Monday, December 01, 2003
I don't normally talk about my private life on this blog. Perhaps today I should.
When I first arrived in London in the early 80s, I was young and gagging for it. My life was one long shagathon, and I'd make more new "friends" in a week than I now do in a year, and I rarely enquired after their names. My arrival in the capital also coincided with the opening of the notorious and short-lived Subway club on Leicester Square. The first venue of its kind in the UK, it advertised itself as an "American style club", which meant DJs playing frenetic HiNRG, and two large darkrooms, where the all-male, amyl-sniffing clientele went at it like bunny-rabbits. I was down there almost every night.
Around this time, I met "Buddy", a doctor from New York, who was in the UK on a sabbatical. Looking back, I suppose I had something of a crush on him, though we never slept together. He was about ten years older than me, streetwise and savvy, with a sly and intelligent wit, and one of the very first people who took me and my crazy ambitions seriously. He was the level-headed and together gay man I wanted to become. (In case you think he sounds too good to be true, let me point out that he was also the one who turned me on to showtunes, so he's a lot to answer for.)
One Tuesday evening in '82 he invited me round for dinner with a mate of his from New York, Martin Sherman, the writer of award-winning play, Bent. It was a civilised evening, talking art and politics, and bitching about Hollywood and Broadway stars. In passing, Sherman mentioned that he wished someone would take action against this mysterious new something which seemed to be affecting only gay men. None of us dwelt much on it, and later that evening, I went off and played the slut as usual down in Subway.
We didn't think about the consequences of our actions in the dark or worry about something which didn't even have a name back then. We certainly didn't know anyone who died of it, and we were all young and going to live forever anyway. But by virtue of hanging around with Buddy, as news started to trickle in from his friends and colleagues in the States, I realised that this was serious. I became more and more informed, certainly more so than the Government at the time; and it was Buddy who urged me to alter my slutty behaviour, or, at the very least, start using condoms, way before anyone dared to mention them on daytime TV. The fact I'm still around today, when many of my other sleaze-pals from that time are not, is down in no small part to him.
Eventually he moved back to what was then the front-line in New York, establishing a busy gay men's health practice, and doing research into possible vaccines against what had now been named AIDS. I went over one Christmas and saw a community in crisis. . When I returned to London, I asked the management of Brief Encounter, then the capital's largest and busiest gay bar, why they didn't have AIDS charity tins on the bar, as they had in New York. It would put off the customers, they informed me, and they didn't want to know.
Buddy would fly back to London regularly and we'd often meet up for lunch or a trip to the theatre. One time we went to see the musical Chess in the West End, and then I treated him to dinner in Soho. It was the late 80s, and AIDS still hadn't really hit the UK with the force it had in Manhattan. But everyone in New York seemed to be dying, he told me, and, though he claimed to have tested negative six months earlier, he was still scared. I babbled some inane comment that he was my friend which meant that he wouldn't die, and, like a coward, changed the subject.
I never saw or heard from him again. Eighteen months later, I read in the paper that he had died. I wonder if, that last time, he knew he was HIV-positive, and was testing me, trying to see what my reaction would be. If so, then, sorry, Buddy, I failed the test back then, but you know I don't today. But it would have been so good to have seen you just one more time. At least you're still remembered, under your real name, and not your favoured nickname, in the AIDS quilt, that moving memorial to all of those we've lost to that bastard virus.
Today on World AIDS Day, things aren't as bleak as they were in my twenties, at least not for us in the West, with drugs and combinations of drugs to control the disease. And while there's an enormous amount to do in the developing world, I wish Buddy could be around today to see the progress we've made. And besides, I miss him like fuck.