A friend of mine dropped me off at the Shanti Residence where Jeff Shannon lived, a man I had met at San Francisco General Hospital, during the press conference for the Presidents AIDS Commission. I had been told he was going to evicted by Shanti.
I invited Jeff to breakfast, at a Bagel café.
When we got there, Jeff became very agitated. He came from New York City where they had REAL bagels, and he let the man behind the counter know that. So it took some time for him to complain, return the bagel he got, and then finally decide that he wanted a Croissant. After all that, we could start talking.
Jeff was very well dressed, and his hair was nicely cut. He had glasses and a mustache. Just looking at him, you could not tell that he was sick.
Jeff was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he came to New York in 1974, when he was 19 years old.
He had known he was gay since childhood. He had liked to look at pictures of men with bare chests, that he saw in the corner drugstore.
He made his sexual debut in Ohio, in a Bath house, and that was when he realized that he was not the only one with these feelings.
- You know, that I wasn´t a freak or bad or wrong, you know, that there were other people like me. It was very gratifying.
Jeff´s mother passed away when he was young, and his father traveled a lot, so Jeff´s sister was his only safety as they moved around and changed schools.
- So dominant mother – absent father – theory for my homosexuality, doesn´t really count. Although my father was absent a lot. So my mother was gone by the time I discovered what was going on, and yeah, I told my dad right away.
The relationship with his sister was not good at the moment, he had asked her to not contact him for a while. He needed to ”clean up the relationships in my life that were causing me distress and pain.” He needed to take care of him self.
Jeff thought that she had never accepted that he was gay, but couldn´t say it, so it was always something else that she was angry about. Until he got AIDS, and she HAD to accept that he was gay, and that there was a possibility that he might die.
She did not have children, and he thought that ”in the back of her mind she always believed that maybe one day I would somehow… get God and get a wife, you know, and somehow give her little nieces and nephews”, but by now she probably understood that that was not going to happen.
It was his sister who persuaded him to tell his father that he had AIDS, she thought it was his responsibility.
They had never had a good relationship, Jeff and his father, but decided to stay in touch through letters and on the phone, but it had died out. But Jeff had a good relationship with an aunt and uncle, that had come to San Francisco, specifically to see him. He said they were very warm and loving, and almost like surrogate parents to him. They had even helped him financially.
But back to his youth.
It was filled with alcohol and drugs and it escalated when he came to New York and started working in restaurants. He was finally in such a bad shape that he would start his mornings by drinking vodka straight from the bottle.
That is when he joined Alcoholic Anonymous.
He got himself out of the restaurant world, because that is where he drank to handle the stress, and started working in offices, and eventually advanced so that he could start working at Wall Street. But he wasn´t happy. He understood that he was just trying to impress his father, who was working in the construction business. He thought his father was impressed by men in suits, who had gone to college and worked at Wall Street.
What he really wanted to do was to work in the film industry, as a Film Stills Photographer.
But just as he was starting to take classes, and doing his thing, his breathing changed, and he became very tired, and was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia.
In the article he says that he was working as a photographer, but I don´t think he ever made it to the Film Industry, it may just have been a wish of his that he put out there, or maybe he had just started when he got sick.
I wondered if he had a partner, but he hsaid no. He talked about his childhood, and his many years of substance abuse, and said that he had closed off his heart. That he had been ”completely incapable of reaching out to anybody else.” AIDS had taught him, he said, a whole lot about his heart.
Jeff said he was learning to love him self and others.
- What I realized about three months ago was that I had closed down my genitals completely, and opened up my heart, and my genitals weren´t getting any fun either, so the last three months I have been working on achieving a balance between my heart and my genitals.
Jeff had never had a long term relationship. He didn´t think he was emotionally equipped for it. But maybe now, after three years of therapy, a lot of self examination, personal growth – and a diagnosis.
- I´m finally really beginning to emerge as my own full fledged adult human being, without anybody else´s approval. My approval is all that counts.
- So can I ask you, how did you live, apart from your work?
- I went out. During the drinking and drugging age, I went to the bath´s a lot – at least once a week. I was dancing at the disco every weekend. I was spending my weekends at the beach in the summer, and on the streets of New York in the winter, going to coffee houses, and… I had a fun time. I had a great time! I enjoyed it very much. It wasn´t until 1979, that all the drinking and the drugging began to catch up with me. So I only had a period of about three years where it was really horrible, you know.
Jeff used anything he could get his hands on, during his active years as a drug abuser.
- I did cocaine, LSD, I never did IV drugs, you know, but I did any kind of powders, pills and gases that I could find to ingest, mostly on the dance floor or during sex.
- I did Poppers, I did … stuff that I don´t even know what it was. But you know, just chemicals that make you high.
