The Trust Me Baby-days are over!

A couple of weeks ago an American journalist covering the early years of the AIDS epidemic, contacted me about a man I knew, John Lorenzini.

It is possible to search for names of the dead in an online searchable obituary database created by GLBT Historical Society and Bay Area Reporter : obit.glbthistory.org, and it is also possible to leave notes in memory of someone, and that is where she had found me, as I wrote a few words about John there.

Here is his obituary, I don´t know who wrote it.

John had been my teacher at The AIDS Project of the East Bay in Oakland, in 1987, and I had interviewed him, and tried to stay in touch.

I had also seen him in a film about AIDS, so when we met in Oakland, I was pleasantly surprised.

I was happy to write about him, although I hope to write a special chapter here, about him. So I wrote a bit, but have not heard from the journalist  since then.

It is nice when what I write land somewhere, not only disappears in to cyber space. SHE ACTUALLY GOT BACK TO ME, just as I had published this, so the information landed! It did not disappear. I am happy about that.

But here goes:

“John was SUCH a good speaker –  I still remember, not going back to notes or anything – 32 years later.
He was fast, charismatic, funny, “The Trust Me Baby-days are over!”, he would say, when talking about sex. 
And he was considerate.
I took classes for him in Oakland, at the East Bay AIDS Project, and all of us who were there, be it PWA:s, prison staff, people in the sex industry, volunteers, everyone were told to learn about sexual activities and words. Much unknown to some of us. 
It could be the C word, F-word, etc. but that was just peanuts, they taught us all sorts of words, and the meaning of them, Beaver ( I forgot what that was), Fisting, Golden showers, you name it. And we were supposed to say the words out loud.
I remember the turn came to an older black woman, and you could tell she was struggling, and John came to her rescue, smiling friendly at her and letting her pass. He was such a friendly soul. 
I think he and the others really enjoyed them self, as they talked about men refusing to wear condoms, because they were TOO BIG. They did so, as they were putting on condoms slowly on their forearm, without them breaking, until they reached the elbows.  
John also talked about fear, and AIDS. And he said that the largest sexual organ, is the brain. 
It was hard to believe that he was sick, he was like one of those batteries. SUCH energy!”
I wish you had had a chance to meet him.
I´ll write more about John Lorenzini later.

 

 

 

SHANTI, Coming Home Hospice, San Francisco General Hospital and more…

When I arrived in San Francisco…

I went to SHANTI as soon as I could.  I had been in touch with a woman there, M. , even on the phone from Sweden, and she had told me that she personally knew 12 people with AIDS that I could talk to, and that felt very reassuring.

However, when I came to SHANTI, she was no longer there – she had suddenly quit, and she had not passed my name on to anyone, so I had to start all over again.

On the phone, M. had told me to not get stuck in my original idea, but I did not want to listen to that, at the time, but it turned out to be a very good advice, especially in combination with that she was not there,  which forced me out in the wild, so to speak.

It was such a difference to Sweden, where everything was so very secretive. In San Francisco so many people were involved, and I eventually learned that many of the volunteers, and sometimes staff were HIV –positive themselves, and that there were situations when a nurse would come to an AIDS Ward and realise that he or she knew every patient on that Ward, and didn´t know where to start.

It is still very secretive in Sweden. Had all these often young people died of cancer or in car accidents, and not by HIV/AIDS or suicides related to it, we would have heard about them. But they just disappeared. The book I have written is called There are few who talk about them.

I want to tell you about the people I met in San Francisco and in Oakland, and how I met them. Some people I only call by their first name, others if they were official, by both first and last name. I don´t present them in the order I met them, but by organization, like SHANTI for example, as a person with HIV/AIDS, as a relative, as a volunteer or as a member of the staff.

Some of the hospitals I mention have changed names, but I keep them as it was then.

I listened to a presentation about SHANTI and its volunteers, the Practical Support Volunteers and the Emotional Support Volunteers.

We were told that a client could get a volunteer if he or she had about 6 months to live.

The Practical Support Volunteer would help with cleaning, doing laundry, shopping etcetera – to save time for the client to do other things.

The Emotional Support Volunteer would be there for a certain amount of time per week, to help the client.

One thing that happened during the presentation, was that we who were visiting were asked to introduce ourselves, and one man in the audience turned out to be a Swedish man, working for the Swedish church.

He said he had read a book I had written 10 years earlier about dying patients in Sweden and at a hospice in England, and that was a pleasant surprise.  Sten L. eventually turned out to be a good help at San Francisco General Hospital, SFGH.

