What I did in Phoenix

What I did in Phoenix

I arrived in Phoenix on January 4th, 2014. I stayed at the Phoenix International Youth Hostel at 1026 North 9th Street – where I have always stayed since November 2002. I am, in a way, part of the family who owns it. Certainly I worked there more than any other person in their history. And I know intimate details of the family like few other people. On January 10th 2014 I signed a lease at the Paseo Verde (now Melrose) Apartments at 4444 North 7th Avenue – it was my first time to ever have an apartment in this city.

I arrived with my laptop computer and the same valise I arrived in Tucson with – and approximately $1,500. I had really wanted to settle down in one place for 5 or 10 years after a lifetime of travel – it was not to be – my story in Phoenix is now three parts – in three different apartments.

Within days I went and bought a table, chairs, bedding, pots, pans, dishes, silverware, and the things one needs to live in an apartment. The hostel gave me an air mattress to sleep on. A month or so later, two ladies gave me a spare bed they didn’t need. The gay center gave me two easy chairs, a bookcase, and more. I furnished an apartment quickly. It was a one bedroom apartment for $435 a month. I set up electricity with APS. It was bright and airy with an expansive view of the courtyard – and just as important, was pretty much next door to my favorite bar in the city – Pat O’s Bunkhouse. It is a bar for men my age – all of whom survived AIDS. Such bars are called “Wrinkle Rooms.”

I got a Phoenix Public Library card and started to take out the normal stream of books on 101 subjects – I read 3 books on average per week. I would not say I am an expert on any subject, but I can certainly write a 1,000 word essay within an hour on virtually any subject under the sun.

I discovered nearly immediately that the Phoenix One Voice gay pride center was literally next door – mostly because their big gay flag flew above the building on the other side of my courtyard – and that’s my view from my desk – the Rainbow flag. I started to go there daily to use their wifi, and began to meet people.  I am still friends with all of them, in life and on facebook. I also met in my complex, Thornton and Donnelle, and we remain close friends, their three sweet grandsons – none older than 7, all call me Uncle Jim – the boys pushed my cart at the supermarket when I had a broken wrist.

That first month a woman I met volunteered to help me get my stuff from Tucson, and we drove down and got it. I gave her two paintings as a thank you.

With the paintings I got from Tucson I had an art exhibit at One Voice right away. They put my art in the lobby, several mazes.

I continued writing music – a dozen or so pieces a week. I sought a piano but could not find one, and that disappointed me. All the pianos I knew from 2009, the last time I was in the city for any length of time, were gone.

I continued to socialize and hang out at the One Voice – I was a very popular fellow. In May 2014 I was the first, last and only person they ever gave a birthday party to – along with a computer table, a card table and chairs and several gift cards. A few months later there were financial issues at the center and I got involved in proposing solutions, even considered running for president of the board.

I wrote 64 articles for my blog, “The Daily Mush,” in 2014, and only 17 in 2015. I was just bored with it, I had been doing it since 2009. That was long enough, but the blog is still there – every few months I post something.

My friend of 40 years Carl shipped me what I had prepared to ship from New York – personal items, my mother’s Revereware she got when she got married in 1955, which I use to cook – and books – my things. It was all ready to go as soon as I got the new place.

I changed my address with all the right agencies and companies that I had to deal with. I sent postcards to all my relatives alerting them to my new abode.

In mid August 2014 a fine lassie brought me two huge sheets of plywood – 4 x 4 foot squares. The One Voice was closing and they were opening a new Pride Center at 801 North 2nd Avenue. I decided I would paint them a painting. So I painted a monumental painting of 5,000 years of gay history. Their opening gala was slated for September 5th – and I wanted my painting there for it. (See picture) And I got it done – and then a few days later I sort of collapsed – a physical exhaustion came over me – and on September 11th I was taken to St. Joseph’s emergency room at Thomas Road and North 7th Avenue. I was only there a few hours. My friends Debbie and Monica came to take me home. And on the way out I found the piano I had been seeking – right there in the lobby. I was back there the next day (Monica admonished me “What if you have a relapse!” and I laughed “The emergency room is right there.”) And that started my piano career at the hospital.

