Today is Gary's birthday. Gary died of apparently HIV-related liver disease on July 1, 1993. I wrote about that in Three Deaths in Vancouver. The photo above, by our friend Dodge, is of us at our apogee.
I spoke with his mother last night as I try to do every year on his birthday, on the day of his death and at Christmas. She is a fine old lady who lives a fabulous life in the new high rises of Vancouver that arose more or less directly over the discos where Gary and I danced our tails off during the Vancouver days of our love affair. I met him when he moved in to the apartment under me in 1975. It was love at first sight for me, but I think he needed a little convincing. We broke up for a few weeks a year or so later, and then merged again by reason of a more expert campaign of seduction than I believed myself capable at the time. It involved a Shakespearean sonnet and then later a passionate kissing beside the coatcheck in the Playpen Central, a not so elegant Vancouver gay bar.
Gary was Gary in Vancouver, and then he was Gaetano in San Francisco. Those of us who knew him in both places go back and forth between his two names. Gaetano was his grandfather's name and he loved it. In his low bore masculine way, he enforced the name change when he moved here a few months after me in 1981. Its funny how his two names are so iconic and yet each points to this singular man as if they are one and the same name.
Gary was sarcastic, dry, solid, humane, intelligent, sensual. As he grew older, he found solace only in nature, and came, I suspect, to avoid the company of those he did not know, and even those he did. He was never immune to finding quiet joy in solitude and whiskey. When we were lovers, from time to time he would suggest that I spend the day elsewhere, and he would turn up the music, embrace a bottle of Jack Daniels, and spend the day dancing and hanging with himself. I love a man who enjoys the pleasure of his own company.
He used to call me "da Baptist". This was a reference to the Baptist affiliations of three of of my four grandparents. I think lots of folks in our company were puzzled by our union ... I was this wiry pushy "sectarian" (as IM would have it) hyper-political activist with a fast mouth and a sharp tongue, and Gaetano was this natural man, movements like a cat, skin like suede, muscles that grew simply when he thought about them. Maybe a little bit of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to us. An odd pairing; never seemed odd to us, even after we moved on to other lovers.
Curious conjunction: both my father and Gary's father were born in Timmins, Ontario, a mining town in the Canadian Shield 500 miles north of Toronto. Gary's father, Leo, was born of Italian immigrants, my father born of economic refugees from Nova Scotia.
I moved to San Francisco first, and he followed eight months later. The photo above, by our friend IM, is me at the wheel and GGB riding shotgun in the Ryder rental truck that transported every last dust bunny that we owned from our palace in Vancouver to our new fortress in San Francisco. I think our great days were in Vancouver. San Francisco was where we were destined to go and grow, but it was not the soil that had generated our being together. It was a slow drawing apart, and we even continued living together for a year after we parted as lovers. After a few years of living separately, we ended up as house neighbours, him upstairs and me downstairs in IM's house here in the Castro. I'm still here ... and gawd noze, I wish Gaetano were still here.
So many memories. That he is gone, fourteen years now, is still unfathomable. So unfair. I mourn him every day.
Click on the image below of the altar his friends created for him in San Francisco, for a little photo essay I mounted a decade ago about my sweet Gary.
Some photos by Gary Gaetano Bandiera here.