But back to SHANTI. I kept on asking for help, for days, and I was eventually given some names of People with AIDS, and one volunteer. If I remember it correctly it was Chris Sandoval who helped me. I met him in connection with an AIDS conference in Sweden, some years later, and he kindly updated me on how people were.

The first names were Keith and Gery. They had been together for a very long time, and had decided that if one of them died, the other one would follow.

Through them I met Sarah, who was Gery´s emotional volunteer from SHANTI.  She introduced me to another client she had, Larry, a man who lived with his cat almost as in a hole in the wall, squeezed in between two apartments.

Dave Lawson. We had decided to meet outside SHANTI, and as I walked towards him I saw all his KS lesions, and a very friendly smile.  Dave turned out to be a friend of Meredith Miller, a woman with AIDS that I have written about before in this blog. But that was something I found out about later.

Daniel Witt, an actor and teacher from the UK.

Robert Pittman, a playright. Apart from being a spokesperson for SHANTI, he was also a volunteer for Open Hand, that delivered food to people who were too sick to go out and buy food or cook, or too scared to show themselves.

Robert got me in touch with Ruth Brinker, who started Open Hand in a church, and he also brought me along to the kitchen in the church, to make sandwiches.

Gary Shepard, an actor and filmmaker, who was an Emotional Support Volunteer for SHANTI.

At the AIDS Ward 5 A at San Francisco General Hospital, I met two SHANTI counselors, who were there to help the patients and their families to cope, showing family members that it was ok to touch a person with AIDS.

They were Ron Henderson, who was also a man with HIV, and Ed Wolf, now well known from the film We were there and what he is writing about this time.

I had originally gone to SFGH to try to find Alison Moëd, the Head Nurse at the AIDS Ward 5 A, but it was not easy to just show up at the Ward.

While there I ran in to the man from the Swedish church, Sten L.  He brought me to the Chaplain´s Office at the hospital, and introduced me to Chaplain Connie Hartquist and several of the volunteers, among them Laurie Dunlap, who became the first person I interviewed in San Francisco. She eventually brought me naturally in to the AIDS Ward.

 

When still in Sweden I had met an American Catholic priest, Father Thomas Weston, and he turned out to be very helpful.

He introduced me to Peggy Ferro Guinto, a nurse´s aide at Kaiser hospital in San Francisco, where she had worked actively to start the AIDS Ward.

Peggy introduced me to a nun, Sister Mercedes Reygadas who volunteered at the hospital, and to Judi Stone, a museum photographer who had lost her only child, Michael, when he was 19 years old.

Peggy was also the one who told me about the Names project, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, where every Panel, as big as an American grave, carries the name of a person that has died of HIV/AIDS.

Through the Names project, I got in touch with its founder, Cleve Jones, and I met Joy Wallace who worked as a volunteer at Names project.

While visiting the Names project I suddenly saw AIDS activist and porn star Richard Locke come trough the door. I had seen him in a film about AIDS in San Francisco, and asked if I could interview him, and he said yes. I have already written about him in this blog. Richard Locke – The Swirling Dervish, A Whirling Dervish, but not about the interview. I will get back to that.

Back to Alison Moëd, I really wanted to get in touch with her, but I did not know how to do it.  I stood in the doorway of AIDS Ward 5 A, looking in (not daring to enter, because I had no legitimate reason to be there) trying to get a glimpse of her, and I finally ended up leaving her a letter.

I was adviced by her to contact the Press office to arrange a meeting, and when that had been taken care of, I ended up at a press conference in the hospital for the President´s Commission on the HIV Epidemic.

As we waited for the press conference to start, I talked to a man who sat beside me, Jeff Shannon, who was there with a journalist from San Francisco Sentinel.  SHANTI had different houses for People with AIDS, and Jeff was living in one of them, but he had been asked to leave. He refused to leave and he was instead suing SHANTI.

Through Jeff Shannon I was later introduced to two AIDS activists, Dan Turner and Leonard Matlovich.  They were at the time active in A Time to Shine, collecting money to help People with AIDS to go to the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, in October.

But, back to the press conference.

I noticed a young man angrily asking questions to the people on the Commission. I walked up to him afterwards, asking if he was always that angry, and we started talking. His name was Keith Griffith.

We met for lunch the next day, and he gave me a whole list of names. It was friends, activists, people in the Sex industry, and more.  I called several of them, but only got one answer, and that was from a SHANTI volunteer, Brad Cochran.

