Monday, March 26, 2007

Drugs 1, David Zuch 0

"A middle-aged man was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his Chelsea apartment, authorities said yesterday. The body of David Zuch, 43, was found in bed in his West 24th Street apartment near Seventh Avenue at about 8:51 p.m. Saturday, cops said."
--NYPD Blotter, New York Post, March 26, 2007.

I was in Chelsea for lunch today when I ran into C*. He's one of the men in my men's group. I love seeing these guys in the "real world." It reminds me of when I was ten and would see a school friend at the grocery store or McDonald's -- the irrepressible goofy-ass grin riding the tails of a huge adrenaline rush. These men have been mirrors and sounding boards. They know me better than lovers I've had, and often better than I know myself. I've loved and hated each of them deeply.

We are all men, and gay, but other than that it's a mixed bag -- rich/poor, HIV+/HIV-, single/coupled, addicted to drugs, sex, drama and not. The "hot" ratio is exceedingly high and there's an abundance of biceps and bulges to keep the eyes involved when the ego's in denial. Honestly, though, I've gained more insight and practical self-knowledge participating in this group for 18 months than I learned in the ten prior years of individual psychotherapy and psychiatry.

C immeditately asked if I had heard about David, a long-time member who had left the group within the last year. In a way, he never really left the group. There just came a time when it became obvious he wasn't coming back. I had mixed feelings about his leaving; I was as annoyed by David's version of human interaction as I was amused by it. I did, however, recognize much of his baggage, which simultaneously matched and clashed my own. I now understand that it's these "hot button pushers" who are usually in positions to teach me something about myself.

C told me that David had been discovered dead in his apartment after friends who had planned to meet him for dinner were stood up and they couldn't reach him. They had convinced security in his Chelsea apartment building to let them into his apartment. When they arrived, the door was ajar and David was dead in his bed. There are salient facts surrounding the manner in which David was found that I'm purposely omitting because I wasn't there and no purpose is served by divulging them. Suffice to say that the police reported that the death was an apparent "drug overdose," the door was left open by someone(s) and it was a few hours before The Black Party. Those are the delightful dots, connect them if you wish.

David (he hated being called "Dave") was the owner of a custom drapery business, Mark David Interiors, which is located in the garment district. He had achieved the modern-day equivalent of the turn-of-the-century immigrant's dream, building a prosperous business doing something he loved. He was a natural salesman -- gregarious, stubborn, street-smart, charming, and loud. David actually had a twinkle in his eyes, the became brighter when he laughed, which was often.

He loved to talk about gay sex, regaling with past exploits and plotting as-yet-unrealized debaucheries. He had lost all twink qualities that he swore he once possessed and slid rather too easily into the younger version of the "leather Daddy" clone -- cropped graying hair, goatee, big belly, 501's, black leather boots and wrist band and a starched button-down. His belly was bigger than what I typically like to maneuver around, but with targeted marketing and the right sales pitch, his appeal was there. He was also someone who I'd discussed drugs with outside the group and he had his own version of negotiated sobriety -- abstinence from one things offset by permission to dabble in most others.

If you live in the City long enough, you start collecting these stories; particularly if you're in certain communities. And the older one gets, the quicker they come. To be honest, the most shocking thing about seeing David's story in the New York Post 'NYPD Blotter' section wasn't the fact that drugs had done him it, it was that the article referred to him as a "middle-aged" man. I distinctly remember gasping. He was only two years older than me, and (after a quick calculation), I realized that if I thought I was going to make it to 80 then, I in fact, was already middle-aged. Damn. [The irony here is that to describe David as middle-aged when reporting his death at 43 makes absolutely no sense; apparently he was middle-aged when he was somewhere between 21 and 22. I digress.]

In discussing David's death with friends, it became obvious to me that many were doing what I myself had done -- mentally placing myself dead in my bed, in that position, with my door open.

