After spending a year at Hell-fer-Sartain State College, I managed to escape by being admitted to the graduate program in Comparative Literature at USC: so I would be moving to West Hollywood. My friend Tom, who I visited in Los Angeles in 1980, offered to let me stay with him in Van Nuys while I looked for an apartment. Dick, the former bully who I met at a gay bar, offered to drive along as far as Denver.
I heard so much about AIDS decimating gay communities. Maybe West Hollywood was a ghost town, its residents all dead and dying.
Was it still there?
On June 28th, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we left Rock Island.
We spent the night in Omaha, with Thomas, the priest with three boyfriends. He had only one now, and they didn't invite us to "join them."
June 29th: To Denver. We stayed with Dick's straight, married cousin.
June 30th: We went to church at the gay MCC of the Rockies, on Evans Street (they've moved; the building is now a gym). It was packed. But of course a church would be packed during an epidemic.
Afterward we went out to lunch with some guys we met, and to a beer bust at the Denver Eagle, a leather bar. It was packed, too, wall-to-wall denim and muscle. But there was not a lot of cruising going on, and everyone looked rather subdued and worried.
July 1st: Fishing with Dick's cousin (I liked to use fishing as bait to meet cute guys), then back to the Denver Eagle. Not packed on a Monday night, but a muscle bear invited us back to his house (safe activities only). He told us that Colorado hadn't been hit hard by AIDS; there were only about 100 cases.
It was the gay ghettos that were turning into ghost towns.
I drove on to Las Vegas, and went to a casino and a drag show. They were having an AIDS benefit. It was packed.
"Most of the guys here are refugees," he said. "They can't stay in West Hollywood anymore, with all of their friends dying." I remembered the courtiers who fled plague-stricken Florence in Boccaccio's Decameron, and sat around telling stories.
"Is it still there?" I asked. "Or is it a ghost town?"
"It's nothing like what it was. People are dying."
Michael invited me back to his apartment, but only to cuddle. He planned to be celibate until they found a cure.
July 3rd: I left at 9:00 am, and by noon I was over the mountains, zooming through the sprawl of Pasadena and East L.A.. I should have kept going, into the San Fernando Valley to Van Nuys, where Tom lived. But I wanted to take a detour into West Hollywood first.
I wanted to see if Michael was right. If it was a ghost town.
Like a post-Apocalyptic America.
At La Cienega, Santa Monica Boulevard veered left. The first thing I saw was AIDS prevention poster starring Zelda Rubenstein of Poltergeist.
Two guys in tank tops buying cookies at an outdoor Mrs. Fields.
A banner advertising an AIDS Benefit at the Rage
Male couples sitting al fresco under the awnings at The Cafe Etoile
Gay men shopping, eating, working out, buying groceries and books, coming home from work, dozens of them, hundreds. West Hollywood was still alive, still vibrant.
I was home.
See also: Moving to West Hollywood #1.