Keith who turned out to be HIV positive, brought me to his home, so I could meet his partner, Jay Rindal, who was very sick.

 

Father Thomas Weston, and a woman in Berkeley had helped me get in to a program in Oakland, The AIDS Project of the East Bay, and there I met new people.

It was a real surprise to see that John Lorenzini, that I had also seen in a documentary on AIDS in San Francisco, was there as a teacher.

There were many speakers in the different classes, and I got in touch with two of them, Charles S. and AJ. Williams, and a man who took the same classes as I did, Ted,  and his mother who was visiting from another part of the US. All three men were HIV positive.

I also got to know Bea Roman from SHANTI. She was there to lead us in a Death visualization, to confront our fears surrounding our own death.  I was still upset about my mother’s death, so I didn´t want to do it, but she talked me in to it, and it was an interesting experience. We later met at the SHANTI office.

In San Francisco I visited Coming Home Hospice, and went on a booked tour in the former convent, but it seemed impossible to get in touch with someone staying there, to interview. (I have mentioned my visit there in a previous post, people were either so very sick, or unable to communicate because their mind was going.)

But one day I interviewed a social worker at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center, Roberta Hanus, and as I was about to leave, I saw a man in a wheel chair coming towards her door.

He was wearing a hat, a white negligee, a trenchcoat, and he was holding a teddybear.

He introduced him self as Robert D. Osborne, staying at Coming Home Hospice, and yes, I could come and visit and we could talk.

When I came there I also met his partner, Perry S. Wood, and volunteers Iris P. and Joyce Wallace that I had met at Names Project.  She volunteered even at Coming Home Hospice.

 

The reason I had gone to Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center was because I wanted to visit a man I had met on a course called Care for caregivers, lead by Raymond Jacobs.

His name was  John LoCoco, he was a devout Catholic, active in Most Holy Redeemer Church across the street from Coming Home Hospice.

The Pope was coming to San Francisco, and John had been chosen to meet the Pope, as a Person with AIDS, together with a group of people from the church.

John and his partner were patients at the hospital, but on this occasion John was there as a volunteer. He helped other people on the AIDS Ward.

 

I was adviced to contact several other people.

Ray D. a man who took me to the AIDS Ward at SFGH to show me how he touched people and gave massage. I became too involved with one of the patients, an upset German man, so Ray asked me to leave as it disturbed his work, but I came back several times for the German man.

Jack Pantaleo, a volunteer who played the Harp. He taught me new ways of thinking.

Catherine Maier, a women´s specialist at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I met several women together with Catherine, also Meredith Miller.

Through Meredith I got to know two men, Jon Cole, that she spoke together with at a conference,  and eventually her roommate, Michael Crisp.

More names will follow, but this is the beginning.

Had I met the twelve people with AIDS, I probably would never have met these people. I am still in touch with several of them, so many years later.

Remembering Meredith…

I was on the AIDS Ward 5 A at San Francisco General Hospital, in the middle of an interview with Ed Wolf, one of the SHANTI counselor´s, when the door to the office suddenly opened and a woman called out : What? What?! Cancer? That too???!!! And then she left.  This was in the fall of 1987.

I later learned that her name was Meredith Miller, and that she was one of the few women who through SHANTI went public as a Woman with AIDS.

I ran in to her on several occasions, and I heard her speak at a conference. She said she was living proof, that women can get AIDS.

Here she is talking about her situation:

“If I tell you I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the normal reaction is ‘Oh, do you need anything? How are you feeling?’ If I say I have AIDS, the first question is ‘How did you get it? What have you been doing?’

Nobody cares that I am sick, that I hurt, that I’m tired all the time, that each movement is painful. They hear AIDS, and they have a preconceived idea of my life-style and my morality.

Hey, nobody told me about AIDS! What is my crime? That I loved somebody too much?” — by Meredith Miller, a mother of two, who died of AIDS in August 27, 1988. Meredith was 33 years old.

🎥 CBS News Special: AIDS Hits Home (1986)
📖 Fee, Elizabeth, and Daniel M. Fox, editors
AIDS: The Making of a Chronic Disease. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992.

https://instagram.com/p/B4f_HUOFWrm/“If I tell you I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the normal reaction is 'Oh, do you need anything? How are you feeling?' If I say I have AIDS, the first question is 'How did you get it? What have you been doing?'Nobody cares that I am sick, that I hurt, that I'm tired all the time, that each movement is painful. They hear AIDS, and they have a preconceived idea of my life-style and my morality.Hey, nobody told me about AIDS! What is my crime? That I loved somebody too much?" — by Meredith Miller, a mother of two, who died of AIDS in August 27, 1988. Meredith was 33 years old.🎥 CBS News Special: AIDS Hits Home (1986)📖 Fee, Elizabeth, and Daniel M. Fox, editorsAIDS: The Making of a Chronic Disease. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1992.#whatisrememberedlives #theaidsmemorial #aidsmemorial #neverforget #endaids

Slået op af The AIDS Memorial i Tirsdag den 5. november 2019

 

She talked about her children, a boy and a girl, how she had to give them up, so they would not be stigmatized by her being a Woman with AIDS.