- Do you think it had anything to do with you being gay? That it helped you being gay?
- No. As far as low self esteem is concerned … I had plenty of reasons to feel bad about my self, outside of my sexuality.
Jeff talked about not being loved, what he called ”therapy crap”, but about being homosexual – he had understood it so early, ”it seemed to be such a deep part of me, that I never felt bad about my self being gay.”
Jeff did not have a religious upbringing, but had joined the Episcopal Church when he was in seventh or eigth grade, and said that it had provided him with a lot of comfort for many years. He had not left the church, but carried his own spiritual relationship with him.
- That´s been very helpful during the last year or so.
I wondered about AA and the Twelve-step program. Jeff had gone to Gay AA-meetings in New York.
- Did you find the program good?
- Saved my life! Saved my ass! I mean I´m here because of it. So yeah, very good.
Jeff was diagnosed in June of 1986, and he came to San Francisco in September. He had known for some time that he was carrying the virus.
I wondered what made him take the test the first time.
- Oh, well, I´m a gay man, you know, I was 30 years old, I was living in New York City, and my friends around me dropping like flies. I hate that image though, ít´s not a very good one, but they were dying all around me.
The doctor had told him to not take the test, because he was not sure about confidentiality, but in February 1986 he thought it was ok.
I wondered what it was like before and Jeff told me about 1981, when everybody started to talk about the Gay plague or about GRID.
- We didn´t know that it was caused by a virus, we didn´t know how it was transmitted, although they believed it might have been sexually transmitted, but I certainly wasn´t going to stop going to the baths, you know… I didn´t want to give THAT up … And over time it just became larger and larger and more frightening and overwhelming… I can remember back in the days when – this was in 1982 – 83, when there was a 1000 dead, and people thought THAT was tragic, and now we are dealing with 25 000 human beings killed by this epidemic. So obviously it´s been a real frightening process… There is a virus out there that kills people in their prime, and many of them are friends, and many of them have been sexual partners of mine, so… I will say that the diagnosis did not come as much of a surprise to me. I still get a little depressed about it, but I´m sitting smack dab in the risk group, you know, so it wasn´t much of a shock, that´s the truth.
Jeff started having fewer sex partners, from a couple a week, until spring of 1986 when he had one partner, and then he got his HIV diagnosis and stopped completely. It wasn´t until now, that he had learnt how to have Safe sex.
Jeff said he had given up. He laughed and said he was ”a gonner”.
- You know, I thought I was a ”dead duck”, and I´m not! I´m still very much alive. And I´m still a responsible red blooded American male, you know, who wants to go out and express affection and joy… and feel those things with other people.
We talked about Safe Sex, and Jeff said he had been to one of the clubs in New York where men masturbated together, as a way to have Safe sex and not expose each other to the virus. A friend of mine, a doctor, said they were called JO´s place, (JO as in Jerk off).
Jeff who described him self as a prim and proper Republican at the time, was shocked when he saw a well known AIDS activist there. He had tried to cover his KS lesions with stripes of leather, and masturbated with the other men, and Jeff had been absolutely shocked and stunned. He thought it was SO irresponsible, but no one touched the semen. If there was physical contact, it was only skin contact, I was told by my doctor friend.
Here I put in another cassette in the tape recorder, and when doing so I heard my mother´s voice, (she was a journalist), as she was making an interview with a famous Swedish actor – I used all her old tapes at the time – and told him about it, he freaked out, because he was so fascinated with the Film Industry, and he actually screamed:
- I can´t believe you are doing this?! I can´t believe you are doing this!
- It´s not Katherine Hepburn!
He looked absolutely terrified, and I repeated that it was NOT Katherine Hepburn.
- Let me ask you something else. How much were you in contact with the gay movement, like the political part of the gay movement.
- I was never a political person at all. I was a Republican, I was a Wall Streeter – that´s how I identified my self for many years. I was in the closet when I was working on Wall Street, at least to my employers… cause I didn´t want to jeopardize my position. I mean, I was… receiving all the benefits of The White Male Dominated Society. I had an expense account and I could fly around the country, and I had a great salary, great looking suits and women working for me and the whole bit. I was a beneficiary of that whole power structure, and I liked it, you know, and I´m not apologetic for it, and I´m not ashamed of it. To tell you the truth, even when (AIDS-activist)David Summers was doing his political work in New York, I kind of looked down my nose at it. I thought it was just a little too distasteful, you know.
It was not until David Summers died, that Jeff understood that there was no one there with David´s voice any longer, he said. So David became a source of inspiration to Jeff, and he had now asked Sal Licata if he would walk with him in the front row in The March on Washington.
David Summers had used to march at Sal´s side, with banners, so Jeff thought it would fitting if he walked there beside Sal, in spite of him being a neophyte in political life.
