This is a photo of me with author David B. Feinberg at an ACT UP New York meeting at Cooper Union in 1990. Maybe it was 1991, or 1992. I don't remember.
What I do remember is my desire to capture us together while the meeting took place in the historic East Village hall, where the AIDS activism group, having outgrown its weekly space at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village, continued to develop ideas for protests and information-gathering groups in the fight against the AIDS pandemic.
On that early evening, some thought in the back of my mind might have been, "He's going to die some day, and this photo, with the very interesting checkerboard tile pattern, may be one of our only documented moments together."
But of course there were many other moments, and protests, and hundreds of people I knew, and thousands of people you all knew, who died of AIDS. The overwhelming sprawl of December 1 annual World AIDS Day commemorations can be too much, and some people have long grown exhausted of the sentimentalism and trite symbolism of the red ribbon. Others still find solace in its significance, and remember full lists of peoples' names.
Of course, David had more than a few caustic words about such things. He probably said something that night, when this photo was taken, that cracked me up amid the speeches and organizational necessities. I do recall how, even after my departure from New York, David would call, his brain wracked with disease, to offer morbid jokes at his own expense, always preceded by his self-referential full name, "It's David B. Feinberg."
I wish I had recorded or written down every clever thing David ever said. Of course, he did, almost, in his acclaimed novels and essay collections Eighty-Sixed, Spontaneous Combustion and other books, published before and after his untimely death. These are books you need to read, seriously. I consider my books optional, but David's work is essential to understanding what it was like then. To be someone facing death, then.
Many novels, essays and strong works of journalism, entire volumes of periodicals and medical journals, have documented the past three decades of AIDS. Remember the magazines that featured page after page of pictures of the dead? Remember the montage in the acclaimed film We Were Here, with page after page of obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter? I edited those pages for several years, and it was the most painful task of my journalism career.
It's equally painful to look back, as I have been to before it all. The historic New York Times article describes a "new homosexual disorder" which was at turns dubbed GRID and AID (pre-Syndrome, pre-HIV, pre-Gallo's theft).
I'm still trying to polish up the delicate, strange moments in the early 1980s when the main characters in my next novel, the sequel to Every Time I Think of You, discover the beginnings of AIDS.
It has to be accurate for the journalist part of me. It has to lack foresight or prescience, for realism. But more, for people like David –who was so polite not to over-critique my early scribblings, unfinished and almost forced upon him in my pre-published days– it has to be honest and truthful.
Or it should be, as David wrote in his introduction to his book Queer and Loathing, "as close to the truth as I can get."
[Related posts: Reality Shown; Unremembering AIDS; Dark Days ]