There is a lot to tell about Meredith Miller, that I hope to write about later.  But right now I want to post a text I wrote for SHANTI in 1988, after her death.

The reason is that Alison Moëd, the former Head nurse at the AIDS Ward 5 A, asked me if I knew Meredith. I wrote that I didn´t know her, but that we had met, and that I knew a lot about her, because I had interviewed her friend and roommate, Michael Crisp.

It turns out, that Meredith´s daughter, now a grown woman, had asked Alison for information about her mother. I had wondered what became of Meredith´s children, so I was thrilled, and we are now in contact. Little did I know that my interviews and notes would be helpful to her, 31 years later.

Here is what I wrote about Meredith, printed in a SHANTI Volunteer Memo, in December 1988.  (I mention photos in the text, but I don´t have access to them, because Michael Crisp has passed away since.)

For Meredith Miller

I came to San Francisco from Sweden, in part to see how you were, only to be told that you had died on August 27th. I met you last year when you were giving a speech in Oakland. I had heard so much about you and tried to get an interview but was told that you were very very tired. But there you were, preaching in a loud and harsh voice that women with AIDS like yourself were stigmatized, were called junkies and whores.

And you said, “Has it ever occurred to any of you that someone with AIDS might actually have loved?”

You told us horror-stories about your former lover´s struggle and death in AIDS, and about your own struggle to survive, and to make sure that your children were provided for. You had had to give them up since you had no chance of taking care of them as they grew older.

You told us that you were preparing one file for each child, with photos and articles and personal notes, to be given to the children when they were old enough to understand, and so they would know who their mother had been.  It was good to hear that Michael, your roommate and friend, had sent those files off to your children soon after you died.

You were angry when we met, and I have been told that that was not at all unusual, that you were always angry – “since the day she was born” says Michael – and that you fought until the day you died, when you could no longer speak or move by yourself.  I have heard so much about you: that you were badly hurt by life, that you went from one tragedy to another. And once I heard you say that getting AIDS was  just SO typical for your life – if anyone was  to get AIDS, it would be you! Of course!

I have been told about your struggle and your pain, about your courage to stand up in front of millions, in front of the world, as a woman with AIDS.

I have been told about how you were trying to keep up the mask, how you held on to your pride and rage, and I have heard about the loyalty and generosity, about your humor ( the laughter and the tears), about your need for silence, and about how, as death moved closer, you more and more rejected the fact that you were actually dying.

Your memorial took place in the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park, here in San Francisco, where you had found so much support, especially from the gay community.  Dave (Lawson), one of the few people you let near you, said he found it appropriate where the memorial was held because he saw you, symbolically, as a rose with all its thorns poking out.

I was never a friend of yours. We did share cigarettes, but I don´t think I “passed the test”.  However I am a woman and, even if all your thorns told me to stay away, I DID care about you and I am greatly upset about the silence that surrounds your death. I have a hard time fitting you in among all the numbers of dead people in San Francisco, so many that the population here seems to slowly be getting numbed out.

As I am looking at your face in photographs, I see a face that never tried to flatter me or to beg for mercy, I see a TRUE expression, devoid of all games and manipulations. I see strength and pride and dark dark eyes. I did not see, until Michael showed me, that your face does not ask for my attention but demands it as you were “living proof!”.  As you started to deteriorate, your features changed and, in some photos, you look like a starving animal.

Michael will soon scatter parts of your white ashes and, according to old Egyptian tradition, break your cups. I hope that you will find peace on the top of Mt. Tamalpais.

I asked your friend Brian Smith why no one had written about you, especially in one of the SHANTI publications, as a “fallen hero” in the battle against AIDS and he said: “Can you imagine how many deaths we experience every week?” And then he added “Merry would have vomited if she was called a hero!”, and he suggested that I write my feelings about you. So here I am, writing about you,  and I hope I have not made you sick. I am from the other side of the world and I hope that you are satisfied to hear that your harsh voice has reached that far.

