Dinner With Eric

I had dinner with Eric on Saturday.

Eric lost his partner Tina to cancer last year. I keep being a little bit startled all over again every time I realize they were together more than a decade, because I knew each of them before they knew each other. I tend to think of myself as a loner who’s been fine with moving on when things weren’t going anywhere, or going anywhere I wanted to go, and who’s never spent enough time in one place to have old friends as a regular part of my life. But then I add it up and realize I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay Area now for 17½ years (it’ll be 18 in July). And I met Tina, and then Eric, about a year or a year and a half after that. At my age that’s only a modest fraction of a lifetime, but there still aren’t too many people I’ve accumulated that much history with.

I met them both through the WELL, which is still my favorite online hangout. When I first came to the Bay Area and discovered the WELL, my relationship at the time was in the process of (blessedly) falling apart and I didn’t have much of a social life yet. The WELL was (and still is) a community of smart, literate people, and despite a lot of initial shyness on my part (I used to be cripplingly shy; nowadays I’m still very shy but I’ve taught myself how not to be crippled by it) it wasn’t long before I was mostly fitting in, making friends and acquaintances. The WELL even led to one wonderful, if too brief, love affair. And a few very close friends, one of them being Eric.

For several years Eric and I were frequent companions. We went hiking together many times, sang in a chorale and a madrigal group and several impromptu Christmas caroling groups together (he’s a tenor, I’m a bass-baritone), and had lots of long talks about life and love and politics and society. When Eric divorced his wife, we had many long talks about the issues that were coming up for him around that. Some of it was just comparing notes as to how relationships looked from the somewhat different perspectives of a gay man and a straight man, and some of it was that I had made a breakthrough in my own attitude toward relationships not that many years earlier, and broken up with my partner at that time (I don’t mean to imply cause and effect there — the breakthrough and the breakup were occurring more or less at the same time and I don’t think either led to the other; they sort of fed each other), and I was able to give him some support and understanding in his own similar-but-different breakup and breakthrough. Years later, after my surgery, when I made the frightening change from freelancing at home to working in offices, Eric was able to do some serious supporting in return, and he was something of a mentor to me, giving me tips about getting along in the business world, warning me what to expect and how not to let it throw me.

The WELL is still a big part of my social circle, though since then I’ve found my way into other circles that are satisfying other parts of me — these days it’s the Billy Club — so I don’t show up at the social gatherings as often as I used to. Not too many WELL folks are into theater or opera, there are not too many people who share my particular spiritual interests (which I guess I’d have to characterize as a mix of scholarly and mystical, and yes, I know that’s pretty much self-contradictory), and the gay community on the WELL is a beautiful bunch of people but a smallish group. But I still log on several times a week to chat about current events, what we’ve been up to, and so on.

So on Saturday evening Eric and I went to Britt-Marie on Solano Avenue, which is a wonderful restaurant that I don’t think I’d been to in eight or nine years, and we caught up. We chatted about Eastern religion and the grieving process and cooking and what’s up with Dave and his bookstore and what’s up with Eric’s daughters — good Lord, his daughters are now grown women with careers and I remember them when they were in high school. And a lot of other stuff that’s way too personal to blog about.

One of the cool things about Britt-Marie is that, in addition to the great food, they have an unusual and interesting selection of wines available by the glass. I know little about wine, but Eric suggested a zinfandel to go with my lamb dish and it was terrific and I ended up having a second glass of it as well, which is maybe one glass more than I ought to have since I drink fairly little these days and get tipsy more easily than I used to.

Who Would Jesus Fire?

From a story in the St. Petersburg Times:

LARGO — City commissioners ended one of the most tumultuous weeks in Largo history Tuesday night by moving to fire City Manager Steve Stanton following his disclosure that he will have a sex-change operation. …

After listening to about 60 speakers, mostly from Largo, a majority of commissioners said they had lost confidence in Stanton’s ability to lead. …

Commissioners voted 5-2, with Mayor Pat Gerard and Commissioner Rodney Woods in dissent, to place Stanton on paid leave while his departure is made final.

And:

During the meeting, Stanton described the dismay of watching his professional reputation disintegrate in just seven days.

Until last week, he had served 14 years as the city manager, generally to good reviews. Last fall, commissioners raised his salary nearly 9 percent to $140,234 a year.

But on Feb. 21, the Times reported that Stanton was undergoing hormone therapy in preparation for gender-reassignment surgery — a plan known only to a small circle of people, including his wife, medical team and a few top officials at City Hall.

Ron Sanders, pastor of a local church, is quoted as saying, and I am not making this up:

If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he’d want him terminated. Make no mistake about it.

Pretty ballsy to claim such intimate acquaintance with a man he didn’t even notice standing right there in the room.

Letter to the Editor of the Day

From today’s SFGate.com:

Why not take credit for all of a writer’s life?

“When writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice approached McAnuff with the idea for Jersey Boys, there was no script, just the idea. ‘I didn’t like it very much,’ McAnuff recalls by phone from San Diego, where he’s in rehearsals for Aaron Sorkin’s new play, The Farnsworth Invention, at the La Jolla Playhouse. ‘Marshall and Rick were very gracious about the rejection. And even after I turned them down twice, they were very persistent. So we came up with the outline together. I helped them with the structure.’ (“Jersey Girls are quick on their feet,” Feb. 14)

We can finally put to rest any lingering doubts about who is responsible for the success of our little offering, Jersey Boys, currently at the Curran Theatre. It is, of course, the director. Le spectacle, c’est lui. I see him now, goose quill in hand, fingers raw, eyes bloodshot from his tireless restructuring of our 72-page “idea.”

Would that I had known him years ago so he could have restructured the screenplays for Sleeper and Annie Hall and Manhattan and Simon and Lovesick and The Manhattan Project — they might have won awards and gained some critical acclaim. Or instructed William Shawn in the proper restructuring of my New Yorker pieces.

But I was naive then and didn’t know enough to be persistent. Twice we offered him the crown and twice he refused it, it says. Sheer modesty. We offered it to him 139 times. Only after we doused ourselves with gasoline and lit a match did he agree to interrupt his restructuring of the book for Dracula, the Musical to heed our pleas and, as a bonus, instruct us in the niceties of the musical theater: how to arrive fashionably late, how to humiliate the cast, how to create an atmosphere of collegiality rivaled only by a board meeting at Hewlett-Packard, how to give interviews that, for sheer fantastic invention, rival anything out of Lewis Carroll.

But why be churlish? I owe the man. He wrote our show, ate my dinner, married my wife and fathered my children. For all I know, he may have even written this letter.

MARSHALL BRICKMAN
co-author of Jersey Boys
New York City

Pet Peeve of the Day

What is it with people who step off an escalator and stop in their tracks right there and look around, thoughtfully considering where they might want to go next, while oblivious even to the mere possibility that there might be people still on the escalator right behind them who are on an inevitable collision course with their backsides if they don’t get out of the freaking way?