Oddly enough, David is, in a way, lying "on" my bed each night. Let me explain. A few months after I joined the group, my Ex and I had our first big break-up, moving into separate apartments. As part of creating a new-space-all-my-own, David agreed to fashion a "bachelor" duvet cover out of a old custom-made, late-1960's bedspread that I had bought on Ebay (it's crushed velvet -- grape purple, chartreuse, chocolate brown and teal striped Alexander Girard fabric that allegedly belonged to some queen who lived at The Dakota -- it's, uhm, stunning). It wasn't cheap and David didn't cut me a deal at all, but it's one of my favorite things in this world.

See, that's how it always happens. I start to examine what it means to die, to die sadly, to die alone and end up talking about creature comforts, beauty, the price of things. I suppose that's why I still go to group, because there's still work to do. I also go because I can. I wish David could. I hope he's finally found the peace, acceptance, real joy, whatever it was he was chasing. Big love to you Dave. Thanks for your contributions to me, my life . . . and my bed. [I can hear his dirty laugh right now.]

* Names negotiated to protect the not-so-innocent, but more importantly to honor the safety of the group. David is not afforded this courtesy, as he is dead. Dead men can't be libeled or slandered; it's one of the bitches about dying, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Timing is Everything

It was rush hour on a Friday night, four years ago today.

I was on the "A" train, heading uptown from Fulton Street. I had been with a friend Susan, and I was running late. The train was crowded and I was standing, holding the pole, and facing the doors as they opened on Chambers Street. This slight, dimpled thing walked into towards me, grabbed the pole and looked sideways (you know, how you look without looking). We soared through all the gay cruising signals before the first stop. He had the face of an angel and I tried to act cool. Finally, I was in the right place at the right time. Timing is everything.

Although the glances became less furtive as we looked each other up and down, the people surrounding us remained largely unaware of the homo-urban ritual taking place right next to them. We spoke without words, barely looking at each other. We shifted our weight, leaning into each other, while our fingers grazed each other's on the pole. He looked at my pants and smiled because I was hard. I could see he was excited too. His hand reached, grabbed and was gone without anyone noticing. The train pulled into 14th Street and I realized I hadn't been breathing for the last two stops. He started out, looked back and asked if it was my stop. The French accent was unmistakable. "It is now," I said and stumbled out after him, barely making it through the doors before they shut. Timing is everything.

Everything was communicated in silence from that point. We stumbled out of the station onto Eighth Avenue, falling all over each other. When we rounded the corner at West 19th Street, I remember pushing him against the outside wall of the Joyce Theater; that was where we first kissed. We made it into his apartment building and onto the elevator before the general mauling started, only to be carried over into his living room (for a while) and bed. In between, I noticed all the books (walls and walls) and the incredible art; this guy was something. We were lying on his bed, holding each other as a violent thunderstorm began outside. The moment will always be "one of those moments" for me -- safe, warm, exhausted from sex and laughing out loud in bed with a beautiful man, while hearing lightning crackle outside and steady beat of heavy rain agains the window. We had barely beat the storm inside. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I Want to be a Teenage Lesbian

Katherine Tuck (age 13) was named winner of the National Oder-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest, which was held in Vermont today. I have no idea of what Ms. Tuck's orientation is, but I would love to think that this is what 13 year old lesbians look like these days.

Her mom, Paula Tuck, said, "I'm so proud of the little stinker."

You go Tucks!

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Perfect Storm at The Eagle

In retrospect, I realize how close I was to total disaster tonight. All the elements of a perfect storm were present. But I had denied intstinct and ventured out to meet him.

I trudged through the grey slurpee-filled streets, arriving at The Eagle for its Sunday Night Beer Blast, which is touted as the "best beer blast in New York City" (is there another one?). My most recent ex had asked me to join him and a friend there because he felt that it would be "good for me." I should add that it took every ounce of self discipline in my body to refer to this man, er boy, as my "most recent ex." In fact, I'm a bit dizzy seeing it in print. Suffice to say, there is a lot of "there" there, which will not doubt drip into subsequent postings. Where was I?