I asked Brian if I could quote from the letter you sent him, and that he read at your memorial service, and here are parts of it:

“It makes me sad that you want to say good-bye when the time comes. I tell you that all you have to do is think of me, and it will make my star shine a little brighter; I will be laughing, and you know how spontaneous that laughter can be. Do you really think that AIDS can kill my tears and my laughter? Do you think that this love that I carry within can die? My spirit is eternal and flies upon an endless plain. There will be times… an ocean breeze that caresses your face, the scent of a flower, the call of a wild animal and you will hear me, feel me near you and know that I love you. Look for the flight of the hawk, who can watch you from such a great height. I will hear you too and know that I have a friend… forever.

And so, my dearest gentle giant, don´t be sad, if perchance, this existence should be cut short without the formal farewells… it will be a new beginning. Here is a dream for you: When we were in the mountain, lying in the quiet embrace of the granddaddy pines, I thought in my heart that if you could have held me there and I could have let my spirit free, then, surely I would have been in heaven.

A sentimental letter, but save it for when I am no longer in the physical and you will see what I mean…”

The final words of that letter was:  I love you Dear one, with all my heart !!!

She signed the letter with the name: Spoken sky

Here is the late Michael Crisp, walking in the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco, where names of people who died of HIV/AIDS are engraved, in ever widening circles.

I know that Meredith´s name is there now. Friends of hers added it.

A PS.

Since I wrote this, Meredith´s son has found me, and he and his sister are now in contact.

As Meredith would say: My Heart!

DS

 

Living with Bay Area Reporter

Living with Bay Area Reporter, BAR.

I started collecting obituaries in BAR in 1987, when I came to San Francisco for the first time. I eventually had a whole stack of them, with hundreds and hundreds of names and photos. In between my visits, a friend of mine that I got to know at BAR, Ann Soucy, sometimes helped me collect obituaries and send them to me.

One must remember that there were people that died that no one wrote about, and, that there were people who did not want to be “BAR- Angels”, as someone said to me.

But I have obituaries until the end of 1993. Not all of them, but many. I show them,when I occasionally speak about my work in churches and libraries – to make people understand what it was like in San Francisco, and in other places in the world.

My work with hiv/aids has been going on for many years, and during all those, often very lonely years, they have kept me going.  I have only had to look at the photos, and it all starts again.  As right now, it is in the middle of the night, and I am not tired.

I have wondered what they did in life and what their interests were. How was their death portrayed, who was there when they died, what did their often extended families look like, including cats and dogs, and what charities did they choose?

Obituaries became less poetic over the years,  and just said that the person died, or passed away, or passed away peacefully, often after a valiant battle with AIDS. In 1993 (maybe also before that) BAR changed its policy regarding obituaries:

I thought I would pick out passages from some of the obituaries that were a bit different.  There are so many, but… I begin with a quote by Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825), that was printed in an obituary for Ralph J. MacNeil Jr. 

“Each departed friend is a magnet that attracts us to the next world.”

Chef Timothy Levens 

Bratsy Patsy packed her bags, kissed her lover of 16 years, Kenyon Marsh, goodbye, slipped from the bondage of this life, and caught an express elevator to the stars.

William C. Morgan

On the morning of Friday July 21, Will´s free and independent spirit passed quietly into God´s hands.

He was buried in the family plot in Buffalo, Texas “overlooking rolling hills with trees and open pasture where stallions run free…as free as his soul.”

Gary Lee Brown 

After a long fight with AIDS, Gary Lee passed to a beautiful world full of shining colors with very much love and admiration.

Fred MacKissic 

During the final 22 months of his life, Fred calmly and courageously struggled with AIDS while continuing to help and support those around him. Refusing medication at the last, he died happy and peaceful.

Dennis McCool 

Dennis´ journey here ended as a new door opened for him and he peacefully crossed the threshold. His positive and healthy attitude, mixed with just the right dash of stubbornness, helped him fight strongly against tremendous obstacles presented him by AIDS.

James W. McClure

On February 6 at 6 p.m., as a full moon was rising into a clear winter sky, our dear Jim rose gently into the light.

Joseph Holloway

Early in the morning of July 22, 1993, Joseph Holloway´s life was stolen from him. An insidious plague of homophobia and government inaction stripped him of his dreams and forever ended his tomorrows.

A virus only destroys if it is left unchecked. A decade of presidents not only left the virus unchecked, but fanned a conflagration of ignorance, hate and ineptitude. In 1993 Joseph Holloway did not die from AIDS, he was murdered by it.