In mid September 2014, and just a week or so after the emergency room trip, Dannie Lane was moving back to Seattle – she wanted someone to travel with her – I jumped at the chance – and in a five day whirlwind trip I went to Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle – where I spent a day with my cousin Peggy, a very busy professional woman who cleared her schedule for me – and then flew back to Phoenix. It was with Peggy that I was living when I wrote to the president and governor back in 1978.

Meanwhile, as far back as January, I started to prepare the 13 books I had in the pipeline – things that I had never published because I was busy with other things. All I had to do was create cover art, proof read them, format them, dolly them up – create books.

From July to November I worked on the short stories. Then I published in quick succession five volumes of them, those I had written across the years – so I put them into related categories, fixed them, proof read them, did the cover art and so forth …

11/12/2014 The Garden of the Quick

11/17/2014 The Big City

11/21/2014 My Reason For Visiting

11/27/2014 From a Guy’s Perspective

12/9/2014 If TV Were True

2 days before Thanksgiving in November 2014 a scrawny tired scared hungry cat walked into my house through the open door and announced that he was moving in. He loved me from day one, and I love him – I named him Schroder, after the piano player character in the Peanuts Cartoon – the character that doesn’t like girls and is vocal about it. He’s a 10 lb orange tabby and he’s my buddy. The first week of December I took him to the vet up the block to get him checked. He required a herpes medicine, I gave it to him. They directed me to a discount neutering clinic – and there in December he had his surgery and got all his shots. I also bought a leash and harness, and within 3 or four days of him figuring it out – we began to walk all over – him with a harness and leash, me in control to make sure he does not get into trouble. We even went to the Bunkhouse, the bar a few buildings down 7th Avenue where we were popular fellows. (Walking a cat might be the most “insane” thing I do.) A cat charity I contacted for advice brought me food, liter, toys and information – and the lady bought one of my paintings right then and there.

In early December in the cat food aisle at Fry’s Supermarket at 7th Avenue and Camelback Road I meet a man named Jordan Dancer – a long time resident of the city and a keen intelligence. We had a great time – and he drove me home – and hung out for a few hours – and we became instant friends. I joined him in some men’s groups, and he invited me to join him at a Christmas party – where I played piano to the delight of all. He introduced me to Mike Desi – the three of us codgers have been getting together and spin our tales every 6 weeks or so ever since.

As usual in December 2014 I created my hand drawn Christmas Cards and mailed them to friends and relatives.

I painted some 50 paintings – in the hopes of finding an exhibit somewhere – and I painted more paintings for my house.

I renewed my lease in January 2015. They did not raise my rent.

My friend David I’ve known from 2006 in Mazatlan passed through every few months, stayed a night or two and continued on his way – he was going back and forth between Montana and Mazatlan – twice he had his three charming pre-teen daughters with him, who don’t speak a word of English, and call me “Tio Diego.” I did marriage counseling for him and his wife Abby – and I solved a legal issue by threatening an Amparo – a special Mexican legal option, which I learned about in a few hours.

On 1/5/2015 I publish “C-Note: 8 months in a New Orleans Dive Bar” – I have ample experience with drunks and ne’er do wells and sordid characters.

1/30/2015 I publish “The Improbable Traveler: The journey of a 20 year old guy.” Basically it is the journal I kept when I was 20 years old and flew one way to San Francisco from New York City.

3/12/2015 “Far Across the Pond: an American, not so lost, on a journey to Europe” – the journal I kept when I was in England, France, Germany and the Czech lands.

3/21/2015 “Thoughts as he turned 60: a novel memoir” – it’s a rambling existential work of more questions than answers. It’s not factual, but more factoid.

4/3/2015 “It’s Confusing: One man’s guide to what is going on.” It is a 150 essays on the issues of our day in politics, economics, foreign affairs and social movements.

4/23/2015 “Re-imagining the Political Spectrum: Who’s on Whose Side?” – it’s my iconoclastic view of the way “right” and “left” are viewed.

5/3/2015 “A Heritage Journey: a 3 month trip to the Czech Republic” – my journal of my time in the homeland my family is from – and the visits to the relatives I have there.

5/11/2015 “Our Gringo Of Mazatlan: Random Reality and Fantasy in Mexico” – the first 2/3rds are about what happened while I was there – the last 1/3 is a completely fictitious story – that only David Whitney and I can understand to the fullest – it’s about us – we have a grand and deep friendship.

