Eater.com has spent the past few days celebrating the life and death of Gray’s Papaya at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, with photos of its bright orange lettering being removed from its awning and reminiscent post from followers about drunken munchies and Gray’s goofy signage.
With art school, parish duties, and New York at my doorstep, I barely had time to be homesick for California, that first autumn in 1989. But I was. I missed Berkeley’s temperate climate and dramatic landscape, the way nature entered everyday life, how people treated one another, the forward-thinking politics, and my friends. Oh, my friends. And the deep, clear blue West Coast sky that saturated Berkeley’s daylight, the shadows, and my mood most of the year.
It’s hard to believe I met Bob in a pervious century, but when I think about our lives then and now, I realize how much the world has changed. In 1989 when we met, there was no Ellen, no Modern Family, no discussion whatsoever of marriage equality. The biggest gay rights issue in any of the big cities around the country was legislation for AIDS services and research. Despite that Bob lived in the Village and I in Chelsea (the only real gay enclaves in the City at the time), we did not feel comfortable holding hands just anywhere around our neighborhoods. Even though we often did.
I had the honor of offering reflections at the memorial service for our dear friend Ruth Van Erp a year ago today. I first read the following reflections from Bob (who to our surprise had known Ruth longer than anyone else in the room other than her family) and then followed them with a poem I’d composed over the three days since we’d received the news of Ruth’s death.
The day I first met Bob at NYU 23 years ago, he was excited for me to meet his friend Ruth. He spoke of her like they had known each other forever, a year or two already. Turned out it had only been a week. But the first day they met they had spent seven hours together talking and had became instant friends.
I had that classic shot of Manhattan from the airplane window as I flew up the Hudson on the way into LaGuardia, parallel to the City’s skyscraper grid, as if the flight pattern had been directed specially for Continental Airlines and the City of New York by Woody Allen or Nora Ephron. I swear I heard Gershwin playing, possibly on the crackly airplane headphones, but I can’t say for certain. As I watched the World Trade Towers, then the Woolworth, Con-Ed, Flatiron, Empire State, Pan Am, and Chrysler buildings rise and fold below me like a pop-up book, the words passed through my head: “I could meet someone there.”