Detail from photo by Ethan Hill
Larry Kramer recently died. To honor his legacy here is a conversation he had with his dear friend Calvin Trillin which was originally published in FourTwoNine magazine’s Friendship issue when I was its Editor-in-Chief. FourTwoNine is deceased as well but part of its death is no proof that it ever existed on the internet. Therefore, this issue of sessumsMagazine.com is a compendium of its stories that I consider worthy of having a second life. This conversation between Larry and Calvin leads off the issue. They were classmates at Yale together, these two taciturn types whose taciturnity is – and alas was – tied to a deeper kindness and their singular talents as writers and observers of America’s cultural landscape. I wish could offer a second life to Larry himself. He was my friend, too. I loved him. And will always miss him.
Remembering a seminal summer of his youth working in a Southern California gay bar, he writes, "I am not, strictly speaking, one of the guys, though they have the good grace to treat me as if I were. Since I was hired by the bar manager, I’ve learned that every summer he makes a point of hiring an odd man out—specifically, a boy who is more clever than he is beautiful, who (as I’ve gathered) meant not only to entertain the patrons but to assure them that the wall of air between them and the men behind the bar is at least semipermeable; to be their animal familiar in a world of robust male camaraderie they are invited to observe but not, ever, to enter. My predecessor last summer was a sweet, Rubenesque boy they called Bubbles."
Photograph by Driu & Tiago
The first fashion story I ran at FourTwoNine magazine was photographed by Ruven Afanador (details of some of his images above) and styled by Bernat Buscato. It was inspired by the exhibit A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk at The Museum at FIT. For more images and videos from the A Queer History of Fashion symposium featuring Hal Rubenstein, Joel Sanders, John Bartlett, Valerie Steele & Fran Lebowitz, and me: Click here.
Photo of John Waters by Henny Garfunkle
3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
I was stumped. I was stymied. Stalled. That steady stutter of “st” “st” “st” that ironically fueled my inability to start. I was at a loss in all the loss I have experienced recently although you would think that someone weaned on loss would have figured out how to live in it. This iteration of sessumMagainze.com is how I finally figured it out.
As 2020 began, I was looking forward to heading to London again at the end of March for one of my month-long trips there to celebrate my birthday and to take long contemplative walks and to attend theatre and to see friends and to make some new ones and to go to my favorite London AA and CMA meetings I had staked out during my last month-long trip there and to go to museums and to encounter ballet and to revel in opera. I was longing simply to be for I can be in London in this late stage of my life in ways I can’t seem to be anywhere else. It is not that I feel happy there. I feel instead content. I feel instead a lack of unhappiness. I feel instead hopeful. I feel productive. So in my anticipation at my lack of unhappiness and my productivity, I was looking forward to creating another special London Edition of this online magazine. I was beginning to map it all out and book interviews over there. A sense of hope was creeping credibly into my life.
And then the pandemic hit.
The lockdown – a low moan there in the wings where it waited readying itself to make its entrance – lumbered onstage.
I cancelled my trip and, with it, all the plans for sessumsMagazine.com I was beginning to make. The sense of loss I felt about the trip and the loss of experiencing culture as a way to heal myself began to weigh on me heavily. I realize theatre specifically is considered a frivolous luxury by many, but to me it has always been my lifeline. I came to understand that the communal aspect of it is as important to a loner like me as the artistic one as community itself was being redefined in all our lives. I know now that even as I was realizing that during the early days of the pandemic, I was letting down this very community here at sessumsMagazine.com. I was letting myself down. I have for the last few months referred to the pandemic’s lockdown as The Duration. But maybe a better term on lots of levels for this isolating lockdown we’ve all jarringly experienced together in our separateness would be The Great Letdown. I have been feeling greatly let down. And I have let down so many others. I have let you down. I apologize. I am sorry.