So, I entered The Eagle slipping from cold darkness into a slightly warmer version of the same. Standing in the coatcheck line in dripping lumberjack gear, I was already contemplating a swift retreat when I was spotted. A flash of lightning, but still too distant to hear any attendant rumbling thunder. He offers to buy me a drink (we both know this means a Coke). He hands it to me, I take a sip and then actually exhale for the first time since entering. When I thank him, he tells me not to worry about it because the bartender didn't charge him, because it was only a Coke. The clouds began to darken and gather and I thought I discerned a familiar shape forming in the shifing pattern.

His friend (messed up, adorable Frederic) then arrives, a precious ray earnestly trying to shine. But the reprieve is momentary because before you can say "'Gun Oil' lube," this gaggle (there's no other way to describe them) of beards, shaved heads, pecs, tight jeans and gimme caps saunters over and starts air kissing my ex and his friend. Air kissing in The Eagle?! I promised myself a future spin in my own grave for having had to bear witness to that. It was obvious that some or all had met (read: fucked) before and they all were sniffing around evaluating weight gain, hair loss and imminent hook potential.

One (we'll call him Jeffrey) was introduced to my ex and moved between us to start a conversation with him. The ex is irresistable dimpled French, complete with the accent; he can't help it. The clouds burst; I was on outside, watching. Suddenly, it was 1979 and I was at a junior high dance in that school gymnasium during a slow dance song; I started looking for a lesbian, any lesbian. There was simultaneous lightning and thunder, with an echo sounding eerily like my ex saying "it'll be good for you."

Then I heard the Ex say, "Oh, he's from NH too" while pointing at me. The circle opened and I was let back in. Apparently I wasn't going to be picked last for dodgeball today. Jeffrey's interest bobbled between the Ex and I (his zipper and his head) for the next few minutes, but when the Ex turned to order another beer, I closed in.

Apparently, one of the other guys that had come with Jeffrey to The Eagle was his Ex of two days! Suddenly I wasn't the bravest one in the room.

Misery may love company, but two is company, not three (or six).

We left the group, went upstairs, kissed like teenagers in the back of a stolen car, felt each other up, swapped spit and stories, sad and sweet. In between bumps and grinds I actually heard the words "sweet" and "sexy." The storm had dissipated and only the slightest drizzle remained, more refreshing than annoying. Lost for a moment were the thoughts of how strong I was being; I was simply enjoying a new face, which, btw, is attached to a killer bod, that looked, asked, listened.

Then my Ex, with friend in tow, arrived upstairs, tittering like the French schoolgirls they are, sounding like raindrops being splattered to bits on the hard cement.

Jeffrey and I only made it to 2nd base, but I have his card. If I never see him again though, he will have given me a moment's shelter and warmth in the midst of roiling turbulence.

I hugged and kissed Jeffrey and my Ex "Goodnight," thanked one after the other for a fine time, and smacked each of their asses -- one rock-solid Daddy, the other boy bubble -- as I walked into the slushy night. I tread carefully, avoiding the deep slush at the intersections, and made it home, alone, with dry feet -- which is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lord Have MRSA on Me

I've just spent five days attached to an antibiotic IV drip at St. Vincent's. Apparently, I contracted MRSA (Methicillin–Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) by either direct or indirect contact with another infected person. Sexy, I know.

Last Thursday night, it felt like the bridge of my nose and my left cheek bone were broken. When I awoke, the pain was duller, but seemed to have moved outward. My left cheek was warm and it felt slightly swollen. I went to work and as the day progressed, I knew something was up. I had been visited by MRSA before -- about two and a half years ago. There was an small epidemic of it in the city, and it was targeting a "select group of gay men engaging in certain activities." I could be more specific, but I'm not in the mood right now. Regardless, over the course of six months I had approximately 10 or 12 MRSA outbreaks. They were localized and looked and acted like incredibly painful boils. A couple of months of unbelievably strong antibiotics and they disappeared. This time, however, it was different; it wasn't acting like the MRSA I knew, so I had no idea.