- And he said yes, so we have a sort of a date.
I asked about his old friends in New York, and he mentioned many that were sick. He hoped to visit some of them in New York after Washington.
At the moment he was active in trying to raise money for People with AIDS, that wanted to go to Washington, through A Time to Shine. But also trying to get money for his own journey to DC.
When Jeff came to San Francisco, he first stayed in a hotel, then tried to share an apartment with a woman and her young child, but that did not work out well, and after three months he got in to the Shanti Residence Program.
He also had a few volunteers from Shanti, Emotional support volunteers, but he was not impressed with that part of Shanti. They were not trained, he said, to provide emotional support.
I wondered if Jeff would be prepared to let anyone in to his life, and he laughed and said yes – he was going to get married.
- Any man that will have me, he said and laughed.
I wondered if he was too strong for Shanti, not needy enough, and he said that it was exactly that! As long as you were weak, helpless and grateful, and did not ask any questions about the money they received from the city, more than a million dollars, then it was ok.
- As long as you are dying, it´s ok.
Jeff said he tried to talk to them, but they saw him as a trouble maker, and would not take his calls, so he only communicated with them through his lawyer.
I wondered about the house he was staying in. There were four rooms – he had the smallest one – and a living room and a kitchen.
As his room was very small, he spent time in the living room, but he was tired in the evenings so he would go to bed at 23-23.30. He had had his nightlife in New York. So he would watch the news, Johnny Carson´s The Tonight Show, and watch a film, maybe, and go to sleep.
Instead he got up early in the mornings, and twice a week he was on an AIDS Hotline, answering questions, it gave him a structure to life. Sometimes he would tell a caller that he had AIDS, and it helped them to hear, he said, that there are people who are actually surviving AIDS.
- Cause the picture is that everybody is skinny and dried up and wasting away in the hospital and weighs 28 pounds, you know, and it´s just not so.
I asked what illnesses Jeff had, and what had given him his AIDS diagnosis, and that was the pneumonia. Now he had a parasite in his digestive system called Crypto Sperodium. He was on 4 medications a day, and did not experience any symptoms. It was AZT and he got it for free from his clinic.
- I am working out in the gym, I´m doing very well, you know. I have a lot energy, I have a great sense of well being. I really think that my disease is in remission.
- What is that?
- Remission means… you are not cured, but it is not getting any worse. You´ve managed to stabilize the balance of the body, and you can survive that way.
We went back to the process and the threat of him being evicted. Jeff said that Shanti didn´t like the way he acted with their people.
- And how do you act with their people?
- I´m very demanding. I ask a lot of questions. I want to know. I feel that they have a responsibility to the people that they serve, meaning the people with AIDS. They´ve managed to create a large powerful end expensive bureaucracy around MY suffering. They´ve used MY suffering to make big jobs for them selves… and, so I wanna make sure that they are allocating the money based on my interest, and not in their interest.
- What would you want them to do?
- I´d like them to spend less money on computers, less money on new offices, less money on new staffing and buy a new van, so that they can take us to hospital and get medicine.
He thought Shanti handled maintenance problems good, like if the Ice machine didn´t work or if something was broken, then someone would come.
Jeff did most of his personal things by him self, like laundry. He had had a volunteer helping him with practical things, but it made him feel more helpless, and he thought it was good to continue doing these things by him self.
- I think that I am defeating this disease through sheer… crankiness, you know what I mean?
Jeff seemed to have a lot of self esteem, and he said he had worked on that very hard with his therapist, every Tuesday at 11. On the dot.
- Never miss it. That´s the one hour of my life that is completely mine, belongs to no one else. One relationship in my life that is inviolate.
Then I asked a question that genuinely seemed to surprise him. I asked what his future looked like.
- What is my future!
Jeff had plans. He wanted to work in Washington.
- Right now, what I´d like to do is work for a year in Washington, on one of the AIDS commissions, either the White House Commission or the Congressional Commission which is being put together. I´ve been sending letters to people in Washington, asking for a job.
Jeff wanted to work for a year or 18 months on developing public policy about AIDS, and beyond that he wanted to send manuscripts to Los Angeles, and be involved in the Film community, but he was not so sure he had the stamina to do it at the moment.
If he was evicted, which he doubted, because he and his lawyer thought they had a solid case, he would do what he had to do, move to a cheap hotel in the Tenderloin, or something like that. He would have to go back to work, if he could find one without stress, and start getting an income again, and ”start becoming a contributing member of society”.
I wondered if there were others that were as strong as he was.
