Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cause & Effect

For the past 17 weeks I have been documenting experiences and stories of my past here in this memoirs blog. The mission of this journal was to help remember before I forgot. However, over the months this blog has become something more ... I have opened mental files that haven't been touched in decades, and thus - I've been able to see myself a bit better.

Recently, after reading the My Story post - easily the pinnacle post (so far) of this blog - a reader emailed me the following:
questions for when you reach the mountain top

it is difficult to recast one's self after growing so accustomed to the dark and empty. it is difficult to radiate light and joy with the memory of so many people lost to the destruction we all indulged in so casually (particularly when reflecting on our own culpability). how do we be our truer, free-er selves? how do we find energies to draw from that do not promote more suffering? how do we believe that we are deserving or fated for the light? how do we harm no one while working with our limitations to give? how do we allow expression of goodwill while responsibly constructing respectful boundaries of self?

when you find the answers post them in your blog. i look forward to the answers.
Talk about an interesting email. The fact is, the reader hits the issues I deal with straight on. Since January, I have been experiencing some fairly wacky mood swings. Additionally, a thin film of depression has enveloped me and I've been left to figure it all out.

Last night I hosted a screening of Downtown 81 -- which is a so-so flick, but is a wonderful snapshot of NYC (especially below 14th Street and Times Square), circa 1980. As I watched it, I saw a different film in my mind ... memories of walking those same streets, seeing the same faces and feeling the same energy.

I realize that this blog has done more than allow me to remember. It has allowed me to feel. I feel the loss of my past. Not just the obvious 'things aren't the same now as they were then' that anyone of a certain age feels ... but the additional loss of hundreds of friends and fellow night crawlers from AIDS, suicide and simply burning out.

This blog has allowed me to begin the road to healing, by publically addressing my pain - letting those who read it [who could be just about anyone] understand me a bit better than before.

The fact is, I have created my own jail cell. I kept myself busy with projects and events - things that didn't require emotional connections - so I could avoid dealing with myself. And, because I was not emotionally wired, I was able to create without emotional distraction ... which led to more events and more successes. I kept myself busy and always moving. In turn, I painted the public picture that I was inaccessible - which led to me being alone with myself on those moments when I wasn't creating or producing.

Which means that the whole process was out of whack. One cannot avoid the issue - when the issue is them.

So, how DO we be our truer selves? I suppose by just being open and honest with everyone and let the chips fall where they may. As to finding energies to draw from - I am powered by my past. A moment does not go by that I don't have the memory of at least one of my fallen friends circulating in my mind - somehow their spirit inside me translates itself into energy, allowing me to continue and move forward.

As for believing that we are deserving or fated for the light - I don't know quite how to explain this one. I believe that everyone has a purpose of some form in this world ... whether or not you discover and embrace it, is another question. Most don't, since I think to do so, one needs to have crossed a certain line in life. It's an inner vision. I first felt it when I was a teenager, but ignored it until I was around 30. Then I spent a number of years using the inner vision improperly.

When I hit 40 a few years ago, I felt everything fall into place and I knew why I was here. I understood my purpose and my fate.

There are moments when I become frustrated and disillusioned - but I shake it off and the focus quickly returns. The key, which I am still learning, is balance.

Without balance, the rest is useless.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flashdance! What A Feeling...

As I thumbed through the pages of the worn spiral notebook from my life 1980-1982, I came across some random things. The first several pages are the documented list of those who answered my ad [talked about in the previous post]. However, as I get past those pages - I come across a weird snapshot of my life, some 24 years ago.

Like this page: obviously this page was open while I listened to the hosts of Yesterday's Now Music Today, as they rattled off in rapidfire the list of who was coming where, during the concert calendar segment of the show. This had to be 1982, since I wrote that Saturday, November 13 at the LOVE Club was a show with The Sic Kids and Pretty Poison. Below that is ESC, which of course is the East Side Club - seems The Vels, Bunnydrums and Head Cheese were doing some Philly Local thing ... of course Head Cheese went on to become Book of Love.

I wrote City Gardens, but I guess nothing interested me this time around! And, most fun for me - is how I doodled WXPN, Phila 89fm ... who knew back in 1982 that in 2006 I would be marking my 18th year as a staff member of XPN. Life is funny that way.

Another telling image was this detailed grid that I doodled of what my 'radio station' would look like. I remember doing this and all the names are made up - cept for a few. I did actually know a dude named Forest Galaxy from the scene ... so I gave him an overnight slot! How funny that I've been playing radio since I was a kid - complete with dragging my portable turntable down to the dining room and playing tracks from various LPs for my mother and aunt, as they gossiped about life in the kitchen.

