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… a stranger passing on the street. An unexpected reminder of someone you knew a long, long time ago. Someone about whom, until now, you had quite forgotten existed. Hadn’t given them one blessed thought one way or another.
The older you are, the more you’re likely to wonder if that remembered person is still around, and, candidly, would you recognize him or her again? (Time plays no Botox favorites.)
It’s all part of the ritual of one’s own personal countdown from youthful glitter to mortal dust. Life as inevitably reviewed from a solitary, one-point perspective; with, like it or not, Infinity, drawing nearer on the shrinking horizon.
The human condition. Life’s oldest cliche. Living one carpe diem at a time. The show must go on. Walk-ons, fewer and fewer. Who needs star billing? Equity dues, nearly paid in full. Curtain. (Applause or bows, optional.)
Let’s see. She must be about 75 today. Older than me. (Not by much, Mary!) What was her name? Oh, yes. Eve Taylor. Bartender. The Palais. 1960. Doorman Ralph! Of course. My God, how could I forget? Big guy. The Interchange. ’75. Math major. Did he survive? Could he handle old age? So, it goes.
Tonight, memory jogged by a warm-scarfed stranger’s fleeting face, I walk blocks to visit a friend at Henry Ford Hospital. As a walking meditation I recall as many as I can of friends who are no longer “with us”.
For each name I say a heartfelt “thank you” for having known them, loved them, learned from them, been supported and sustained by them. (Hey! Collins: I miss you. It’s 27 years since you cut out on us. Can you possibly know at this moment you’re remembered?)
This is my second hospital visit to see patient LaMarr Fields. Three years ago he had triple-bypass, open-heart surgery. This time he’s minus cantankerous inches of upper and lower intestines. His full recovery, doctors say, will be slow. He’s cancer free. “God’s been good to me again,” he says.
As a nurse’s aide, dressed in aseptic, starched uniform, readies an empty bed next to him, we give her a somewhat censored earful, talking about San Francisco as it was in the Gay Liberation 70s. LaMarr, who was born in Detroit, lived on Nob Hill near Polk Street for 32 years. He was part of the Harvey Milk victory election, the double assassination, the candlelight vigil, Dan White’s notorious Twinkie Defense, the White Night Riots, and, reverberating shock after shock, the mid-80s AIDS decimation.
Had his scheduled operation not been life-saving, LaMarr would now be in San Francisco as a time-honored participant for the filming of Gus Van Sant’s soon-to-be-released movie, “Milk,” starring Sean Penn as Harvey.
“Sadly, there are very few gay men around these days who carried candles and marched grief stricken to muffled drums that cold November night 30 years ago,” says LaMarr softly.
“After those proud, heady days with Harvey as ‘Mayor of Castro’ – you cannot believe how thrilled we were when he was elected a supervisor – to have experienced those horrendous murders – Harvey and Mayor George Moscone – was totally, totally devastating to our community.”
As LaMarr speaks I think back to my first visit to San Francisco in 1976. Polk Street is alive with vibrant, liberated young men. There’s expectant and energizing hope in the air. “Keep that vision in mind,” says LaMarr. “And, for old time’s sake, tell living friends you care about them. It means everything in the long run. Ask me. I know.”