Thursday, October 17, 2013

These friends of mine


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Since the rise of the digital age, everybody but everybody can look forward to living forever in various pockets of the webiverse. One necessarily leaves a digital footprint in order to live today, if not in the world, certainly in the USA. You can’t do diddley-squat without filling out some damned form online or being directed to a website for more information, or making a phone call… or a real-life friend posts a picture of you on Facebook and a million ’bots the world over begin compiling data on your consumer habits and political tendencies.

If you’re reading this, congratulations. Hard drives everywhere are recording your visit for posterity.

I was thinking about a friend the other day who died maybe 25 years ago. Ray Luther was the first person I got to know after moving to Southern California as a young rube from Arizona. I’ve always tended to land somewhere and make a best friend at the new workplace, and meeting Ray followed along those lines. He worked in another department of the same printing company, and we hit it off immediately. He was a tall, lanky, unkempt mess, just like me. He wore tattered, dirty clothes, had long brown hair that he deliberately drooped over his eyes; the better to observe the world without actually having to interact unless he chose to, and then usually only to make a dry, spot-on observation or dirty joke.

He looked like a total hippie and was clearly fucked up most of the time (Disclaimer: everybody in that place at the time was on something. One guy lived out in his van in the parking lot with his huge dog and drank on the job and off, no problemo.). Ray was the exact kind of person to whom I’m always drawn, a fellow oddball misfit. Somebody else who had finally resigned themselves to just not fitting in and was trying to have some fun with it.

One time, after maybe a few weeks as the most junior flunky in the art department, Ray took me out to lunch and got me hammered. Sloppy, slurry drunk. I stumbled back into the office after an exceedingly long lunch break and my boss took me aside and gave me a tongue-lashing, a breath mint and a handful of some gruntwork to do. And a warning about being more discreet next time. Remember, it was the ’80s. People were still smoking at their desks for God’s sake, and this was in southern California. This boss is the same lady who would go on to introduce me to snortable speed, but that is a story for another time.

Ray and I had a grand old time together until he got sick. He was the first person I knew to jump on the Laserdisc bandwagon, and what a thrill it was to finally see movies at home in full widescreen format, with digital sound! It sounds funny now. Quaint even. But for about 10 minutes, it was The Shit.

Before he got sick himself, we had watched his partner David die slowly, horribly at home, Ray becoming a caregiver with startling grace and apparent ease. After a while, he began to become symptomatic himself. He didn’t even bother to take the AIDS test. As I have mentioned, Ray liked to party, and he and David had been together for years. If David had HIV—which was a death sentence in the ’80s—Ray knew he had it, too.

I went to his funeral. His friends filled the pews on one side of the church’s center aisle, and members of his family were seated here and there on the other side. After the obligatory churchy stuff that goes on when funerals are held in proper churches, people were asked to step forward to remember Ray. His friends came forward and told their Ray stories to what was becoming an unhappily familiar chorus of sniffles, sobs and laughter.

When the Ray’s-friends side of the church had finished remembering him, Ray’s brother hit the lectern and proceeded to expound at fiery length about the sin of homosexuality and how profoundly sad he was that he knew where Ray must be now ... HELL! Then he started calling on the homosexuals in attendance to renounce their sinful ways before it was too late for them, too. And he was not at all nice about it. Or succinct.

Had it been my call, and I almost made it my call anyway, I would have jumped up and beaten the bastards with their own stick. I don’t know chapter and verse, but I’m pretty good at the parts of the Bible that buttress my personal belief-system. His family deserved to be gob-smacked to silence, but I looked around at Ray’s friends and they sat there and took it all in stoically. I completely failed to comprehend their lack of outrage at the time, but understood that they obviously did not want their friend’s memorial disrupted by their side of the aisle, so I kept my mouth shut. But it boils me to this day.

And Ray would have loved it if I had thrown a monkey wrench into the affair. It would have created exactly the kind of anarchic chaos to which he was drawn. And his family had long-since disowned him anyhow, so fuck them. But his friends would have known all that stuff too, and had still made their decision not to rise to the bait. They valued Ray’s dignity way more than Ray did.

He was my friend and when I think about him, I miss him.

Something caused me to think about him the other day, and when you recall old friends in 2013, what do you do? You Google them. Check Facebook … the thought occurred to me reflexively, then I realized, he died just the other side of the cusp of the digital revolution. Having achieved nothing extraordinary or infamous in his life, his existence has gone virtually unnoticed, and will remain unremarked upon going forward.

He will never be ‘Liked’ by a complete stranger online nor have important emails redirected to his spam folder, screwing up his whole workday.

It got me to thinking, what about the wave of people who were wiped out just before the digital age? Mostly young men who perished in such numbers that after a while, that’s all they became to most people. Obituaries were replaced by statistics. And since these folks just missed having an online presence, they effectively became the last forgotten generation in a world come to revolve around and rely upon the online experience.

A lot of these guys who died in the mid-to-late ’80s were friends of mine and I don’t want to forget them. I don’t want them to be forgotten.

So here’s to you, Ray Luther. You now have a foot in the digital doorway; for better or worse, welcome to posterity.

Maybe next time I’ll write about Hans Kleinfeld, who once drawled to me, in his thick German accent, “Fang, you haf nothink to worry about. I like my men like I like my coffee; strong unt black.”

That guy definitely would have had a hell of a Twitter following.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of people were remembered in AIDS quilts. Not the same cache as an FB identity, but portable nonetheless.
--Noel

1:41 PM

 
Blogger L said...

You changed the post's title! I like it, it's beautiful. Great homage to your friend Ray Luther. I'm sure he was a great guy. I'm sorry about what happened in his funeral. :( You've probably read/heard LisaV's story of her best friend & fellow hair-stylist's death from AIDS. Thankfully her friend's experience was much more positive, with lots of support from friends. You should ask her about it sometime... she wrote some beautiful blog posts about it.

7:15 PM

 
Blogger Ankur said...


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12:10 AM

 
Anonymous Connie said...

Wow. Glad I checked in. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking reminiscence. Nicely done.

4:58 PM

 
Blogger Heather Clisby said...

What a beautiful tribute to Ray. I never met him but I remember you speaking of him with a smile.

I'm not sure I would have held it together at the funeral. I would have made a scene, thrown a tomato, something. Who knows? Maybe in the 80s, Ray's friends were starting to tire of funerals and had seen it before. Now? No way would that idiot brother get away with it.

2:13 PM

 

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