5/29/2015 “Such a Picnic Is My Life: 20 years of time” – my notes on the life I led in the 1980s and 1990s – it’s a very upbeat book – for the times were swell, and the adventures many – it doesn’t really mention AIDS at all.

Then in June I ran out of stuff ready to publish and went to the task of working on some 20 other book ideas – some more well developed than others.

I’m not sure where the idea came from, or when it was clear, nor do I know if I can really do it – but I have conceived of several operas – all on gay historical themes – and I have done a lot of work in playing with musical ideas, the plots, librettos, order of the arias, duets, choruses.
Richard & Philip

Hadrian & Antonius

Jonathan & David

Oscar & Alfred

Meanwhile – from the time I got back from Seattle – I started to go on Tuesdays and Thursdays to play the piano for 2 to 3 hours at St. Joseph’s to the delight of all. I get a fan base, I chat and joke with everyone, people come especially to hear me, to regroup in their stressful jobs. People ask me “How long have you been playing?” I joke “2 weeks! I got an app!” – I charm people with jokes and music. People applaud. They buy me coffee, the Starbucks started to give me a coffee and chocolate croissant as a thank you for playing.

Now is a good time to explain, if I can, my music; ah, what is it? Well, it’s all mine. I cannot play a note of any known piece of music – I cannot play Happy Birthday nor Chopsticks. I never had a piano lesson in my life, nor really a music lesson beyond anything in grade school. I cannot hear a piece of music and play it – that is “play by ear.” Many can do that, I cannot. I cannot duplicate any known melody. But – I can play and I can write – and all of it is complex classical music that has been compared to Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Dvorak, Chopin and more. Even more strange, I cannot write what I play, and I cannot play what I write. Nor can I explain what notes I hit – or why – I can’t explain this amazing talent – but it whooshes out of me endlessly and effortlessly. One day in 1998 I was at a party in Baton Rouge Louisiana, and the only place to sit was on a piano bench – and I just turned around and began to play. Everyone there said “I didn’t know you could play the piano.” “Neither did I,” I replied in shock. And what came out from that first moment was just as fine as what I play today. It’s a miracle of God – that is the only answer I have. I told a woman that I go into a sort of trance when I play piano – she writes “he has trances” – while forgetting the rest of the story.

All the while two absolutely charming young ladies worked at the front office of my apartment complex – Mayra and Michelle. I joked with them in Spanish – I make them laugh – they bought me half dozens of donuts from time to time, right to my door. They bought my art and tell me my music is gorgeous. It is simply a pleasure to deal with them at every moment. And then in August and September the two of them left for their personal reasons.

And that is when the complex hired Lori Felix – one of the most lunatic woman I ever encountered in my life. For reasons beyond fathoming this woman hated me with an evil sadistic passion. In fact, from as early as January 2014 when I first moved in – I was walking to my home – and this woman came screaming at me. About what I have no idea. It wasn’t even really rational. She was a fellow tenant – from the other side of the complex far from me – and for 2 years – every time I saw her I went the other way – for she would start to scream – scream! – at me from across the courtyard. So I avoided her.

Then the complex hired her to be the manager. I go to pay August’s rent – and there she is – and she starts to berate me and castigate me and trash me and yell at me – and I was simply stunned. Then she just escalated it. In November she slapped a notice on my door that I “cure” what she claimed was noise and disruption. I went to ask her what she was talking about. She screamed at me like a wild banshee to get out of her office – she accused me of intimidation and worse – I just said to her before leaving “You are insane.” A half hour later there were two police at the door – with a handful of more notices. She accused me of breaking so many lease provisions it was amazing, many involving violence, drugs, gang activity and worse. Then over the next several weeks – cops were at my door 8 or 9 more times – all at the behest of this woman. More notices came accusing me of this and that. I had to contact a lawyer. Included in this was a notice that they would not renew the lease in January as I would have loved to do in this so perfect abode. Well, I was informed by Community Legal Services that they had the right to do that. So I had to January 11th the notice said. On the advice of the lawyer I spoke to – I gave the office – well, tried to give it – a letter stating I would be moving out as they requested. This woman screamed at me and chased me back to my house yelling – and sent cops to my house again. So, I got to action and started to look for a place – as the Christmas and New Years holidays loomed to interrupt my need to find a place. She even sent a suicide crisis team to my house from Empact because she stated, apparently, that I was suicidal – which means she just lied about me.