- I can name half a dozen people right now who are long time survivors, who are as eager and energetic as I am. Probably couldn´t name them, but I have pictures, mental pictures about half a dozen of them. Look at Leonard, Leonard Matlovich, Dan Turner, another friend you know. Dan Turner has been five and a half years diagnosed with this disease. Doing very well. He looks beautiful. I´m in love with him, I think he´s great.
- Does he know?
- I don´t know, I told him I think he´s pretty special. Oh, I don´t know that I´m in love with him, but… I do think he´s pretty special.
Jeff thought that I should really talk to Leonard Matlovich, a decorated war hero who was fired from the U.S. Air Force for being gay. He was also one of the organizers of A Time to Shine, together with Dan Turner
- He is a very courageous man, and now he has AIDS.
Had Jeff made any friends in the house? It didn´t seem so. Two had visitors, two others didn´t. Jeff said they stayed in their rooms, alone. One of them lied still in his bed with his hand folded on this chest.
- Like he´s already been laid out. (In a coffin.) Oh yeah, he spends his whole day laid back in the bed like this.
- Can anyone talk to him?
- You can talk to him, but his mind´s about gone. There is nothing left, it´s like oatmeal.
- Does he say something?
- Yeah, but he talks like a child.
It was not clear who took care of this man. Jeff had tried to send him to hospital, because he didn´t understand how sick he was, but he was sent back, and he was angry at Jeff for sending him there.
- I don´t know how to handle him. I am not equipped around dealing with people who are dying. Shanti is, I give them that credit. They are very equipped to handle people who are dying, they´ve had a lot of experience with it, (but) they don´t know how to handle people who are living, and surviving, they don´t know how to handle that.
Back to Jeff, and the possibility that he could come down with Kaposis´s sarcoma or something else. Did he have a plan for how to handle that? Jeff said he would handle it like he did with AA, One Day at the Time.
After he got his diagnosis, he stayed in his bed for about 6 months, until he started picking up his life again.
It was through a television program. He saw a long time survivor on television who said that it was possible to survive AIDS. He was 4 years in to his diagnosis, but through love, medicine and miracles he had succeeded in creating health and success in his life.
- I wanted to just jump through the television screen and stand next to him and say: I believe that too!
From that moment he returned to life. He got out of bed, called people, and changed his diet to almost completely vegetarian, and started going to the gym.
He also listened to tapes by Louise Hay, where she talks about loving your self, changing your attitudes etc. He listened to them before he went to sleep. He also used the Serenity Prayer, as he had done before, when he became sober, and stopped smoking.
Finally, I asked what he wanted to do, more than going to Washington.
- If I could make up my own reality? I DO have the power to create my own reality.
He talked about walking in to a movie set and start taking pictures. That was the quick and easy answer, he said.
He also talked about meeting someone, allowing that to happen to him. He had done some work with him self, and he pointed at his head and his heart.
- I´m starting to reap the benefits of that, and it´s very exciting.
Then Jeff started talking about being a spokes person again.
- We need a good effective national spokesman for people with AIDS. We need someone who is bright and articulate, and well spoken and well read.
He couldn´t see that there was such a person, who could also speak without anger, so he wanted to fill that role.
Here he asked me to turn off the tape recorder. But I think now it can be told, that he wanted to take the place of his friends, Dan and Leonard, but he didn´t speak openly about it. And eventually he managed to do it, for a few minutes in Washington DC.
- I will never be cured of alcoholism, that´s for sure. I may never be cured of AIDS, but by amending my lifestyle, and about the spiritual work that I do, I may be able to place this disease of AIDS in remission as well.
- It sounds like you have come to very good conclusions in your life through…
- Exactly! I couldn´t put it more perfectly myself. AIDS has been an opportunity for me to take a real close look at who I am, what I am doing and what´s important for me. Cause you know, if you´re faced with dying in the next couple of years, a lot of things that were important in the past suddenly become unimportant, just doesn´t matter… Life does become a richer experience when faced with death.
- Your life would have gone on pretty much the same…?
- I don´t know. I was ready to make changes in my life, I know that, even before I was diagnosed, but it was AIDS that sort of gave me the kick in the pants.
Jeff didn´t see him self as dying.
- I see my self as living, surviving, and doing it healthy and with passion.
- That´s nice!
- Rather than to learn how to die with dignity, I am learning how to live with passion.
That was a good ending to the interview, so we went to Jeff´s home, in the Shanti Residence.
In the entrance sat a man with dark KS lesions all over his face and arms, he was painting a chair blue.
I had to sneak in, because visitors were usually not allowed, out of respect for the other residents privacy and anonymity.
Jeff´s room was immediately to the left. It was very small, and most of it occupied by a big bed with a Scottish plaid bedspread. There was a desk and a chair, dark green walls with photographs of his family. Large books about photo. A stylish home, really a world of its own.
