- When I Was A Boy In Truro
photos by Iory Allison
Left to Right:
General Nuisance, our beagle, Thorne, Gordon, Seward, Nancy & Iory
When I was a boy in Truro it was a lonely place and by that, I mean it was open and uncrowded. Sweeping vistas stretched out across the Atlantic Ocean or Cape Cod Bay as far as the eye could see. The day sky was a vast blue space accommodating mystic cloud-mountains expanding beyond all limits. The night sky was infinite. Truro was the first place where I saw the Milky Way – our spiraling galaxy trailing across space. In August shooting stars fell from grace marking a path of white fire across the black dome of heaven. From our little sweep of beach, tucked into a clearing in the expansive salt marsh, we could follow the flooding and draining of the Pamet River. The tides came and went marking time by ever changing arrangements of golden sandbars, little islets instantly eroded, shape shifters following the irresistible currents of surging tidal water. Little sand eels darted across tide pools disappearing into the loose sand with a flash of silver underbelly. Every six hours the pull of the moon directed the flow of the water. When the tide turns there is a moment of stillness, the Slack Tide, when floating on buoyant salt water with only your face above the surface, you can feel the pause, an instant of calm, stolen time, a moment of utter tranquility.
View out to sea,
Cape Cod Bay
Cascading Sand Dunes
When I was a boy in Truro, we were careless of consequence, charging down the giant dunes of Longnook and Ballston beaches accelerating the inevitable erosion without concern. Our gaudy beach towels tied around our necks, flapping like Superman capes. My brothers and I raced towards the relentless rolling surf. The bracing chill of ocean water could hardly cool our ardent passion for waves crashing, riding the push of curling water, swollen with power, rearing stallions stampeding in froth. We flew on the crest, feeling the power of the ocean literally hurling us out of her, into her – can you hear the seals bark and the gulls laughing?
The Barn, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro it was a place of adventure. My two brothers and our parents lived in a barn on the Pamet River. The night winds snapped the cedar shingles on the roof sounding like mischievous spirits dancing. Explosive thunder storms seeped right through the barn doors leaving puddles on the floor. The ice in the ice box, suffering from the summer heat, cracked and popped, spilling a bowl of blueberries gathered that morning. Large sea clams from North Truro sand flats once shucked and channeled through the meat grinder came out still wiggling, causing us to squeal with horror before mother, without concern, tossed them into her chowder.
After dinner, tucked into our bunk beds, Mother read to us the adventures of Treasure Island and Ivanhoe. Her theatrical resonant voice like the swift flowing tide carried us to places of dream and such where pirates marauded and knights in steel armor vanquished dragons.
Pamet River, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro each month the full moon flooded the marsh with an overabundance of sea water. We waited past dark scurrying out – whispering and giggling, to dive naked into the high tide creeping up the beach. Around us in the darkness, phosphorescent plankton sparkled with magic light and the more you spun round and splashed the more this mystic twinkle danced and caressed our collective nakedness.
When I was a boy in Truro we played in the boat yard where a collection of discarded vessels, landed boats, forgotten by crew and captains had washed up in a maritime dead-end collection. The haunted vessels listed in their cradles from age rather than strong winds. Disheveled cabins smelling of engine oil, tar and neglect disgorged fascinating artifacts. There were old life vests covered in brittle canvas filled with blocks of cork that when torn from their casings became little cork boats that we fitted with paper sails. On board the Mary-Louise, tucked behind the tiller wheel, we found an old tin fog horn. Thorne, my oldest brother, brought it home to the barn blowing loud blasts of warning announcing that we, carousing pirates, were approaching. Mother instantly saw a useful tool and adopted the fog horn to call us in from play at the end of each day.
When I was a boy in Truro, Margaret our neighbor lady, took me to her secret blueberry patch. She led me past a blind of thick bushes concealing a forgotten cart path, two sandy trails with grass and weeds growing between. We walked silently. Margaret’s words were spare. I could hear a faint swish as the tall grasses brushed against our blue and white enameled pails. Then the swelling drone of Cicadas, excited by the rising heat of midmorning, filled the empty spaces. The smell of pitch pine radiating from gnarly branches entwined above us made a shady tunnel to walk under. The path dipped down and rose abruptly making a roller coaster ripple. Just after that, we broke cover and came out on the highlands bare of trees and thickly carpeted with cranberries, their tiny leaves sparkled in the brilliant light of a new day. From those heights the bay waters twinkled in the distance and the vault of the sky was colored from the deepest azure to pale blue at the horizon. All along the edge of the woodsy thicket from where we had come, low bush blueberries grew, laden with clusters of tangy fruit. The ripe berries fell easily into our hands – lips stained blue with the taste of summer.
