Party were still an excuse to let your hair down (Or pin it up!), sacrifice any facial hair for the cause, dress in your finest and party 'til the sun came up. (Despite being one of the most anticipated events of the year back then, apparently the Garden Party, basically a district wide free-form celebration, died off with the guys and I can find no mention of it anymore.)

On one of these occasions we managed to corral a few of the guys before they headed out (Believe me, they don't look near this good after some heavy partying!) and snap this photo.

Jim, on the far right was the most gentle, generous man you could ever meet, and he was also the first of this group to succumb to AIDS, not long after this photo in fact.

Next to him is Craig. Craig always saw the good side of things and was a remarkably upbeat person, always the first to laugh, especially if it was at himself. He held on a long time and died a few years ago, worn down by HIV, addictions and cancer.

Showing a lot of leg there, a whole lot of leg! is Norman. Norman lived across the driveway from us in a second floor studio. He liked to stand on the balcony and sing along with his extensive music collection. He kept Lorna, a department store mannequin, in his front window, always well dressed in the latest resale shop finds. (In fact I'm pretty sure he was wearing Lorna's hair this night.) He was also the guy who ran screaming from a construction site, hardhat and all, with arms flailing (He worked at his father's engineering firm.) because there was a bee flying around. Needless to day Norman did very little to dispel the gay cleche. He also had a remarkably long run of it died a few years before Craig.

And on the left is David. David was a good guy and fun to be around for an evening, but he had his dark side, carried a lot of deep-seated anger. Pretty much disowned by his biological family, over a couple decade period there David also lost two different partners to AIDS, one of whom was 2000 miles away when he died one night on a relative's couch while making some final visits. David's career was as a big hotel chain accountant but his vocation was as a dresser for the Houston theater scene, although he didn't like dressing for musical comedies because, according to him, those people are just not serious about their work, ignoring rehearsal schedules and turning up at the last minute for performances expecting everything to be perfect. (Dressers assemble, create and maintain the production costumes and during performances make sure they end up on the right person at the right time.) Inexplicably, even though David staunchly eschewed most HIV drug treatments, he outlived most of the community, though he looked more and more like a Holocaust survivor every time we saw him. He finally completely disappeared on us shortly before Craig died. (His family is from Connecticut and would have no interest in letting any of his friends know what happened there at the end.)

Craig on the balcony

Norman throwing us a pose from the same balcony

We miss you guys.

David with our very young Siberian Husky, Ghost.

(Steve; that hallway through the door behind David's elbow in the first photo is the one where Ghost ate the carpet!)


  1. Thank you for this post. I, too, had several male friends who died of AIDS during the late 80's/early 90's. It was a sad time in history that seems to have been forgotten by most. This was a loving tribute to your friends...

    1. I suppose the energy of the time, always lively and mostly positive despite what was going on, was unsustainable in the long run, but I think unless you were in the middle of it, actually living it, you can't really understand the carnage of those days. We once sat down and figured out that there were two dozen plus guys that we interacted with regularly during that period and as of today we only know of two are still alive, and those two have been a couple since the early 80's. We spent a lot of time saying goodbye and supporting, even if only temporarily, the survivors. Even the Montrose district itself is now just a yuppified shell of what it once was.

      (Damn! I think I got something in my eye. Yeah that's right, both eyes. Now just pass me a tissue!)

    2. Tissue passed. As a straight woman, I tended bar to support myself while attending university at a local gay bar 1980-1983. It was a very secretive "private" establishment in our..then..small town, 45 miles or so from Nashville. It was the best of times...and so on. A fantasic voyage of energetic optimism and unbridled enthusiasm ("It's raining men, hallelujah, it's raining men...") with only one goal: to be accepted by mainstream society for being who they were as only they could be. A short lived endeavor for many of those who began the movement, sadly. You mentioned the word "horror" which is an accurate depiction of the times. My heart is full of love for those who lost their lives from a place of hopeful young innocence. Thank you, again, for your tribute to some of those who did not survive the holocaust that few young gay people today will ever have to relate to. Thank God...