While Jeff talked, or rather screamed at someone on the phone, who turned out to be Leonard Matlovich, I looked around as I was waiting for him outside his door. Several of the men were resting, watching television or doing something in the kitchen. Some of them were very thin, and marked by KS lesions. There was actually a big difference between Jeff and them, as he looked so healthy.
Jeff gave me an invitation to a benefit for A time to shine, where I would eventually meet his friends Dan and Leonard.
My notes are there, as you can see.
I met Jeff that evening, but he was talking to a politician, so I just walked around by my self.
There was not a lot of people there.… I sat in the kitchen and mostly talked to a cat, but also to some people. They said that there had been so many benefits that people couldn´t afford to go to them. There had been so many deaths, and whole circles of friends had died. There was no meaning in falling in love, because everybody was HIV positive and died.
I talked to Leonard Matlovich and we checked our calendars, and realized that we could not meet. He was a very friendly man. Just as Jeff, he looked so healthy, and was so positive and enthusiastic, that I was certain that there would be other chances to meet. But that was not to be.
I also tried to talk to Dan Turner, but that didn´t work either, not until the following year when I ran into him on a bus and we decided to meet.
I never got to talk to Jeff that evening, and I never saw him again.
I tried to stay in touch with him and sent letters, but I never heard from him again. Eventually I contacted the journalist that had written about him in the Sentinel, Charles Linebarger, and he informed me about Jeff´s death, in March 1988. About six months after we had met, in September 1987.
I then contacted Dan Bacon, who was Jeff´s lawyer, and he got me in touch with Jeff´s sister.
I had been told by a man at Shanti that Jeff had died ”a terrible death”, but I don´t know how he could know that, because I don´t know if anyone was there with Jeff, when he died. I wrote to the hospital where he died, to find out, but they could not help me with that information.
Dan Bacon sent me the Certificate of Death.
Cause of Death: Cardiopulmonary Arrest, Hypotension, Sepsis, Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrom
Other Significant Conditions – Contributing to Death but not related to cause given:
Pancytopenia, Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation.
In the Certificate of Death the physician that cared for Jeff wrote, ”I attended Decedent since 3-20-88” , ”I last saw Decedent alive 3-25-88”. Jeff passed away at 17:25.
At that hour, one can hope that someone was there.
Jeff was cremated on March the 30th, 1988. And his ashes were sent to his sister.
Attorney DAN BACON, about Jeff Shannon.
I looked him up when I returned to San Francisco in the fall of 1988.
Dan Bacon and Jeff had met in the spring of 1987. Dan was active in a group called the Golden Gate Business Association, (GGBA) that would take out men with AIDS to the movies or to dinner.
They had turned their attention to Shanti Residences in San Francisco, but it did not work out so well with Shanti.
Dan didn´t want to work politically, but rather by providing social activities. He had previously worked with other residents that were going to be evicted by Shanti, that had contacted him because he was an attorney, but he was told by Shanti to not interfere.
He mentioned a case where a man had been given 5 days to move. He had tried to help by talking to Shanti, but they refused to talk to him, so he decided to get out – it was a difficult situation because of his position within GGBA, but he withdrew, and that same year 1986, the social activities stopped altogether, because someone at Shanti had complained.
Jeff had found Dan´s name on on the wall in the Shanti Residence he stayed in, and he called and asked him if they could go to Baseball match together, and Dan said yes.
At that time Dan was under a lot of stress, building his Law office, so Jeff was, as he said, a breath of fresh air and they went to several matches together. And Jeff revealed more and more about his disease. That is how their relationship started.
In the summer of 1987 Dan received a frantic call from Jeff that he had problems with Shanti. Could Dan help?
Dan didn´t want to worry Jeff by telling him about his previous contacts with Shanti, but eventually Jeff found out that Dan had suffered because of previous problems with Shanti, and that made him even more determined to push forward with the process against Shanti, and that is how Dan become involved in the case.
Jeff could be very intense and argumentative, and that was one of the reasons why Shanti wanted to evict him. He was also accused of coming on sexually to other tenants. Dan never talked to Jeff about that – he didn´t even know if it was true. Dan himself thought it was unlikely, as the other men living there were all very sick.
He had interrogated one of the responsible people for the Shanti Residences, but nothing was said then, only that Jeff ”could get in your face” and be argumentative.
One of the things Jeff had asked about was how Shanti could place people that smoked near a person that had had Pneumocystis for example. You are not allowed to smoke in hospitals, so why there? He questioned their procedures, their policies. And Dan said that that was when they began to make sure he had roommates near to him that were smokers.
He also asked about their finances, where Shanti got their money from, and how they spent it, and who were the people working there?