Meandering Beach Pamet River, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro, I wandered the beach bordering of the Pamet river salt marsh as it wound round the dunes high and low following the flow of glacial currents formed before the concept of time. There was an old farm, its pastures shaggy with neglect, following the wrinkles in the land. A half-hidden deer path, led up from the beach coyly tucked between fragrant rose thickets ablaze with magenta blossoms. I climbed the path and saw something sparkling brightly, beckoning me towards a patch of sandy bank that broke the green carpet of cranberry leaves. As I approached this magical place I saw old bottles half buried in the sand exposed to years of sun and rough weather. Their wiggly glass had turned beautiful shades of lavender and purple with swirls of iridescent gold trailing over the rounded shoulders of discarded bottles. I had discovered the old farm dump, an archeological dig of rich deposits that would draw me back time and again offering all sorts of prizes.
(from Truro Farm Dump)
When I was a boy in Truro the sand train came ponderously swaying on rusty tracks following an eroding dike that cut a straight path across the salt marsh. At the center of the marsh, where the Pamet River cut through, a trestle bridge tenuously stood on water weary pilings encased in barnacles, trailing tattered beards of green sea weed rippling in the swift current. The long train banged out warning from a weathered brass bell mounted on its old-fashioned engine. This snorting war horse pulled endless rusty brown cars filled to overflowing with fine pale sand from the restless dunes of Provincetown. As this frightful behemoth lumbered past, shouting out a horrendous racket, the clickity-clack of steel wheels marked the beat of rail gaps calling out a percussive rhythm – hesitant pulse of aching complaint against another long haul. All of us, witnessing this wounded warrior, waged a cynical bet against its forward progress half expecting the ponderous caravan to topple into the drink at any moment. The enormous load of those mountains of sand, weighed down with outrage and complaint at being disturbed, rebelliously flew off the exposed sand peaks trailing a dust cloud that refused to cooperate with the outrage of rape. Without the need of parental warning all of us kids kept a respectful distance from the sand train. After all, we who were steeped in the lore of knights in armor knew all about the devastation of dragons.
When I was a boy in Truro Tiny came for a swim to our small crest of beach. It was early June, but she could not wait for the ease of summer-heat to launch her into the Pamet’s beguiling waters. Truro was her wise choice in all the world. The Pamet was the life blood of Truro. It had surged through long dark nights of winter into spring when the tide’s relentless and graceful flow teemed with life immortal. The slow progress of horseshoe crabs unconcerned with seasons, centuries or eons were like Tiny, a force to be reckoned with. She was, of course, enormous both in stature and personality speaking in a trumpeting British accent, she proclaimed the moment when her upper thighs bravely encountered the thrill of effervescent chill as, “Delicious!!” She dove head first into the current much like her sister whales following the tides, powered by the invisible reach of the moon. It was at that moment – I, a child, she a Grandmother – Tiny showed me what it was to be subsumed into the irresistible alure of a lover’s embrace.
When I was a boy in Truro, Dad took us with him on the trap boats fishing in Cape Cod Bay. Thorne, Seward and Iory, one at a time in succession over the years. We drove through the darkness of deep night to North Truro. Arriving at the old weather-beaten icehouse a dark shadow that struggled to maintain its dignity beside the railroad tracks running along the dune cliffs. Periodic trains of refrigerator cars would carry the frozen catch back to the city markets on the mainland. The icehouse was surrounded by a scattering of tattered fishermen’s shacks nestling into the steep dunes, half buried by the drifting sand.
By the time we arrived, about 4:AM, the four-man crew were already there, gathered in the shadows around a pot-bellied coal stove, black iron glowing red through an open grate. The atmosphere was thick with the smell of tar from the nets piled around the barn loft, coal soot and drying fish with an acrid overtone of gull guano mixing together much like the smell of mud flats at low tide.