It probably explains why I truly love my professional life. I've visioned this path forever and here I am.

These final shots are unique in that they show the development of Philly's first gay youth group. This first picture is the committee list that Robin and I created - probably early 1982. This was the first introduction into the stereotypical lesbian trait of organizing and taking all the fun out of anything (haha - I kid!).

What was a silly mix of kids was going to become something, God Damn it! Sadly, I had other things to focus on in 1982 and by 1983, I was out of the group and into my own personal hell.

This other picture shows the planning I was forced to do by the organized lesbian brigade, to have speakers come to our youth group and talk to us. We had a slated 'Business Meeting' to discuss fundraising activities; an 'Open Discussion' and a visit from someone fromthe newly formed organization 'Parents of Gays'. The most poignant moment in this image is how I wanted to have a doctor come in to talk to us about Ayds.

There are times I wish I could go back to that moment - just to slap us out of our ignorance, but first I'd like to spend a bit of time just relishing the freedoms and untainted vision we all had back then. It will never be the same.


In an earlier post, someone wondered about the personal ads I ran in the Philadelphia Gay News - was I successful in meeting people? What type of people did I meet? And, so on ... So, I thought I'd post about this element of my life. Since if it wasn't for personal ads, I wouldn't be who I am today ... and that is no understatement.

It began with the first personal ad I ever placed - the year was 1980 and I had just graduated George Washington High School. Much of my world was pretty independent at that point - I lived at home, but had no real family structure to speak of. I had my own telephone line since junior year, which I included in my first ad - titled 19 And Under. I was 17 at the time and it was summer ... I knew that I had one more year where I was and then I was moving on ... not quite sure where. So, meeting new people was vital - esp. new gay kids like myself. I needed to develop some form of network.

I ran that ad and met some interesting people - and, for some reason, I felt the need to keep a detailed log of every guy that called my ad. Age, stats, thoughts about the person, etc ... I even had a star system for those that ranked high!

The average age of those responding was 17 ... although I did hear from a few around 24 or so. This first ad, which ran from June 1980 through February 1982, allowed me to meet the first foundation of gay friends I knew.

My first best friend came from this ad - Phil Maynard, in NE Philly. With him, we met more people and created sort of a network of gay teens in the Northeast. I also met two people that I had gone to school with at Swenson Skills Center (a vo/tech school) - along with a sea of other lost boys ... all searching for someone to talk to.

From this ragtag network of young gay men, I met a woman by the name of Robin ... she was a female version of me, complete with a network of lesbians that rivaled my own network. Together we visited the new gay community center in Philly - this was probably May 1981 - and we formed Philadelphia's first Gay Youth Group ... we met every Saturday afternoon at 1pm at the Camac and Locust location and my ad became a way to promote the group and let other teens like myself know that they were not alone. We peaked during the summer of 1982 with close to 60 kids meeting each weekend.

Also from this first ad was a call that would change my life - literally.

November 28, 1981 I received a call from a kid named Bob. He was at a friend's apartment - actually there were several gay teens over the apartment hanging out ... I spent the night talking to each of them and within a week, went over Steve's place (it was his apartment they were calling from). These kids became my foundation for a while - and regulars at the Gay Youth Group.

As much as meeting this lot of kids was important - it wasn't life changing. What was life changing was meeting Steve's roommates at 834 Bainbridge. Their names were Mike and Joe and, if you're a faithful reader, you've figured out that Mike was the ad manager of the PGN ... and together he and I created Au Courant Newsmagazine over the summer of 1982, and launched it the first Tuesday of September.

And it all started with a personal ad.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Catch Me, I'm Falling

The music of those transitional years of the late 80s really bring back memories for me. Songs like Company B's Fascinated, I Can't Wait from Nu Shooz and Jodi Watley's Lookin For A New Love kept me sane during my long trips to and from work, via my walkman and stations like Eagle 106fm. They also entertained me while trapped in my little corner of the world, versus being deep in the center city clubs til all hours of the night. I was stuck in an alternate universe without a road map.

It's fitting that upon entering my exile one of the biggest club hits around - especially here in Philly - was from local faves Pretty Poison. It hit the clubs in 1987 and summed up my life ... "Catch Me (I'm Falling)". I truly had no handle on my life at that moment. I was 23 and clueless as to what I was doing next. Just surviving I guess.