- Jeff was very bright, in my opinion, and when he began to poke around on that – that´s where I think that Shanti decided they wanted him out.
All this seemed to have happened around the time when there were a lot of questions about Shanti, and many complaints from volunteers and staff, also about the boss Jim Geary, that had recently resigned.
Dan tried to help Jeff, and asked questions about previous evictions, but he got no answer, he said they ”stonewalled” it.
I wondered about their personal contact, and Dan told me that he invited Jeff to dinner in his home several times, and that Jeff spent a lot of time in his office, but he had stomach problems and could suddenly become so weak that he just had to lie down on the floor. Dan felt sorry for him.
Dan talked about how the USA that could spend a lot of money on wars, but not on educating people about HIV/AIDS, even though thousands of people died. He put his trust in Surgeon General Coop who had turned out to be a man who cared.
Dan had lost a lot of friends and employees, and two loved ones to AIDS. He also said the government was not spending money on ”why some of us are healthy”.
- I have been in the San Francisco Gay Men´s Health study for several years, which is funded by National Institute of Health. Apparently my blood is healthy, apparently they´ve tried to infect a sample of my blood with the virus… Why is it that our blood does not react the AIDS virus?
Dan talked about research that should be done, why people who could have been exposed to the virus did not become infected. They were healthy, and they tested negative to the HIV-virus. There was a lot of research to be done, also about this.
When I met Jeff, in the fall of 1987, he had started training and things, and I wondered about that.
– He was dating people, and he wanted to have a lover. He said he was just learning to love, and I don´t know if he ever made it. Do you know?
– We talked about that. He mentioned how he was working at the gym and trying… to get his health back in shape, and then his health began to deteriorate, and kind of upset that issue.
Dan told me that Jeff had a very negative outlook on life, and that he was very conservative, and possibly even racist. He didn´t believe in welfare, his view was that people used the system, especially black women with many kids. But after discussions with Dan, about his own need for help by the society, and as his health deteriorated, he started to change.
He had also been very rude to Dan, and he didn´t understand why Dan was still willing to help him, and Dan, who is also a pastor, told him that he looked upon him as a person who could not help him self. As a helpless person.
Jeff tried to work, but could not work a full day, as he would lose energy.
- Lo and behold, at the end Jeff began to to say… ”I guess there are times where our society should take care of its sick.” and he basically said that because he had to agree, that his taking money was proper.
I wondered if he met someone and if he made friends, and he had.
If I understood Dan right, he had not wanted to talk to me when I contacted him, because other People with AIDS that had known Jeff, had contacted him. Even from Washington, and he couldn´t take them on.
He did send a letter back to a man in DC, also telling him that Jeff had passed away. He received a letter from this man´s mother, who told him that her son had appreciated to be told, but now he had also passed away.
- He met a lot of people I think in his last months that did have AIDS, and… It´s a horrifying Holocaust out there, and I… I think America, I think the whole world needs to experience that Holocaust.
Dan also mentioned the Presidents AIDS Commission, and said that the President had rejected his own commissions suggestions.
Jeff could not pay for his own defence, and Dan and he had agreed on how it would be handled once he won his case. But the case was postponed and postponed, and Dan said, with a smile, that they were waiting for him to die, but in the end they received a settlement.
– What was his condition when it actually happened?
– He was in the hospital.
– So he was not present, in person?
– No, I called him from the Judges chambers, and he was coughing and coughing, couldn´t quit coughing. And he said: ”Why Do I have to settle this? Why?! Let´s take them to court!” I said: ”Jeff, I´d love to take them to court, I´d love to win, but how the heck ”– and here Dan whispered – ”can I do that when you are dying?!”
And you know, I had another associate with me there at this settlement conference, that listened, and we were both in the conversation, and we put the phone away as he was coughing an coughing, and he goes: ”Ok, ok. I guess I have no choice, do I?” And I said: ”No.”
But I said: ”Jeff, you will not be on the street, just try to get out of the hospital.” ”I will, I will.” That´s the last time I ever spoke to Jeff.
Jeff died three days later, in the hospital.
Mr Bacon sent me a photo of Jeff that he had taken.
After Jeff ´s death, Dan took care of everything. Jeff´s mail was forwarded to him, and he told the creditors that there was no money. He sent the urn to the sister in Ohio.
Jeff and his sister had had a bad last conversation towards the end, and Jeff had screamed at her, and she felt very guilty for not coming to SF.
Dan said he was grateful that he had made Jeff sign some papers about his wishes, cremation etc., so things were taken care of in the end. Jeff had tried to stall signing the papers, like the Power of Attorney for example, but Dan said: ”I am not asking you, I am telling you!”
Jeff had a number of books on photo, and a lot of proofs, that he wanted to be destroyed, and that was done.