During it all, during The Great Letdown, I stayed home. Stewed. That steady stutter made its entrance, as did sadly – so, so sadly – Teddy’s tragic, fatal illness. Teddy was my beloved dog and I spent April nursing him, tending to him as tenderly as I could as his organs failed, and finally holding him in my arms as he died. I feel like I failed him at times – yes, let him down – during his illness. But I did the best I could within the horror of it for me. The best? No, that’s not correct. Let me be rigorously honest. Sometimes I did the worst I could. But I never abandoned him. I bore down as I bore witness to his suffering. The grief when his suffering ended that dawn he died in my arms was overwhelming. There is no grief like it, the grief you feel when a beloved pet dies, and I am an expert on grief having lost both parents within a year of each other when I was a child and then growing up to be a gay man who came of age during the AIDS crisis. Pet grief is specific to that pet, but it also lances all the grief you carry around inside yourself where you think it can be subsumed. It can’t. At some point the lancing has to happen. So just as it was an incongruous blessing not to be able to go to London so I could be here by Teddy’s side during his illness and death, so too was his death a kind of blessing beleaguered as it was by sobs and so much sorrow because it enabled the lancing of my deep, embedded grief, the emotional malignancy at my marrow. Teddy was a healing presence in my life. He was one of the greatest blessings I have ever known. He was such a blessing that even his absence continues the healing he came into my life to begin. I will forever be grateful for him and to him. The rest of my life will be lived in gratitude for the fateful narrative that brought us together in a shared one. I will never live up to his goodness. It’s not humanly possible. But each day will be an attempt to do so.
I was deep in the initial phases of my grief for Teddy when news reached me of my dear friend Larry Kramer’s death. That day I heard the news of Larry’s death the sorrow doubled in on itself. And yet I also saw in my need to honor Larry a way to turn all the loss I was feeling into a way forward with this online magazine.
These losses the last few months were just the latest in a march of loss that began its procession in my life back during my time in San Francisco. I moved there to be the founding Editor in Chief of FourTwoNine magazine. I created five issues before I resigned for ethical reasons, but the sense of loss I felt at my resignation was great. I moved on however and found another job with the Curran Theatre as its Editor at Large. During that job, Teddy’s brother Archie died in my arms as well after his diagnosis of cancer. Archie and I were solitary souls who found each other. When Teddy was brought into our lives as his brother, we became a family. Teddy was there for me during that grief for Archie because I was bereft. Deeply so. I also kept going to my AA meetings at first to find some sense of solace. And yet as I approached five years of sobriety, I took my will back and used. I suffered another deep sense of loss that day I picked up, the loss of my consecutive years of sobriety. It shadows me still. I also lost my job at the Curran.
And then there was the loss of dear, wise, wonderful Gerry. Those who follow me on Facebook know of my friendship with her. We shared a mutual devotion. I was a Shanti volunteer and she was my client but became so much more. She was a kind of north star for me. She was my rock. Gerry suffered badly from lymphedema as a side effect of her Stage 4 cancer. So I’d go to her apartment each morning to wash her feet and legs and lotion them and massage them and help her put on her support stockings. I had hoped to live in San Francisco until she died, but economically I couldn’t make that happen. After the loss of two jobs, I had to take an action to solve my economic problems and moved to Hudson, New York, where I now live. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done – leaving Gerry. But she understood. We talked a lot on the phone. I went back once to visit her for a week. And when I heard she was at the end and in the hospital, I took an overnight flight to get to San Francisco the next morning to visit her and then had booked a flight back to New York later that evening. I would be in San Francisco about 12 hours. I got word on my flight out there that she had died as I was heading out to be by her side. The sense of loss on that plane where I sat in my middle seat crying was something I will never forget. I went to her apartment and sat on her stoop and cried some more.
Another death was the death of FourTwoNine magazine after I left it. I assume that in its bankruptcy filing an agreement must have been reached to scrub any evidence of it from the internet. There is no proof – except for the hard copies of the issues – that it ever existed. I decided that if I couldn’t revive Teddy or Larry or Archie or Gerry or my jobs in San Francisco or have 8 consecutive years of sobriety on June 28th, which was my original sober date, then I could revive FourTwoNine. This iteration of sessumsMagazine.com is not only a revival of some of its stories which would have lived on the internet, but also by building this iteration with these stories I have given myself a sense of renewal as well, a credible sense of hope. I have found a way forward in all this loss.
