Got on the 9 o'clock bus at Alewife in Cambridge. Decent Wi-Fi. Read the newspaper. Reached the Penn Station area by 1:15 or so. Grabbed some food (foot-long Veggie Delite) at Subway; yep I'm a culinary connoisseur alright.
Then headed to the Penn Station toilet, the handicapped stall. Changed from my jeans and t-shirt/sweater into my suit. An excruciating (but, in retrospect, also comical experience). Walked briskly to The Cutting Room on East 32nd Street, near 6th Avenue. By 2:45 the room was already packed, background music playing. The occasion: A Memorial Service for Spencer Cox, and a Celebration of his Life. Spencer died of AIDS on 18 December 2012. He was 44.
The program was a "Playbill" -- Spencer, I'm told, would have loved that. One sheet, recto-verso, recto-verso, a play on words I hope I'll be pardoned for
I didn't know Spencer, though I certainly knew of him; we also had many friends in common. I didn't have to travel to NYC to be at the service in person, since a video of the whole thing was being made and will soon be made available on the Interwebz. But I knew, just knew, that I did, in fact, want to be there, in that Cutting Room; my cluttered mind thought of the three Fates, and of Atropos in particular, who cuts the thread of life.
I had seen the superb Oscar-nominated documentary How To Survive A Plague twice. I had also read many obituaries. (The one by John Voelcker -- Huffington Post -- was one that I admired for its insightfulness, its focus on certain often-overlooked concerns, and also for its being the product of Voelcker's long friendship with Spencer.) No doubt there will be more obituaries, appreciations, tributes, reminiscences. I am simply recounting, very selectively and briefly, some of my impressions of two hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Klutz that I am, I tripped on some of the folding chairs. I had no idea where to dump my coat, small bag, and suit-zippy-thingy. But once the presenters started, I listened to every word and saw every image. Gripping eulogies -- friends from Benninton, brothers-in arms and also Spencer's brother, a former lover. Video tributes (Dr. Anthony Fauci and Larry Kramer being the two most famous names, I suppose). Musical performances. Photographs and movie clips (Bette Davis, Liza Minelli, pics from childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, friends, beefy Chelsea guy, leather gear, pic or two of a tired and older-seeming face, a face that was partly the result of an off-on addiction to crystal meth, an addiction not glossed over in the memorial). I didn't sit in one place; every 20 minutes or so I wandered round the large room to look at not only the stage from different angles -- how theatrical! -- but also at the "audience," laughing and crying, whispering to each other, holding hands.
I bawled when Spencer's mother spoke, for a few minutes only. (She wasn't on the program actually.) What a model of unproud grief and unqualified dignity!
Two hours. I'm not reviewing this event as a film. (But Spencer perhaps might have liked me to?) He hated sentimentality, I was told; but of course he was a sucker of a sentimentalist -- I could be wrong, but my intuition about that is strong. Two nearly flawless hours of tribute -- but not of hagiographical sanctification. A few false notes, a few unnecessary bon mots, but these are trivialities; and considering that the organizers -- opinionated all, I have no doubt, "early ACT UP" as Peter Staley said -- managed to pull off this "extravaganza" in a month -- they were on the phone just one hour after Spencer's death -- is humbling, satisfying, exalting.
Belatedly, on the bus ride back to Boston, I thought of some lines (thank you iPad) from two of James Merrill's most hauntingly beautiful poems, the closing lines of both in fact, "Days of 1964" and "Days of 1994."
Where I hid my face,
your touch, quick, merciful,
Blindfolded me. A god breathed from my lips.
If that was illusion, I wanted it to last long;
To dwell, for its daily pittance, with us there,
Cleaning and watering, sighing with love or pain.
I hoped it would climb when it needed to the heights
Even of degradation, as I for one
Seemed, those days, to be always climbing
Into a world of wild
Flowers, feasting, tears -- or was I falling, legs
Buckling, heights, depths,
Into a pool of each night's rain?
But you were everywhere beside me, masked,
As who was not, in laughter, pain, and love.
Not dead, O never dead!
To wake, to wake
Among the flaming dowels of a tomb
Below the world, the thousand things
Here risen to if not above
Before day ends:
The spectacles, the book,
Forgetful lover and forgotten love,
Cobweb hung with trophy wings,
The fading trumpet of a car,
The knowing glance from star to star,
The laughter of old friends.
And on that bus I cried again. Bitterly cold night , welcomingly warm home. "Barcarolle whose chords of gloom / Draw forth the youngest, purest, faithfullest..." I won't regret that I spent a few hours in New York on the 20th of January. In Memoriam. Patrick Spencer Cox. 1968-2012.