27 January 2011

Fond Memories

Once again I have happened upon a post that I began some time ago that was never published. This one is still relevant even though it's been six months since I began it.

The other day I was standing at the sink cleaning corn for steaming. As I pulled the last hairs of corn silk off of the bicolored ears I recalled how meticulously my friend, Don Blasi, would prepare corn, carefully inspecting every ear seemingly two or three times to make sure every piece of silk was gone. This of course brought back a rush of memories:
My now long-time friend, J.L., and I met by happenstance one hot, humid, "typically Louisville" Sunday afternoon at Cherokee Park. He took pity on the lonely boy in the baby-poop* gold Ventura with Indiana plates and introduced himself. Living on the "sunny side of the river" was our first connection, I suppose. After a little small talk, I hopped into in his Camaro (T-tops off, disco blaring) to a convenience store on the other side of Seneca Park near Bowman Field where we picked up something to drink and continued our drive back to Cherokee Park. As we were getting acquainted I explained that I had just come back to the area after my first year at Ball State and that I knew nobody in the Louisville community. I even suggested that I might put my experiences at Ball State behind me, but he encouraged me, telling me that I didn't need to do that. He asked me "is there anybody you'd like to meet?"

J.L. and a canine guest at one of our Oktoberfair parties, combining Oktoberfest and St. James Art Fair into one big time.

I had seen a large group of people gathering in a spot between what would become known to me in later years as the meeting place for the "Cherokee Bridge Club" and the road that lead out of Cherokee Park to Seneca. Amongst the folks laughing, talking and hanging out, I pointed out a thin, animated character with a sort of wedge haircut wearing a striped sleeveless shirt and shorts, doing pirouettes on the asphalt. My interest in him was that he seemed filled with the joy of living, and apparently wasn't ashamed at all about being gay. J.L. exclaimed something along the lines of "Oh! You want to meet Miss Blasi!

J.L., Lee, dminmem and Donnie on the roof kickin' it at 1436 St. James Court.

I had no idea at the time that both he and J.L. would become two of my dearest friends.

Almost immediately, J.L. was introducing me to Donnie, a theater and dance major at Western Kentucky University (this explains the pirouettes). In the coming weeks, months and years Don would introduce me to several of his friends and acquaintances, many of whom became my circle of friends, ones who helped create the memories I recall to this day. Lee McDonald, Alan Gallagher, Michael Campagna, Steve Soder, Michael Clancy and Mark Craven were among them. For the next several years if you saw one of us, some or all of us weren't far behind. We danced together, bowled together, traveled together, and sometimes lived together. At times we were inseparable. And, now another memory comes to mind involving a trip to wintry Chicago in Mike Clancy's "van full of queers" -- but that's going to have to be another post I suppose. Hell, explaining the quoted phrase in the previous sentence (which comes from a game we played during the 6-hour drive) would take some time in and of itself.

One of our ill-advised photo ops at Stewart Beach in Galveston, TX, circa 1983. From left, Donnie, Steve, one of Steve's friends and Lee.

On July 9, Donnie, would have been 54. As it is, though, he died six weeks after his 34th birthday, August 17, 1990. And - like Donnie - Lee, Alan, Michael, Steve and Michael have all left the agony of living in this world with AIDS for a peaceful hereafter. But, they're still here with me alive and well in my fond memories.

J.L. and Lee twirlin' on the bay window above my bed. Our friend (and landlord) Walt suggested that we get down from there. We did, reluctantly. Why would we give up such an audience otherwise?

*Thank you, Thom, for the delightful description for the color of my car.