The fishermen filed out to the crashing surf to launch their dory, bow and stern pointing upwards pinched together like hands in prayer. The heavy dory dipped and reared in the teasing surf. We all followed the skipper’s bark, jumping in, no hesitation was allowed – all men flowing with the grace of an old dance. They pulled long oars climbing the wave swells out beyond the surf to the trap boat thrashing at its mooring, the fishermen’s sea dog, loyal, waiting, eager for the chase to begin.
The trap boat followed a line-curtain of coarse netting hung at fifty-yard intervals from hickory polls sunk deeply into the sandy bay. This wall stretched out perpendicular to the shore channeling the fish towards the oval weir trap, 140 feet in diameter. The boat entered the trap where the bowman caught a line that pulled the net closed. Once inside the trap we were surrounded by an explosion of panicking fish forming a dense cyclone of struggling muscle. The fishermen showed me how to pull the net with a technique that avoided the weight of the boat but grasped the net tighter and tighter around the ball of fish. The men were excited to see large tuna circling the mass, sending showers of squid flying in all directions with a cracking whip of their tail fins. One magnificent monster, at least six feet long, probably weighing half a ton, shot out of the panic with heroic bravado. He leaped ten feet or more out of the water, flying over the weir net in a miraculous arch escaping capture, diving into the bay with a splash sounding like a gunshot and disappeared.
I had brought a pail to gather star fish that clung to the weir net. Once home, I would straighten out the slowly writhing legs, place them on the cement ledge of our barn to dry in the sun for some days. Then I would take my catch to Tiny’s shop in North Truro, Fishnet Industries, and sell them for 10 to 25 cents apiece.
When I was a boy in Truro dad always got up at 7 sharp, grabbed his coffee and set off in the Jeep to “get the paper.” First stop, Snowy’s gas station a place of fascination not to be missed. While Dad marched forward to the station shop for his paper, I got lost in the “garden.” There, piles of artifacts, junk really, were arranged into fanciful sculptures half hidden between towering corn stalks, sweet pea tangles and a profusion of summer flowers in various stages of dominance. A disreputable scarecrow held court in the midst of this jungle. He was clad in a frilly dress over tattered overalls. An ancient bonnet tipped at a rakish angle shaded bottle-cap eyes and smiling lips of yarn drooled down his face. I seem to recall a gaudy parrot perched on a pole opposite the scare-crow squawking in a loud voice but I may be making this up, fantasy was real in Snowy’s garden.
Dad returning to the jeep after his chat with Snowy, an ancient geezer he had known for decades, started the jeep and backed up to go. I was momentarily misplaced before he realized his loss and beeping his horn, I scrambled into the back seat and off we sped.
Next stop Bill L’engle’s down Longnook Road. Mr. L’engle and his wife Lucy, known as Brownie, were painters. Their rambling farmhouse had an old-fashioned windmill looking like a huge erector-set toy on which was attached an over life-sized figure of a circus acrobat or some such fanciful creature. This fellow was painted on old drift wood planks salvaged from one of the wrecks that the treacherous sand bars of Longnook Beach would disgorge from its memory of sorrowful winter storms.
Beyond the door yard of the L’engle’s kitchen, a tall lady-elm held aloft her drape of elegant skirts, shading the shingled roofs with green luxuriance. In the surrounding garden, at the base of the mighty elm trunk, a goldfish “pond” was half hidden in a mystery of overabundant flower beds. Pink waterlilies with tatty floating leaves veiled secret depths where a splash of goldfish darted helter-skelter hiding from intruding eyes. On the still waters floated one green-glass sphere, A Portuguese fishnet float found years ago tossed onto the sand of Cornhill beach. I was enthralled by this beautiful jewel seemingly so fragile that had survived the ocean’s roar. The idea of floating glass was magical.
Green glass sphere floating in the goldfish pond
When I was a boy in Truro, one spring before the rush of summer exploded into full bloom, we stayed at an old farmhouse on Atwood Road. The clapboard walls were painted a caulky white. Forest green exterior shutters had to be pried opened on rusty hinges that squeaked with complaint as we let light into the hibernating house. The back yard was surrounded by a towering old privet hedge long since let go from its prim trim of more proper times. This intimate garden room created a snug hide-away where lawn chairs circled around a bird-bath decorated with large glass marbles sunk into its cement base showing swirls of color in the clouded glass.
