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Remembering Eugene, who died thirty years ago


I met Eugene in a Folsom Street bar in the Spring of 1982. We did it that night, which wasn’t unusual for the place and time. What was different was that we wanted to see each other again.

Our first proper date was at a club on Upper Market, just northeast of Castro Street. It was a classy, retro joint, out of Hammett: up a flight of stairs, with soft music, dim lights, thick carpets, mirrors and a big long bar. We sat at a little table and had beers. A lot of beers. And talked and talked. And then we went back to my place.

Later, in bed, very late at night, Eugene asked me to tell him a story. I always liked that aspect of him. Although he was seven years older than me, he had a childlike quality of innocence, although he certainly wasn’t naïve. Cousin Maxine called him “the nicest man in the world.” He was polite, laughed easily and happily, adored his friends, and was, mirabile dictu, sane. After we’d lived together, in Bernal Heights, for some years, his rheumatoid arthritis, which he’d had all his life, grew worse, and he began taking Percodan for the pain. The pills made him grouchy, never to me, but toward his tormented body. His job didn’t help: he was a “speedy,” a Special Delivery driver for the U.S. Postal Service. For eight hours a day he lugged 40-pound gift boxes of Hawaiian pineapples and other heavy crates up front-door stoops and it took its toll.

Our work hours were opposite to each other, which limited our time together, but we managed to do a lot. There was a Chinese restaurant on Mission that served, oddly, pesto pizza which we loved. We’d drive out to Ocean Beach and take walks in the dunes, or go to the movies, or visit his friend, Barbara, whom he called Babs, in her little flat on Telegraph Hill, and hear about her latest affair. We went to Yosemite a couple times, and once to Waikiki, and one time to South Tahoe, where my father’s cousin, the late comedienne Joan Rivers, invited us to her show in a casino and received us backstage. Eugene’s folks lived in a trailer park in Calistoga, and we’d drive up there too.

Eugene had the sweetest relationship with them. He loved his stepmom but his biological dad had a special place in his heart. His dad was already in his eighties and physically shrunken so that he had an elfin quality. Eugene would walk down the sidewalk in front of their trailer park on a hot summer day and his dad would race ahead and hide behind a tree and “scare” Eugene at the last moment. Eugene loved that; it cracked him up.

After five years I got a job in Oakland and moved there. The relationship never actually ended, it just sort of slowed down. We remained friends. One day, in 1991, his friend Calder called to say Eugene had died. Something to do with his lungs, due to the rheumatoid arthritis, I was told. To this day I keep his photo on the bookcase in my living room. Together with Gus, my late dog, Eugene was one of the two living beings that loved me most in my adult life, and whom I loved.

Oh, the story I told Eugene? It was about a monkey king. It was improvised, which a proper story should be. Eugene held me tight at the end and kissed me.

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