He also had tapes with Louise Haye, on love and acceptance.
- So I was glad that he had tried to… you know, look somewhere in that area towards improving him self in those areas, in being at peace with him self. And I know going to the gym and other things was very much a part of that.
Here I asked if Jeff ever found someone to love, and Dan laughed a little, and mentioned a letter. I turned off the tape, so he could talk about it. There was some kind of contact with someone.
Dan talked about their private conversations, and Dan had moaned and complained about some problems he had, when Jeff had said: ”You know… it ain´t so bad from where I see you. You have a nice car, you have a nice apartment, and you have a nice office… and you know, you don´t have this plague afflicting you” and… It was kind of reminding me, you know, I have a lot to be grateful for.
Dan said that he could have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
- I try to look at other people as though that could very easily be me, sick and all, and I think, as Christians, as I am, I think you are commanded to be charitable to those who are sick.
Jeff had from the beginning been like: ”I´m not my brother´s keeper, why should I? ”But he changed later.
I wondered who had gone to Jeff´s memorial, and here Dan sighed deeply. He had not been there. He didn´t remember why. A man from the office went.
Dan had been to so many memorials, and he mentioned friends that had recently passed away.
- Did Jeff have any kind of religious or spiritual experience at all, or was he only interested in winning this case? I had a feeling that this kept him up, and when he settled he just…
Dan had mixed answers to this, he said. He had told Jeff to not worry about Shanti, to let Dan handle his housing and dealings with Shanti, and to concentrate on Washington, on being a spokesperson for People with AIDS.
- I told Jeff to do that, but unfortunately it seems as though this lawsuit… really kind of bogged him down.
I wondered about Jeff´s last time in life.
- What was he like? Did he panic? Did he understand that he was dying?
– He understood that he was dying, but he… lived day to day, believe it or not, as though he was gonna live forever, it seemed, because he kept concentrating on getting this case ready for trial.
Jeff became more and more occupied with his case. He would come to the office and be very demanding, in his New York style, as if it was the one and only case the law firm had to deal with, and it escalated the more sick he got, and exhausted both Dan Bacon and other members of the staff.
- I kept saying: ”Jeff… you may not live this trial”, and he said: ”Well, make sure you do this! Ask for this record and Ask this question”, and X Y C, and I´d say: ”Jeff, just do me one favor: Concentrate on living! Concentrate on your health! I don´t know what you can do, but damn it, do it!!!”
Dan talked about moments when he hugged Jeff and he was crying, and how Dan had to go away, because he knew he would lose Jeff, that he had gotten to know very well during a short time.
- But… as far as the issue of recognizing he was dying… He never really wanted to talk about dying, and when I would bring it up, he would say… ”Oh no! I´m not DYING with AIDS ”- here Dan laughed a little – ”I´m LIVING with AIDS! You ought to read the literature on it!”, he´d say!
My contact with Dan Bacon continued, I tried to find out if anyone was with Jeff when he passed away, but in December 1990 he wrote back that he did not know. He was at an airport, when Jeff died, and was paged at the airport.
Dan Bacon had suffered on his own. His long time friend had passed away in September that same year.
In the fall of 1988 I met Dan Turner.
We drank tea, and while curled up in scarfs because of a cold, he read to me from his notes, when he was not coughing. Sometimes he would talk really fast, so he could finish saying something before he started to cough again.
Dan had found out about Jeff´s death on April 24th.
- So, when I look at May 15th, which is a Sunday, and at 1 PM was Jeff Shannon´s Memorial. It says: I go to 125 Alpine Terrace to the home of Terry Freese… introduce my self to… Let´s see here. He serves Strawberry cake, I have a lemonade. I met a woman who calls her self Gloria Swanson, a woman Jeff partied with on Fire Island, who said he was ”well endowed”.
Fire Island is a Gay Resort, and this woman had a house there and Jeff had stayed with her, and there was a lot of partying and a lot of sex.
Dan continued to cough and cough.
- I don´t see anything more here. Oh wait! Here´s some more. It says: I look at the view from Terry´s apartment with binoculars. It´s a beautiful day with a clear blue sky. (Couldn´t hear the rest because of the coughing.) It says: Jeff had a flare-up of CMV. He lost his mind the last week, and was seeing cartoon characters, like a rabbit and Mickey Mouse.
Dan explained to me about CMV, Cytomegalovirus, that it is a virus that compromises the immune system and can be dangerous for people with AIDS, make people blind and affect the brain, and more.
I asked about Jeff´s plans for his political work, and he had worked hard on it, Dan said, and had set up a press conference before the March on Washington. He was on television speaking from the steps of the Capital building, about the needs of People with AIDS, and he had set up appointments with congress people, and more. Dan Turner had also talked at that time, but by then the cameras were switched off.