One morning I wandered off beyond the hedge row, up the hill where, tangles of twisting pitch pines grew in a dancing embrace with bayberry brambles, a memory of last year’s promise, not always accomplished.
Deer Path in the Woods
I was drawn by a faint path carpeted with brown pine needles trailing through the soft grass. I followed this trail as it meandered into a grove of locust trees woven with an impenetrable tangle of blackberry brambles. At this place of disguise and removal, I caught an elusive trail of intoxicating scent, a mysterious perfume. As quickly as it came, it was gone, leaving an aching loss, like the betrayal of love. All my senses were jolted alive, hungry for that spectral presence. I cut through the blackberry canes heedless of the tear of jealous thorns, leaving messages of rebuke written in bloody runes on my arms.
Thickets of Tangled Branches
Locust trees held aloft a canopy of dancing leaves. Their undulating grace followed the choreography of warm breezes aroused by mid-morning sunshine. On invisible currents came waves of scent. Not wild like the woods but refined, distilled, redolent with feminine grace, beautiful like the memory of a first kiss. I drew deep breaths of glorious scent into my lungs lusting for the source of this divine revelation. Thrashing against the Gordian knot of underbrush, I penetrated the last barrier and came tumbling out onto a remnant of neglected lawn. The shaggy grass was encircled by a phalanx of old lilacs laden with a wealth of flower clusters. The thick lilacs – faded memory of a housewife’s pride – corralled a cellar hole ringed with granite foundation stones. The farmhouse, now long gone, had tumbled into itself, leaving an indentation of debris couched by thick blankets of brown leaves. Here cascades of lush purple blossoms clustering on reaching branches, radiated lush flower scent filling the air with the passionate reward of love fulfilled.
Old fashioned lilacs
- Visiting with The Princess of Castro Street
Last March I went to visit with The Princess and lemme tell’ya she ain’t no lady! She’d like you to believe that she’s not even very nice – but that is a pose that like medieval armor creaks from age. Beneath his visor, rusted by steam from the contained tears he refuses to shed, too proud to admit defeat and let go of the beautiful fallen men of Gay San Francisco, Gay Hawaii and the world.
HRH at the Hula Palace Reunion, 2006 SF, with the actual prototype for the wings from first San Francisco production of Angels in America. Photo Tommy Khol
Le Roy, aka The Princess has retired to his cabin in the sky in the gold country of Sonora, Northern California. Lee’s new home is the prize at the end of the rainbow for a weary wonderer. It is a delightful place of comfort, peace and quiet – that is until Her Highness lets out a roar of defiance against the many injustices suffered around the world by AIDS, Trump, or what have you!
Photo by Iory Allison
The Cabin in the sky, home sweet home
photo by Iory Allison
The Princess’ Deck at the Rainbow Cabin. Notice the parade of dinosaurs on the railing.
In his mountain refuge, Lee is mulling over the past several decades of train wrecks wrought by the AIDS pandemic that struck down so many of the boys we used to play with in San Francisco in the 70’s, and for Lee, Hawaii in the 80’s as well as his home town of Los Angeles in the 90’s.
Photo by Iory Allison
A corner of the entry-way garden featuring old bowling balls, various shells and a skull, grim reminder of the way of all flesh
Lee was left holding a heavy bag of tricks, detritus from lives cut short – even in bucolic Hawaii men fell like the setting sun being called to renewal, leaving a silence that Lee would eventually fill with the records of their lives as witnessed in the art and artifacts produced by his large circle of friends and colleagues.
Photo by Iory Allison
A confusion of memories accumulating all too rapidly
Lee has always been a natural archivist preserving the signs of the times in posters, letters, photos, sculptures and general ephemera from the last four decades. These collections stemmed from his years as an arts activist, gallery director and entertainment entrepreneur, especially but not limited to the Hula Palace Salon, San Francisco. The Pride Foundation, Top Floor Gallery, San Francisco and the Kauai Mokihana festival contemporary Hawaiian Arts, the largest cultural festival in the Pacific. What started out as a collection celebrating our time in space evolved into a repository of dreams gone by and lives lived to the fullest in the arms of many lovers, men who loved men and were proud to say so.
