When The Candy Was Free

You know what I hate? People who hardly know each other jumping into bed together. I’m not against it for religious reasons. In fact, I’m not even sure what family values are — but I think they have something to do with the Care Bears. No, it’s because of my best friend John T.

Back in the late Seventies, John and I were “writer-producer-directors” for a big public relations firm in San Francisco. And over time we grew to be tight friends. We shared a lot of interests. He was a wonderful photographer and a classically trained pianist. He was gentle and funny and he had a warm heart. Truth is, over the years we worked together I came to love him like a brother.

John and his boy friend Todd were regular dinner guests at our big old house on Seventeenth Avenue and the evening always ended around the piano howling out Beatles songs or Cole Porter ballads or Christmas carols if the season was right. I won’t forget the time Patrushka attempted Creme Brulee for dessert, but the melted sugar topping got way too sticky and glued John’s mouth shut. The table fell apart from laughter.

John was a pal, and pals are hard to some by and I still miss him. Love is forever.

All because John couldn’t pass up a good orgy. He used to regale me with his sexual exploits. I learned a lot about the San Francisco gay community and its bathhouse, gloryhole culture. He once said living in San Francisco was like being a kid in a candy store and all the candy was free.

We used to go on the road together and I was amazed at his ability to spot and meet and pick up a gay cashier or waiter at the hotel – all with a look, a glance. He told me once he had been driving down Highway 101 up in the country somewhere and he had sex with a guy who passed him on the highway. They just exchanged looks and that’s all it took. They both pulled over and jumped out and got it on in the field and then jumped back in their little sports cars and off they went. Yahoo! Life in the free candy store.

He laughed about it and I laughed too. I guess I could have gotten all moralistic with him but I never thought of it, and it probably wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. That was the way it was in the gay world in San Francisco. Nobody had ever heard of AIDS.

Actually, the word was starting to get around. I remember one bluesky Saturday morning in 1982. We took the kids over to John and Todd’s Potrero Hill flat and jumped into their hot tub in the backyard. We had a great time as usual, but underneath I worried. Could AIDS get passed on through water in a hot tub? Should the girls be in here? Looking back, I’m glad I ignored the thought. Those guys weren’t long for this world and I’m glad for every moment we had together.

So, the next year I took a job on the east coast and, after that, I only saw John and Todd when I flew back to the City on business. I’d always drop by their flat to see what was up, and John wasn’t looking so good. He never would cop to having HIV, but I saw him preparing little vitamin protein supplements to spread on his cracker. We never really got down to what mattered – we’d just talk about business and trade east coast vs west coast work stories and talk about if the multi-image slide show business would survive.

John and Todd usually stayed with us when they were on the east coast and we managed to stay in touch, but less and less. Then one evening Todd called to tell us John was dead. He caught pneumonia and died quite quickly.

The fuck.

John’s parents came out from Pittsburgh. I guess the flat was in John’s name because they sold it and evicted Todd. They blamed Todd for everything. After a few months, he left the City. There was someone in Long Beach who said he’d take care of him.

God bless those guys. They’re both dead now because John couldn’t keep it zipped. Why couldn’t he just stay home with Todd? Was it really that hard to do? Excuse me, gentle reader. But do you see why I have a personal dislike of promiscuity?

Instead of a dear friend I get to see whenever I go to San Francisco, I just get another stupid fucking grave to put flowers on. I’ll just have to miss his sweet smile and gentle ways till I get to heaven. I wouldn’t want to go to any heaven that didn’t include John T.

So while we’re changing the world around here today could we please eliminate AIDS too?