One would think that the guy who is marking his 70th by spilling the beans, openly writing about death, sex, and money, could be a bit less precious about discussing money. A few days ago, I wrote,
I had intended this week to actually say the dollar amount I have given, but I am still quite ambivalent about doing so publicly.
I justified my pearl clutching by pointing to the size of the taboo. However, the following days I wrote about sex and death with greater candor than I did about money. In reading and re-reading those posts I find myself wondering what is the point of turning 70 if you cannot just say, “Fuck it! I am putting it out there!” So, here goes.
I have three friends in Chicago, two men and one woman, whom I see at least once almost every week. We chat, hang out for a few minutes, wish each other well, and listen to each others’ advice. I see the two guys on either side of the Adams Street Bridge. The woman is always at the entrance to Union Station. I give them addresses and phone numbers for clinics and shelters. I ask after their health and check to see if they are warm and dry. They tell me how they are doing and ask about my progress following viral gastroenteritis and a hip injury this Spring. I know their names and they know mine, though I am not using theirs in this post. We do understand ourselves to be friends, but it is complicated because I have no way of reaching them. When one man was preparing for his daughter’s birthday, he asked if I could help out with it. He also invited me to come for cake. I have dined with more than one of them when I missed a train home. This eating together is made tricky because it takes them from the street where they ask for money from passers-by. I give each of them about $500 per year, but this week in celebration of my birthday, I gave each of them a card with $70. The woman had a birthday card ready for me in her jacket, too.
I know what it is to be homeless, to be poor. I do not know what it is like to beg, and I don’t want to know, either.
Paul was a ballet dancer when we met. In our 32 years together, I watched him stretch and do some form of daily barre at least 11,000 times. I also heard most weeks about the importance of the enduring friendships he had with other dancers, most of whom lived across the country, people he rarely saw but who were in his heart, nonetheless. Some people know that Paul never wanted to have children. Others know that I have always wanted to have a few. Our compromise, proposed by Paul, was that I could co-parent as many young people as I wanted, but they would not be living with us. He was great with young children; I am better with teens.
While people saw Paul and me as AIDS activists and gay activists, that was certainly only part of our story. Paul was as committed to women’s health and reproductive justice as I am. We voted with abortion rights, access to birth control, equal rights, and the promotion of sexuality education in our minds. Paul often spoke about his grandmother painting carts in Italy; he was proud of his Italian and Sicilian immigrant parents. Paul made sense of the injustices visited on black and brown people through the lens of bias against Sicilians. I made sense of it through the lens of bias against poor people.
Because we talked about death, sex, and money, I know what was important to him: poor people, women, brown and black people, young people, housing, ballet, social justice, safety for immigrants, and sexual and reproductive health. In the final 14 years of Paul’s life, we did not go on vacations, and I felt compelled to save money to take care of him should I predecease him. MS had bankrupted him, and federal laws worked against us for marriage and income tax relief. But in the end, Paul died first. Sad beyond belief.
But his death has allowed me to give $25,000 a year away to the causes about which we cared. This past week, I made contributions of $21,000.