Saturday, December 01, 2001

First Avenue Bus
I don't take public transportation much, I prefer riding my bike around town, and even when working, for years I've managed to stay clear of the MTA. But when I need to go uptown on the eastside, I prefer to take the 1st Avenue bus, as opposed to the subway, because I like to look out the window, daydream, sort things out, remember stuff. The most common thoughts come from seeing the many hospitals on the route: Beth Israel, NYU Medical, Bellevue, etc.

On 16th street is Beth Israel, where Paul died many years ago. He lived right on 14th st, just off First, right across the street from where I get my Xmas tree. Paul was the first person I knew who took AZT, back when you had to take shitloads of the stuff; he was also the first friend who I thought "why him and not me, he's been a good guy, sweet, monogamous; I've been the slut, cheating, sleeping around". He had been in the hospital for awhile, and I was in one of my unemployed periods, so, while riding my bike, I thought I could stop by, mid-afternoon, and visit when no one else was around, just a nice, casual, unplanned visit. I had done it before, sometimes he'd be asleep, and I'd just watchover him, looking, hoping. Anyway, pulling my walkman off, I approach his room, and see his boyfriend, and a woman, in the room, Paul sleeping. the boyfriend spotted me, pulled me aside, quietly telling me that it was "that time" , Paul's sister was there, the rest of the family would be here soon - and would I tell the others, so they could say goodbye. Naively stunned, it was probably one of the few times I'd gone into a hospital and didn't think about death. I went home, and before calling my boyfriend, or the other friends I was assigned to tell, I sat on the couch, having put on The Buzzcock's I Believe, for no reason other than I had just seen them at a reunion gig. I don't think it was anything Paul liked, but it was a good blast-the-stereo-sing-and-scream song. I played it several times, screaming the lyrics "There is; no love; in this; world anymore" over and over, blasting it louder each time, trying to force myself to get the tears out of the way, so I could properly make my calls to my friends, and tell them Paul would soon be dead.

A few days later, we're sitting in Paul and Mark's apartment, discussing plans for the service - Lesbian Rabbi, Frank Zappa cassette (I was assigned that), a checklist of things to do, arrangements to be made. I was useless, not at all interacting, as everyone acted like it was just this thing that needed to get done, and I felt the room get smaller and smaller, and the fact that no one was SCREAMING was making me more and more insular, and angry. We certainly didn't discuss our feelings, our loss, our anger, nothing. I know, I guess it's pretty obvious that you can assume all that, afterall, we're friends; but I just felt this huge gap between myself and the rest of the world, I wanted to explode, and instead I am dutifully jotting down a few notes of the tunes to record. When the service was over, and everyone was leaving, and just the boombox was up there, Frank Zappa noises screaching out, I began to realize why we had all just gone through the motions - it was too scarey to articulate what we were really thinking, looking around this room, or the livingroom a few nights earlier, "who's next?"

Bellevue is up around 27th and First; Rick was there only a short while. He hated the place, probably because it was a Public Hospital, and he had "issues" with stuff like that. Each person who came into the room commented on the great view he had of the East River, and he grimaced each time he heard it. Each time I'd come, I'd be taking cans of Ensure out of a bag, trying to find a place for them, encouraging him to drink them, like he was a little kid who needed coaxing. His sister had moved in with him, to help take care of him. He had bought a "fixer-upper" apartment (we all wondered how he lived there so long without a toilet......), and soon his parents were in town, finishing up his apartment, buying a refrigerator, carpeting, comfy easy chair, all this nice shit, so that whatever time he had left, he would be comfortable. Eventually Rick was in St Vincent's in the Village, and one evening, just the two of us, we had a talk about how sorry we were that we had that stupid fight the previous summer about welfare, and poor people, not speaking for months, and all the time we lost. Rick didn't express his feelings often, and it all poured out, each of us challenging the other "no no, I was the idiot, I'm sorry" and we laughed, and cried, and hugged, something we had never done before. This was the roughest; he was the closest friend who had gotten sick, and we were panicked, not knowing what the hell to do for him, but his folks were great, sweet people. I can even remember the outfit Rick would wear to WonderBar on Wednesdays for the cheap beer/backroom. This dingy knit cap, dingy yellowish t-shirt, his "grunge" look. And I remember when he and Mark quit drinking, occasionally going to those meetings, and talking about the cute guys afterwards, and our replacement activity: Scrabble. We'd just listen to music, and play Scrabble late into the night - I still can't listen to the Cranberries since then, Mark and Rick would do this stupid sing-along during the chorus of Linger, simulatameously irritating the crap out of me, and making me laugh my ass off - and now it's the quickest way to get me to cry, playing that song. But then, one Saturday at work, I got the call. "Come to the hospital, Rick wants to say goodbye." Apparently, he had had enough, too much time in the hospital, not getting better, feeling like crap, he wanted to go home to his parents house, and just see what would happen. We all knew what would happen, of course. The doctor's told him explicity that he was unlikely to survive the drive. I got there, got out of the cab, and standing there, on the corner, was David Byrne and a small child, who got into my cab. I have no idea why that sticks out, but I got into the hospital, found Mark, Rick's best friend, and we stood at the elevator for a minute or two, looked at each other, and ran to the stairs. Just as we began to go up, I stopped him, and said "I need one minute, one minute to be ready to pretend I'm not totally against this, and angry as hell at him for quitting, and giving up, and not trying hard enough; we have to go in there and tell him that whatever he decides is the right decision, and it's cool with us". We got upstairs, and of course, several friends, the whole family, our good friend Larry, the social worker. We had to take turns. In the waiting room was his father, stoic all this long time of trying his best to do whatever needed to be done; his eyes full, he very quietly said "I can't believe I'm letting my son do this, it's the wrong decision, but what can I do, it's his life, and it must be awful for him."

