Homeless in front of Lunch Combo
The bombardment continues: the Arctic Ice melt, the travel bans, the awful cabinet appointees, the specter of Bannon behind it all. It’s hard to be present in the here and now, so I drift back to other Terrible Times I’ve experienced. I remember a homeless man I met long ago, a patient on the AIDS unit. Calvin told me stories about his life, how he survived, how he got infected, how having AIDS was just basic training for living on the streets. Before he was discharged he asked me for 5 dollars. I knew we weren’t supposed to give patients money, but I couldn’t say no. Several months later the ward clerk came to find me. “Ed, there’s someone to see you.” It was a stormy day; rain was blowing against the patient’s windows. When I came down the hall I saw Calvin. He was drenched, wearing a tee shirt, a pair of torn pants, and only one shoe. He smiled and held out a crumpled 5-dollar bill. I didn’t want to take it, but I could see how important it was to him that I did. I thanked him and hugged him; he was shivering. After he left I went into the staff bathroom, one of the only rooms on the unit that locked, and cried really hard for him, for me, for the Terrible Times we were living in, and the surprising generosity that is always all around us.
I bought an orchid on 24th Street last spring, which seems so far away. The flower seller told me how to care for it and I was amazed at how constantly it bloomed and how long the flowers stayed. On November 9th, after the election, so much of my daily routine got disrupted, including caring for the orchid. I went weeks without tending it and in mid-December I found all of its petals laying together in a dead huddle; it turned into yet another thing to feel bad about. Earlier today I was carrying it to the trash when I noticed a small green bud on one of its branches; another reminder to pay attention and not jump to conclusions.
KS on arm
I just took a shower and saw the spot on my arm that’s been there all my life. Starting in June 1981, when the CDC first published accounts of male homosexuals dying of strange illnesses, I would look at that spot and worry about what it was, over and over again. It would take a year before the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York began and Shanti here in San Francisco would hold its first AIDS Volunteer Training. It took another year before the AIDS unit opened at SF General Hospital and then yet another year before the UCSF AIDS Health Project opened its doors. Finally, a full four years after the initial reports, the HIV test became available and for the first time you could find out if you had HIV rather than just wait for AIDS symptoms to appear. It’s hard to believe now, but it would be yet another two years before ACT-UP was formed and serious focused activism began. And even then, with all the committed and determined work we were all doing, life-saving medications were still another eight years away. I sit here on the 19th day of this presidency and remember the Woman’s march 17 days ago, hear the voices of the protestors out at the airports last weekend, see the work that countless individuals, groups and organizations are doing to resist and realize that today, though I’m worried again, I’m also well.
I was a high school senior when I entered Mrs. Crew’s English class at North Miami High, September 1965. I’d missed the first few days of school because Hurricane Betsy had just slammed Miami and during the height of the storm my mother went into labor and had three little girls. So much had already happened that year: LBJ sworn in, Malcolm X assassinated, Vietnam war and protests escalated, police and civil rights activists clashed, the Watt’s riots. Mrs. Crew had us read Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Brave New World, My Antonia, Native Son, Animal Farm, All the King’s Men and Shakespeare too. She spent a lot of time talking about hamartia, which means a fatal flaw that ultimately leads to one’s downfall. She pointed out that Romeo’s was impulsivity, Hamlet’s was indecisiveness, Othello’s was jealousy and Macbeth’s ambition. She said these were normal human traits that we all felt and experienced and that if we pay attention to them and not let them become extreme in ourselves, we’d all be better off.
All photos by Ed, except the one of Shakespeare's books, which was found online.