Randall James Whittaker

Rand took his leave of this world and flew with his angels early St. Patrick´s Day. He fulfilled his wish to depart through his lover´s arms.

On August 13, 1998, the front page of BAR said: No Obituaries

The first AIDS Ward and more…

I have just moved house to be close to my little grandchild, so I have not written anything. But I will.

Before I do – in a few days the film 5B about the first AIDS Ward at San Francisco General Hospital, will open. It has already been shown at the film festival in Cannes.

One of the nurses in the film, Alison Moëd, was one of the first people I interviewed at San Francisco General Hospital, in 1987.

A relative of mine just sent me this article about it:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5b-aids-documentary-dan-krauss_n_5d024856e4b0985c4198e844?guccounter=1

I hope you can open it.

Tomorrow I am off to Gothenburg, to speak in a church on Sunday. Pride finishes in Gothenburg tomorrow, Saturday.

I will speak about my book, and the work I have done, but I will also talk about a similar service that took place in Stockholm, in 1990, in Storkyrkan.

Pride in Stockholm always ends in that church, with a service called Kärlekens Mässa / A service of Love, with communion and all. The church is usually packed with people.

Before the service, we who were to participate, gathered in the vestry.  While there we were told that a gay man had been stabbed to death in Gothenburg. It gave the service a new and very serious and chilling dimension.

It turned out that this man had been provoked by two men outside a gay club, and he didn´t back off, but went after them and that sealed his fate. He was cornered, and then stabbed, 40 or 50 times.

Both men turned out to be very young, 19 and 22, and neo-nazis.  They went to jail for this, but not for long. One of them has killed another gay man since. He thinks it is his right. If he is alive, he must be 55 years old or so, these days.

During the trial, one of the older female Nazis was there to support the young men. She was interviewed about it, and she said: We don´t see Homosexuals as people. We regard this as cleansing!

My part in the service was to read, and I read a poem called ”Death is nothing at all” by Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), and finished by mentioning all the men I had known, or known of, that had passed away in hiv/aids. They were so many that I forgot some of them.

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other

That we are still

Call me by my own familiar name

Speak to me in the easy way you always used

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was

Let it be spoken without effort

Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever was

There is absolute unbroken continuity

What is death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind

Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval

Somewhere very near

Just around the corner

All is well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Locke – A Swirling Dervish! A Whirling Dervish!

Richard Locke – A Swirling Dervish!
I was hoping I could do this work in a chronological order, but things happen, so I will improvise now and then.

Since I wrote my previous post, I got in touch with Richard Locke´s brother, Robert Locke, who is an actor and an author.
We met in 2014, and he told me about Richard, and took me to his grave.

(I asked Robert to correct me, if something was wrong, and he pointed out that it is called Whirling Dervish, but he wrote: “But I rather prefer “Swirling Dervish” because that is so like what Richard might have said.”, so I don´t change it.)

When I interviewed Richard in 1987 – and that was a wild interview that I will write about later – he told me that AIDS was behind him… He had become an activist, trying to smuggle medicines from Mexico. He wanted to fight, he wanted to raise hell, and become a Swirling Dervish!

Robert Locke has written an interesting and moving text about his brother:

http://webpages.csus.edu/~boblocke/extext/living.html

A Biographical Fragment of Robert and Richard Locke.”Robert Locke´s account of his brother Richard Locke´s struggle with AIDS.”

.

Not better than a pimp…

Not better than a pimp…

During the summer of 1987, some drastic things happened to me.
I received a scholarship, so I could go to the US to interview people with AIDS, and that made me contact several organisations in New York and San Francisco, like People With AIDS Coalition in New York and SHANTI in San Francisco.

My mother died suddenly on June 30th, and although expected since childhood because of her substance abuse, it was shocking when it actually happened, and I was quite out of it for a while. But work has always helped me, so I concentrated on the upcoming journey. My mother was a journalist, so I pretended that we now worked together, and I constantly talked to her.

As mentioned before I worked in a graveyard in 1986, so when problems occured with my mother´s ashes, I didn´t hesitate to pick her up at a crematorium (in a forest, that was creepy!) and spread the ashes myself. The wind twisted and turned while I was doing it, so I came away from that experience with ashes actually all over me.

Before I left, I watched two documentaries on AIDS in San Francisco, and I specifically noticed three people; a former Mormon, a pornstar and a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.

