File this one under “they can’t Trump everything; life goes on.”
Last week, I got caught up in reflections on poverty in America: mine, yours, and ours. This week, I decided to do something about it and buckle down to design a careful budget.
“Ack!,” I said, early one morning. “We’ve got to make a budget spreadsheet, combine our funds, and start planning, or we’re gonna wind up in deep shit. I think it’s time we set up a joint bank account.” Ack! is short for my partner’s full name: Argyle C. Klopnick. (The C stands for Cklutz. It’s silent, just like the exclamation point.)
After a long pause, during which I detected a fleeting look of panic upon his waking brow, Ack! replied: “It’s Saturday. I’m going to make some coffee cake.”
Some background: I am sixty and Ack! is sixty-five. We’ve each had partners in the past (including one another, which story I’ll get to in a moment) but never before have either of us progressed to the stage of a joint bank account.
You’d think it isn’t a big deal. Well, think again.
Until a year or so ago, I had been single for over twenty-five years, except for a couple of sad and drunken flings, one deep friendship that might have had benefits and maybe become something more had either one of us found the nerve to make a declaration of love, and one unrequited obsession with a boy young enough to be my son (and straight to boot). Prior to that, back in the 1970s, before the coming of the plague, Ack! and I had been an item.
We met at the Blue Parrot, a bar in West Hollywood, at the corner of Larabee and Santa Monica Boulevard. It was a time when West Hollywood bars were packed to the rafters with excited, beautiful, and available (to say the least) young gay men. It was the sort of place where round about 11 p.m., you might see (I DID see) the immortal disco diva Sylvester make an appearance wrapped in furs halfway up the spiral staircase that led to the balcony bar. Couples made out in every corner. The sound system blasted hits like “It’s Raining Men” and “Hot Stuff.” Ack! and I bonded over martinis and a discussion of Hamlet (we were that sort of nerdy) and left the bar together.
We were inseparable for the next couple of years, living together first in a cheap walkup above Sunset Boulevard, just off the strip. The walls were so thin we could hear the rather unattractive neighbors’ lovemaking: “You’re not UGLY!” he cried. “I am! I’m ugly. I know I’m ugly.” “No baby, you’re beautiful.” THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!
Later we moved to an apartment in mid-Wilshire to play house while Argyle attended law school and I went to community college, my first efforts at education since dropping out of high school ten years before. We took my mom out for Mother’s Day brunches, drove to San Francisco for my sister’s wedding, spent some nights at his family home in the Bay area, listened to opera performances in Stern Grove, drank together in piano bars while a then-unknown Michael Feinstein performed, befriended a young rock star whose entourage we joined, and drank a lot. For my part, I recall many a six-martini evening. I do believe we were very much in love.
When I received my Associate of Arts degree and got accepted to the University of California in Irvine, we parted ways. I went south to Orange County and Ack! drifted north to the Bay. We didn’t formally break up, but it happened. That wasn’t a time when young gay men could speak of marriage, or long-term relationships, or futures, or families. It was all take it as it comes and move along. Not for everybody of course (even generations before had their share of lifelong partners), but certainly for most. And I, at least, was a drunk by that time, just moving beyond the earliest stages of my advancing alcoholism. We visited during the summer, and Argyle was on hand when I graduated, but things had changed. We moved on, Ack! to a twenty year career as an environmental lawyer, I to years of alcoholism followed by years of recovery and a not-very-successful career as a schoolteacher.
In fact, my first year of teaching in Southern California was so disastrous that I was effectively blacklisted from employment within a hundred mile radius of downtown LA, and thus began my own drift northwards towards San Francisco. Is there a divinity that shapes our ends, as Hamlet remarks? (Remember, Hamlet has a place in this story.)
I took a job teaching at a charter school in the rural town of Tracy, commuting from Stockton. I was fired in less than a year, the school breaking the contract and buying me out rather than have me remain until summer.
Continuing to be drawn northward, I found myself teaching at Job Corps on Treasure Island for half the salary, so severely depressed at one point that a colleague had me 51/50d (the California statute for locking someone up against his will for observation).
Meanwhile, now that I was in the Bay Area I began looking for Argyle, whom I have loved my entire adult life, even though I hadn’t seen him in more than twenty years. I learned he had moved to North Carolina.
Gradually, with therapy and a financial windfall that allowed me to quit teaching for a time, I built a life as an artist and writer, and found a community. Then, astonishingly, who showed up but my beloved Klopnik. Though I hate the cliché, we found one another on Facebook. Ack! was returning to the Bay area to visit his elderly mother, and we went out on a date before he went back East. A year later, he was back to stay and we met a few times.
After our third or fourth date, I said to Ack!, “You know, I think we have a rare opportunity. We have a chance to unfuck something. I think we should never have lost one another. Can we start up again?” We could and we did.
My friend, novelist Dan Curzon, informed me that this was insane. “That sort of thing works in novels, but it’ll never fly in real life.”
Well, it can and it does. Here we are, settled into our rented room in a small town by the Carquinez Bridge where the light is silver and the houses old and quaint, the Bay is within walking distance and Ack! can draw cartoons for The Rumpus and work on the garden, between occasional freelance lawyering gigs, while I write or drive LYFT and together we go to the opera and the theatre and tease each other about growing old (I waddle and he’s got a wattle) and stand together against loss. It’s not much, but it’s a something, it really is a something.
So we went to the bank this morning, and I told the lady who greeted us that we were there to add my partner to my bank account and she stammered and blushed (THIS in 2017), but we got the job done, giggling a bit, right in front of the banker, and casting sidelong glances at one another and remarking, “This is bigger than we thought” and afterwards I held his hand in the car as we drove home and we ate the coffee cake and Ack! went to work in the garden while I sat down to meet a deadline and write this column and Donald Trump and all of his scurvy crew of crapulous contemptible deplorables can go fuck themselves.
And, incidentally, I love you, Argyle C. Klopnik.
That’s a wrap.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks the Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.