I had a call late last night from my friend Arthur, who lives high on a (Russian) hill in San Francisco. I've known Arthur since I was a teenager, and if you've been hanging around here much, you might remember how we met.
After that initial meeting Arthur and I dated for a few months. Later, he hooked up with my then best friend, a fact I had some issue with, and subsequently broke my heart. He was vague about the reasons he ended our relationship, and I was puzzled. We spent a summer basically avoiding each other; he on Fire Island, me trolling the Village bars learning some hard lessons about what I had presumed love to be. It was a hot, lonely, dreary summer, and those dreams died hard. On the odd occasion when I would run into him, one or the other of us would pretty much flee after a few general niceties.
By the time Autumn rolled around, I'd managed to achieve some semblance of equilibrium. It must have been apparent, because somehow, slowly, we became friends again. I guess he sensed I wasn't putting out deranged stalker vibes anymore. We somehow managed, mostly through humor and flirtation, to cobble a friendship together.
We were a strange pair, he and I. I'd just turned 20 and he, 34. But apparently we shared enough things in common to mutually charm each other.
I enjoyed dancing at the private clubs of the day, and he had memberships to all of them. I was able to introduce him to the new dance music they were just beginning to call disco, and he showed me how taking Seconal could temper an errant acid trip. He would watch and critique my pick-up technique, giving me pointers, and I'd show him how not to dress like an accountant. He taught me never to make out with the host's boyfriend at a party, and listened patiently when I complained that the host had basically raped me a few nights later, when I met up with him on his own. I learned to never drink a tumbler of bourbon, straight up, unless I could deal with the morning after. I learned how to attract a third man of our liking, so we could drag him home and have our way with him. We became fuck buddies and theatre, movie, bar and bathhouse buddies, as well.
He encouraged me to write, calling me Wordsmith, and I began a series of journals. Some years ago he started his well-revered website which reviews all things cultural and asked me to write for him. I'm still a sporadic writer at best, but I think of him every time I sit down to do this.
He advised and consoled me when I thought I had met the man of my dreams, and it turned out to be Robert.
Arthur decided in 1976 to move to San Francisco. Could there have been a better time for that pilgimage? Robert and I were well together by then and Arthur's influence was waning under Robert's tutelage. The three of us spent the Bi-Centennial weekend that year walking around town cruising the multitude of sailors that had arrived on their tall ships, high out of our minds on THC.
Arthur sold his co-op and his furniture, and left. I still have his cocktail table in my living room.
He'd visit every year or so, but those dwindled off and we slowly lost touch in the 17 years that followed.
When I declared my emancipation from Robert, I sent Arthur a short note. He was on the phone offering a shoulder I didn't need almost immediately. We've seen each other many times in our respective cities. He's shown Tim and I all of San Francisco and Marin, and I go to the theatre and dinner regularly with him when he's here for reviewing purposes.
A year or so ago, Arthur and I sat in Cafe Luxembourg with another older friend of his. After some time, the friend wondered aloud as to the genesis of our friendship. Arthur explained that he had dated me when I was a child, and the friend was suitably impressed. He then asked why we had broken up. I did not know the answer to this. Arthur explained that we had been out on a date, and I had had the temerity to hold his hand in public. He knew then there was no future in our relationship.
I wish he had explained that all those years ago. I could have shrugged that off so easily. Instead, I carried that failure with me for many years, wondering why I was good for everything else, but not good enough to be his boyfriend.
He also told the friend that I had quickly met someone else, the world's most attractive man, and when the two of us walked down the street, we looked like an advertisement for Black & White Scotch, both of us bearded, such was the chiaroscuric effect. The jealousy was plain in his voice.
Arthur's had two courses of chemotherapy this year, and has endured all the radiation a body can in one lifetime.
He's coming to town at the end of the month. We're going to see a play and have dinner. Best of all, we'll talk.