10 June 2010

A Guy I Once Knew (Second in A Series of Reminiscences)

There's a fever in your soul.

Yeah, there is.

You won't settle for contentment, want something more. You've got to feel "it" not just think "it." No going through the motions, being the motions, and the emotions.

I knew a guy once. Steven. Super distant cousin. Rescued my first cousins and I at a big family 4th of July picnic. I was 15, bored hard. HE showed up. Our first meeting. Spiked our drinks with vodka.


Steven -- never Steve -- was 19 and a student at Cal. He looked like David Bowie or Mick Jagger depending on who you asked. Robert Downey Jr. reminds me of him. Steven was way post cool. Had presence, a style unique and amazing. His skinny body shook with laughter which exploded from him as often as could be managed. He could go from philosophical to hilarious to political to sarcastic to awfully damn silly in a the span of a few sentences. Didn't always need that much. Steven's views were always his own, nothing borrowed. His flamboyant manner was unique. Never foppish nor exaggerated, just an extension of the inner fever in his soul.

I wanted to be like him but didn't have the guts. Nor the brilliance. Not a loose employment of the term. He read books in half the time of us mere mortals and retained twice as much. Could learn a language in a few months. Was spellbindingly articulate even while blind drunk.

So you've got intelligence, a hip sophistication, outrageous humor and boundary pushing. Don't forget charisma. I had found an influence. He found something interesting about me so we were able to hook up regularly through the years.

Steven came out to me by necking in front of my girlfriend and I with the guy he was going with. This about four years after we met. No surprise and no matter. If I was going to have my first gay friend all the better that it be someone I admired.

Once we were in a bar in Marin County where there were large communal tables. This guy starts talking to us and raises a question that had to do with intercourse (with women). When the stranger asked for opinions Steven said that being gay he had none on the matter. The guy, an obvious rube, says: "I have a cousin who's gay, his name is Craig, he lives in San Francisco, you know him?" Steven doesn't miss a beat. Replies, sure I know Craig, I s*cked his c*ck once.

I literally, not figuratively, was on the floor with laughter. When I managed to regain my seat, the stranger was gone and Steven was casually puffing on his cigarette which he held as if channelling Marlene Dietrich.

We had many "adventures" together. The quotation marks are required because these "adventures" were invariably alcohol fueled laugh fests leaving most others more than a little bemused at the two know-it-all hyenas. As I climbed into my 20's we grew closer though we only saw one another a few times a year. I always tried to bring my latest girl friend to meet him, which meant a special trip into the wilds of Marin. It was worth it. They liked him as indeed did everyone save a few of the more morally conservative sorts who couldn't abide his bohemian lifestyle. He in turn liked everyone, save perhaps himself. He loved a lot about himself, just not who he was. Though without question possessing a ravenous sexual appetite and quite open about his preferences, Steven actually tried to cure his homosexuality through hypnosis, psychiatry and prescription drugs. You talk about inner conflict.

Steven's life ended up being a mess and he died young. That's abrupt, I know, but that's in keeping with his life.

I didn't miss Steven for many years. By the time of his death we'd been out of touch for awhile. I'd found sobriety, married and become a father and a teacher. Now that the young uns are grown and I've left teaching I realize what a great gift my time with Steven was. It's no use trying to pass judgement on either him or the many dances with Bacchus that we had together. Clearly he failed to find fulfillment in life and would have done well to trying to cure himself of his addictions rather than his sexual proclivities. But that, to me, is not nearly so important as the fact that he lived so stylishly, so fabulously. Richly. I can't condemn him for not utilizing nature's gifts, I can only appreciate him for enriching my life.

He had a fever in his soul and for good or ill, I caught it.

(The phrase "a fever in your soul" is from Jack Kerouac's On the Road)

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