I came to the US with a Letter of Recommendation from RFSL, the gay movement in Sweden, and names of people I had been told to contact.
I had already made contact with Missionaries of Charity that had a hospice in Greenwich Village for people with AIDS, Gift of Love, and Bailey House that helped people with AIDS in low income – they still do. I hade also contacted Hale House in Harlem, because I really wanted to meet Mother Hale, who took in babies with AIDS.
Visiting New York turned out to be rather overwhelming. I was not prepared for what was to happen.
What I will write about took place during two or three days.

Meeting Mother Hale, or Clara McBride Hale, was very nice. She was rather old then, born 1905, and she did not say much, but I was happy to have met this good person, who took in more than 1000 children until her health declined. Unwanted children, crack babies, children with HIV/AIDS. When praised, even by President Reagan, she said that she just loved children.
I was shown the day care center, and she told me that they did not test the children for HIV, they just assumed that they had the virus, because their parents were either sick or dead.
She introduced me to her daughter, Dr. Lorraine Hale who was a cofounder of Hale House, and also worked there. She really surprised me, when I told her about my work, and what I wanted to do, by asking, as in disbelief: Do you touch them?!
To this day I wonder, if it was so dangerous, how she could let her mother do the work she did?

(There is a lot to tell about Dr Hale and what happened after the death of Mother Hale in 1992, but this is not the place. One can Google about it. )

I had been in contact with Mother Superior at Gift of Love in Greenwich Village, and I was invited to visit, but when I came there I was stopped just inside the door, by a very angry nun. Who was I? What did I want?
Mother Superior was out of town, and I could not prove we had been in contact, so I just had to leave.

Sal Licata, a well known AIDS activist in New York told me about Gift of Love. He said it was actually an alternative prison for people with AIDS. They lived and died there.

I should write something about the people I write about. So many of them have died, and some people that reads this probably knows that Sal Licata died many years ago, but I would forever have to write the late Sal Licata, the late … so I have decided not do that, their deaths will come up eventually.

A more positive visit was at the office of People With AIDS Coalition. They had a little house in a garden, and I spent some hours there, helping out by folding papers and putting them into envelopes, and then I watched a makeup artist teach a man with AIDS how to cover the Kaposis Sarcoma lesions he had on this face.

I was invited to visit a hospital in the Bronx, where they treated children with AIDS. The nurse that had invited me was very serious when I came. I had to leave all my belongings in her locker, and she searched me, to make sure I did not bring a camera with me.

I was to meet a child with AIDS, and she brought me in to a rather dark room, where a little black boy sat alone in a crib. I do not know if that was where he slept, or if he was placed there for me to see him.
The suspicion against me was palpable, that I had a camera stashed away somewhere on me, but I didn´t. It is only for my inner eye, that I still see this little boy, alone in the crib.
I don´t remember if I touched him, I really hope I did, I just remember him standing up in the crib, wanting to have contact. It was the saddest moment.

The nurse told me that the children in the ward had never lived anywhere else. One good thing had happened, and that was that they had been given a van, so they could take the children out on trips.

My final meeting in New York, was at Bailey House in Greenwich Village. I was told that they took in people with AIDS on low income.

I had booked a meeting with a man called Dave.
I introduced my self and my idea and asked if he could help me meet someone with AIDS, to interview. But, his reaction to what I said was dramatic.
No, he told me. Nothing I said was true. He angrily told me that I was a user, and that he would not be better than a pimp, if he helped me, and I better be on my way. Trying to reason with him, was impossible.
I somehow managed to get out of that office, in tears, and after all this, I knew I was not going to be able to do any work in New York.

But why did all this happen?
The press had obviously been trying aggressively to get glimpses of people with AIDS, even children with AIDS.
Sal Licata told me that People Magazine had lured a woman with AIDS, at Bailey House, and had taken photos of her in the bath etcetera. And there had probably been other things happening.

But this was the final straw for me, and I left for San Francisco, thinking it might be different there.
I was hoping to meet the former Mormon, John Lorenzini, the pornstar Richard Locke who created parties at the AIDS Ward in San Francisco General Hospital, (together with a woman called Rita Rockett), and the nurse, Alison Moëd and others. And I did.

I did not know what to do…

I have realised that I have to go back and forth between what happened years ago, and what happens now.

Tomorrow I will speak for a group of HIV positive people at the Posithiva Gruppen/The Posithive Group in Stockholm, and tell them about my work in Sweden and in San Francisco, between 1986 – 2018.