Dan told me about a discussion he and Jeff had had over lunch. Dan could not understand how Jeff could continue being a Republican, knowing that the Republicans did nothing for people with AIDS.
- But Jeff´s allegiance was to the Republican party, so we got in to a fight about that… and then I realized how Republican Jeff was. Up til that time I had not realized.
Dan thought Jeff was angry, because he was caught between hos old belief´s and the reality of the new situation.
- Which was that they had done virtually nothing, and had been, I think… you know… they had been irresponsible to the point of criminality.
Here, Dan talked about the Republican Party and what they had not done, and about his friends that had died, at least a hundred had passed away. The more he talked, the more he coughed, because he became more and more upset, not the least about president Reagan and his response to the AIDS commissions report.
- They told him what to do, he refused. ( I think he referred to the AIDS Commission.)
Dan talked about a little girl that had fallen in to a well, Jessica, and how it became a big splash of publicity all over the US: Save little Jessica! Save little Jessica! At that time thousands of gay men had died, and no one said anything about it.
- I was sorry the little girl fell in to the well, and I mean I was glad that she was rescued, but the entire country was glued to the television set: Will they save her? Will they save her? And then when she was saved – and here he slammed his cup on the table – Reagan, the president gives medals to the people that saved her, you know, and goes on television and says: Oh! Isn´t this wonderful? This shows what the Americans can do. That they have such good hearts!
Here Dan just walked away, for some reason, and took the microphone with him, but the came back.
- I was furious! I was just furious that all this attention was paid, and no attention had been paid to gay men that have died of AIDS! Normally, when there is a disaster in the country, the… president will go to the place where the disaster is… if there´s flood, if there´s a tornado or an earthquake, the president will go to the scene of the disaster, you know, and money will be allocated, and the president will say: Isn´t it too bad, and We have to help these people. In, you know, six years, seven years time, the president has never, NEVER done that with gay men who have AIDS, and who have been dying, every year. Not gone to the hospital, not, you know… nothing! He´s a criminal! He is a criminal, as far as I´m concerned.
Here Dan talked about the government, not specifically on AIDS, many other things, but in the end he sighed and said it was depressing.
- I hope all got in there.
Dan laughed, and his cat purred in the microphone.
Dan talked about about Washington, that he had been one of the readers of names, when the AIDS Memorial Quilt was laid out for the first time. He also talked about the Supreme Court and demonstrations.
Dan didn´t think that Jeff had taken part in any of the demonstrations, because he wanted to get on the Presidents commission. He didn´t think Jeff wanted to demonstrate and get arrested, because that would probably have prevented him from being on the AIDS commission. Dan didn´t think he became a part of that, but that he had applied.
I have tried to find out about it, but have failed to get an answer.
He said that Jeff had worked hard around fundraising.
- He worked a lot harder than me. I worked with him, and… he was tireless… It seemed at that time that it was good for him, for his health.
Dan meant that it was the people that kept busy and were doing things that lived the longest. He himself was one of the longest survivors in San Francisco.
We talked until late, about Dan´s health, about the NAMES project, and about Leonard Matlovich. He told me that it was Leonard Matlovich that had put the politician Harvey Milk´s ashes in the ground at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, 1987.
Harvey Milk was murdered on November 27th, 1978 in San Francisco.
- Why did it take so long?
- They kept them here. His lover kept them here, all those years, and then they decided to bury them, the weekend of the March. They put his ashes not far from where Leonard is buried.
Leonard Matlovich, passed away in June of 1988.
His headstone does not carry his name, but it says:
A Gay Vietnam Veteran
When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men
And a discharge for loving one.
There is a lot to be seen about Leonard Matlovich on the Internet, but his speech in connection with Harvey Milk´s ashes can be seen on Youtube.
Look for: 1987 Harvey Milk Memorial Dedication – Leonard Matlovich.
This was the last time I saw Dan Turner.
He passed away at Coming Home Hospice in May 1990.
I had written to Jeff´s sister, Lynne, and she wrote to me in the spring of 1990, after having given birth to a little girl.
She wrote that she had loved her brother, but wasn´t sure he had known how much she cared for him. She had gone to San Francisco to see him a month before he died, and was shocked at his deteriorated condition. She had not realized how sick he was.
Jeff´s father did not come to see him. But he had also not seen her in ten years.
She wrote that what Jeff always wanted and didn´t seem to find, was love.
”I think that now that he is with our mother in heaven, he has found it… that is something that I truly believe…”
There had been a Memorial for him, and she wrote that it was very nice.
”He wanted to be buried near our mother – he is with her now and is in the family burial plot with our mother and grandfather … our grandmother will also be buried there…”