A Bit of a Twit

I’m trying to think if I ever really loved a president and I don’t think I did. Johnson was a baby-burner, Nixon a killjoy and a sneak. Ford, meh. Carter, double-meh. As for Reagan, I couldn’t stand him. We had all these dying AIDS patients and he acted like there was no epidemic. One night Lucy and I were driving around waiting for something to happen when we saw a guy with one of those big cardboard cutouts that people pose with. He had an instant camera, so we got him to take a picture of us pretending to molest Reagan. Lucy had her stethoscope on his groin and I had my scissors out. A crowd instantly gathered to cheer us. Everyone thought it was so hilarious that medics did anything but be medics. as if we came out of a box like action figures and didn’t have any other life. I wonder if I’m part of someone’s New York story. How years ago they came to the city and saw two lady medics clowning around with Reagan, and how strange and only-in-New York it was. 

1981June 5     Los Angeles, California.

(Report of PCP cluster,  pg 2, CDC weekly newsletter)

1. Previously healthy 33 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and oral mucosal candidiasis March 1981. He died May 3rd.

2. Previously healthy 30 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in April 1981 after five months of fever. Pneumonia responded to a course of TMP/SMX. As of latest reports he continues to have a fever each day.

3. 30 year old man was well until January 1981. In February developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia that responded to oral TMP/SMX. Esophogeal candidiasis recurred after pneumonia was diagnosed.

4. 29 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in February 1981. He had been diagnose with Hodgkin's Disease three years earlier and successfully treated with radiation alone. Pneumonia did not respond to treatment and he died in March.

5. Previously healthy 36 year old man diagnosed in April 1981 with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. He is still being treated.

All the players in history have stories, though. Even if we’re just props for someone else’s tale. I know I’m in a bunch of far-flung people’s life and death memories. And some people are in mine. Nameless, with their faces mushing together. Who was Lazarus? Just a man born to be raised from the grave?

All five were active homosexuals./All five used poppers./None of the men knew each other./None had sexual partners in common.

I think I only remember molesting Reagan because I have that photograph. 

Just a few paragraphs on the second page of a dry newsletter./Not news. An oddity, a strange confluence of events. 

It seems like what happens is, a few things get haphazardly frozen in time like that, but the rest I have to spend months reconstructing. Because I didn’t know it was going to be important.

In west-coast gay world, a vague sense of unease./Blinking in the morning sun/Venice Beach no longer entirely bakes away the effects of the night before.

I keep thinking I should keep a journal. Right now, of the Trump times. Document how no one I know can sleep, how we obsessively flit from one newsite to another. The way I wake up every morning wondering what he did while I was lying in bed, staring at the inside of my eyelids.

Before, the five men were: a hairdresser, a freelance model, a drug-addicted swinger, a publicist, and a hardworking man in a monogamous relationship.

That sounds so normal. Like it could be five men today. Except for the drug-addicted swinger. He’d be a drug addicted loser now, and people would be trying to get him to reform himself before he OD’d.

What became of the three who still lived?/I don't know. All had thrush./Deranged white cell counts. Fevers and sweats./They must have died soon after./But that's just speculation/ based on my expectation./It doesn't have to be true.

Part of me thinks, it must be on the internet. Everything is. I even found a death notice for my great-great-uncle who drowned January 7, 1906, in Dawson Creek in the Yukon. 

I search and search, trying to find a reference online/as to what became of the men./ Nothing./They’re not men. Not anymore./When they got sick/they stopped being human, and became a part of history./Who they loved, who lost them,/Who cares? They're only our beacons now/Blinking a warning into the fog.

Did that really happen?


Writing is so much about remembering. Or more accurately, re-feeling. But sometimes when I’m going over my past, working on a poem, I think, “Did I just make this all up?” Like it’s some story I told and somehow the world believed it and it turned into memories. 

1983 July 4 

52nd Street. The abuelos play dominos on a TV tray/Boombox tuned to Spanish music/Little boys tumble in the fire hydrant spray/On this hot afternoon black-cat smoke up to my knees./We have a stat transfer. St. Clare’s ICU to Bellevue. Critical./Could there be a place grimmer than the St. Clare’s CCU?

Yes. Directly across the hall/The ICU lacks even flimsy privacy curtains/And is stuffed full of neurological casualties. There’s no staff./The place where the doctors and nurses sit/Surrounded by plexiglass similar to the bulletproof enclosure at a liquor store/Is over yonder. In CCU.

Our transfer is on a respirator, surrounded by a tangle of wires and tubing./I look at his chart. From what I can make out he was on the floor/Crashed, and got rushed to ICU./His blood pressure is being maintained with drugs./He has uncontrollable arrythmias./He must be transferred to Bellevue as soon as possible.

                        from BrokeDown Palace


I know this call really happened. But it seems so absurd. How could there have been an ICU where the medical staff is across the hall behind two closed doors? Maybe it was only that way on holidays. The other strange thing about that day was there was only one doctor covering the ICU, CCU, and all the floors, so they didn’t have anyone to ride with us. I know it wasn’t like that usually. But my friend Bonnie went to visit the AIDS ward with a group of singles one afternoon in the early 1990s and they never saw any medical people. She said the entire place seemed to be run by guys in hospital gowns who were smoking, drinking beer, and playing poker.