I remember that I cried the first time I heard that song. Go figure, here is this poppy dance hit about love and it brings me to tears. To me, all I could hear was the title being sung over and over ... catch me. I'm falling. catch me.

There was no one to catch me then. I had left all my friends, my world as I knew it, my family as I felt it. I was holed up in a crisp 1959 apartment in the bowels of Northeast Philadelphia, slicing lunchmeat overnight and searching for new people to grab hold of during the times I wasn't sleeping.

I decided to enroll in a tech class for radio, since I had always loved music and the business of radio. The course was a sham and designed to get all students to take out loans - which the "school" got in full and us poor shmucks were stuck paying off for years. It was taught in the 900 block of Arch Street - - which meant that I had to, not only go back into the city during the day ... but I had to travel to the exact same block I had made the hasty decision to change course, just a year ago.

I had gone to Revival a couple times since moving away - but that was late at night and I knew I would be under the radar there ... those that knew me there, respected what I was going through and just celebrated that I was with them. But now I was testing fate - walking through center city during a weekday. Thankfully, the el dropped me off a block away and i would cut through department stores and back entrances to get to the building that housed the school - just to avoid being on any main street. Paranoia had found a home in me and was settling in for the ride. Of course it had company in my ever growing coke habit, which was used to simply mask any markings of reality at that time. I just wanted to get through the day - I had no interest in absorbing what I was doing.

It felt as if I was in a bottomless well - the light at the top was small but visable - I just had to focus. I had spent most of 1987 falling and grabbing onto the sides of something to slow down, pull myself up a bit only to slip and fall some more. The only way I was able to inch myself slowly to the light was to disconnect. I couldn't allow emotions to get in the way of what I was going through.

Then, a break occured over the holidays of 1987 ... volunteers were needed to help wxpn (a station I had listened to faithfully for years) with a new program they were planning to create ... they needed telephone volunteers. I needed a purpose. I was already in the radio 'school', so I jumped at the offer and on January 4, 1988 began as a volunteer for some new radio show for kids. I didn't care what it was, as long as it gave me a sense of being. As long as it allowed me to stop falling.

18+ years later, obviously it did.

Lost And Found

In August of 1986, I left Center City Philadelphia in the blink of an eye - thanks to the unconditional support from my father, who showed up when I needed him and helped me find my footing in unchartered waters. That whole story is here.

Although there are more tales of my city in the early 80s to share - I wanted to jump ahead to those self-imposed exile years of my life in the late 80s. When I placed myself in a new world and learned the fine art of detachment and starting over.

My first month was spent so on the fringe, I felt as if I was in another world. I secured a job working third shifts at WAWA#108, located minutes away from the end of the city - on State Road. To get there, I traveled an hour each way via two buses - then walked the final 1/2 mile to the store. Thank God I had a walkman to keep me company. When I wasn't working, I was sleeping on a couch in a house that represented my life -- the house was located on the last street in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia - when I stared out the kichen window in the back of the house, I saw a good stretch of empty lots, abandoned 18-wheelers and then the Betsy Ross Bridge. The land had been cleared for a combination of ramps from the bridge and an expressway, but the neighborhood protested, so the plan was scrapped and everything froze in time. Ramps stopped in mid-air. Weeds took the place of workers. The street where I slept was a dead-end.

I had found the end of the world ... or perhaps it found me.

Finally, after a humbling experience of cutting everything and everyone out of your life and starting over on someone's couch - my father helped me secure an apartment. It was located on Roosevelt Blvd (US 1) and was this odd space located in a traditional-style home from the 1940s. There were two apartments in the first floor, two on the second and one on the third. I took 2-R .. thankfully 2-F was just storage, so I was somewhat alone.

Here's my first apartment lease - from October 1986. Rent for the 1-bedroom was $320 a month, which included utilities. The property was owned by a polite, but detailed older man. One who was on site just about daily -- doing some home repair project or mowing the lawn or checking up on us to make sure we weren't abusing his property.

The man in the front had lived there since the owner bought the place - nice guy but kept to himself. I assumed he was one of those old drunks. 1-R was vacant soon after I moved in, so I didn't have to worry about making too much foot traffic at least for the start. Above was an older man who also seemed to keep to himself and was rarely home; I later found out he played the horses.