The problem with MRSA is that it is resistant to most antibiotics. It moves quickly and can be incredibly dangerous if it gets out of hand. I went to see my doctor -- HIV physician to the beautiful, gifted and talented -- Dr. Paul C. Bellman. He thought it might be a bacterial infection that had somehow made its way into my nose or tear duct. He put me on a 45-minute antibiotic drip and then sent me out the door with a script and a warning -- if it worsened, I would have to go to the ER. I was sure it was already getting better, so I left, filled the prescription, took my first dose and slipped into that type of sleep only afforded those fighting infection -- quasi-Zombie.

I was aroused by Chinese banter drifting into my studio windows from Essex Street. I stretched, yawned and opened my eyes, uhm actually one eye. The left one refused to budge. The image in in my bathroom mirror was a cross between the Elephant Man and that Hunchback guy from the Disney cartoon. The left side of my face was twice its normal size. I spent a full 15 seconds desperately trying to twist my mind into some shape that could somehow rationalize what was before me as "not worse" than the night before.

Mental gymnastics failing, I burst into tears, which (annoyingly) could only gracefully drip from my right eye. I can be a tough little fuck when the cameras are rolling, but the definition of a bitch sissy behind closed doors. I thought I heard distant strains of "will I lose my dignity" slowly filling the room as the cast from "Rent" (the younger original Broadway version, not the much older version that limped through the film) made their way up the stairs of my Lower East Side walkup, white sheet in hand to cover me up just like Angel. My brain instantly hit the "play"button on the "Death by AIDS-related Complications" mental video it uses to inflict terror. It's a film I know well, having seen its debut screening in 1984 when I first heard of "gay cancer." Of course, it was on Beta then, but it has faithfully been transferred to VHS then subsequently digitally restored on DVD. The scenes are always the same, but the color is more vivid than ever.

I snapped out of it and started dialing Dr. Belman. I paged, paced, waited, and dripped tears (unevenly). Fuck. I dialed the Ex. Damn, damn, damn. He answers and although I manage to start out strong, by the end of the conversation, I'm a mess.

The Ex, as exes do, seized this moment to become completely sane, loving and reasonable. Damn, damn, damn. He walked me through a checklist and promised to meet me at the St. Vincent's ER. He was there when I arrived, and twice a day every day I was at the hospital. I learned a lesson about not having expectations and about acceptance. I was also reminded that I always have what I need in the moment that I need it. "It" may not come from where I think, or even want, it to, but it's there. And, in fact, it never looks like I think it will.

In my experience, illness is the universe's not-so-subtle way of saying, "sit down and shut up." I tried to do both. I left the hospital recharged and grateful. And still a bit rattled about how quickly one's life can change.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What's in a Name

It seems appropriate to start with a few words about the name of the blog.

It's actually a quote from a young black woman who was working at a McDonald's somewhere between Waco and El Paso in the Spring of 1987. It was Spring Break and eight of us were roadtripping from Texas to California. Four days driving for three days of Los Angeles. Tragic, I know.

It was after midnight and we stumbled into McDonald's. We were a moving menace of punch-drunk, sleep-deprived, fraternity boys from Texas. Woohoo! Three of us were gay, roommates, and closeted to the world and each other. Tragic, I know.

As we approached the counter, we all passed a stumbling, red-leather-coat-wearing Michael Jackson wannabe trying to get his drunk ass out of McD's. He was a sashaying mess of dripping Geri curl hair, flailing arms and swinging hips. He was every closeted man's nightmare -- obvious. We turned back to the counter after asked the girl what "that" was.

Deadpan as hell, she said, "he gay."

Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated and re-stated. My goal in this blog is to remind myself of things once known then forgotten, truths revealed then buried.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.