They got an ambulance to take him from Manhattan to Rhode Island; the next morning his sister called, he made it home, he died in his bed, the bedroom he grew up in, it was peaceful, he was happy to be home.

Alden wasn't really a friend of mine, but we had that Act-Up connection, having done several "actions" together, particularly on Day of Desperation (just as the Gulf War started). I actually fucked something up on our banner over the FDR Drive that Alden had to fix, and then he got stopped by the cops. Oh yeah, and he had an affair with my boyfriend. Even friends of mine said I couldn't blame Jim, after all Alden was that cool Act-Upper who always knew what to say, what to do (and it was true, he was amazing). Anyway, here I am, standing out in front of NYU Medical (in the 30's somewhere?) talking to Jim, who I had just spent part of the day with, and I hand him a tupperware container of oatmeal cookies, thinking maybe Alden could eat them, I didn't really know. While they weren't "dating" any longer, they had become very close, and when he got sick, Jim did everything and anything he could for him. He went to the hospital all the time, did errands, took care of stuff. Here he is, taking care of an ex, someone he dated while he was seeing me, really weird, but this was not the time to worry about my own discomfort, of course. I don't remember how long he was in the hospital, but sometime after he got out, Jim called me in a panic. He hadn't heard from Alden in a day or two, no answer at his apartment, on his phone; totally unusual for him. We called the police, and our fears were proven right when we got into the apartment - he had passed away, alone, at home, watching t.v. There was the memorial through the streets of the East Village, very loud, very angry, very disturbing having his face on these huge placards; of course, this time, I wasn't chanting loud, or holding a placard, just quietly walking with the crowd, lost in my own thoughts - the image of that very strong man naked on the floor, frail, dead. The next few days, weeks, were tough; Jim was very depressed, and unable to talk to me. But he had other friends, friends who were closer to Alden like he was, friends he could talk to, and cry with. Sometimes I would be making something for dinner, and he'd be on the phone, crying, and I knew that it was good, at least he had someone he was comfortable sharing this with. I just made sure Jim ate, and had my warm body to sleep with, and just made sure I was available, not being able to take the pain away, but just in case, just in case I could say, or do something....

Up on 66th st, just east of First Avenue is the church where they had the funeral for Paul (a diferent Paul from the other pal above). Paul worked for MTV, and when he got sick, he managed some disability arrangement that helped him live in Brazil for awhile. Paul was the guy who I invented the "east Village handshake" with - no one really remembers it, cuz it was just a little inside joke for a few of us, basically you went up to your buddy and just stuck your hand in his crotch - obviously we thought of it at one of the many drunken parties Mark and I had on Norfolk St. Not sure when Paul got back to the States, but when he died, his family came here, and had the funeral at this little church on the upper east side. I remember everyone in the family had little red ribbons on. This was the first time I had seen them and didn't snear - all us cocky Act-Uppers thought it was just some trendy Hollywood fashion thing "look, look, I'm concerned" - but here was his family, in a not very supportive Catholic Church, making sure it was clear their son had died of AIDS. They talked about it from the pulpit, that while they were robbed of their son, he had had a good life, good friends, etc. They took genuine interest in meeting us all. Several of us went out together, to some pub restaurant nearby. Very odd, but somehow fitting, to be in this Irish saloon , on the day of a friend's funeral, drinking beer in the middle of the day, telling stories.

I think about stuff like that when I'm on this bus, going uptown, the bus stopping to let some old folks off, or taking forever while a wheelchair unloads, the rest of the bus riders clearly irritated by these delays; ah, if only it was a matter of a brief inconvenience, eh?

Remember the dead, and fight like hell for the living.