The Important Visiting Friend



241 W. 37th St., NY, NY 10018

Neighborhood: Midtown

The bouncer pulled the door. Daylight, quite a shock. How long were we unconscious, the Important Visiting Friend and I? We squinted our way out into the day, me very reluctantly, him, I recall, more bravely. He wanted to see a movie, as usual. Had he planned to see this film, memorized the location and times the day before? Or did we just stumble out from Danceteria–this was circa 1980, the nightclub’s first incarnation–and onto 37th Street and into whatever we happened into? The IVF was obsessed with film. My kinda-sorta-maybe boyfriend had made it known, in the weeks preceding this blinding-bright morning, that the Visiting Friend was incredibly Important. How exactly was this so? Details now blurred by intervening decades, among other things.

The main image I retain of the IVF is sharp, the sun high (was it Spring? I don’t recall oppressive heat, so it couldn’t have been Summer): a young man trying hard to look Dylan-like, and doing it better than most of the other wannabes in downtown New York. Well-fitting early Sixties clothes, some sort of western tie, ribbon or string. Buttons done up to the neck, just like the kinda-sorta-maybe boyfriend.

The Visiting Friend was not just any old person who happened to come from the same city on the same continent as the kinda-sorta-maybe boyfriend. The k-s-m’s affection for this guy went well beyond his admiration for him as a fellow musician and songwriter. This Importance had, in some vague sort of homoerotic male bonding energy common to heterosexual twenty-year-olds, been made very clear to me.

The Visiting Friend I found intriguing but infuriating.

I was, like the Visiting Friend, originally provincial. I figured that if I could spring from a little old redneck town in Texas and become a NYC fag hag (Ninth Circle, Crisco Disco, Anvil, Boots and Saddle, Uncle Charlie’s) then the Visiting Friend from a large Queensland city had no excuse for being homophobic.

The Visiting Friend was not, originally, from any city. He was from someplace called Cans, which I figured was spelled like that Riviera city where they have the big deal film festival. Later I would learn that the place he came from was spelled Cairns, but even that is not where he originally came from. He came from a sheep station, which is what Australians call a ranch.

He was from a ranch and I don’t even know how we first got onto the subject of homosexuality but it was such an accepted part of urban culture that I was shocked at his discomfort. I asked him, really, just what his objection was and he retorted, “because a cock does not belong up an asshole.”

I could only laugh at that, so simplistic and, to me, beside the point. Who asked him to take it up? Why did he care what other people did? Turns out, over time, that people closest to him, people he loved most in this world, revealed themselves to be gay.

The IVF, to my surprise, never did.

He was full of infuriating contradictions. One minute he would say he was a Marxist, the next he would say that his ideal woman had to be an aristocrat. Not just act classy, he insisted in response to my queries, but really be from a titled family.

He was also resolutely melancholy. I asked him why and he said it was because he would someday die. How adolescent, I thought. I am so over it. I thought.

The IVF’s father died young, and the IVF wrote his best song about loss and boyhood. He had to agree with my protestations that it did not make much sense to ruin the precious time we have alive by brooding on the fact that it will someday end. His moodiness, however, he said he could not help.

He nurtured that moodiness. He was, in later years, surprised and annoyed at his New York friends, the way we were always running off to our therapists.

We helped him explore New York that 1980 spring, the kinda-sorta-maybe boyfriend and I, and one night our exploring took us to a new club called Danceteria. It was two floors, a big deal back then, and multi-media. Just black painted wood inside, though, no later 80’s fancy interiors.

We were young and invulnerable, liquid nights of vodka and quaaludes, nights like this (the IVF never stopped thinking he was invulnerable). The k-s-m boyfriend and I had a fight. He stormed out of the club, a rare incidence of pique for him. I stayed in the club. I found the IVF in a nice cushy upholstered chair. There was an empty one near him. I took it.

Why was the bouncer shaking me? I wasn’t doing anything. Why did he have a push broom? Where did everybody go? He was shaking the IVF in the next chair. He pulled the door.

Daylight. I was mortified. As mortified as a person on serious CNS depressants can be. We must have been unconscious for hours in the club.

It seems, in the bright but undetailed film of memory, that we just stumbled down the street and into a movie theater. Safe in the dark again. Thank God. I felt yucky—a new day and no shower! And in my nightclub clothes (I can’t remember what I was wearing! That’s really odd). Whatever I was wearing, I remember feeling as though I stood out, that everyone we encountered knew I had been passed out in a club all night. The IVF looked ever-crisp with his buttoned-up top button. This movie we saw, lot of dancing. Choreography, not disco. Dance—serious dance—was another IVF obsession. Funny, because he was one of the least physical people I ever knew. Few stage moves.

The film was very surreal, intensely influenced by Fellini. A brilliant film about some fairly sleazy people. About a hard-drinking, drugging, womanizing, driven artist. About show business. About, mostly, death. A heart attack. A disturbingly graphic depiction of thoracic surgery. A real human heart, externalized. Body parts in jars. Dancers in costumes emblazoned with arteries and veins, singing the onset of another heart attack. And “All That Jazz.”

We sat through it twice.

I think.

* * *

The IVF returned to Brisbane after a few more days (weeks?) of New York exploring. I gifted him with Cinemabilia-purchased stills of the movie before he left. That was all most people could own of a film before VHS and DVD. I also presented him with a quaalude which I thought would sweeten the last, long end of the flight from the West Coast. He took it from me and promptly popped it in his mouth. Minutes later his legs went out from under him. Broad daylight on the sidewalk on St. Marks Place. Took two guys to hold him up. The loyal k-s-m boyfriend had a helluva time getting him into a taxi and on the plane.

* * *

The kinda-sort-maybe boyfriend is, today, my husband. Grant McLennan died on May 6, 2006 of a massive heart attack.

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