Photo by Iory Allison
A small corner of the collection in L A before Lee’s move to Sonora
As the years passed all this tragedy took its toll, weighing Lee down with the heavy responsibility to disperse his collections now gathered at his cabin in Sonora. The ONE Archives Foundation, Gay history collections at the University of Southern California, was fitfully developing over the last decades as did other Gay archives around the country. Lee carefully monitored the inevitable dramas, waited and helped work to make ONE a reliable academic archive where he felt our history would be safe and easily accessible to the scholarly and general public.
The Princess as a Puritan judge in “The Salem Witch Trials,” NYC
But the task of preparing all the art and artifacts destined for ONE with all the reliving of lost loved ones was a daunting and crippling task. As luck would have it, Lee and I were in NYC in the fall of 2016 for the performance of the “Witches of Salem” at the Judson Memorial Church. Lee was playing the role of a puritan judge, go figure, I would ’a pegged him as one on the accused witches, but hey, “who am I to judge” this was Rumi’s show. Anyway, I heard Lee’s pain and I volunteered to help with the cataloging of his collections going to ONE.
Photo by Iory Allison
40th birthday party, roof deck of painter Jim Campbell in San Francisco, North Beach 1988
So, suitcase and camera in hand, off I went off to Sonora to patch a wound, twist a tourniquet and hope the blood of many men past and now dying would not drown us in sorrow. Over the space of two weeks we were able to put order to the loose pages of lives we never thought would end and now perhaps they won’t altogether disappear.
Blue Grass, HRH and Star, S F Mid 70’s
By some quirk of fate the trio in this line up are still very much amongst the living
PS, It has not been easy for me to report about my time with Le Roy this spring. I had no idea how overwhelmed I would be by the ghosts of the past rocketing out from dusty boxes and back into the light. It seems like only yesterday Lee Lee and I were riding the 45 Van Ness trolley, his myriad of bangle bracelets making cheerful jingles as he desperately gripped the leather trolley strap trying not to collapse from laughter, as we realize we were both cruising the same man who wore with pride his big hard-on beneath tight jeans – but that was way back in San Francisco of the early 70’s.
Digital collage by Iory Allison
The Apotheosis of the Princess Le Roy – Keep on truckin’!
Trans-continental interview via email between Iory Allison and The Princess of Castro Street, AKA, Leroy Mentley
HRH at the Princess of Argyle’s retreat in Lagunitas, Forest Knolls Photo by Perez.
IA: When did you first start collecting Gay art and history material?
HRH: I learned very young from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, that ‘there are no insignificant pieces of paper’. I started collecting in the 60’s with rock & political art from peace demonstrations, Human Be-In’s and The Fillmore Ballroom!
In 1968 I was the President of the Young Americans for Robert Kennedy at East Los Angeles City College. I helped on the campaign and collected all the political artifacts I could. I was present at the night that Kennedy won the California Primary and I collected papers from the podium which I still have. A few minutes later he was shot and murdered. This terrible moment changed my life.
I finished college and moved to San Francisco at the request of Martin Worman from the Cockettes. I have all their posters signed by Todd Trexler and other personal ephemera from the Cockettes and Angels of light shows.
I moved into the Hula Palace at 590 Castro Street and met and worked for Harvey Milk who lived across the street next to his camera store. I, of course, collected a lot of material from those days.
HRH in His Garden on Kauai, Rainbow Hat by Aunty B.
IA: What was your original intent with these materials? Is your collection held together in one group or dispersed throughout the archive?
HRH: The materials I have donated are dispersed throughout the archives by subject, name and/or organization and in my own name. Like Materials from Ken Dickmann on Gay Theatre. I have donated materials on the Cockettes, Angels of Light, Gay Men’s Theatre Collective, Theatre Rhinoceros, Gay Men’s Choir, Lilith, The Goodman Building, The Hula Palace Salons, Pride Foundation, Eureka/Noe Valley Artist Coalition, and Top Floor Gallery. I have also collected material from individual Gay artists and activists worldwide.