On December 21st she served me with eviction papers. I had to move fast to get a lawyer, which I did through the HIV Law Project at 305 South 2nd Avenue, Phoenix AZ 85003. My attorney gets the eviction proceeding stopped so long as I’m out by January 4th. So I found just one place that had the things I needed – accept Schroder, I could afford, and was available immediately. I signed the lease on the 4th of January 2015 at The Cinnabarr Apartments and I was just mad as hell. My life was not only disrupted – but this crazed woman tried to get me arrested, hauled off to a psyche ward, and ruin my credit and rental history – for her sick sadism. I was told I had no cause for legal action against her.

So I wind up in this dark studio with a window facing a wall – the sun never shone into the place. I moved to Phoenix for light, and air, and sky – and now I was in a dark garret. Even worse – it was so far from everything I did that it severely impacted my social life – I couldn’t get to the bar – it was an hour or more away – and back. I think it is the farthest I ever lived from a gay bar in my life.

And so I entered the nadir of my life. I knew I had to wait the year for the lease to run – but I was determined to get out of there. From November 2015 through January 2017 was simply the lowest point of my life – eh, a midlife “crisis” perhaps – and as I joked – I could not afford a sports car.

And throughout this year – I continued reading books at least until May – and I kept playing piano. In fact, during this year in early August sometime the hospital asked me if I would play more – I said “give me a lunch voucher I’ll play 4 or 5 hours a day every day.” They said “yes.” And that’s what I did. I became an official volunteer with a shirt and a badge and did the screenings and protocols – whatever they wished. When I check into the volunteer computer it lists my job as “Lobby Pianist.” I traveled the hour or more each day there – and I played to the delight of all – for 4 and 5 hours – five days a week.

In August a woman who works at the hospital, Denise, asked if I could play at a chapel at an Alzheimers home on Sundays, I said yes I could, just give me lunch. And I started to play there too. The lunch they give me – I give to a homeless person on the way home from services.

This playing glorious upbeat happy vibrant cheerful music continued – as did writing it. That did not change. But I couldn’t paint – the house was too dark.

And then on October 26th on the way home from playing all day – the bus was in some wreck – and we all went flying – and when I got up – my wrist was broken. I saw it and felt it immediately – and I demanded an ambulance to take me to a hospital. There’s a case that lawyers are handling for me – I just want to make sure the medical bills are paid, really. But the only joy I had was wrecked – and you bet I was panic stricken – my joy, my music, my life – imperiled in a way I had never experienced.

Meanwhile, I had turned 58 on May 13th — I had a few people over – and then I just got melancholy – not depressed – not anything more than wistful, ennui, a vague sense of unease – I was alive and in this very weird situation – and so many of my old friends were dead – and I could have been one of them. And so I just wanted to talk to a male counselor about these emotions, these feelings – none of which altered anything in my way of doing things. I was still me – I was just – wondering about life and the way things turned out. I look at a picture of the AIDS Quilt  and I wonder about “what if?” And that’s where this odyssey really started to this hearing.

In June 2016 I got on the waiting list at a City of Phoenix Affordable Living 55+ community called Camelback Properties. In November 2016 I began to work with the Cinnabarr apartments for a graceful transition out of the place, for I was determined to move – the lease was up on December 31st 2016, and I went to month-to-month for January, and arranged February if need be. I had charmed the office there where I spoke mostly in Spanish to them, and they worked with me.

Fortunately, in bright beginnings, on January 10th 2017 Camelback Properties called me and told me I had 24 hours to get there and start the process – I was there in 2 or 3 hours. On January 20th 2017 I signed a lease at Camelback Properties at 11th Avenue and Camelback Road, next to Fry’s and a gay bar, Charlies, visible from my kitchen window – and I am a very happy camper, who just wants to live in this adorable apartment for the remainder of my years – as the piano player at St. Joseph’s – so that my obituary 10, 20, 30 years from now as Providence decrees will happen says “Long time volunteer pianist at St. Joseph’s passes away” – that is my life goal.

And these people, these agencies – are interfering and imperiling my life’s goal with their fantasies.

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