I had gone from being the center of the gay community to living in a apartment house with 2 old reclusive straight men. I grabbed my brown poly pants and my tan poly/cotton shirt and Wawa apron and trudged to work via two buses and the walk. The thing that made me take the space (besides the emotional need to be settled after an exhausting 4 years) was that the place was furnished...But check out the detailed notes my landlord typed into the lease - as to what the apartment contained ...

Apartment contains: refrigerator, 2 kitchen stools, living room sofa, 1 occasional chair, modern bedroom suite (bed, bureau, night table), 2 green room size rugs, 1 table lamp, 1 night table lamp, pedastool with green fern and a few nicknacks and ashtrays, 1 bissel sweeper. Lessee will not install any air conditionier, washer or dryer or freezer. No electric oven broiler permitted. No redecorating permitted. No animals or pets permitted.

OK - when you're at the end of your rope - you take what you can get. The fact is, it was great, since I had nothing. All I had taken with me was two bags of clothes, my records and stereo. However, let's pick this apart: the fridge was about 5 feet tall, the living room sofa (along with the rest of the furnishings) was straight from 1959. The green fern? Plastic.

Oh, why try to explain - here are some pictures of just what the place looked around spring 1987. Grant it ... I was grateful, don't get me wrong. But man... click to enlarge

Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

So - in an earlier post I promised that I would toss the spotlight on some of the items I found while digging through my closet ... the following are some tidbits. Consider it a photo journey through my past.

First this classic image - the first time I straddled a hog! That's my dad in the red t-shirt and my godfather in the leather ... the picture is circa 1964. My dad was 25 in that pic and an avid biker. Love the DA haircut!

Fast forward to 1982 - this was a graph sheet i used to create a personal ad that I ran in the PGN during the spring and summer - this ad was the second ad I had ever placed. The first one was when I was 17 or so and was searching for other gay friends. That ad and this ad helped build the foundation for Philly's first LGBT youth group - which met every Saturday at the old community center.

The headline to this 1982 ad was: TLA or TLC

It read: Take your pick. Friendship or relationship. I'm a GWM, 19, 6'2, 180, br/br, looking to meet new people and make new friends. Now about me, to use an old phrase 'music is my life', esp. dance, new wave and anything off the wall. Also I'm into clothing of all styles esp. 1940s and 1950s. Now i have tons of other interests but i'm out of space, so if you're a GWM 25 or under and would like to know more write to GN code xxxx. Photo/phone if possible. Ciao for now.

Seems like only yesterday.

This next image fast forwards a couple more years to 1985 - it was my annual Management Door Pass for KURT'S, that allowed me free access every night to the club - of course, as I mentioned in earlier posts - KURT'S was located in what used to be the East Side Club and everytime I went, I felt the energy of the old space. Even cheesy gay disco of the 80s couldn't drown it out!

I left center city in 1986 - as detailed in this post - and one thing I had totally forgotten about until i found this paperwork was one of the other ways that Mike Labance tried to smoke me out - by filing paperwork against me to the IRS and fixing the books so I owed taxes that I shouldn't. A levy was placed on my only source of income at the time (working at a Wawa) and I had to take out a loan to pay the tax, since the IRS was pulling $75 a week out of my little weekly check. I could have fought it, but it would have meant stepping back into the ring with Mike and I was truly over it at that point. The odd this is how I totally forgot about this element of my life until I found the recepits and my Wawa check stubs from 86-88.

The final image in this post is from February 1991, and is a letter from Ennes Littrell, then Executive Director of ActionAIDS. It was in 1990 when Larry Biddle of ActionAIDS, along with Julie Drizin of WXPN and myself had a series of lunch meetings to flush out a new fundraising idea we had created. That idea became known as Dining Out For Life and debuted locally in 1991. This is a personal thank you letter from Ennis to me for my role in the launch.

In 1993, ActionAIDS made Dining Out For Life an international event offering licenses to AIDS Service Organizations around the country. Since Dining Out for Life International's founding the event has grown throughout North America and is now produced in over 33 cities. The Board of Dining Out For Life is constantly working to expand the number of licenses around the country, as well as to gain sponsorships that benefit the entire country. On average two to three cities a year are being added. More than 2,500 restaurants a year donate a portion of their proceeds from this one special night of dining to the licensed agency in their city. Over $2 million dollars a year is raised to support the missions of agencies throughout North America. With the exception of the annual licensing fee of $600, all money raised in these cities stays there.

This, along with serving on the founding board of directors and creating MANNA (the Metropolitian AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) back in 1990, are the two things that I am most proud of in my life, when it comes to helping others in need.