My collections include materials on political figures, like Harry Hay, Mattachine Society Elders, Harvey Milk, Paul Hardman, George Moscone. Dan White and Anita Bryant have their own files. I collected every edition of the San Francisco Chronicle for weeks after the assassinations since the story changed by the hour. They are now available for research at ONE.
Today I continue donating materials to ONE Archive at USC. I met some of the Mattachine Society Elders in the late 60’s, including Morris Knight, Steve Berman and Martin Rice when we founded the Frist Gay Student Union in the California State University System at Long Beach. Don Kilhefner & Jim Kepner started a Gay library from collected materials from their travels and other community projects, storing them in their homes, garages and car trunks. I stayed in touch with Jim and donated materials from my travels and personal collections. Finally they found a home when USC gave them an old fraternity house to store their collections. I have given hundreds of boxes to the library and archives. ONE is the largest collection of Gay Materials in the world. It is a fun and great place to visit in Los Angeles.
HRH at the opening night “M Butterfly.” Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by Ken Dickmann
IA: How does an individual access the material in One Archive?
HRH: On the internet at http://one.usc.edu/ located at 909 Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles 90007. The archives are administered by USC at the prestigious Doheny Library. The material is being digitized as quickly as possible by professional paid staff, plus student and community volunteers who donate time to log and categorize donations. ONE also maintains an art gallery in West Hollywood at 9007 Melrose Avenue for exhibitions and readings. I advise every one interested to Get On Their Mailing List!
IA: What is the value of Gay art and history?
When I was a Young GURL I discovered Gay artists, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan etc. whose stories gave me insight and hope.
Now our stories will be seen by researchers in the future who will write books, poems, master thesis of our time and how we moved the agenda for full equality along. From the seriousness of civil rights, AIDS activism to the silliness and struggles of our lives portrayed in our theatre, photography, film, written and visual arts.
HRH with Mrs. Coretta Scott King at The Venetian Hotel for a speech to AARP.
Photo, Pamela Goodlow
IA: Who do you intend to share your collections with?
HRH: The world! It excites me every time I see a demonstration somewhere in the world for Human Rights where a Rainbow Flag pops up in the crowd. I thank Lynn Segerblom for her rainbow design and Gilbert Baker for his endless promotion of the flags that were originally made at The TOP Floor Gallery by the Eureka/Noe Valley Artists Coalition at the 330 Grove Pride Gay Center.
Painting by Jim Campbell The Gay Pride Center at 330 Grove Street, S F
IA: Why did you choose to donate to The One Archive Institute?
HRH: I guess because I grew up in East Los Angeles and had met the founders early on and appreciated their commitment to the Gay Community. However I do donate to other archives, duplicates and copies. I found it profound that the day ONE Archive officially opened its doors at USC was the anniversary of NAZI burning down the Gay Center in Berlin. That taught me it is important not to have everything in one place or just on-line. Our struggle is not over.
IA: What are the important Gay Archives in the USA?
HRH: New York City Library and the Library of Lincoln Center have collections from Cockette Martin Worman and Cockette Rumi Missabu. Other archives can be found in Chicago, Kentucky, Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Many cities now have Gay centers, museums, libraries and galleries. I am sure there are many others big and small. I know there are collections at city libraries, colleges and universities like UCLA and California State College at Northridge. Many schools now have departments dedicated to research and education for sexual minorities. I encourage everyone to collect and share their treasures and stories where ever they can.
HRH & Photographer Dan Nicoletta
IA: Have all of the individuals in your collection passed on or are some still living?
HRH: We have lost many Angels, but some of us have survived and still creating new art, new politics, books, etc., I just donated Dan Nicoletta’s new book of photography “Faggots Are Fantastic” to ONE. The good news is that young activist and artists are creating new movement and exciting art today.
The Gay Movement is alive and brings new issues into mainstream culture every day. I currently donate materials as I find them; I am not waiting until I am dead to pass information and art on to the archives. Put ONE and your local archives on your mailing list! Why wait?
Hula Palace Salon & Cockette Reunion, 2003 SF, with Fans (one cute and two folding) Photo Dan Nicolletta
IA: Is it “OK” for an individual to donate their own historical and artistic material to an archive or is that just an ego trip?