The first time I spoke for that specific group was in 1992. I had been back and forth to San Francisco, following up interviews from 1987, and I was going to tell them about the people that I had interviewed. But as I stood there, it struck me that most of the people I had spoken to had since died, and that the men sitting in front of me… I just froze for a while, and then I almost jumped! from the subject, and started talking about the Names Project. I had brought fabric and pen´s with me, and suggested that they should do a Panel for their friends that had passed away, and they immediatly started.

They called it Lovers and Friends, Sweden. 

I did one too,  called To Be a Witness – a Book to be. 

The two men holding the Panels were Tommy and Calle, a couple. Very nice people, a great support.

Tommy, who stands alone, became very depressed at times, and he was saved from several suicide attempts. He became blind, and died in hospital, after a sudden desperate burst of hope, because of DNCB.

Calle was struck with a number of diseases; expressive aphasia, brain damage and paralysis on one side. He only saw two colours, green and red, and the nurse that took care of him, said that he was “lonely in his brain”.  He died about a year after Tommy.

Calle had specific wishes for his coffin. He wanted to rest on silk sheets, he wanted to be dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, and he wanted to bring along a bottle of whisky, in the coffin.

At this time, in these circles, with so many funerals, I think especially the caretaker Krister Pettersson, that I have mentioned several times, let go of a lot of rules, so, on this occasion, since the bottle could not go in to the Crematorium, Krister and the nurse poured  whisky all around Calle in the coffin. But that was a few years later.

 

When we had made the Panels, they were sent Express, Door-to Door, to Washington, DC, and one of the volunteers found them, so they were part of the display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Tomorrow I will speak for a group of HIV positive people, I don´t know if there are any long time survivors among them, but after all those years, the situation is quite different from when I stood there, not knowing what to do.  I will tell them this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some words, while I recover…

I was going to write a piece about my attempts to talk to people in New York in 1987, but I´m sick in a mixture of asthma, allergy and very strong Granchild-germs.

But I want to leave you with some words, that have been on my mind lately.

I think it was in 2014, that my friend, the late Michael Crisp, took to me the  National Aids Memorial Grove in San Francisco, where names of the dead are engraved in circles.

He showed me a poem by Thom Gunn (1929 -2004), that is also engraved in the monument:

Walker within this circle pause
Although they all died of one cause
Remember how their lives were dense
With fine compacted difference

 

When Angels smile…

A little bit more about the name of my blog.

When I came to San Francisco in 1987, I got to meet Gary Shepard. He was one of the ”Emotional Support volunteers” at SHANTI.
Before I met him, I spoke to another volunteer, Brad, who turned out to be HIV positive, and he really admired Gary because of his commitment to his clients, and said that if he got sick he would like Gary to be there with him, as a volunteer.

I interviewed Gary about his work, and he told me about some of his clients. I want to tell you about one of them, because even I met him, at Coming Home Hospice, in the Castro District in San Francisco.

Ed hade dementia and could no longer speak, but the could do two things; smoke and smile.
He was lying in his bed smoking, skinny arms and legs protruded from the white sheets. He was not to be left alone while smoking, so there was always someone with him when he smoked. Even I, who was a smoker at the time, spent some time with him when I visited Coming Home Hospice.
But that was not the only reason why people entered his room, they came because of his smile. If I should try to liken it to something, I would use the words angelic and Infinite goodness, and you wanted to be smiled at like that, over and over again, it was almost addictive.
When Ed was dying he was given Oxygen, and Gary told me that Ed moved his hand, slowly, back and forth, back and forth, as as if he was still smoking. Gary stayed with him until a few hours before his death, but as soon as Gary had come home, they called from the hospice and said that Ed had passed away.

Gary talked about his work as a volunteer. He described himself as a witness to the suffering of his clients. If no one saw what they were going through, it would be meaningless. I liked those words, and decided that my work was to be called To be a witness, since I am a witness.
Many years passed, and there was and is, a silence around HIV/AIDS, and when my book about what I had seen in Sweden came, I called it Det är få som talar om dem/ There are few who talk about them.

When I had decided to write a blog about what I had seen in San Francisco, I searched the Internet for the words To be a witness, but often found religious pages, religious testimonies, so I added the word really, and that worked: To really be a witness. To really see, and really hear.

Gary and Ed are just a few of the people I want to write about. I was lucky enough to meet so many ”teachers” in San Francisco, clients, lovers and family members, volunteers and hospital staff, that I followed, for as long as it was possible.

I want to end by saying that Gary, that we will hear more about in the blog, kept Ed´s ashes in his home for four months, when he, together with a friend of Ed´s, spread his ashes under the Golden Gate Bridge.