One of the things I did as Editor in Chief of FourTwoNine was use the spine of each issue – usually unused space for magazines – to publish poetry. Along with poems by Elizabeth Bishop and Lydia Davis, I published these three.
YOUNG by Jonathan Galassi
I tried, and each attempt was a fiasco.
I yearned, but every love of mine was wrong.
I needed, and the shame was overwhelming.
I failed, and so I hated being young.
TWELVE by Stan Rice
By the time you are twelve your affections are fixed.
Then come the decades that roll your heart like a cheese
In the sea. Yes, it is surreal.
Then you are twelve again, and old
And you find the waxed red ball of your heart on the shore
And you are not surprised by anything now except
That you should love at the end what you loved at the beginning.
And there was this one from the Greek poet Hesiod:
It will not always be summer;
The Great Letdown has led me here finally. To this iteration of sessumsMagazine.com. To this Editor’s Letter. To this very sentence. Welcome to the barn I have built – that we have together – because when barns are raised they are raised with hope and a sense of community. I have raised this one with the roughhewn lumber of loss, remembrance, and love.
(Left, photo credits, top to bottom: Stewart Shining, Damon Baker, Bjorn Iooss, Damon Baker Damon Baker, and the photo with Max Mutchnick from my first Editor’s Letter at FourTwoNine by Matt Edge.)
"Standing Nude with Stockings,"1914. Black chalk and gouache. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
STARS IN BLACK TURTLENECKS
Self portrait by Egon Schiele, 1912. While Picasso and Braque were shocking the art world with cubism and Duchamp was challenging it with his readymades, he was concentrating in his studio in fin de siecle Vienna on the age-old fixation: the naked human form. Richard Avedon cited his work as one of his biggest influences because its "candor and complexity" deconstructed "the tradition of flattery and lies in portrait-making."
"Family," 1918. Oil on canvas. The Upper Belvedere. Vienna.
IN THE COMING WEEKS ...
Laura Linney. Judith Light. Cara Buono. Ellen Barkin. Annette Bening. Jane Fonda. Parker Posey. Style icon and photographer Lisa Eisner. Producer Tom Kirdahy. Aaron Tveit. Ato Blankson-Wood. James Cusati-Moyer. Duane Michals. John Waters. Alan Cumming. And countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo
Capote by Roger Higgins
WHO SAID IT: Truman Capote or Tallulah Bankhead? This series is different for this iteration of sessumsMagazine.com. Click below to meet Eugene Walter, the best-known man you've never heard of. Before he helped found the "Paris Review" in the 1950s, he befriended both Capote and Bankhead and brought a touch of his native Mobile's Mardi Gras spirit to Greenwich Village in the 1940s.
Bankhead in a production photo from The Dancers, the 1923 London stage sensation that made her the talk of the town. Her most famous scene was one in which she performed a Native American dance costumed in these feathers and jewels. Similar to Madonna’s early success, she also developed a cult fan base of teenaged girls who copied her dress and style and lined up outside her door after performances.
THE DAILY DIVE
HERE ARE MY DAILY POSTS ABOUT POLITICS AND CULTURE. AND MY META-MEMOIR. SMALL-TOWN HUDSON. SMALL-TOWN NEW YORK. SMALL-TOWN LONDON. THIS IS WHERE WE ARE ALL A SMALL TOWN TOGETHER. WELCOME TO SESSUMSMAGAZINE.COM'S NEWEST FEATURE.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 DAYS, Or My Trip into the Heart of Covid-19
In Part One of his latest travel piece, Robert Hofler takes us to Spain and Italy. Left, Bologna.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 DAYS, Or My Trip into the Heart of Covid-19.
In Part Three, Hofler arrives in India. Left, a suite found on the Palace on Wheels luxury train on which he traveled for part of his journey
AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 DAYS, Or My Trip into the Heart of Covid-19
Hofler spends his Christmas in Italy in Part Two. Left, a detail from a Titian which hangs in Naples.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 50 DAYS, Or My Trip into the Heart of Covid-19
Robert Hofler winds up his trip in Part Four, leaving India for Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Japan, and South Korea. Left, the Taj Mahal.