HRH: Of course, it is an ego trip. All Queens want to be famous, even though I am just a Princess. Yet I believe it’s an obligation to the future. It’s not just your ego you are polishing!
IA: What is the ultimate meaning of the AIDS pandemic to you personally?
HRH: It is horribly overwhelming; by 1984 when I stopped counting I had lost over 500 friends, associates and lovers. Not to mention Gay Bashing deaths and assassinations. Every time I open a box I rescued from a friend’s home or dumpster in the street, I find a life well lived filled with memories and lost joy.
On the other hand, adversity has its benefits and brought out the best in the community and eventually the nation. We still have problems because the pandemic is not over. We need a renewed effort worldwide. For many in power, diseases like this, kill all the right people. In 2017 we have become complacent with our first world HIV treatments and have neglected everyone else around the world. Nothing is perfect but we can be so willfully ignorant when the boot is not dropped at our own door. Let me show you a World AIDS Day Facebook posting of the Gay Men’s Choir to see the impact AIDS has had.
IA: How have you coped with the loss of so many lovers and friends?
HRH: I was eating at a famous Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles “El Coyote” when I was informed my sweetheart Ron had just died, I did not stop eating till I gained his body weight. If I had done drugs or alcohol I’d be dead.
I am amazed, I am alive, 1. How, was I not infected? 2. as the emotional impact of losing one or two friends a week turned into one or two or five a day. Then Divine passed, although Divine did not die with HIV, the other four that day did. I was living on the beach on Kauai and can’t say how many days I wanted to slip into the ocean and keep on swimming out to join the party on the other side. Instead I became an activist creating END/AIDS my version of ACT Up on Kauai. It stands for Educational Net Work Dialoging AIDS. It seemed like I was the only one OUT on Kauai. It was then I reunited with my old friend Martin Rice who had worked on the Cal/State Gay Student Union. With his guidance we created Kauai’s first Gay Organization, Lambda Aloha. This led us to the statewide campaign for Same Sex Marriage. With this new energy and two wonderful men, Derick Tomlin and Bill Human we created Malamapono Kauai’s AIDS Project, changing the entire political and cultural environment on the island. I became the Hawaii State Public Health Educator for the island which placed me on the Governor’s Committee on AIDS and eventually i went to Washington D.C. to Chair the National Community Constituency Group at the NIH which was President Bill Clinton’s civilian review board for all clinical studies into HIV AIDS. Malamapono means ‘many blessings’ in Hawaiian. They are all gone now.
On a personal note, I started writing a book starting with silly Hula Palace stories, they made me laugh and then I realized if I didn’t write and preserve the memories of my loved ones both political and cultural, their lives would never be known. It is important to me to say their names. I felt I owed them that effort since I survived and felt so much guilt. I had never considered myself a writer, but I had stories and with the help of many friends, 30 years later I was able to publish “The Princess of Castro Street.”
Nathan Kalama, Buffy St. Marie with Lee, then curator of Kauai Museum
IA: What is the value of art within the pain of life?
HRH: My first time visiting MOMA in New York 1971, I walked in and immediately I saw Picasso’s “Guernica.” It was painfully spellbinding. As I walked up the stairs I came across Monet’s Water Lilies. A well placed bench caught me as I became weak in the knees, collapsed and sobbed like a baby. Art & good curating is like that!
Art if true and honest is a reflection of the inner soul of an artist and it will resonate with your own soul; it is a personal gift to those who can see beneath the paint, the words, lyrics, make-up, costumes and celluloid images. Everything else is decoration.
One such story of resonance: I was on my way to Honolulu to attend the Hawaii Governor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS on which I served. A friend called and asked me to dinner, afterwards, he invited me to his home for conversation plus wine and because he had a gift for me. He said he had had a dream that he was to give me a work of art and then he unveiled a gold flaked painting encrusted with black pearls, an icon of Saint Anthony. I asked him where he found the beautiful icon, he said from someone I probably did not know on Kauai named Justin. Justin was my long time sweetheart.
IA: Is the pursuit of creating art worth the effort and struggle?
HRH: Without art and love there is no reason to be alive!
HRH at Hindu Festival of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 1973, Photo, Dan Nicoletta